The 95 Theses Re-Written

The 95 Theses Re-Written

Stephen Rockwell, GWC Faculty, Biblical Studies, New Testament, Greek
BSc Hons 1st Class (Sydney), LTh, BTh (GWC), MTh (Moore)

 

The 31st of October, 2017 marked the 500th anniversary of the publication of Luther’s 95 Theses.  I had the privilege of speaking at a conference celebrating that moment and addressing particularly the topic of the 95 Theses.  In that presentation I spoke about the circumstances that led to the penning of the theses and the consequence of their distribution.   I greatly enjoyed the chance to research further this great historical event and I personally learnt a lot through the process.  The main catalyst for the penning of Luther’s Theses was the practice of selling indulgences that was rife within the church at his time.  Indulgences were basically salvation for sale, and the proceeds of the sale of these indulgences was used to build St Peter’s basilica in Rome and to make many people rich along the way.

As I did more and more research, it dawned on me that there is a strong correlation between the indulgence preachers of Luther’s day and the prosperity preachers of our modern world.  Luther was outraged by what he saw and heard from the indulgence preachers and his outrage resulted in the production of the 95 Theses and sparked the Reformation.  I wondered what might happen if we were just as indignant against the prosperity gospel today as Luther was against the indulgence preachers in his day.  To that end, I submit the following re-working of Luther’s 95 Theses, as my 95 Theses against prosperity preaching today.  Who knows what God might do with it, perhaps it might rally the church against this false teaching and bring about a new reformation away from prosperity to the true gospel of Christ – one can only pray that it might:

Disputation on the power and efficacy of Prosperity Preaching

Out of love for the truth and from desire to elucidate it, the Reverend Stephen Rockwell, Master of Sacred Theology, and ordinary lecturer therein at George Whitefield College, intends to defend the following statements and to dispute on them. Therefore he asks that those who cannot dispute with him orally shall do so in their absence by the internet, Facebook, or comments on this blog post below. In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, Amen.

  1. When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me” (Mt 5:11), he willed the entire life of believers to be one of blessing.
  2. This word cannot be understood as referring to the material blessings of this age, that is, health and wealth, as promoted by the prosperity clergy.
  3. Yet it does not mean solely spiritual blessings; such spiritual blessings produce in the believer a life worth living both in the present life and the life to come. (1 Tim 4:8)
  4. The brokenness of this world marred as it is by our sin remains till our entrance into the kingdom of heaven.
  5. The prosperity preacher is neither authorised to nor is able to promise anything except that promised by God in his Holy Scriptures.
  6. The Holy Scriptures do not promise, nor assert that all followers of Jesus should receive material blessings in this life.
  7. God promises possessions and material blessings to no one.
  8. To say that the Christians greatest good is to have his material needs meet is to deny him the hardship that allows him to grow in his faith (Psalm 119:67-68)
  9. Therefore the Holy Spirit through the scriptures exhorts the believer to endure hardship as discipline so that it might produce a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who’ve been trained by it (Heb 12:7-11).
  10. Those pastors act ignorantly and act wickedly who, in the case of the poor, insist that their poverty is a result of their lack of faith.
  11. Those tares of changing the blessings found in Christ to the material blessings of this world were evidently sown while the evangelical world slept (Mt 13:25).
  12. In former times suffering for the sake of the gospel was seen as a true test of faith.
  13. The apostle Paul when forced to boast, boasts in his weakness and frailty, not in his possessions and wealth. (2 Cor 12:30)
  14. God does not owe us anything except eternal judgement for our sin.
  15. God created ex nihilo his created beings cannot.
  16. God is not bound by our prayers and petitions to grant us anything.
  17. It seems as though for many Christians in the world, material desires should necessarily decrease and love and faith must increase.
  18. Furthermore, it does not seem proved, either by reason or by Scripture, that God will physically and materially bless his faithful followers with health, wealth and an easy life.
  19. Nor does it seem proved that trials and difficulties and poverty in this life are indications of a lack of faith.
  20. Therefore the scriptures, when they use the words “every blessing,” do not mean everything that we could possibly conceive of as “every blessing”, but only those to be found through faith in Christ.
  21. Thus those prosperity preachers are in error who say that a man is blessed with every material blessing who hopes in Christ.
  22. As a matter of fact, those that pursue a love of money and possessions chase after an idol and cannot at the same time worship God (Matt 6:24, Col 3:5).
  23. If material blessings could be granted and promised to anyone at all, certainly they would be granted only to the most perfect, that is, to very few.
  24. For this reason most people are necessarily deceived by that indiscriminate and high-sounding promise of material prosperity.
  25. Blessed rather is the one who does not condemn himself by what he approves. (Rom 14:22)
  26. The preacher does very well when he does not offer prosperity to the souls he preaches to, but by way of intercession for them.
  27. They preach only human doctrines who say that all one must do is name it and claim it and that God wants you to be rich.
  28. It is certain that when it is preached that God wants you to be rich, greed and avarice can be increased; but when the church intercedes, the result is in the hands of God alone.
  29. God is able to bless those who trust in him abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that they need, they will be able to abound in every good work. (2 Cor 9:8)
  30. No one is sure of the integrity of his own giving, much less the certainty of receiving materially in response.
  31. The man who actually lives with the object of accumulating wealth is anti-Christian and unholy.
  32. Those who believe that they can be certain of their salvation because they have given money to the church be eternally damned, together with their teachers.
  33. Men must especially be on guard against those who say that God helps those who help themselves.
  34. For the grace of God’s blessings are complete in Christ and are to be found in the heavenly realms. (Eph 1:3)
  35. They who teach that the Lord Jesus must improve your material situation if you contribute financially to the church preach unchristian doctrine.
  36. Any truly faithful Christian has a right to the full blessings of God mediated through Christ, even without financial contributions to the church.
  37. Any true Christian, whether living or dead, participates in all the blessings of Christ and the church; and this is granted him by God, even without financial contributions to the church.
  38. Nevertheless, the Lord through his apostle does still encourage believers to be generous with that which they poses (Mark 12:41-44, 2 Cor 8-9)
  39. It is very difficult, even for the most learned theologians, at one and the same time to commend to the people the Prosperity Gospel and the need of the true blessings of Christ.
  40. A Christian who is truly blessed is able to seek joy and contentment in the face of trails of many kinds (Phil 4:11-13, James 1:2-4); the prosperity gospel however causes men to hate them — at least it furnishes occasion for hating them.
  41. The blessings found in Christ must be preached with caution, lest people erroneously think that they are deficient to other blessings of this world.
  42. Christians are to be taught that the generous giving towards ministry does not result in financial blessings in return.
  43. Christians are to be taught that he who gives to the poor or lends to the needy does a better deed than he who gives expecting something in return.
  44. Because love grows by works of love, man thereby becomes better. Man does not, however, become better by the pursuit of material blessings and riches and comforts in this world.
  45. Christians are to be taught that he who sees a needy man and passes him by, yet gives his money to the prosperity preacher, does not receive God’s blessing but God’s wrath.
  46. Christians are to be taught that, unless they have more than they need, they must reserve enough for their family needs and by no means squander it on prosperity preachers.
  47. Christians are to be taught that the giving of offering to the church is a matter of free choice, not commanded.
  48. Christians are to be taught that the faithful gospel preachers need and thus desires their devout prayer more than their money.
  49. Christians are to be taught that material blessings are useful only if they do not put their trust in them, but very harmful if they lose their fear of God because of them (1 Tim 6:17).
  50. Christians are to be taught that God would rather see the fortunes of the prosperity preachers be burned to ashes than built up with the skin, flesh, and bones of his sheep.
  51. Christians are to be taught that the wealthy prosperity preacher should wish to give of his own money, even though he had to sell his house, or jet, or sports car collection, to many of those from whom certain hawkers of prosperity cajole money.
  52. It is vain to trust in salvation by giving money, even though the prosperity preacher were to offer his soul as security.
  53. They are the enemies of Christ who forbid altogether the preaching of the Word of God and the true gospel of Christ in some churches in order that more offerings may be taken up in others.
  54. Injury is done to the Word of God when, in the same sermon, an equal or larger amount of time is devoted to money and prosperity than to the Word.
  55. It is certain that if the collection, which is a very insignificant thing, is celebrated with one bell, one procession, and one ceremony, then the gospel, which is the very greatest thing, should be preached with a hundred bells, a hundred processions, a hundred ceremonies.
  56. The true treasures of the church are not sufficiently discussed or known among the people of Christ.
  57. That blessings are not temporal is certainly clear, for many who have given generously to the prosperity churches live in poverty.
  58. The blessings of Christ work grace for the inner man, and the cross, death, and hell for the outer man.
  59. St. Lawrence said that the poor of the church were the treasures of the church, but he spoke according to the usage of the word in his own time.
  60. Without want of consideration we say that the keys of the church, given by the merits of Christ, are that treasure.
  61. If material blessings are what comes to mind when a believer thinks about the true treasure of the church, then they have little comprehension of the true treasure of the church.
  62. The true treasure of the church is the most holy gospel of the glory and grace of God.
  63. But this treasure is naturally most odious, for it makes the first to be last (Mt. 20:16).
  64. On the other hand, the treasure of prosperity is naturally most acceptable, for it makes the last to be first.
  65. Therefore the treasures of the gospel are nets with which one formerly fished for men of wealth.
  66. The treasures of the prosperity preachers are nets with which one now fishes for the wealth of men.
  67. The prosperity which the demagogues acclaim as the greatest graces are actually understood to be such only insofar as they promote gain.
  68. They are nevertheless in truth the most insignificant graces when compared with the grace of God and the piety of the cross.
  69. Any teaching that employs faith as means to prosperity and wealth rather than as the only means of receiving justification before God is to be judged profoundly deficient.
  70. Denominational leaders and church elders need to be much more bound to strain their eyes and ears lest these men preach their own dreams instead of what the word of God proclaims.
  71. Let him who speaks against the truth concerning God’s richest blessing in Christ be anathema and accursed.
  72. But let him who guards against the lust and license of the prosperity preachers be blessed.
  73. Just as we might justly thunder against those who by any means whatever contrive harm to those who are desperate to hear the good news of the gospel.
  74. Much more might we thunder against those who use the prosperity gospel as a pretext to contrive harm to holy love and truth.
  75. To consider the power of prosperity preachers so great that they could end all poverty if those impoverished people would only have more faith is madness.
  76. We say on the contrary that there is a special place reserved in hell for prosperity preachers who fly into poor areas on their own private leer jets and take money from the poor to fill their own pockets whilst leaving their hearers even poorer and spiritually confused.
  77. To say that even St. Peter if he were here now, could not grant greater blessings is blasphemy against St. Peter.
  78. We say on the contrary that even the poorest but faithful preacher of the true gospel, has greater graces at his disposal, that is, the gospel, and the spiritual gifts of the body of the church. (1 Co 12)
  79. To say that the church emblazoned with the latest marketing of the prosperity preacher, and set up by the prosperity preacher is equal in worth to the cross of Christ is blasphemy.
  80. The bishops, curates, and theologians who permit such talk to be spread among the people will have to answer for this.
  81. This unbridled preaching of prosperity makes it difficult even for learned men to rescue the reverence which is due the true gospel from slander or from the shrewd questions of the laity.
  82. Such as: “Why does not the prosperity preacher himself not give generously of what he has?”
  83. Again, “Why are people who have given from the little wealth with the promise of prosperity now living in poverty?”
  84. Again, “Why does the prosperity preacher preach that those who are living in poverty simply lack faith when the Lord Jesus himself had no place to lay his head?” (Matt 8:20)
  85. Again, “Why does the prosperity preacher seemingly ignore so much of the teaching of the New Testament, for example the Apostle Paul’s words Timothy that “everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted”? (2 Tim 3:12)
  86. Again, “Why does not the prosperity preach, whose wealth is today greater than the wealth of some small nations, keep asking and requiring for financial aid from the money of poor believers?”
  87. Again, “What can the prosperity preacher promise those whom he preachers to more than is on offer in Christ?”
  88. Again, “Why is God who knows how to give good gifts to his children constrained in his generosity by our demanding and requesting of him for blessing?”
  89. “Since the prosperity preacher claims to seek the salvation of souls rather than money, why does he still take money from those whom he is trying to save?”
  90. To repress these very sharp arguments of the laity by force alone, and not to resolve them by giving reasons, is to expose the church and the prosperity preacher to the ridicule of their enemies and to make Christians unhappy.
  91. If, therefore, blessings were preached according to the spirit and intention of the Word of God, all these doubts would be readily resolved. Indeed, they would not exist.
  92. Away, then, with all those prophets who say to the people of Christ, “Prosperity, prosperity,” and there is no prosperity! (Jer 6:14)
  93. Blessed be all those preachers who say to the people of Christ, “Cross, cross,” and there is no cross!
  94. Christians should be exhorted to be diligent in following Christ, their Head, through suffering, trails and temptations.
  95. And thus be confident of entering into heaven through many tribulations rather than through the false security of prosperity (Acts 14:22).
AUTHOR: Alison Lee
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