If you have tuned into Christian television channels like the Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN), you’ve probably heard Galatians 6:7 and 2 Corinthians 9:6 either quoted or alluded to a lot. Galatians 6:7 says, “Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap,” and 2 Corinthians 9:6 says, “Now this I say, he who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.” In fact, if I had a nickel for every time a person on TBN pleaded with me to sow a seed, I’d be a prosperous man.
Seed-faith teaching is rampant and a scourge on the body of Christianity. Christians are being led astray and taken advantage of by snake oil salesman and false prophets, who have taken the biblical principle of sowing and reaping and twisted it for selfish gain. My hope is to equip you against such tricks and charlatans.
So, what is “seed-faith” teaching? Seed-faith teaching is part of the larger movement that’s been labeled the Prosperity Gospel. Adherents of this teaching prefer to call it the Word of Faith Movement. Those who preach the prosperity gospel teach that God aims to make every believer healthy and wealthy in this life, and the mechanism said to bring this prosperity about is “sowing seeds in faith.” For prosperity preachers, “sowing a seed in faith” means that you give money to their ministry, and in return, God will make you healthy and wealthy. Your “seed,” in their understanding, is dollar bills.
The modern trend we see today can be traced directly back to the teaching and ministry of Oral Roberts. In fact, one of Roberts’ most famous disciples, Joyce Meyer, said this, “When I talked with Dr. Roberts today and we talked about this seed-faith thing, he said…when you give you get a receipt in heaven that when you have a need you can then go with your receipt and say ‘You see, God, I have got my receipt from my sowing and now I have a need and I’m cashing in my receipt’” (Joyce Meyer, Praise the Lord, TBN, November 3, 2003). Roberts unashamedly used the seed-faith tactic to raise probably billions of dollars. In fact, at one point in January 1987, Roberts declared to his followers that if he didn’t raise a total of $8,000,000 by the end of March, God was going to kill him. Apparently, either he raised the money or God changed His mind because Roberts just died last year in 2009.
There are many contemporary preachers who have picked up the mantel and methodology of Oral Roberts, but Rod Parsley, pastor of World Harvest Church in Columbus, Ohio, seems to be excelling. While explaining Deuteronomy 14:26, Parsley said, “God is saying you can sow that money for whatever you want….Your job. For sheep. That’s your covering and your food. How about for wine? That symbolizes to us fruit, joy, peace….You mean if you need some love you can sow money? Well, that’s what it says” (Rod Parsley, Praise the Lord Spring Praise-a-thon, TBN, April 3, 2003).
But he didn’t stop there. He went on to include salvation as part of the harvest you will reap if only you would sow your seed money, “Salvation for your family….Is that what you really want, to know that all of your children are saved, to pillow your head at night knowing if Jesus split the eastern sky, that your children are all within the ark of safety? Is that what you want? Then sow for it.” With real entrepreneurial spirit, he offers his followers spiritual bargains. For only $50 sent to Parsley’s ministry, he offered these things, “I believe God will give you a harvest of protection from deception and an uncommon ability to discern between truth and error in your life….First, God is going to release to you the ability to hear and recognize His voice as never before. Second, protection over your decisions. I’m believing with you for one year of no bad choices in your life. Finally, thirdly, protection from the deception of the adversary” (Rod Parsley, Breakthrough, TBN, May 24, 2006). All of that for only $50? Now that’s a deal!
But even more, Parsley doesn’t want to get you ready for spiritual blessings only when you “sow your seed.” He also wants to prepare you for material blessings as well, “Some of you better get ready to drive around in neighborhoods where you never thought you’d be able to afford to live. Some of you better go down to that Lexus and Mercedes dealership and just sit down in one of those things with that leather all over it. And when they say, ‘what are you doing,’ just say, ‘well, I’m, I’m just feeling out what my Father is going to give me.’ How’s He gonna give it to you? ‘Because I’m gonna be obedient. I heard a word from the man of God and when I obey that word, it unleashes that anointing into my life and I’m on my way to houses I didn’t build, full of good things I didn’t have to buy’” (Rod Parsley, Breakthrough, TBN, March 27, 2002).
Hank Hanegraaff, president of the Christian Research Institute, lists the following proponents of the prosperity gospel, in addition to Roberts, Meyer, and Parsley: Essek William Kenyon, Kenneth Hagin, Kenneth Copeland, Benny Hinn, Joel Osteen, John Hagee, Creflo Dollar, T. D. Jakes, Frederick K. C. Price, John Avanzini, Robert Tilton, Marilyn Hickey, Charles Capps, Jerry Savelle, Morris Cerullo, Paul Crouch, Juanita Bynum, Paula White, and Todd Bentley (Christianity in Crisis: 21st Century, Thomas Nelson: Nashville, 2009, p15-82)
Sadly, this brand of teaching is being exported from America to the world. The prosperity gospel is exploding in the economically developing continents of Africa, Asia, and South America. An African pastor was quoted as teaching, “Many are ignorant of the fact that God has already made provision for his children to be wealthy here on earth. When I say wealthy, I mean very, very rich…Break loose! It is not a sin to desire to be wealthy” (John Piper, Let the Nations Be Glad!, 3rd ed., p19). Biblical Christianity must stand against this terrible tide.
So, what is wrong with seed-faith teaching and prosperity preaching? I want to point out to you 6 problems.
1) It leads people to give in order to get.
Seed-faith teaching encourages givers to be motivated by selfish gain. In other words, it all comes back to what’s in it for me.
In church history, the prosperity preachers have a powerful example in John Tetzel. Around the turn of the 16th century, the Roman Catholic Church came up with a plan to boost giving amongst its people. So, someone came up with the idea of “indulgences.” An indulgence was a special release from the punishment of sin. For a donation, a person could buy grace for themselves or a loved one. The Vatican tapped the charismatic John Tetzel to be the preacher of indulgences. To promote indulgences, Tetzel coined this catchy phrase, “As soon as the coin in the coffer rings, the soul from purgatory springs.” Put simply, you can buy spiritual favor. To say the least, Tetzel’s methods proved very effective and partially financed the construction of St. Peter’s Cathedral in Rome.
The same thing is going on with contemporary seed-faith teachers, but they’re not just offering spiritual blessings. Material blessings are for sale as well. If you want God to move, then you must pay for it. God’s blessing has basically been reduced to a business transaction. According to Parsley, the bigger your need before God, the bigger your giving should be, “I don’t know how big a miracle you need, but let your seed represent your need. Some of you need to do that $4,000 right now; some of you need to do $5,000, or $10,000. Some of you need to do $100,000 tonight. There’s a miracle attached to your seed” (Rod Parsley, Praise the Lord: Praise-a Thon, TBN, November 9, 2000).
This teaching flies squarely against the teaching of Scripture. Jesus taught in Matthew 6:3 that when you give to the poor, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing. In other words, we’re not to give with some agenda, such as what we’ll get in return. 2 Corinthians 9:7 teaches that we should not give grudgingly or under compulsion because God loves a cheerful giver. But the seed-faith teaching makes us give under compulsion because if we want God to move, we must pay Him for it.
But God doesn’t say, “If the price is right, I’ll answer your prayer.” Instead, in James 4:2-3, the Bible says that we have not because we ask not, and when we do ask, we ask with the wrong motive, wanting to spend it on our own pleasures. Giving to get is certainly the wrong motive.
2) It leads people to sow to their flesh.
Let me reiterate that the Bible certainly affirms the principle of sowing and reaping, but prosperity teachers have twisted the principle. Galatians 6:7-8 is an important text here. It says, “Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.” Seed-faith giving is undoubtedly motivated by greed and selfishness—what’s in it for me. Paul would certainly categorize this as sowing to the flesh.
Therefore, it’s vital for us to notice what we actually reap when we sow to the flesh. Paul says that we reap corruption. If we’re not careful, the weight of that word “corruption” can be easily missed. In Galatians 6:8, corruption is the opposite of eternal life. So by “corruption,” Paul means eternal death in Hell. That’s a terrible harvest, but as Galatians 6:7 reminds us, God will not be mocked. We’re deceiving ourselves if we think that God doesn’t know the wicked, greedy, selfish motives of our heart when we give to get. Even our motives are laid bare before God.
The seed-faith teaching leads people to sow to their flesh, which is pathway to destruction.
3) It minimizes the dangers of wealth.
Wealth can be dangerous. I want to show three ways that this is so:
a) Wealth can be a roadblock to salvation. You probably know the gospel account of Jesus meeting the rich young ruler in Matthew 19:16-26. The young man wanted to know what he must do go to heaven, and eventually Jesus told him to sell his possessions, give to the poor, and follow Jesus. Verse 22 captures the young man’s response, “But when the young man heard this statement, he went away grieving; for he was one who owned much property.” He wanted his money more than he wanted Jesus! This response prompted Jesus to state in v23-24, “Truly I say to you, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” Wow! Money can be a powerful roadblock to salvation. And why is that? Jesus, in Luke 16:13, provides the answer, “No servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.”
b) Wealth can be so easily destroyed. We who are living through this current recession know this well. Jesus taught us this long ago when he said in Matthew 6:19-21, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Money and material stuff is so easily here today and gone tomorrow. Robbers, natural disasters, stock market crashes, and busting housing bubbles can wipe you completely out. And if your hope and happiness is in money and stuff, your hope and happiness dies when the stuff is gone. That’s what incited men to jump to their deaths out of buildings when the stock market crashed during the Great Depression.
c) The love of wealth leads to untold evil. It’s true that money is not evil, but it can certainly motivate people to do evil. That’s Paul’s very point in 1 Timothy 6:8-10, “If we have food and covering, with these we shall be content. But those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a snare and many foolish and harmful desires which plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.” People will do unspeakable things to satisfy their lust for money. It can easily be a dangerous temptation.
4) It undermines God’s purposes of suffering in the life of the believer.
God’s plan according to Romans 8:28-29 is to conform us to the image of Jesus Christ, and He does that by various means. One of which is suffering. Suffering is a powerful tool in God’s hand, but the prosperity gospel and seed-faith teaching says that God desires only for us to be healthy, happy, and wealthy. Yet Jesus told us that we would suffer in John 15:20, “Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A slave is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you; if they kept My word, they will keep yours also.” Furthermore, Paul encouraged and strengthened his fellow Christians by declaring in Acts 14:22, “Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.”
Trials and tribulations are very important in the life of believers. John Piper points to 6 benefits of suffering in the Christian’s life:
- Suffering deepens faith and holiness;
- Suffering makes your cup increase;
- Suffering makes others bold;
- Suffering fills up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions;
- Suffering enforces the missionary mandate to go;
- The supremacy of Christ is manifest in suffering (John Piper, Let the Nations Be Glad!, 3rd ed., p27)
God’s ultimate desire is not to make you healthy and wealthy. He desires more than anything else to make you more like Jesus, which leads to true happiness.
5) It forces our gaze downward and stifles our hunger for Heaven.
Paul makes it clear where we’re to fix our gaze in Colossians 3:1-4, “Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory.” Paul says that the Christian’s hope is up Heaven, in the next life, and not on the earth. If you’re going to Heaven, you are not having your “best life now.” That’s only true if you’re going to Hell. But the prosperity gospel and seed-faith teaching force our gaze constantly back down on the earth and the things of the earth—cars, houses, clothes, money, influence, prestige. In doing so, our hunger for Heaven is deadened. Why long for Heaven when we’ve prosperous right here?
6) It prostitutes God.
I know that’s a strong verb, but I really see no other way of describing it. The prosperity gospel and seed-faith teaching implies that God is for sale and will dance at your whim if the money is right. How blasphemous to present God in that way! In the end, God is used for man’s pleasure just like a prostitute. It makes God a means to an end instead of the end Himself. It other words, the seed-faith teaching makes God a way to get what I really want. How belittling to the Creator and Lover of souls!
In conclusion, the heresy that is the seed-faith teaching blasphemes God and takes advantage of multitudes of gullible Christians. It’s a sad situation. It’s leading people to great disappointment and disillusionment. Just like a Ponzi scheme, the one who sends the money gets poorer, and the one receiving the money gets richer. You know, it’s absolutely true that whatever a man sows, he will also reap, and in 2003, Rod Parsley lamented a change that he was seeing in his ministry’s prayer request line, “Five years ago the number one request coming into prayer lines across America was ‘Pray for my lost family and loved ones that they do not go to hell.’ Number one request five years ago. It’s number eight today. It has been replaced by—neck and neck—number one, ‘Pray for my physical body,’ number two, ‘Pray for my financial prosperity.’ This has become the cry of the church” (Rod Parsley, Breakthrough, TBN, September 12, 2003). He’s reaping what he’s been sowing, but I’m praying for a much different harvest.