This is the second half of the parable of the prodigal son. I believe it illustrates one of the ways prosperity doctrine misleads people.
25″Now his older son was in the field, and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing.
26″And he summoned one of the servants and began inquiring what these things could be.
27″And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has received him back safe and sound.’
28″But he became angry and was not willing to go in; and his father came out and began pleading with him.
29″But he answered and said to his father, ‘Look! For so many years I have been serving you and I have never neglected a command of yours; and yet you have never given me a young goat, so that I might celebrate with my friends;
30but when this son of yours came, who has devoured your (K)wealth with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him.’
31″And he said to him, ‘Son, you have always been with me, and all that is mine is yours.
Most evangelical and Pentecostal churches are agreed on the doctrine of salvation through Jesus by faith alone. They both typically preach that salvation is by faith in Jesus, and is unmeritted, coming to us as a result of God’s grace. Not at all by any works we might do.
In the area of earthly rewards after salvation, though, prosperity doctrine teachers seem to tell us that we are rewarded now by God according to our works here and now – give now, and you will receive back materially 10 or 100-fold (eventually); or behave this way, and the heavens will be open to you. Even faith becomes a work – if you don’t have enough you don’t receive, so its somehow your fault you don’t have whatever it is you are praying for yet. People may even have trouble loving a God who they are taught makes it challenging to earn his blessing, or who takes 25 years to hear them, despite their giving so much.
Fortunately many individuals seem to filter out some of the extremes of this teaching, but nonetheless it is strongly promoted, particularly in the area of financial blessing.
It seems to me that the Bible teaches that God will look after us and we don’t have to ‘earn’ His favour or blessing – look at the parable of the prodigal son for example. The father loved his wayward son enough to accept him back after he’d squandered and wasted his inheritance, but the other son had not realised that he also had an inheritance. The second son, who stayed home, had thought he had to work to deserve his inheritance. But it was his already – he just had not realised it, or the extent of His father’s love for Him. He could have had that young goat if he’d wanted it – it was already his – but he’d mistakenly thought he needed to earn it from his father. Likewise we don’t need to try to earn what we cannot possibly earn and which we already have – through Christ alone.
If a works mentality is taught towards earning God’s blessing, there is also a risk for creating a climate for resentment like that of the older son, when someone who has done a lot less to ‘earn’ favour seems to be blessed beyond those who have spent years doing all the right things.
So to me, apart from taking advantage of the vulnerable by teaching that the key to solving their financial problems is to give their money to the church, prosperity doctrine teaches a works mentality not required of us. It can blind people to the realisation that God already loves them enough to bless them and look after them – they do not have to give money or vast amounts of time to ‘sacred’ activities in order earn anything. They will do these things anyway if in their relationship with God, they feel they are called to do so or want to. Giving whatever it is then springs from their heart, as they already know God loves them and cares for them, and out of that they care for others too.