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Prosperity Gospel Roots


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In another thread the topic of prosperity gospel has come up.  I have argued that Joseph Smith and the restoration movement fits neatly under the umbrella of prosperity gospel.   The interesting thing is that I can't find any contemporary evidence of prosperity gospel being taught or practiced during the time of Joseph Smith.  The earliest roots that I can find in the limited research I have done comes from the New Thought Movement of the late 19th century (1880's).  E. William Kenyon is credited with popularizing this movement.  It emphasizes the power of the mind, speech, and the atonement in bringing health and wealth through healings.  Similar to D&C 82, they view faith as capable of "binding" God's word into legal guarantees.    It wasn't until the mid 20th century that prosperity gospel began to take shape and become popular in the US, but it seems to me that the core tenants have long existed, perhaps yet unrecognized/realized by historians, in the LDS church.

The core tenants being:

  • God is bound by laws of faith.  Do this and you will receive this blessing...  Blessings are the result of an inviolable contract between God and man.  Believers must fulfill their end of the contract to receive God's promises.  D&C 82:10
  • God wants you to be financially prosperous. 
Quote

 “And I hold forth and deign to give unto you greater riches,"  D&C 38

  • God blesses the righteous with prosperity.
Quote

do what the Lord commands, and you shall prosper, D&C 9:13.

  • Prosperity is a sign of divine favor.
Quote

 

yea, we can see that the Lord in his great infinite goodness doth bless and prosper those who put their trust in him.

“Yea, and we may see at the very time when he doth prosper his people, yea, in the increase of their fields, their flocks and their herds, and in gold, and in silver, and in all manner of precious things of every kind and art; sparing their lives, and delivering them out of the hands of their enemies; … and in fine, doing all things for the welfare and happiness of his people; yea, then is the time that they do harden their hearts, and do forget the Lord their God” (Hel. 12:1–2).

 

  • Health is a blessing of righteous living and faith healings are possible through the atonement. 
  • Physical and spiritual realities are seen as inseparable. 
  • Focus on positive view of the spirit and body.
  • The atonement can alleviate sickness, poverty, and spiritual corruption.
  • Paying money donations/tithing brings forth financial blessings.
  • Strong emphasis on the importance of giving to receive.

My question is this - was Joseph Smith's teachings/revelations revolutionary for his time?  Could he be considered one of the earliest fathers of prosperity gospel?  Or, is there evidence of contemporary teachings/practices that match those core tenants mentioned above? 

 

Edited by pogi
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8 minutes ago, blackstrap said:

And yet the BoM is one long round of poverty leads to humility leads to righteousness leads to prosperity leads to pride leads to contention leads to destruction. Rinse and repeat. 

Makes for a good story I guess.

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1 hour ago, pogi said:

In another thread the topic of prosperity gospel has come up.  I have argued that Joseph Smith and the restoration movement fits neatly under the umbrella of prosperity gospel.   The interesting thing is that I can't find any contemporary evidence of prosperity gospel being taught or practiced during the time of Joseph Smith.  The earliest roots that I can find in the limited research I have done comes from the New Thought Movement of the late 19th century (1880's).  E. William Kenyon is credited with popularizing this movement.  It emphasizes the power of the mind, speech, and the atonement in bringing health and wealth through healings.  Similar to D&C 82, they view faith as capable of "binding" God's word into legal guarantees.    It wasn't until the mid 20th century that prosperity gospel began to take shape and become popular in the US, but it seems to me that the core tenants have long existed, perhaps yet unrecognized/realized by historians, in the LDS church.

The core tenants being:

God is bound by laws of faith.  Do this and you will receive this blessing...  Blessings are the result of an inviolable contract between God and man.  Believers must fulfill their end of the contract to receive God's promises.

D&C 82:10

God wants you to be financially prosperous. 

God blesses the righteous with prosperity.

Prosperity is a sign of divine favor.

 

 

Health is a blessing of righteous living and faith healings are possible through the atonement. 

Physical and spiritual realities are seen as inseparable. 

Focus on positive view of the spirit and body.

The atonement can alleviate sickness, poverty, and spiritual corruption.

Paying money donations/tithing brings forth financial blessings.

Strong emphasis on the importance of giving.

My question is this - was Joseph Smith's teachings/revelations revolutionary for his time?  Could he be considered one of the earliest fathers of prosperity gospel?  Or, is there evidence of contemporary teachings/practices that match those core tenants mentioned above? 

 

I think a theological movement is best described and classified by its primary ideas and not by a label that restricts a fuller representation of its ideology. I would say the Church/Restored Gospel is part of the Restoration Movement (rather than say, the New  or Higher Thought Movement; with which the prosperity gospel seems more aligned); is unique among peers in statements such as D&C 1; and, that seeking God’s will takes priority over material expressions of God’s favor.

I’m sure our self-reliance principles can be presented as having a prosperity gospel theme, but I think a closer look at the study materials would demonstrate otherwise.

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1 hour ago, CV75 said:

I think a theological movement is best described and classified by its primary ideas and not by a label that restricts a fuller representation of its ideology.

I would say the Church/Restored Gospel is part of the Restoration Movement (rather than say, the New  or Higher Thought Movement; with which the prosperity gospel seems more aligned); is unique among peers in statements such as D&C 1; and, that seeking God’s will takes priority over material expressions of God’s favor.

I’m sure our self-reliance principles can be presented as having a prosperity gospel theme, but I think a closer look at the study materials would demonstrate otherwise.

The purpose of this thread is to discuss the tenants that I outlined above that are shared with prosperity gospel. 

I am curious if anyone is aware of contemporaneous teachings of the bullet points listed above at the time of Joseph Smith, or if he was revolutionary with these teachings.

I think your insinuation that prosperity gospel practitioners seek material expressions of God's favor before seeking God's will is misguided.  Prosperity gospel is a wide umbrella and diversity that share common beliefs, some of the core ones are mentioned above.  I think most would disagree with your characterization of prosperity gospel.  

It is true that prosperity gospel traces their roots to the New Thought Movement, and even more recently to the 1950's.  That is what is curious to me, we share similar beliefs but from different roots.  Mormonism version of these principles is even older than "prosperity gospel" roots.  That is curious to me.  I am wondering if Joseph and Mormonism somehow had some influence on the later movement, or if these teachings were more prevalent at the time. 

 

 

Edited by pogi
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25 minutes ago, The Nehor said:

I think the best refutation of the Church as a prosperity gospel is this parable in the Doctrine and Covenants:

So a man has twelve sons and all of them are obedient so there is no question of merit. Then he gives some wealth and others poverty and says he is just. Which is weird. Then God says that “it is even as I am”. God is saying He does exactly this. Then he suggests that this inequality is to be fixed by us. He also says if we do not fix it we are not His.

I guess I interpret it differently.  I think the insinuation is that such disparity is unjust and the Lord saying be one, even as I am one and be just, even as I am just.

Regardless of what it means, the teachings found in prosperity gospel are a prevalent theme in our church and scriptures. 

Quote

 

“You must continue to bear in mind that the temporal and the spiritual are blended. They are not separate. One cannot be carried on without the other, so long as we are here in mortality.

“The Latter-day Saints believe not only in the gospel of spiritual salvation, but also in the gospel of temporal salvation. … We do not feel that it is possible for men to be really good and faithful Christian people unless they can also be good, faithful, honest and industrious people. Therefore, we preach the gospel of industry, the gospel of economy, the gospel of sobriety.” 

Welfare Services: The Gospel in Action (churchofjesuschrist.org)

The temporal and spiritual are taught as inseparable, just like in prosperity gospel. 

A core difference is that we teach a gospel of works, they teach a gospel of positive thinking. 

Edited by pogi
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1 hour ago, pogi said:

The purpose of this thread is to discuss the tenants that I outlined above that are shared with prosperity gospel. 

I am curious if anyone is aware of contemporaneous teachings of the bullet points listed above at the time of Joseph Smith, or if he was revolutionary with these teachings.

I think your insinuation that prosperity gospel practitioners seek material expressions of God's favor before seeking God's will is misguided.  Prosperity gospel is a wide umbrella and diversity that share common beliefs, some of the core ones are mentioned above.  I think most would disagree with your characterization of prosperity gospel.  

It is true that prosperity gospel traces their roots to the New Thought Movement, and even more recently to the 1950's.  That is what is curious to me, we share similar beliefs but from different roots.  Mormonism version of these principles is even older than "prosperity gospel" roots.  That is curious to me.  I am wondering if Joseph and Mormonism somehow had some influence on the later movement, or if these teachings were more prevalent at the time. 

 

 

I think the revelations through Joseph Smith were not necessarily revolutionary and are meant to be taken both spiritually and temporally, depending on the Lord's purposes for building the kingdom, and on how He wills us to address the circumstance at hand individually and collectively in concert with the Holy Ghost.

My characterization comes from Prosperity theology - Wikipedia, which I take to be a fairly balanced springboard from which individual practitioners' exceptions can be compared. From the introduction: "Prosperity theology (sometimes referred to as the prosperity gospel, the health and wealth gospel, the gospel of success, or seed faith)[A] is a religious belief among some Charismatic Christians that financial blessing and physical well-being are always the will of God for them, and that faith, positive speech, and donations to religious causes will increase one's material wealth. Material and especially financial success is seen as a sign of divine favor."

My summary description, "seek material expressions of God's favor before seeking God's will," comes from the phrases I underlined in this paragraph. I believe there are exceptions, but I'm speaking generally and from a perspective concerning God's will that I think Jospeh Smith prioritized (Jacon 2:18, and as exemplified by Jacob later in 7:14 in putting God's will first).

 

Edited by CV75
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42 minutes ago, The Nehor said:

I think the best refutation of the Church as a prosperity gospel is this parable in the Doctrine and Covenants:

So a man has twelve sons and all of them are obedient so there is no question of merit. Then he gives some wealth and others poverty and says he is just. Which is weird. Then God says that “it is even as I am”. God is saying He does exactly this. Then he suggests that this inequality is to be fixed by us. He also says if we do not fix it we are not His.

 

18 minutes ago, pogi said:

I guess I interpret it differently.  I think the insinuation is that such disparity is unjust and the Lord saying be one, even as I am one and be just, even as I am just.

I take it as saying with the “for what man?” that there is no father that would do it to his kids and God wouldn’t as a father either.  And we are to be one like a family is one.

But I also like Nehor’s too as it relates to how natural circumstances gives us different abilities and circumstances that can lead to great inequalities and we should recognize this and fix it.

Plus I have heard of fathers who favour kids unjustly, one being my great grandfather, who was cold to his eldest son and gave him nothing even though he was a good kid from what I could tell and yet was warm and loving and gave presents to his younger son….though the parable says the man being described is supposed to be no respect or of persons, yet obviously is.  So that might be the actual point.  :) 

Edited by Calm
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24 minutes ago, CV75 said:

t financial blessing and physical well-being are always the will of God for them, and that faith, positive speech, and donations to religious causes will increase one's material wealth. 

My summary description, "seek material expressions of God's favor before seeking God's will," comes from the phrases I underlined in this paragraph. 

If financial and physical weel-being are thought to be God's will, then it would be incorrect to suggest that they are not seeking the Lord's will first.  They would argue that they are seeking the Lord's will. 

 

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31 minutes ago, Calm said:

 

I take it as saying with the “for what man?” that there is no father that would do it to his kids and God wouldn’t as a father either.  And we are to be one like a family is one.

But I also like Nehor’s too as it relates to how natural circumstances gives us different abilities and circumstances that can lead to great inequalities and we should recognize this and fix it.

Plus I have heard of fathers who favour kids unjustly, one being my great grandfather, who was cold to his eldest son and gave him nothing even though he was a good kid from what I could tell and yet was warm and loving and gave presents to his younger son….though the parable says the man being described is supposed to be no respect or of persons, yet obviously is.  So that might be the actual point.  :) 

The more I think about it, I think it is saying something akin to "I will forgive whom I will forgive", or I will clothe whom I will clothe, or financially bless whom I will bless, but of you it is required to bless all men - that there be no inequality among you.   This passage was given a month before the law of consecration was implemented, so I think it is in preparation for that law. 

I don't see this passage as a refutation that the church teaches prosperity gospel, either way.  

If it is saying that his children are unequally clothed, etc. that is his choice and for his purposes, but it doesn't suggest that he doesn't bless his righteous children with these things.  He gets to decide who to bless, we don't.  I wish this passage was given more consideration today.   

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24 minutes ago, Pyreaux said:

What are we saying is prosperity? When it effects individuals, community, church or nation? If the Nephite nation is prospering, is everyone? Joseph of Egypt prospered... In prison.

The scriptures speak of holistic prosperity.  Health, wealth, emotional, spiritual, etc. well-being.  It is in the context of individuals, communities, and nations.  The Book of Mormon gives examples of each. 

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53 minutes ago, CV75 said:

I think the revelations through Joseph Smith were not necessarily revolutionary and are meant to be taken both spiritually and temporally...

Do you have any references for contemporary teachings on any of the ideas mentioned above? 

If these ideas were not revolutionary to Joseph's time, I am looking for evidence of this.  Please supply examples.  The prosperity gospel traces them back to the 1880's and no further.  I think Joseph was teaching these same principles before then.  Are there any others?

 

Edited by pogi
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45 minutes ago, pogi said:

If financial and physical weel-being are thought to be God's will, then it would be incorrect to suggest that they are not seeking the Lord's will first.  They would argue that they are seeking the Lord's will. 

 

That is the semantics of it. This is why I explained that from my perspective, in the prioritization of things, God's will is not to establish financial and physical well-being first. Other's semantics might argue otherwise: that financial/physical is first, just as the physical Creation was before natural Eden and Eden was before this temporal world, but then again, all things were spiritual before natural, and both of these were physical in their own way before becoming temporal. This is where the balance of spiritual and temporal comes into play, where the priority in God's will is not our financial and physical well-being, but instead to be rooted in His spirit and added upon from there.

As to revolutionary, again, semantics because a restoration is not exactly revolutionary (it depends on one's experience with and interpretation of it) and was a movement in itself. The prosperity gospel, seems to me, is derivative from some aspect of the original fulness and might even be considered to be devolutionary.

No one is going to say they are following a brand of gospel and not seeking the Lord's will, or at least trying to since we are all sinners.

Edited by CV75
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56 minutes ago, pogi said:

Do you have any references for contemporary teachings on any of the ideas mentioned above? 

If these ideas were not revolutionary to Joseph's time, I am looking for evidence of this.  Please supply examples.  The prosperity gospel traces them back to the 1880's and no further.  I think Joseph was teaching these same principles before then.  Are there any others?

 

If by “above” you mean the bulleted items in the OP, contemporary teachings concerning our material management (our day) would be the self-reliance manuals. These parallel teachings in Jospeh’s Smith’s time would be those related to the building of Zion. Among these, I’m sure there are phrases and subtitles that could be construed to mirror the bulleted items in the OP, but there will also be the fuller context presented somewhere along the way. The restored gospel of Jesus Christ answers each of those bullets with “Yes and no; it depends, and there are ifs, ands, and buts,” in relation to material prosperity.

Given its rise in Pentecostal movements, late-19th century thinking (much of it secular) and the earlier ethea such as the Puritan Work Ethic and American Exceptionalism, the American Dream and perhaps to an extent, Manifest Destiny, I’m confident that Joseph Smith’s teachings were not considered in its development. It might be said the gospel was restored in such an environment, that early saints projected their attitudes upon Jospeh’s revelations (as we do ours!), and we might assign parallels today, but this would not make his teachings a source of what later became the prosperity gospel.

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28 minutes ago, CV75 said:

That is the semantics of it. This is why I explained that from my perspective, in the prioritization of things, God's will is not to establish financial and physical well-being first.

I am not going to get into semantics with you.  Never ends well.  I think it is wrong to suggest that they prioritize financial and physical well-being "first".   I think it is wrong to suggest that they don't seek the will of God first.     

 

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Just now, CV75 said:

If by “above” you mean the bulleted items in the OP, contemporary teachings concerning our material management (our day) would be the self-reliance manuals. These parallel teachings in Jospeh’s Smith’s time would be those related to the building of Zion. Among these, I’m sure there are phrases and subtitles that could be construed to mirror the bulleted items in the OP, but there will also be the fuller context presented somewhere along the way. The restored gospel of Jesus Christ answers each of those bullets with “Yes and no; it depends, and there are ifs, ands, and buts,” in relation to material prosperity.

Given its rise in Pentecostal movements, late-19th century thinking (much of it secular) and the earlier ethea such as the Puritan Work Ethic and American Exceptionalism, the American Dream and perhaps to an extent, Manifest Destiny, I’m confident that Joseph Smith’s teachings were not considered in its development. It might be said the gospel was restored in such an environment, that early saints projected their attitudes upon Jospeh’s revelations (as we do ours!), and we might assign parallels today, but this would not make his teachings a source of what later became the prosperity gospel.

Sorry for being unclear.  Yes, by "above", I mean the bulleted points.  By "contemporary teachings", I mean contemporary to Joseph Smith. 

Joseph may not have had any influence on E. William Kenyon (New Thought Movement founder - 1880's), but I think it would be wrong to say that he was the first to teach these things.  I am simply wondering if there were any others teaching similar things in Joseph Smith's time. 

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1 minute ago, pogi said:

I am not going to get into semantics with you.  Never ends well.  I think it is wrong to suggest that they prioritize financial and physical well-being "first".   I think it is wrong to suggest that they don't seek the will of God first.     

 

Your semantics serve your purposes, as mine do mine. I think it is wrong to suggest that God's will is to establish material prosperity first as a gospel tenet, and nothing wrong in saying so. You may disagree with the Wikipedia article; I find it useful. Helping the poor and needy temporally and spiritually, is a different and far more integrated matter.

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1 minute ago, pogi said:

Sorry for being unclear.  Yes, by "above", I mean the bulleted points.  By "contemporary teachings", I mean contemporary to Joseph Smith. 

Joseph may not have had any influence on E. William Kenyon (New Thought Movement founder - 1880's), but I think it would be wrong to say that he was the first to teach these things.  I am simply wondering if there were any others teaching similar things in Joseph Smith's time. 

I think the formative American ethos speaks for itself and informed those who subsequently promoted a practical application of these prevailing attitudes, such as Puritan writers (17th-century), Founding Fathers for 18th-century; sounds a lot like what Ben Franklin and Thomas Paine would write. 

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1 hour ago, pogi said:

The scriptures speak of holistic prosperity.  Health, wealth, emotional, spiritual, etc. well-being.  It is in the context of individuals, communities, and nations.  The Book of Mormon gives examples of each. 

Kind of. 

In Nephi chapter 2 God promises Nephi that if he obeys His commandments he will prosper, and be led to a land of promise.  But we know everything that Nephi went through for over years and years (decades) and we would not interpret his life of hardship, suffering, and contention/warfare with his brothers (even after getting to the land of promise) as one of prosperity using the typical definition of the term.

And I don't know that anyone would look at Nephi's life and say "Yep, that's the Prosperity Gospel right there" even though God promised him he would prosper and he believed God fulfilled that promise.

So while I agree that the scriptures do speak of holistic prosperity, wealth and comfort is not promised by Him as a part of that.  Which is different than how every other group (that I am aware of) defines the term "prosperity gospel".

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1 hour ago, Pyreaux said:

What are we saying is prosperity? When it effects individuals, community, church or nation? If the Nephite nation is prospering, is everyone? Joseph of Egypt prospered... In prison.

I'd say that it's blessings.  What pogi is calling a "gospel of prosperity" is just a gospel that promises blessings for following Christ.  Sometimes those blessings include wealth but sometimes (I'd say often) they don't.

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18 minutes ago, CV75 said:

Your semantics serve your purposes, as mine do mine. I think it is wrong to suggest that God's will is to establish material prosperity first as a gospel tenet, and nothing wrong in saying so.

What I am saying is that I don't think that material prosperity is a "first" priority in prosperity gosepl, as you suggest.  It doesn't say that in the article anywhere. 

18 minutes ago, CV75 said:

You may disagree with the Wikipedia article; I find it useful. Helping the poor and needy temporally and spiritually, is a different and far more integrated matter.

I don't disagree with the article.  I just don't see where it says that.  I agree that the Mormon approach differs from other prosperity gospels in certain matters, but that doesn't mean we don't agree on the main points I listed in the OP.  

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3 hours ago, The Nehor said:

He also says if we do not fix it we are not His.

D&C 78:6 "For if ye are not equal in earthly things ye cannot be aequal in obtaining heavenly things;"

The wealth inequality of the world absolutely is a blemish of fallen mortality and something that will be resolved in due time. Today is not that day -- but we can and should be ever mindful to mitigate those failings with prudence and wisdom lest one inadvertently be a tool of further problems (see other current thread(s) going on right now). One of the reasons I find faithful dispensation of fast offering funds a rather spiritual event (even if it is just signing a check).

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1 hour ago, pogi said:

What I am saying is that I don't think that material prosperity is a "first" priority in prosperity gosepl, as you suggest.  It doesn't say that in the article anywhere. 

I don't disagree with the article.  I just don't see where it says that.  I agree that the Mormon approach differs from other prosperity gospels in certain matters, but that doesn't mean we don't agree on the main points I listed in the OP.  

I construe “always the will of God” to mean His first priority and that all others are only appendages to that (to borrow a phrase!). This is highlighted when financial success is seen as a sign of divine favor while sickness and poverty are curses to be broken by faith in the Lord’s atonement. I'm sure there are other signs and other curses but calling it "prosperity gospel" is to emphasize the first priority.

On the other hand, the restored gospel offers a view where the Lord walks with us when and while all mortal endeavors fail (and they do, otherwise you could take it with you). The curse of the fallen world is already broken, just realized in different ways for different people at different times, and most often in the afterlife. Whatever we do is to put God’s work and glory, the exaltation of His children through the merits of His Son, first. What we do take with us is intelligence, and if by His covenant, all the richer.

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