In certain circles of the Church today, these two teachings are quite popular. By “spiritual warfare” we do not refer to prayer, but rather to believers directly rebuking and commanding principalities (territorial spirits in the heavenlies) in an attempt to drive them out of the geographic areas where they rule. Such a practice by believers is not commanded by the Lord nor clearly supported by Scripture.
“Prosperity teaching” emphasizes that the Lord wills for His people to become materially wealthy here on earth as they generously plant “seed offerings” to certain ministries, especially of course to those which teach prosperity so convincingly.
The teaching of Peter
In their epistles, Peter and Jude appear to speak about both types of teachers—almost in the same breath.
2 Peter 2:10 This is especially true of those who follow the corrupt desire of the flesh and despise authority. Bold and arrogant, they are not afraid to heap abuse on celestial beings; 11 yet even angels, although they are stronger and more powerful, do not heap abuse on such beings when bringing judgment on them from the Lord. 12 But these people blaspheme in matters they do not understand. They are like unreasoning animals, creatures of instinct, born only to be caught and destroyed, and like animals they too will perish.
In the verses above, Peter appears to be warning us about teachers who “heap abuse on celestial beings” in a “bold and arrogant” way. These “celestial beings” to which Peter refers are certainly not angels, who in verse 11 themselves “do not heap abuse on such beings.” These beings must therefore refer to principalities like the “prince of Persia” and the “prince of Greece” in Daniel 10:20. (It’s obvious that spiritual warfare teachers would vehemently disagree with our conclusion based on their own interpretation of these Scriptures.)
Then in verses which follow immediately, Peter warns us that these teachers are also “experts in greed.”
2 Peter 2:13 They will be paid back with harm for the harm they have done. Their idea of pleasure is to carouse in broad daylight. They are blots and blemishes, reveling in their pleasures while they feast with you. 14 With eyes full of adultery, they never stop sinning; they seduce the unstable; they are experts in greed–an accursed brood! 15 They have left the straight way and wandered off to follow the way of Balaam son of Bezer, who loved the wages of wickedness. 16 But he was rebuked for his wrongdoing by a donkey–an animal without speech–who spoke with a human voice and restrained the prophet’s madness. 17 These people are springs without water and mists driven by a storm. Blackest darkness is reserved for them.
Balaam, of course, was the prophet for hire and profit par excellence. He prophesized in return for payment. He loved money. Today’s prosperity teachers, despite their certain protests to the contrary, love money and the things in the world it can buy for them. They believe that godliness along with ministry are a means to financial gain.
1 Timothy 6:5 ….people of corrupt mind, who have been robbed of the truth and who think that godliness is a means to financial gain.
In Colossians 3:5 Paul taught that greed is idolatry. Of course these teachers know how to give generously, but they give in order to harvest back even more from God. Although Scripture indeed teaches about sowing and reaping in 2 Corinthians 9, it has become the primary focus of prosperity teachers in a most unbalanced way which is not pleasing to our holy Lord. Outside of the United States where it originated, this teaching has been taken to unimaginable extremes. In an attempt to fill its coffers and therefore the pockets of its leaders, the Universal Church in Brazil offers what it claims are pieces of Jesus’ entrails for its followers to purchase.
The teaching of Jude
Interestingly, Jude appears to write about spiritual warfare teachers and prosperity teachers in the same breath—just as Peter did.
Jude 1:8 In the very same way, on the strength of their dreams these ungodly people pollute their own bodies, reject authority and heap abuse on celestial beings. 9 But even the archangel Michael, when he was disputing with the devil about the body of Moses, did not himself dare to condemn him for slander but said, “The Lord rebuke you!” 10 Yet these people slander whatever they do not understand, and the very things they do understand by instinct–as irrational animals do–will destroy them.
Jude 1:11 Woe to them! They have taken the way of Cain; they have rushed for profit into Balaam’s error; they have been destroyed in Korah’s rebellion. 12 These people are blemishes at your love feasts, eating with you without the slightest qualm–shepherds who feed only themselves. They are clouds without rain, blown along by the wind; autumn trees, without fruit and uprooted–twice dead. 13 They are wild waves of the sea, foaming up their shame; wandering stars, for whom blackest darkness has been reserved forever.
Interestingly, both Peter and Jude warn that “blackest darkness has been reserved” for such teachers—a punishment worse than for those sinners who die apart from Jesus Christ. They are “shepherds who feed only themselves.” These teachers are far more accountable to God than ordinary unbelievers.
We note that the first three verses of both Peter’s teaching and also Jude’s teaching focus on teachers of “spiritual warfare” before subsequently directing our attention to teachers of “prosperity” in the verses which follow.
Could there be a correlation between these two teachings? Are those who teach “spiritual warfare” today also attracted to “prosperity teaching”? It may be worthwhile to do some research to answer this question.
It would be reasonable to conclude that in view of the eternal “blackest darkness” reserved for some teachers, we should fear God and distance ourselves from such false teachings. Why take a chance with something so extremely risky and dangerous to our eternal destiny?
What about sincere believers who do spiritual warfare?
It is clear that today there are fruitful, God-fearing servants of God who practice “spiritual warfare” yet who do not at the same time teach or adhere to “prosperity teaching.” These disciples are far less accountable since in their sincere desire to produce fruit for the Lord they have simply been deceived by false teachers with questionable motives. Rather, blackest darkness is reserved for the deceivers who teach and write books on “spiritual warfare” in part for the sake of financial gain. It can indeed be highly profitable since the practice is very popular around the world, especially in Third World countries. But it is not only dangerous, it is unscriptural as well. “Experimentation” is a common word one very well-known author applies to the strategic-level spiritual warfare which he teaches around the world.1
Should we “experiment” with unscriptural practices which are dangerous to us not only in this life, but potentially in the next as well?
1 THE GOSPEL AND SPIRITUAL WARFARE: A REVIEW OF CONFRONTING THE POWERS, p. 13 (footnote 4)
By JOHN F. HART, Professor of Bible, Moody Bible Institute, Chicago, IL
Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society, Spring 1997 — Volume 10:18