In Over the Edge of the World, author Lawrence Bergreen tells the story of Ferdinand Magellan's brave and exciting circumnavigation of the globe.
By 1519, more than half the world was unexplored, unmapped and misunderstood by Europeans. Mariners feared they could literally sail over the edge of the world. They believed that sea monsters lurked in the briny deep. . . that if they crossed equator, the ocean would boil and scald them to death. . . that India was filled with green people. . . that the fountain of youth could make one perpetually young. . . that islands full of spices could make one unbelievably rich. . . that some waters contained magnetic rocks that could pull the nails out of ships and sink them. Where did such myths originate? Who perpetuated such outrageous claims?
The answer—the writers and popular speakers who prospered through the telling and retelling of these myths as fact. One of the most popular of these travel books was The Travels of Sir John Mandeville. Mandeville collected ancient myths, passed it off as his own work, and claimed he had seen all these wonders for himself. Basically, Mandeville's accounts were accepted as truth, even though he "never traveled much farther than his own well-stocked library."
Fortunately, another writer emerged during the period we now know as the age of discovery: Francois Rabelais, a French friar and physician turned popular writer. Rabelais mocked these unreliable travel books in two comic epics: Gargantua and Pantagruel. He created a character for the ages, a blind old hunchback called Hearsay, and described how the masses followed him unquestioningly. Rabelais made a serious point in the comics as he directed his readers back to the classical Greek concept of autopsies, "seeing for one's self" (and the origin of the English world autopsy). He stressed the value of firsthand reporting and obtaining reliable accounts from eyewitnesses with firsthand knowledge.
The revival of this ancient concept of autopsies helped encourage and embolden people such as Ferdinand Magellan to discover, explore, and become "the Renaissance equivalent of an astronaut." According to Bergree, "Magellan's three-year voyage became the first ever global autopsy. The time was ripe for Magellan and his armada to sweep away a thousand years of accumulated cobwebs. The reign of Hearsay was coming to an end."
What may have been true of the exploration of the globe may or may not be true in the world of Christian faith and practice.
The old, blind hunchback, Hearsay, is back.
He is as popular as ever and his following has grown exponentially. He continues to perpetuate an ancient myth: The Prosperity of Gospel. Taking antiquated folklores of questionable origin, these prosperity teachers (so-called) have collected such myths, passed them off as their own work as they claimed to have seen these wonders for themselves. Some in the prosperity camp have benefited personally from the teaching, using their own material prosperity as proof of the truth of their claims.
People of God, the time is ripe to go to our most reliable source for matters of both faith and practice: The Word of God—and perform an autopsy. Let's see for ourselves, with the help of eyewitnesses who have firsthand knowledge of these matters! An autopsy of true biblical prosperity will yield the following evidence:
Our God Wishes to Prosper His People.
This truth is made abundantly clear in the writings of the prophet Jeremiah: "For I know the plans I have for you," declares the Lord, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future" (29:11). Could this be any clearer? What is not clear from this verse alone is what prosperity means. Let's continue with the autopsy. Look. See for yourself.
Prosperity can take a variety of forms.
John writes: "Dear friend, I pray that you may enjoy good health and that all may go well with you, even as your soul is getting along well" (3 John 2). This verse indicates that the Bible reveals more than one form of prosperity: spiritual, relational, physical, emotional, and material prosperity.
God does prosper some with material possessions.
Look at Abram. God said, "I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you" and Abram accumulated great wealth (Genesis 12:2). But Abram's material prosperity had a purpose: "you will be a blessing" (12:3). God prospers some with material possessions for a reason—to bless the world.
Material prosperity is a test.
The life of Joseph bears this out. Joseph's life, as recorded in Genesis 37-50, was a series of tests. Prosperity was one of them. Joseph was in prison. Suddenly—almost overnight—Joseph went from prisoner to powerbroker. With one statement from Pharaoh, Joseph became the second most powerful, and one of the richest, men in the world (Genesis 41:41-44). His newfound material prosperity was a test and true to form, Joseph passed it. He used his position and possessions to serve humanity.
Hearsay continues to teach that what is needed is a faith that will lead to even greater material prosperity.
The Word of God declares that what is needed is simplicity, sacrifice, and obedience. By God's grace, we can pass the prosperity test and become a blessing to the nations. That's no myth. That's from a reliable source.
Bud Reedy is senior pastor of Stillmeadow Church of the Nazarene in York, Pennsylvania.
Holiness Today, May/June 2007
Please note: This article was originally published in 2007. All facts, figures, and titles were accurate to the best of our knowledge at that time but may have since changed.