The stage for the seed faith message was set when TV evangelist Pat Robertson ascended the steps at the Oral Roberts memorial service Monday to give the opening prayer.
“Lord, you sent us a man with the knowledge of your healing power. You sent us a man who taught us the greatness of faith and the principle of seed faith,” said Robertson within the first few minutes of the speaking segment of the memorial at Oral Roberts University.
Robertson, founder of the Christian Broadcasting Network, along with Oral Roberts University President Mark Rutland, and the late evangelist’s children, Richard and Roberta Roberts, propagated the popular yet controversial theology during each of their tributes.
Rutland recalled Roberts’ “magnetic presence” on screen and in life and said his mentor made people believe in a God who “blesses blessers and gives to givers.”
“His simple and entirely biblical doctrine of seed faith was not some unusual or bizarre idea from the edge of Christianity,” asserted Rutland. “Jesus himself said give and it shall be given unto you, pressed down, shaken together and running over."
“Oral Roberts didn’t make those words up, Jesus did,” he said. “But Oral made them manageable to us. He made them bite size and we believed.”
Roberts, a pioneer televangelist and a leading figure in the charismatic movement, died last Tuesday at the age of 91, due to complications from pneumonia following a fall in which he broke several bones.
The healing evangelist, a title given to him because of the hundreds of healing crusades he conducted around the world, is known for founding the 500-acre Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, Okla., the City of Faith Medical and Research Center (now closed), and through his writing of more than 130 books, including his most popular title, The Miracle of Seed Faith.
The seed faith message is the teaching that if people give money to the church or the ministry, God will multiply it back to them 30, 60, or 100 times more than they gave.
Rutland in his address spoke about how Roberts taught a “simple doctrine of faith that we cannot outgive God.”
“That God was a loving and giving God who proved His love by giving, and who blesses us when we gave, and He wanted to prosper and bless us,” explained the ORU president.
“This is a remarkable doctrine (at the time),” Rutland said, noting that those in the classical denominations (Rutland is from a United Methodist background) and classic Pentecostalism are used to “a pretty dusty doctrine: give and maybe somehow or another God will make it up to you in the next world, maybe.”
But Roberts made people believe in “a generous God who lubricated our lives with blessings.”
Rutland called Roberts an “extraordinary” but not perfect man. Roberta Potts, Roberts’ daughter, similarly said her father is not perfect but “did everything he knew to obey God.”
Though speakers at Monday’s memorial enthusiastically praised the seed faith doctrine, other theologians and pastors have spoken out against the doctrine since Roberts’ death. They all acknowledged the tremendous influence Roberts had on Christianity worldwide, but they asserted that the seed faith message is not the true gospel.
“Was the message he proclaimed the unadulterated gospel?” posed John MacArthur, pastor of Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, Calif., in a commentary Friday. “No.”
"In all the many times I saw him on television I never once heard him preach the gospel," the evangelical pastor pointed out. "His message – every time – was about seed faith."
MacArthur went on to lament that the seed faith message “usurped and utterly replaced” whatever gospel message was in Roberts’ preaching.
“The reason for that is obvious: the message of the cross – an atoning sacrifice for sins wrought through Jesus' sufferings – frankly doesn't mesh very well with the notion that God guarantees health, wealth, and prosperity to the righteous."
Likewise, R. Albert Mohler, Jr., president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., called Roberts’ message “problematic.”
“In his prime years, Roberts was the most significant agent for prosperity theology,” Mohler wrote in a commentary. “Prosperity theology teaches that God promises His people financial gain and bodily health. It is a false Gospel that turns the Gospel of Christ upside-down."
“Following Christ demands poverty more often than wealth, and we are not promised relief from physical ills, injury, sickness, or death,” the theologian maintained. “Christians die along with all other mortals, but we are promised the gift of eternal life in Christ.”
Mohler noted that Oral Roberts University had in recent years suffered from financial scandals. The most well-known scandal is the allegation that Roberts’ son, Richard Roberts, had used the school money to live a life of luxury. Roberts resigned in 2007 amid allegations and the school was $50 million in debt. The school has since recovered financial stability.
The memorial service was attended by about 4,000 people, including prominent leaders of the charismatic movement, such as John Hagee, Kenneth and Gloria Copeland, James and Betty Robison, and Kenneth and Lynette Hagin, among others. Some televangelists arrived in stretch limousines, Jaguars, and Cadillacs, according to The Associated Press.
The event was broadcast and webcast live by several television networks, including Christian Broadcasting Network.