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Posts Tagged ‘Prosperity gospel’

Glory to God in the highest… (Luke 2:14)

to Him be the glory in the church… (Ephesians 3:21)

At our closing carol service at the end of the ministry training week Pastor Manases of Christ Supremacy Church fed us wonderfully from these verses, particularly pointing us to the glory of Christ and the way that he brings true peace on earth through his reconciling death, but also making a side point that it is very easy for a church or Christian organisation to drift away from a pursuit of the glory of God towards a pursuit of the glory of man.

David Jackman, in an Evangelicals Now article, highlights the case of ‘Solomon’s Temple’ in Sao Paulo, Brazil – a recently completed 11-storey, 10,000 seater, $300 million centre for the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God.

Solomons Temple Sau Paulo

This is religion as idolatry, for the glory of man in the name of the glory of God. We may stand aloof, assuring ourselves that we would never fall for such blatant idolatry, but we might be wise to identify its characteristics and examine whether their roots are to be found in our own corporate church cultures…

Religious idolatry is an ever present threat and… powerful whenever Christ and his work is sidelined in favour of he church and its image in the contemporary culture. It will be motivated by competitiveness (my church is more successful than yours), by a commitment to impressing the world on its own terms, rather than living in it on Christ’s terms. It will seek the acceptance and approval of the world, rather than being crucified with Christ (Gal. 6:14).

We need to look within. The seeds are ready to germinate in all our hearts. “Dear children, keep yourself from idols.” (1 John 5:21)

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Marua preaching quote

 

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Sorry if this is getting wearying. Maybe this isn’t as relevant to some as to others of us. Maybe a long comment doesn’t always require a long response. But it’s been helpful for me at least to think through some of these issues, many of which are massive ones in our context.

For those who missed it – this was the original comment by Oral Roberts on ‘What is the Gospel? Riches’.

And finally:

5. My personal experiences: I have seen many bright young people drop out of school because their parents cannot pay school fees and their dreams fall to the ground. I have seen the sick die when they were taken out of Private hospitals where they offer best medical services, because the family cannot afford, to some cheap government facility where they offer poor medical services. The children of a poor Pastor neither want to be pastors nor marry pastors. Poor churches are riddled with wrangles and frequent splits.
I have received many invitations to preach the gospel in many places: to Chandigarh Northern India, but I never went because I could not raise my ticket. Then I got another invitation to Chennai Southern India, I never went because I could not raise my ticket. Then I got another invitation to Madagascar, I never went because I could not raise my ticket. It is easy to say, may be it was not the will of God. However, the reality is all the other places I have gone preaching and teaching the word of God, I had an invitation but also was able to pay my air ticket. I do not always use circumstances to judge what is the will of God for me. Many sinners travel the world because they can afford it , not because it is the will of God.
6.The early church in the book of Acts was very poor in Acts 3: 6. Then they moved on to Acts 4:34, there was no lack among them. Then Acts 5 Ananias and Sapphira his wife died and are buried over their material wealth. Then Acts 6: 3 they appoint seven managers. A church that is stuck in Acts 3:6 is not able to fulfil the great commission. Let no one be deceived the enemies of the gospel bought Jesus for 30 pieces of silver and crucified him, then they paid the guards money to deny Jesus resurrection! Think about it! Do you think it won’t cost money to preach the truth….He is risen.
7. Poverty is not humility! It is neither a virtue nor one of the gifts / fruit of the Holy Spirit. My candid statement……with love n respect for the views of others but the truth is my ultimate goal.

Personal experiences

Oral raises a couple of issues. One is the very real hardships faced by millions in our nation. They’re not helped by the false promises of the prosperity gospel but they very definitely need addressing. In addition to the 3 gospel responses already mentioned, it might be worth adding links to:

The other issue is that of support for pastors and gospel ministry in our context. This is a really tricky one that needs lots more thinking and discussion. At Raising the Bar Tigoni we talked with pastors with different experiences and different models and we could all see advantages and challenges and biblical support for each of them.

  1. Congregation-supported. Seems to be the expected pattern (1 Cor. 9:8-14; Gal. 6:6; 1 Tim 5:18) but a) difficult in very poor informal settlement contexts; b) not appropriate in evangelistic/pioneering situations where there is a risk of appearing to peddle the gospel for money and confuse grace (1 Cor. 9:15-18); c) can attract people into ministry with the wrong motives; d) raises a temptation for the pastor to preach and lead in a way that manipulates the congregation and increases the collection. Having said this, the model has been shown to work successfully and with integrity even among poor congregations.
  2. Tent-making / self-supporting (or partially self-supporting). This seems to be what Paul was doing in Asia (Acts 20:34) and partially in Thessalonica (1 Thess. 2:9 cf. Phil. 4:16). This can mean doing some part-time business or craft or having a full-time job and pastoring in the weekends and evenings. The obvious disadvantage is the danger of distraction and having less time and energy to properly pastor the flock (and even more significantly the danger of distraction of heart – business as part of a mission agenda slipping into business as an end in itself). If the business involved fairly low time and energy investment then this can work well. Part-time craft or farming can also be viable but is very hard work. Having a full time job wouldn’t be viable for a single pastor but might be possible, at least for a season, if there was a team of 6-8 men each giving the equivalent of a day or two a week to the ministry of a church.
  3. Supported from other congregations and believers. This could take a number of different forms: a) The Philippian model of believer supporting a missionary pastor as he ministers to people in a different place (Phil. 4:16) – this is basically the partnership model that we love at iServe Africa. There are strong (esp. urban) churches and individuals in Kenya which could be supporting many pastors and missionaries in rural area and informal settlements. Challenges include lack of appreciation of the partnership model, a preference for tithing and harambee, and the technical difficulty of sending regular support. b) A denominational model where congregations’ giving is pooled and then divided between the different pastors and churches. This has advantages in terms of accountability but potential challenges in terms of bureaucracy and control issues. c) A church planting model where one congregation sends out a pastor and/or team to another place and commits to support the new church at least in the early stages.

Book of Acts

The progression that Oral notes is very interesting. The apostles had nothing (Acts 3:6). In fact it seems that they stayed that way (cf. 1 Cor. 4:8-13). When the money was brought to their feet they didn’t hold onto it but gave it back, distributing it to the needy believers (Acts 4:35). The wonderful situation  ‘no needy among them’ (Acts 4:34) is indeed closely followed by the scary report of financial misreporting (Acts 5:1-11) and the incident of ethnic tensions in the distributions and the need for strategy and good management (Acts 6:1-7). Certainly money and management are really important issues in the great commission going forth but I would question the idea that money is essential for the progress of the gospel:

  • Money was needed to shut up the guards at the tomb and spread a false story (Matt. 28:11-15) but it wasn’t needed by the women who first proclaimed the true message “He is risen” (Luke 24:9-10; John 20:18). Throughout history and across the world today hostile governments have spent and spend vast sums of money seeking to shut up and destroy the gospel message while the persecuted church, meeting in homes and secret locations, hard-pressed and with virtually no financial resources grows and grows unstoppably.
  • Continue moving through Acts beyond chapter 6 and you find the next big expansion of gospel mission comes through persecution and scattering (Acts 8:3-4). Philip goes as an IDP to Samaria and just preaches Christ (Acts 8:5). Interestingly there is then the issue of the apostles refusing money (Acts 8:18-20) followed by the preaching of a relatively poor Philip to a far more wealthy African (Acts 8:27-39). Throughout the book of Acts the real driver of mission and church growth is not money but the Spirit of God and the preaching of the Word of Christ.
  • It’s interesting to notice that no usage of PA systems is mentioned in the book of Acts. I’m being a bit tongue in cheek here but it’s interesting how, particularly in Africa, we have come to see the PA system as one of the vital things for setting up a new ministry – pastor, room, plastic chairs, pulpit, PA system. And for the more middle class churches of Nairobi we could add ministry vehicle, drum set, soft furnishings, laptop projector and screen. Are these things really necessary for the apostolic gospel to move forward?
  • While there is a lot of debate about how exactly to represent economics in the Roman world in the first and second centuries, there is wide agreement that the early church was basically poor – certainly including very very few wealthy and privileged people (cf. 1 Cor. 1:26). And yet during this early period it grew from 120 believers to millions.

Poverty is not humility

Very true. You can be poor and proud and rich and proud. There’s nothing glorious or particularly spiritual about poverty or suffering in itself. It can just be degrading and embittering and crushing. But (hard as it sounds) suffering can be a gift (Philippians 1:29), can be humbling (Dan. 4), can be a means of mission, can be something that the Father uses to make us more like the Son (Rom. 8:28-29). That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t fight to alleviate suffering and poverty (we should), but it does mean that we see the bigger picture of God’s sovereignty and his purpose for us and his mission and his glory.

 

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Part 1

Part 2

Now let’s engage some actual Bible passages:

Let us consider the following:
1. In the beginning God created the Earth and gave it to one couple Adam and Eve. They were the sole owners of the planet Earth. Think about it! Given to them by God! That was before the fall of man! That is too much wealth.
2. Then God called Abraham and Sarah and blessed them “…The Lord had blessed Abraham in all things” Genesis 24:1 Abraham had so much material wealth that he had to part ways with his nephew Lot because the pasture could not feed all their animals together. Abraham had over four hundred men working in his ranch, with their families. That is employment. When Sodom and Gomorrah were attacked and Lot captured. Abraham got the news, he took his four hundred servants and pursued the enemy defeated them and recovered all and restored to the kings what they had lost. On his way back he met Melchizedek the priest of God and gave to him tithes of all. The first tither in the Bible.
3. David was blessed materially no wonder he could provide materials to build God such a magnificent house but Solomon is the one who built it .
Then Solomon offered 120,000 sheep and 22,000 oxen in dedicating the Temple. Does this sound like poverty to you?
4. In Jesus ministry there were no offices and office bearers, but there was a treasurer…. Judas! Why? Could it be that Jesus was teaching us something about money in ministry? Yes he was. Money is the mode of exchange in this world….ignore it to your own destruction. Let us rightly divide the word of truth. Money if not put in its proper place can ruin your life…. for lack of it or much of it. So be realistic. Judas misappropriated ministry money. He also said what a woman spent on Jesus was a waste. He sold Jesus for 30 pieces of silver, then committed suicide. Think about it! One of the twelve disciples of Jesus committed suicide!
On the other hand when Jesus was crucified and died on the cross, the disciples ran away. It took two men who had both affluence and influence to reach Pilate and demand for the body of Jesus and give him a descent burial. That was Joseph of Arimathaea and Nicodemus. Where were those poor believers at Jesus greatest hour of need when he could not do anything for himself but needed someone’s help!

Taking our brother’s points in turn:

  1. Adam and Eve were given dominion over the living things of the earth (Gen. 1:26-28), given free reign to eat from any plant or tree (Gen. 1:29; 2:16) and given the job of working the garden (Gen. 2:15) but I can’t see anywhere that they were given the earth. The LORD’s making of the earth (and all who dwell in it) means that it is all his (Ps. 24:1-2). If there was an original giving of the earth it was a giving of the earth to the Son. All things were created for him (Col. 1:16). He walked around the garden as the owner. Adam was the priest who’s job it was to be a faithful servant in God’s house, to guard the garden tabernacle, but he was not the owner or builder of the house (cf. Heb. 3:3-6). Adam was indeed appointed king of the world but the biblical idea of a king (in great contrast to the pagan view then and now) was not that the king owned the land and people but that he was a steward, an under-shepherd, serving God’s people in God’s land. A key point in servant leadership there.
  2. Certainly Abraham was wealthy and God’s blessing of him included his wealth. It shows that God is not anti-wealth and it is possible (like Job) to be wealthy and a believer. But in applying all this to those of us who are by faith children of Abraham we need to go through Galatians 3 and see our real blessing there. On the question of tithing and whether Abraham sets a precedent in Gen. 14 see the article by Kostenberger page 3-5.
  3. Solomon is not a great positive example of wealth. Though his wealth was in the first place God-given (1 Kings 3:13), the writer of Kings is subtly but clearly making the point in 1 Kings 10 that what Solomon was doing in terms of accumulating vast amounts of gold and horses is in direct contravention of the Kingship code of Deut. 17. It could even be that the famous number of the beast (Rev. 13:18) alludes to the amount of gold Solomon received (1 Kings 10:14). And then you look at Ecclesiastes. Certainly money is very useful (Eccl. 10:19) – no-one is denying that – but at the end of it all Solomon found all his wealth meaningless and unsatisfying (Eccl. 2).
  4. Our brother makes lots of good points from Jesus’ ministry on the importance of money and using it well for gospel purposes and with proper accountability being aware of the temptations. As we’ve said several times now, we are not against money or using money in life and ministry. There were obviously wealthy believers and those with financial means who supported Jesus in his ministry and who in the early church made their homes available for the church to meet in or supported the mission of the apostles and evangelists. Jesus talked repeatedly about money and we don’t want to avoid the subject. In fact if God moves you to support the ministry of  iServe Africa please do that right now – in Kenya or from overseas. It would be great to be in partnership!

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Part 1

Oral Roberts continues:

Let us be honest here. As long as we live on earth, it is a material world. This is not heaven. Here people need to eat three meals a day, change clothes and shoes, get education, a home to live in and means of transport to move around. Whereas those who have gotten all that are the very ones who glorify poverty…it is not hypocrisy? All these things are in the world and for this life on earth. Don’t deceive others. You can only use them here because you only need them here that is why God placed them here. I am a preacher of a different kind because whereas I am not a prosperity preacher but I am realistic and love sound doctrine not biased.

It’s good to love sound doctrine and seek truth. It’s good to recognise where we’re coming from – the privilege I have and all of us reading this have in terms of education and access and time to do anything more than scraping a living. It’s good to be honest and realistic. It’s good to think through what difference the gospel makes to the mother in the informal settlement with six children and no idea where the next meal is coming from. This is tough stuff. Help me guys. But here are a few initial thoughts:

  1. Indeed this is not heaven. In fact that is the big problem with prosperity preaching – promising the things of the New Creation now – release from suffering, hunger, tears, injustice. But what about life now? What good is the gospel for the day to day realities of living now as we wait for the return of Christ? Can we promise people three meals a day, education, home, transport? I’m sorry but I don’t think we can. What can we say then? Well three things come to mind: (a) The gospel should compel us to ‘remember the poor’ (Gal. 2:10) and especially fellow brothers and sisters in Christ (1 John 3:11-18 etc.) and especially those who are really vulnerable, incapable of supporting themselves and without family support (e.g. 1 Tim. 5:3-16). It must be thoughtfully and carefully done but it can and should be done and this practical love and community and interdependence is part of the answer. (b) The gospel can transform people from dependency to generosity. I remember a Zimbabwean pastor calling Ephesians 4:28 ‘God’s solution to poverty’. Maybe that’s saying a bit too much but it’s certainly part of the picture. In a Greek culture where working with your hands was despised and everyone wanted a desk job (much like today really) Paul encouraged thieves (yes there were thieves in the church) to do business, hustle, tarmac, work hard and make money so they can not only support themselves but others (and Paul was saying no more than he did himself – Acts 20:33-35). (c) While there are not total promises of total provision every day, there are wonderful passages talking about the character of God and calling on us to trust him (not trust him for… but trust him) every day – calling out for what we need (Matt. 6:11), trusting that he is the good, intimately concerned, listening, giving Father (Matt. 6:25-11), trust that because of the Cross he is with us and for us through all the mess (Rom. 8:28-39) and that he will give sufficient grace to carry us through each day (2 Cor. 12:9). For more on this see the brilliant free workbook When I Am Afraid by Edward T Welch (esp. Week 3).
  2. Is it not hypocrisy? To have the stuff and then tell others God doesn’t promise it. Well maybe… but consider the following: (a) most prosperity preaching originates in the hugely wealthy US (see the Piper video below) and arrives in East Africa either directly through cable/satellite TV or via Nigeria where it is Africanised for even more potency (see Conrad Mbewe on this). Since the effect of the prosperity gospel is most often to make the poor poorer and only the pastor richer (see Femi Adeleye’s video below) you could (if you wanted to be a conspiracy theorist) argue that the prosperity gospel is a Western plot to impoverish the rest of the world. (b) The minority of US pastors who are very vocal against the prosperity gospel are by no means the ones who live lavish lifestyles of pampered comfort. John Piper for example drives a $5000 car (KES 435k), earns no royalties from his many books, has been open and public about his financial affairs (detailed here), and is no stranger to suffering having gone through prostate cancer in 2006 (read the brilliant Don’t Waste Your Cancer). (c) Most importantly, an increasing number of Africans are writing strong biblical arguments against the false promises of the prosperity gospel: Conrad Mbewe (Zambia), Ken Mbugua & Michael Otieno (Kenya), Determine Dusabumuremyi (Rwanda), Femi Adeleye (Nigerian based in Ghana), Rodgers Atwebembeire (Uganda), J Kwabena Asamoah-Gyadu (Ghana) and many others.
  3. Yes God has provided material things for us in this material world. Christianity is in one sense a very materialistic religion – certainly when compared with Eastern philosophy – it has a solid doctrine of Creation, incarnation, the suffering of Christ, the bodily resurrection, the future hope of a physical New Creation. We are not advocating asceticism (1 Tim. 4:1-5) or denying that we need to handle and use and make and be wise with money. In fact it is the prosperity gospel that teaches a super-spiritualism which says that everything is answered with prayer and fasting. It is prosperity gospel that teaches us to live in unreality and to deny the real world of suffering, pain, unanswered desires. Truly biblical religion is about getting real.
  4. But does all this talk of prosperity gospel have anything to do with what Oral Roberts is talking about – just encouraging people that God doesn’t want them to be poor, giving people hope that God will give them the basics of food and clothing and a house and education and transport? He’s not talking about a wild prosperity gospel of miracle oil and sowing a seed to get a BMW. This is more motivational speaking and encouragement than full on prosperity gospel. But I fear that this ‘mild’ form of prosperity preaching is simply a bit further up the slippery slope from the ‘strong’ version. Both the mild and the strong offer what are (I’m sorry to say) false promises and both tend to be man-centred. The danger is that the worst excesses of the most crass prosperity gospel mongers play the rest of us onside and a more subtle form of the same thing slips in the backdoor.

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This is an attempt to start to answer the comments of our friend Oral Roberts to a recent post based on 2 Corinthians 8:9. It was a lengthy comment raising lots of important issues so it’ll need a few posts to respond. And please – other brothers and sisters do come in on the debate and comment below.

I wonder why we glorify poverty and condemn prosperity. Are we living in the real world? How is God glorified when a family has not had a meal for a whole day? While the scripture says “I HAVE BEEN YOUNG AND NOW I AM OLD, YET I HAVE NOT SEEN THE RIGHTEOUS FORSAKEN NOR THEIR CHILDREN BEGGING BREAD”.

  1. There is certainly no reason to glorify poverty in itself. In fact one of the points of the argument I was making in relation to 2 Cor. 8:9 is that someone being materially poor is not in itself of any benefit to anyone; there is nothing intrinsically good or worthy or glorious about poverty that can save people. Ironically, it is the prosperity preachers who want to use this verse to argue that Jesus has come to make us materially rich who must imply that there is something glorious and powerful in (Jesus’) material poverty. I was arguing that the verse is probably not about physical riches or poverty but about the glory of the willingly-chosen, vicarious spiritual/relational poverty of the Cross and the undeserved riches of sonship.
  2. The call to live in the real world is a very helpful reminder though. How do we face the daily realities of grinding poverty and appalling abuse and vast inequality? And what does the gospel mean in the everyday concerns of life? Oral says a lot more on this further on in his comment so we’ll save commenting on this for another post.
  3. How is God glorified? The rhetorical question implies only one answer but – and this is a hard thing to say – we need to be careful before assuming we know what will or will not glorify God. This is a God who was glorified as he hung on a cross, battered, bleeding, naked and dying. His definition of glory may be a million miles from ours. It would be a good exercise to go through the letter of 1 Peter and see what brings glory to God.
  4. What about the quote from Psalm 37:25? Well there are a number of ways to respond to that:
    • For one thing it is, strictly speaking, an observation, not a promise: “I have seen…” It is anecdotal, experience, not a full survey of the world population through all time. Solomon, when he looks at the world, finds something very different (e.g. Eccl. 7:15; 8:14), so do the Sons of Korah (Psalm 44:9-26), so does Job (e.g. Job 21:7-21), so does the author of Hebrews (Heb. 11:35-38), the Apostle Paul is familiar with hunger (2 Cor. 6:5; 11:27; Phil. 4:12) and then you have the supreme exception Jesus The Righteous One crying out in forsakenness.
    • We also need to be careful to read all Scripture together, particularly when it comes to the three great poetic books of Psalms, Proverbs and Job. They speak with very different voices but we need to hear all of them and the conversations between them. Many of us were very struck recently as we went through the book of Job how Job’s ‘comforters’ throw at him stuff like “Consider now: Who being innocent, has ever perished? Where were the upright ever destroyed?” (Job 4:7). (Will Keynes, My Psalm Has Turned Into Weeping shows how Job’s friends allude to and (mis)quote the Psalms). One of the dangers is that if we throw around verses like Psalm 37:25, one day it could hit someone in a situation like Job, righteous and abandoned, children not just begging but dead, and on that day it would have the very opposite effect to comfort.
    • And another thing is to notice that Psalm 37 seems very tied into the Old Covenant. The ‘land’ is mentioned no less than 7 times. So it’s impossible to apply directly to us. The blessings and curses (v22) seem to be tied into Deut. 28. The Psalmist has never ‘seen’ the righteous forsaken because under the Old Covenant there were very visible evidences of God’s presence and favour – dwelling in the land, good harvests, large families, lending and never begging. In the new covenant blessedness seems to be defined not so much in terms of these tangibles but in terms of fellowship with Christ  in his suffering now and in his glories later (again see 1 Peter). The great comfort is indeed that, one with the Son, we will never be forsaken, even though it might often look like we are.

We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; (2 Cor. 4:8-9)

…as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and behold, we live; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing everything. (2 Cor. 6:9-10)

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