Christians and Prosperity Doctrines

Six years or so ago I wrote an article for an online community which was published in February, 2008 about Christians and the Question of Riches. I recalled doing so while reading about Chapter 67 of the Tao Te Ching at Ralston Creek Review and the very useful observations in the commentary there, particularly Louis’ comment about “law of attraction gurus” who ply their wares in the broad stream of media bandwidth. Thought I’d reprise it here, considering it covers the ground from yet another angle of perspective concerning humility, frugality, and compassion.

Christians and the Question of Riches

The riches offered by contemporary prosperity doctrines bring us to a critical question. Can we follow Christ and also focus our personal attention on gaining financial security and material wealth?

Jesus speaks of spiritual riches. Riches of wisdom, knowledge, forgiveness, compassion, caring, faith, love, humility, meekness, patience, self-denial and giving. He asserts that no one can serve God and wealth, or mammon, because it divides our attention.

Yet contemporary prosperity doctrines often feature the gain of worldly riches and material wealth as guaranteed rewards for the faithful. It’s a proven hot ticket, a big draw for mega-churches and televangelists. The essential principle – richness of spirit and treasure in heaven – is rarely glimpsed amid the blare and glare of this latest gold rush, where fervently whipped air promises the congregation more, more, more, available here and now, if only they buy the device being sold there.

The sales persons here are often deeply earnest about the message they deliver. If during their journey from the source to the recipient they have become errant or diverted from the real message, it is not simply a matter of assigning blame to them for the jumble they deliver. In this instance the recipient shares responsibility for what they hear and what they buy. They do not listen for truth, and so do not hear what they need. They listen for what they want, and when they hear it, they buy it.

What do they buy? The handy-dandy, one-size-fits-all, install-it-yourself Handle On God. The sales pitch goes something like this:

“Get a grip with the H.O.G.! Be in total control 24/7! Haul God around like a satchel and use him when you need him. Make God your personal grab bag, a cornucopia of fulfilled desires. Wield him against your enemies like a sock full of bricks! Includes all instructions on how to hold your mouth just right, control your thoughts, force the universe to deliver your every want, gain total control over everything, and look good doing it.”

That’s the general pitch and tone of the thing. And in the fine print, clearly viewable through either any world-class electron microscope or a mere iota of discernment, is the following disclaimer and side-effect warning: “The HOG system includes (1) first-class ticket on the generously greased express slide to despair, anger, embarrassment – and possibly hell – at no extra charge.”

If that’s what you’re saying or hearing, it might be time to reconsider a few things. Matthew 6:24-33, the passage that begins with the observation about love of mammon and then proceeds to inform us to take no thought about what we will eat, drink or wear – and to only remember where it will come from – ends with this: “seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.”

This is the root of truth behind prosperity doctrine. It is repeated in Luke 6: 37-38. “Judge not, and ye shall not be judged: condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned: forgive, and ye shall be forgiven: Give, and it shall be given unto you; good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over, shall men give into your bosom. For with the same measure that ye mete withal it shall be measured to you again.”

In this passage giving and receiving are simultaneous events, not cause and effect, or a sanctified work-for-pay arrangement. Think about that. There’s quite a difference there. It’s the difference between true riches of the spirit and the desperate poverty of a fearful heart which has forgotten how to trust and be loved. It’s the difference between a tithe released in joy to seed and grow, and a tithe meanly spent for mere return.

Our time appears unusually challenging to us, more so than the times of past generations. We are confronted by economic instability, political terror, moral laxity and dissolution. Insecurities and fears come at us from every angle. But they are not special. They are the same ancient challenges all of humanity has had to confront in every generation. Fear erodes faith. Humility is easily lost and too often an arrogant self-righteousness rises from its ashes. Confronted with fear and instability we desperately crave the stability faith offers, yet we look for answers in the world.

The riches of Christ and Christianity are riches of the heart and spirit. There is nothing in the world that can meet that measure of wealth. The feeling of poverty is the wage paid when we believe we have less and begin to chase after more. Prosperity is about remembering that what we have is enough, and reminding ourselves of the riches we have already received and given, and giving more of the same. Those are good things to remember when we feel poor.

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