This photo has nothing whatsoever to do with what follows. I just like it.
St. Kilda BeachMany years ago I lived in a flat in Westminster St., Christchurch. Just around the corner from us was a small Brethren chapel, attended by a couple of friends of mine, and I visited it occasionally. It was a fairly standard, generic Protestant type of church except for one thing: the people who attended were wealthier than average, and those who weren't comfortably off when they started attending, generally became so after a while. The people in the church were quite clear about why this phenomenon occurred, and several of them were quick to point out to me that it was NOT because they were particularly favoured by God. Rather, they recognised that once a person gave their life to Christ and started to try and live after the style of Jesus, and once people became part of this community, they acquired a set of spiritual and/or cultural values which were, actually, commercially advantageous: thrift, honesty, integrity, truthfulness, hard work, faithfulness and sobriety for example. As well, on joining the church they instantly acquired a sizeable network of trustworthy people who were always looking for like minded customers/clients/subcontractors/employees. In other words, the good people of the chapel, while rejoicing in the unexpected material benefits of their faith, were quite clear about its origins in the connection between prosperity and work and integrity.
Jump forward forty years and the connection between these things in our culture is fraying. For large sections of our society it seems that there are people who get inordinately wealthy with only a modicum amount of work, and sometimes with no integrity whatsoever. One such even gets to be President of the United States, for goodness sake. And there are some who are honest and hard working and yet face a life of grinding, relentless poverty. For a young working family in Auckland these days, struggling to pay an exorbitant rent, and the costs of traveling to work, it doesn't matter how hard you work or how honest you are, you are never going to save the required 20% deposit for a house, let alone be able to afford the mortgage even if you did. Many have grown depending on a benefit of some sort for all or part of their income, and have never quite made the connection between work and money. Many are handicapped by the schools they went to, or the strictures placed on them by family or friends or experience and many do not even realise that they are handicapped. For many in our society it is no longer true, if ever it was that if you work hard and do right you will succeed. So people look around and see the houses that some live in and the cars that they drive the clothes that they wear and notice that the distribution is pretty random. It's pretty natural to ask why? Why them and not me?
And there are some in our society only too willing to give an answer.
Over the last few decades, originating in the USA but now present in all parts of the Western world is a cynical parody of the Christian faith known as "The Prosperity Gospel". This teaches that prosperity is a blessing, given by God, and that the more you honour God in your life the more God will bless you by showering on you all those things you find so attractive. And, of course, one of the best ways to honour God is by supporting God's work in the form of donations to the church, particularly this church you are in right now, which, unlike all those other crappy churches out there, is one of the very few which teaches the truth. And do you want proof that this works? Well, just look at the pastor. Listen to him. He is a person much like you, but he honours God, and just see how wealthy God has made him! Check out the house! The suit! The Harley Davidson!
This teaching is the very antithesis of the Good News proclaimed by Jesus whose life of selfless service to others and his eschewal of all that people generally use to bolster their sense of self - wealth, power, influence, reputation - pointed to the ever present reality he came to proclaim: the Kingdom of God. Jesus practiced an unstinting acceptance of all and taught that true blessedness was there for the taking, regardless of our level of wealth. The prosperity Gospel bases itself in a few warped interpretations of a few Biblical texts, preached in the confidence of the target audience's Biblical illiteracy. It plays on the misery and hopelessness of many in our culture and on their fondest aspirations. It is a cruel hoax, established and maintained for the benefit of a very few at the expense of the most vulnerable.
It is not just unChristian. It is anti-Christian.