Monday, December 28, 2009

'Tis The Season For The Prosperity Gospel

Bible Bling! The famous trio of gifts for baby Jesus.

Hope you all had a wonderful Christmas! I know I did with my amazing hubby. I'm also enjoying some time off of work, too, so I'm feeling extra happy.

I'm not feeling so happy about this CNN story called "Passions over 'prosperity gospel':Was Jesus wealthy?". Below is an excerpt:

"Each Christmas, Christians tell stories about the poor baby Jesus born in a lowly manger because there was no room in the inn.

But the Rev. C. Thomas Anderson, senior pastor of the Living Word Bible Church in Mesa, Arizona, preaches a version of the Christmas story that says baby Jesus wasn't so poor after all.

Anderson says Jesus couldn't have been poor because he received lucrative gifts -- gold, frankincense and myrrh -- at birth. Jesus had to be wealthy because the Roman soldiers who crucified him gambled for his expensive undergarments. Even Jesus' parents, Mary and Joseph, lived and traveled in style, he says.

"Mary and Joseph took a Cadillac to get to Bethlehem because the finest transportation of their day was a donkey," says Anderson. "Poor people ate their donkey. Only the wealthy used it as transportation."

Many Christians see Jesus as the poor, itinerant preacher who had "no place to lay his head." But as Christians gather around the globe this year to celebrate the birth of Jesus, another group of Christians are insisting that Jesus' beginnings weren't so humble.

They say that Jesus was never poor -- and neither should his followers be. Their claim is embedded in the doctrine known as the prosperity gospel, which holds that God rewards the faithful with financial prosperity and spiritual gifts."

I'm not sure why CNN chose to run this story on Christmas itself, since it highlights yet another divisive controversy within Christianity while simultaneously shining light on crass materialism as opposed to our Lord. I should expect no more from a secular outlet, though, so let's examine some of the claims made. First, regarding the gifts, I don't see how the expensive presents given by the Wisemen reveal much of anything about the recipients' wealth. Instead, the Magi's gifts show Jesus' royalty. They gave costly gifts to the Prince of Peace (for one explanation on the gifts, click here).

Second, whether Jesus' garments were expensive or not can be debated, but I believe the real significance of the soldiers gambling over it is the fulfillment of prophesy. Psalms 22:18 says: "They divide my garments among them and cast lots for my clothing." The entire 22nd chapter of Psalms foretells Jesus' suffering, and this verse specifically deals with the Roman soldiers making bets to collect the robe off the back of "The King of the Jews."

Third, I can't find a single passage of Scripture stating Joseph and Mary were rich. We know Joseph was a carpenter, but little else. Interestingly, we are told in Luke 2:24 that the new parents, while presenting the newborn Jesus in the temple according to Mosaic Law, made a sacrifice of "a pair of doves or two young pigeons". The significance? This gift was an acceptable sacrifice for those who DID NOT have money! Observant Jews of means would have given a costlier gift of a lamb.

Fourth, I find the comparison of a donkey and a Caddy silly. While a starving person would kill their donkey for the meat, a poor person might not. Again, the Scriptures don't list Jesus' parents' finances, but I believe the fact they rode on a donkey showed they weren't loaded. Rich folks would probably ride on camels (and I won't compare them to Maybachs). In both Matthew and Luke, Jesus says about Himself that He had no place to lay His head. Does this mean He was homeless? I don't know, but all through the Gospel, Jesus was about His Father's business, showing little concern to physical comforts, let alone amassing wealth.

Jesus did assure His followers that God would meet their needs, though, so we know God will have our backs. Let me make this clear: Being wealthy is not a sin, and I don't have anything against having money. It is the LOVE of money that is wrong. Why? Because God is jealous, and we cannot serve two masters. This is why I find the Prosperity Gospel so poisonous. It spends so much time pushing what believers can receive from God, it neglects God! Whether it's money, love, happiness or health, Christians should never let the things of this world and our desires for them cause us to stray from our objective to serve God.

I often hear people who follow the teachings of the Prosperity Gospel or the Word of Faith Movement talk about being "favored" by God or receiving His "favor." They use these terms to describe receiving a blessing, many times material. I was listening to a radio program last week which was dedicated to the Christmas story. These verses from Luke 1 were read:

26And in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God unto a city of Galilee, named Nazareth,

27To a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin's name was Mary.

28And the angel came in unto her, and said, Hail, thou that art highly favored, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women.

29And when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and cast in her mind what manner of salutation this should be.

30And the angel said unto her, Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favor with God.

31And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name JESUS.

Twice in these verses we read the angel of the Lord refer to Mary as having favor with God. Indeed, being chosen to be the mother of Jesus was a true blessing. But think of all Mary would experience. The 29th verse showed her being very troubled about receiving God's favor and she had reason to be. Pregnant and engaged? Enough to be stoned. Even after the Incarnation, Mary seemed to be worried or perplexed a lot (Luke 2:19, 48-51). She wondered if her Son had lost his marbles (Mark 3:21), and who knows what she thought about him referring to His followers as His family as opposed to her (Mark 3:33-35). And because of her favor from God, Mary also watched as the Son she once held in her arms was hung on a cross and brutally murdered (John 19).

Mary's experience of receiving favor from God is in sharp contrast to what Prosperity Preachers push to the masses. When I read the Bible, those who received God's favor were not just blessed, but also challenged and many times, suffered much. Because to be favored means to not just receive, but to give, since the Lord is actually setting that person apart to be used in His service. What better blessing can one have then to be used by God? Like Mary, all who are called to serve the Lord should say "yes" and magnify Him (Luke 2), being thankful to receive such favor, with all it may entail.


Shaun Bass said...

Yes! Yes! Yes! Good stuff!

Alisha De Freitas said...

Thanks so much!

matthew said...

Thanks for this Alisha.

A workmate of mine and I spent a little while discussing her church which is a large urban church which seems to teach a form of the prosperity gospel.

Unusual for me, I didn't really feel I had much to say to cause her to think critically about the soundness of the theology of her pastor.

This correction of the fevered imaginings of the Rec. C Thomas Anderson is excellent and I thank you for that.

Alisha De Freitas said...

Hey Matthew,

Thanks for the comment! I have a passion against the Prosperity Gospel, because it twists the Gospel to promote prosperity. And unfortunately, it's been sinking in to so many churches- across the denominational board.

I take it personally because both my parents and some of my cousins have not just taken in this mess, but have become promoters of it. My dad is a pastor and happily preaches the teachings of Creflo Dollar and Paula White. And it hurts. :-(

But you're very welcome.

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