Tuesday, June 30, 2009

What Message?

From the state that brought you the PTL network, with its excesses and failings, comes another Christian network with a leader who believes in his right to build a four million dollar house in a gated community in the mountains. Now, a multi-million dollar house in itself is not necessarily a bad thing, even though it seems to me to be a bit of overkill. The problem comes when the network which pays this man big bucks is laying off employees because their revenues are down, after taking tax incentives from the state and starting a large, expensive campus for the network and its "ministries."

This network preaches what is popularly called the prosperity gospel. The basic message is, "Send us your money so we can build a bigger ministry, and God will give you every material thing you have ever wanted, and then some." In the state to the north, the government operates a lottery which they call the "Education Lottery." Their message is, "Buy lottery tickets to make our schools better, and you might strike it rich." If you don't win, it's just your bad luck. The prosperity preachers' run sort of a "Holy Ghost Lottery," except if you don't get what they promise, it's due to your lack of faith.

In a way, many in both the evangelical and fundamentalist branches of the institutional church preach a similar message. One side preaches that following _____ principles can change your life and make you a better _______________. The other preaches that following the rules and regulations that they say are Biblical will keep you living right and enable you to please God and stay "right" with him.

All three groups are essentially saying that of you do X, God will do Y. It puts things in the hands of human beings, and brings pride or despair. It is the doing that brings favor, rather than the Gospel message that it is God's favor that causes us to do good out of gratitude and love.

The church, in all its expressions, needs to stop running a game that encourages people to give more and do more to win or increase God's blessing on them. We need to get back to the message that the world is a messed up place and the folks in it are messed up people, BUT there is One who has changed everything, who has overcome sin and death, and who is making all things new. It does not depend on our own effort, but rather on the work of Jesus Christ.

Some questions come to mind every time I hear these popular messages. What would these preachers say to the Christians in China, India, or Darfur? Would they tell them they need to have more faith? Maybe they would give them a number of principles to follow? Would they say that they need to get right with God?

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