Monday, August 22, 2011

Between Persecution and Prosperity

I've been noticing a growing trend over the past couple of years in sermons and books. For many years (in some sectors at least) the prosperity Gospel was being preached. Although there were scattered complaints about it, I wasn't seeing much in terms of books or full-blown sermons on the topic.

Now it appears a bigger backlash has arrived, but unfortunately, it is morphing into a whole new Gospel of its own. For lack of a better name, let's call it the "persecution Gospel".

Often, this type of Gospel begins with commentary about America, or wealthy Americans who have too much "stuff". "Stuff" can mean electronic devices, SUVs, boats, furniture, big houses, etc. In other words, excessive materialism. The commentary then typically shifts to the individual, and ways the individual should reduce the amount of "stuff" in their life and how that "stuff" interferes in their walk with God.

Good points, but here is where things start to veer off course.

This is then often followed by examples from other countries where persecution is rampant, or where spreading the Gospel is a crime. This is sometimes followed by graphic visual examples of beatings, prisons, or churches going up in flames. Follow that with some Scripture, and the net effect is supposed to make a person question their lifestyle, give away most or all of their possessions and ultimately feel guilty about the way they've lived their lives over the past decade or so. In some cases, people have walked away from their jobs altogether.

So what is a believer supposed to do? Should they buy into the "name it and claim it" theology with all its trappings (i.e. "you just didn't have enough faith, that's why your kid wasn't healed!") or should they throw it all away and live as poor as possible?

Unfortunately the Biblical truth is actually somewhere in the middle.

Scripture does talk about persecution. Yet it also talks about being blessed, and in some cases, that blessing may come via financial means. I've seen this numerous times. It really depends upon a person's heart and how they handle money.

What both "Gospels" seem to do is put the focus on man. In the "name it/claim it" version, the act of prayer is turned into an act of the will (i.e. having enough faith) and God is giant vending machine at your service. In the persecution Gospel, everything in your life needs to be junked...even if God gave it to you at some point, because, after all, possessions get equated with idols. Yet I'm sure one could find examples of people without many possessions who still have an idol problem.

So where is the line between self-indulgence and being blessed by God? It runs through the Bible.

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