Is it OK to pray for riches? Should I go to the church in my new Flores, Buenos Aires neighborhood that promises me financial prosperity in return for a donation?
Let me back up a bit. Jammie and I said goodbye to our friends in Bangkok and flew to Buenos Aires about a week and a half ago. By our second day in the city we had found and moved into a fun 2-bedroom apartment in Flores, the district that Pope Francis is from.
About five minutes’ walk from our apartment here in the Flores district of Buenos Aires is a church. This church happens to be all about cash. And praying to God for more of it. There are tons of these churches, strewn all over Buenos Aires and much of the world.
We visited one of these “prosperity gospel” churches. Within 10 minutes of our sitting down, we had an envelope that said in no uncertain terms, “give to this ministry and you will be economically blessed.” They even had tick boxes so you could indicate exactly how you wanted to be blessed.
The Prosperity Gospel
The message/product these churches sell is commonly called “prosperity theology”. Here’s the Wikipedia definition:
“Prosperity theology (sometimes referred to as the prosperity gospel or the health and wealth gospel) is a Christian religious doctrine that financial blessing is the will of God for Christians, and that faith, positive speech, and donations to Christian ministries will always increase one’s material wealth.”
Is there anything wrong with the prosperity gospel?
No matter where we travel in the world and no matter what the cultural mix, there is always a strong following for some form of “prosperity gospel” – whether it is the Christian variety defined above – or that of another faith where your material standing is a reflection of status with the gods based on this life’s behavior or something you did in a previous life…
Especially in economically starved times, people are really craving a supernatural remedy to their cash flow problems. On the one hand, as someone of faith I feel anxiety about presenting God as an ATM machine, especially if the ATM only works with the help of a donation to a specific ministry.
However, I also believe that you can do a lot of good on this earth by representing spirituality as something that not only helps the soul but as a force for good that can also lead to success in this life. I know on a personal level that my faith propelled me to my personal accomplishments. I don’t see God as an ATM but I do believe that he wants to give and give abundantly.
Hold your fire.
As much as a lot of pastors I know shoot down the prosperity gospel, I actually agree with some of what the prosperity crowd espouses. Instead of exploiting low income church attendees by telling them that God will be their Santa Claus if they donate to them, a lot of the megachurch pastors that are often tied to the prosperity gospel generation, are simply teaching practical Christianity – work hard, do good and bless others and you will be blessed yourself.
Some of the strongest criticism of these churches seems to come from pastors of smaller churches that are struggling with attendance. They can’t compete with a large, buzzing church so they turn to criticizing.
I have talked to a number of them and listened to them gripe.. a few weeks ago I was talking to a sour ex-pastor who called the prosperity gospel “B.S.”. Helpful attitude there, Rev. Sometimes I feel like these critics themselves could take a few lessons from the prosperity gospel crowd rather than harping on with their gloomy, supposedly expository gabble.
Some minsters commonly tied to the prosperity gospel movement, like Benny Hinn seem to court controversy at every turn. Others, like Joel Osteen, I am perfectly fine with. “Honor God, think positively and live with an abundance mentality” is hardly an objectionable position to take.
What’s the alternative?
I have no quarrel with a balanced approach to faith. But seriously, would it hurt these gloomy evangelicals that blast the prosperity gospel crowd to lighten up? There is nothing wrong with acknowledging what is wrong about life and that there is darkness to contend with. It is absolutely right to condemn cash schemes where televangelists demand cash donations in return for a guarantee of God’s blessing. But realize that hope for the present is what a lot of people need right now. You can do a lot of good by encouraging people to aim higher and seek more in this life. As much as it sounds very Tony Robbins, there is something to be said for living life with an attitude of expectancy. There is something to be said for visualizing and having faith in a better future. There is nothing wrong with this. It is not just vain hope mongering, living life with an positive outlook actually works.
Gotta have faith…
Do we just not have enough faith? Maybe if you had enough faith things really would materialize. If we are tempted to get snarky the next time we hear a prosperity gospel sermon, maybe it is time to get practical and give it a try. Genuine, positive and practical faith can be the strongest driver of international do-gooding there is.
What do you think? If you are a person of faith reading this, do I deserve to be burned at the stake? If you are secular, do you think I am crazy? Or are we on to something here. Feel free to disagree or love on me in the comments:)