(This is my latest column from the Amy Foundation Writer's Syndicate)
The news release stated, several chandeliers were hanging from the ceiling lighting up a plush 5,000-seat auditorium. "A lady scrolls down the screen of her tablet PC as she reads the Bible along with the rest of the congregation, a huge diamond-encrusted ring shining on her finger." "A water fountain hisses in the distance…and millionaire pastors preach the Word." The story was about the increasing number of Christians who are followers of the prosperity gospel.
If this story originated out of Texas, it wouldn't be much of a story; if California, even less so. But the BBC report was about the masses of Nigeria's 70 million faithful who are getting hooked on the idea that lavish surroundings and obscene wealth are necessarily the sign of spiritual blessing. The story highlights one such pastor who "argues that prosperity is an integral part of the gospel. 'It is written about Jesus, specifically, that he became poor so that the believer might become rich, because he recognized that poverty is not part of God's plan for man.'" Really? Try selling that to the millions of Christians world wide for whom the norm, for generations has been living in abject poverty.
The message taking the world by limo is so demeaning of the God who exchanged His life for mine, that I took a break from my normal pastoral duties of my church and wrote, "The Proper Pursuit of Prosperity." In it I explain that our God is indeed a generous God. However, His kindness, generosity, and blessing do not exclude us from failures, struggles, or injustices in this life. The hard truth is that the tendency toward suffering in this life is more normal for the Christian than the realization of perfect health and extraordinary wealth which would seem obvious when gazing at other parts of the world.
Having visited Haiti, I was impressed at the integrity of the people's depth of faith and the true joy they had as they lived each day in this beleaguered country in hopes of getting just one meal. When asked by a Haitian pastor to address his congregation one evening, I tried to decline saying, "I have nothing to say to your people. I need to sit and listen to them."
Americans have bounty, and fashion, and virtually most of whatever we can think of yet when it comes to our "faith," our abundance hasn't exactly given us a greater appreciation for the love of God. If anything, it has paved the way for the foundation of the prosperity movement whose god is a celestial vending machine. One inserts the coin of faith and out comes one's wish. It is an appealing sentiment, but it is not the God of the Bible.
The truth is God does not exist for us—we exist for Him and until we get that straightened out, we can expect lives that are in constant disarray. Paul wrote the Christians in Corinth that, "they had been bought with a price." That price is seen at the cross. The prosperity gospel is just another version of a "different gospel" alluded to by the apostle Paul. He is beside himself as he writes, "I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ, for a different gospel; which is really not another; only there are some who are disturbing you and want to distort the gospel of Christ." [Galatians 1:6-7] Today's prosperity gospel is as appealing as the forbidden fruit but as Adam found out, not everything that looks good, is good for you.