Jan 17

Prosperity for who?

Today America swears in a new President and two of the six ministers who pray during Inauguration Day ceremonies, Wayne T. Jackson and Paula White, are advocates of what is known as the Prosperity Gospel.

So what is the Prosperity Gospel and why is it so utterly wrong as to be almost anti-Christian? (Just so we are clear on what I think up front.)

Prosperity Theology began in the late 19th and early 20th century in the US. It is founded on the ideals of pragmatism, individualism, and upward mobility. Many point to the sermon "Acres of Diamonds" given by Russel Conwell (founder of temple University) in the 1890s as one of the early examples of the movement. In it he says

I say that you ought to get rich, and it is our duty to get rich. How many of my pious brethren say to me, “Do you, a Christian minister, spend your time going up and down the country advising young people to get rich, to get money?” “Yes, of course I do.” They say, “Isn’t that awful! Why don’t you preach the gospel instead of preaching about man’s making money?” “Because to make money honestly is to preach the gospel.” That is the reason.

And later:

Some men say, “Don’t you sympathize with the poor people?” of course I do, or else I would not have been lecturing these years. I wont give in but what I sympathize with the poor, but the number of poor who are to be with is very small. To sympathize with a man whom God has punished for his sins, thus to help him when God would still continue a just punishment, is to do wrong, no doubt about it, and we do that more than we help those who are deserving. While we should sympathize with God’s poor-that is, those who cannot help themselves-let us remember that is not a poor person in the United States who was not made poor by his own shortcomings, or by the shortcomings of some one else. It is all wrong to be poor, anyhow.

This idea took root in America and bloomed first in the post-war revivals of the 40s and 50s and then with Televangelism in the 60s and 70s. A 2006 poll by Time reported "17% of Christians surveyed said they considered themselves part of such a movement, while a full 61% believed that God wants people to be prosperous. And 31%--a far higher percentage than there are Pentecostals in America--agreed that if you give your money to God, God will bless you with more money."

Notable works include:
Oral Roberts; Montgomery, G. H. (1966). God's Formula for Success and Prosperity.
Gordon Lindsay (1960). God's Master Key to Prosperity. Christ For The Nations.
Bruce Wilkinson; Kopp, David (2000). The Prayer of Jabez: Breaking Through to the Blessed Life.

Prominent adherents include: E. W. Kenyon, Oral Roberts, A. A. Allen, Robert Tilton, T. L. Osborn, Joel Osteen, Creflo Dollar, Kenneth Copeland, Mike Murdock, Reverend Ike and Kenneth Hagin.

Prosperity theology teaches that Christians are entitled to well-being and, because physical and spiritual realities are seen as one inseparable reality, this is interpreted as physical health and economic prosperity.Wealth is interpreted in prosperity theology as a blessing from God, obtained through a spiritual law of positive confession, visualization, and donations. While the movement often funds social work, poverty is viewed as a sin or the results of sin.

The vast majority of Christian theology has labeled Prosperity Theology as deeply flawed if not heretical. While undoubtedly the movement has done some good, it has done so as a secondary effect and not its actual goal. While I do not agree with everything he says, I will let John Piper articulate:

My main objections to Prosperity Theology can be summarized:
- The movement focuses on self aggrandizement contrary to Christ's example.
- Prayer is seen as an almost spell like action that forces God into action on behalf of the believer. Turning God into a wish granting genie, or into a devil with a contract.
- It views people who are suffering as deserving of their suffering. Denying Christ's identification with the poor and downtrodden.
- It equates holiness with wealth. Therefore if someone is rich they are probably holy and if someone is poor then they are obviously sinful. Ever read Job?

None of that is consistent with the Bible. A vast majority of what is contemptible in American culture today is embodied in the Prosperity Gospel,and has its roots in it as well.

If you were wondering how we got here, there you go.

Nov 16

The day the world changed

November 8th changed the world.

In 392.

That was the day Theodosius the First, last emperor of a united Roman Empire) declared Nicene Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire. Christianity had already become the official religion with the rise of Constantine in 325. It was Constantine that had facilitated the Nicene Council and attempted to organize the previously fractious Christianity. This was a follow up to previous edicts regarding the official state religion. The difference is that up to this point Theodosius had been one of several competing powers in the Empire. 392 saw his consolidation of power and his unquestioned authority.

What it meant:
Theodosius' main targets were the Arians. The Arians taught that Jesus was divine like God but not of the same substance as God the Creator. Nicene Christianity held that Jesus was of the same substance as God. Its a refined argument but it can be grossly simplified like this: Nicene Christianity teaches that Jesus was always God and always existed, Arianism teaches that Jesus was created in a specific point in time. Overall the "Theodosian Decrees" removed all non-Nicene Christians from church office and abolished the last remaining expressions of Roman religion by making its holidays into workdays, banned blood sacrifices, closed Roman temples, outlawing fortune telling and witchcraft, disbanded the Vestal Virgins, and banned the Olympics. During his reign the Oracle of Delphi was destroyed as was the Alexandrian Serapeum, the "daughter" of the famous Library of Alexandria.

This act also gave rise to what would become the Catholic Church and the creation of a single Bible in Latin (begun in 385 while Theodosius was in power).

Essentially the history of Christianity and thus Europe and everything it touched was shaped by Theodosius.

Theodosius death was also the death of Rome. His empire was split between his two sons to eventually become two empires. This in turn lead eventually to the cultural division between Western and Eastern Christianity and thus to the eventual split between the Catholic and Orthodox churches 600 years later.

State Religions, official and otherwise, are always a bad idea.