Saturday, August 04, 2018
Cash Back Jesus?
The point is this: the one who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly,
and the one who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.
Each of you must give as you have made up your mind,
not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.
And God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance,
so that by always having enough of everything,
you may share abundantly in every good work.
2 Corinthians 9:6-8 (NRSV)
A recent survey in the United States discovered that about 40% of Protestant churchgoers figure that God wants them to prosper financially and will give them prosperity when they contribute to their congregation or ministry. The percentage climbs amongst evangelical Christians, many of whom attend so-called Prosperity Gospel churches.
I'm a strong believer in regular, generous, and even sacrificial financial support of congregational life, but during my ministry I never suggested that personal prosperity would be an outcome. Our financial gifts are a tangible response to the generosity of God, in Christ, and giving is a reflection of the gospel. The notion of "cash back Christianity" is a gross distortion of the grace of God and should be discouraged. Sadly, even though there is no evidence in scripture to support this, it has become increasingly prevalent in churches around the world. Yes, the apostle Paul says that those who sow in abundance will reap in abundance, but the promise of blessing is not material wealth or security -- simply enough for our needs. The Prosperity Gospel conveniently sidesteps Jesus' parable about the wealthy man who tears down barns to build bigger ones, or these verses from 1 Timothy
Of course, there is great gain in godliness combined with contentment;
for we brought nothing into the world, so that[a] we can take nothing out of it;
but if we have food and clothing, we will be content with these.
But those who want to be rich fall into temptation
and are trapped by many senseless and harmful desires
that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil,
and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith
and pierced themselves with many pains.
1 Timothy 6:6-11 (NRSV)
Does this form of idolatry matter in the bigger scheme of things? Well, evangelical Christians were instrumental in electing a crass, misogynistic, deceitful man as president of the United States. Donald Trump had amassed a considerable fortune and in many respects represents a metastasized version of the American Dream of personal wealth. Many of Trump's strongest religious supporters have been leaders who preach the Health and Wealth gospel and are wealthy themselves. There seems to be a hunger for this false message which ultimately separates and divides, creating winners and losers.
We give out of love, and with a sense of responsibility for the well-being of all. We can listen for Jesus' voice in the midst of the clamour for more.