Got wealth?

God wants you to be wealthy. Didn’t you know that? Clearly you’ve not been watching Joel Osteen, or any of the other “prosperity gospel” preachers. Just send us your check, and God will repay you, brothers and sisters. God really, really, wants you to have that new BMW you’ve been lusting after…

Perhaps. Let’s just say that this approach to theology has had, in recent past, a smell about it, not unlike dead fish lying in the sun for a couple of days. From the Wikipedia entry, Prosperity Theology:

Prosperity theology is commonly a part of televangelist and neo-pentecostal churches which claims God wants Christians to be successful in every way, including financially. Proponents claim that its purpose is funding of preaching throughout the World, and is based largely on a Bible verse (Deuteronomy 8:18) which says, “God gives you the power to get wealth to establish his covenant.” Critics, on the other hand, claim that the doctrine is used by its proponents to become wealthy at the expense of persons who give or that the doctrine’s focus on material wealth is misguided. Some of the evangelists supporting prosperity theology include Kenneth Copeland, Benny Hinn, Nasir Saddiki, Robert Tilton, T.D. Jakes, Paul Crouch, Joel Osteen, and Peter Popoff and internet evangelist Chris Mentillo. Pat Robertson calls this theory the “Law of Reciprocity” on his show, The 700 Club. The theology was previously the basis of Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker‘s PTL Club but was renounced by them in the 1990s following Jim Bakker’s prison term for fraud.

More than a little sad, that passing reference to the late Tammy Faye Messner. But, sadder still, there’s still a large host of those who use the name of Jesus to peddle their half-baked theology of prosperity.

Firstly, the message of Deuteronomy 8 isn’t that God wants you to be wealthy. It is that God is the source of all wealth, and that to follow His commandments is the only way to life. And wealth, but that’s hardly the point. Which is, that if one does not follow God’s commandments, “you shall surely perish” (Deut. 8:19).

So, for starters, prosperity peddlers like Joel Osteen have assumed a message that isn’t intended or only partly correct. But it gets worse when they invoke the name of Jesus. Our Lord makes a positive statement against wealth as a sign of God’s favor. Matthew 19:

23Then Jesus said to his disciples, “I tell you the truth, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. 24Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”

No one who calls himself a Christian should ignore this. Not that it is a sin to be wealthy, or that wealth is not a gift from God. But God loves the poor as much as, if not more than, the rich. Jesus tells us that wealth is, in fact, a curse as much as a blessing. And that it can be a positive hindrance to salvation.

Why this is so should be obvious to anyone who’s ever lusted after an expensive thing: once that thing is acquired, there comes along yet another shinier, prettier thing to lust after. And the first one begins to lose its luster.

That’s the great failure of material things: they can’t save, and may contribute to your downfall by taking your eyes of the real prize: the kingdom of God. We see this all around us in our culture: the celebration of the latest and greatest, the “next big thing,” the “I’ll just die if I don’t get that” thing.

The simple term for this is idolatry.

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