Thursday, April 03, 2008

Churches and Finance, Part 1: The Illusion of Blessing?

Word Faith/"Prosperity Gospel" preachers have recently been in the spotlight as they're being called to testify before Congress about their massive wealth accumulated through their supposedly non-profit churches. Stories of lear jets, marble-topped toilets, multiple mansions and Bentleys have been broadcast while these preachers are unapologetic. Their message is simple: If you obey the Word of God, He will bless you with immeasurable health and wealth here and now. They use their own wealth as "proof of God's blessing" a very circular logic since they say obedience to the Word of God comes partly in the form of a pledge or donation to their ministry.

(Most Christians are unaware that this might lead to greater scrutiny and regulation of church finances, churches may soon have to jump through more accounting hoops to prove they're actually using their funding for legitimate uses to be defined by the government).

Question: When is a church to be considered "blessed? " When you say "Man, God's blessing is really on that church," what specific items are you referring to?
I fear that way too often such statements are referring to:
1. The number of people in attendance.
2. The types of programs it's putting on.
3. The professionalism and appeal of the programs, architecture, music, graphics, etc.
4. What the church can afford.

I think #4 correlates with, and usually drives, the other 3,
and this belief is at the heart of this series of posts.

Many people think the wealth and prosperity churches are blessed because the churches are big and their pastors have worldwide ministries. These preachers conveniently leave out Jesus' words about how it's easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than a rich man to enter heaven, how a rich young ruler who refused to give up his wealth was denied entrance to heaven, how Scripture urges the church not to show favoritism to the wealthy, etc.

So, these churches fail in a Biblical test of having right attitudes about money. Are they blessed? Since the words "blessed" and "blessing" have so many contexts in Scripture, I think it's useful to look at how the early church was working and see how many of the Word Faith movement churches match up:

1. The members shared all things in common. There was (mandatory) transparency about incomes and giving. (Acts 2:44-46, Acts 5:1-5).

2. People were genuinely being healed (Acts 5:16).

3. People were responding to persecution (2 Timothy 3:12).

4. People were using their gifts of the Spirit to edify one another, in service, prophecy, tongues, miracles, etc. (1 Cor. 12:4-11).

5. Believers were fleshing out what it meant to be submissive to one another, to authorities, to holding others in high esteem, and not to show favoritism to the wealthy.

6. Believers were holding fast to the Word of God, namely Scripture (Hebrews 10:23-25).

This is a limited set of examples, but they appear the most prominently in Scripture. Many of these are miraculous things that money cannot buy. I think the Word Faith churches miss out on most of these, and for many reasons can be rejected as dangerously in error.

Going back to my original question-- do you see your church as blessed? What is coloring that perception: The Scriptural things that God is doing in your church that are reminiscent of the early church? Or what your church can afford to do? If you took away all of your church's money, would it still be a functioning church? More to come.

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