Thursday, May 31, 2018

Buy This Poor Man a Bus Ticket. Please.

So evidently Jesus, the risen Lord of the universe and the Savior of the world, has given his approval, no - has asked this television evangelist, a Mr. Jesse Duplantis of Jesse Duplantis Ministries, to buy a jet.  The Lord Jesus evidently even provided the specs.  The one the Lord has in mind is a brand new Dassault Falcon 7X, the $54 million dollar version.  Of course the humble evangelist let slip that this will be his fourth jet ('I burned through the others,' he said with great humility).

The Dassault Falcon 7X.  Gosh I can see why he might want one...

This sounds like the stuff of Gospel parables.  But the scary thing is that this is all too true.  There are actually people who call themselves 'Christians' who think that this is precisely what abundant life is all about and that this is what the Lord Jesus is busy doing - buying Jets, Houses, Cars, super-ginormous ministries as a sign of his blessing on his blessed special people, blessed special people who have enough faith to accommodate all the special blessing, all the health and prosperity, that Jesus exists to provide for his special favored people. (And notice how, by making this jet business to be Jesus' idea, Mr. Duplantis has not so subtly made the rest of us to be disobedient to the King of kings and Lord of Lord's if we don't kick in our contributions to make this desire of Jesus a reality for this poverty-pleading very rich con man who seems to be just off the set from Ezekiel's chapter about wolves ravaging God's flock.  Does anybody else besides me feel very manipulated?)

So blessed.
The rest of us, not so much. Evidently.

I preached at our university chapel once on the whole issue of the health and prosperity heresy.  I can be somewhat Pentecostal in my own delivery.  And I gave an opening illustration of how Pentecostal pastors in Nigeria were in competition with each other as to who had the biggest jet, as evidence of whose ministry God was blessing most.  I remember reading a quote from one of these pastors, the one with the biggest jet, who said essentially 'God has blessed me and given me the ability to have this jet, and I will fly this jet all over the world and get even more, because God has blessed me and wants me to have it.'  My student audience actually broke out in applause and cheers!  Because this is exactly the kind of thing they are hearing on Sunday mornings at their own churches.

The caption that came with this:  'Check out this mega-pastor's private plane!  Nice!
Nowadays owning private jetsis the new trend among pastors worldwide'...

We have a lot of issues and concerns in our churches here in Kenya and the rest of the continent, but the health and prosperity heresy is in the process of eating the heart and life out of the gospel and of the churches.  Like termites, this pernicious set of unChristian teachings leaves the form of Christian structures and doctrine, but the inside is rotted completely.  Any hint of persecution, opposition, struggles, and the whole structure collapses of its own weight.  A few enterprising  people have learned that they can make a fantastic living off the hopes and gullibility of poor people.  'If you have enough faith, God will give you whatever you need, whatever you want,' they say.  And to demonstrate to God and everyone else the faith you have, plant some 'seed money' and give back to 'God', and you will call God's blessing down on  your head.  Of course, the person is being manipulated by the preacher to give, not to 'God' but to the preacher, who is the one who takes the offerings straight to his bank account.  So the one who ends up 'blessed' is the preacher, and the poor are impoverished further by their ignorance of the Scriptures and by the preacher/bishop/prophet/apostle's greed.

All around me people in and out of churches are chasing after money, trying to find a way up and out of their poverty.  And all around me, like crocodiles in a swamp, are others seeking to drag the unwary into their lairs, I mean, 'churches' where shilling by shilling they will consume them.

The health and prosperity 'gospel' makes a lot of noise about 'Jesus' and does a lot of 'praising the Lord'.  But really this 'gospel' is all about me and God meeting my needs, and me getting what I need and want.  We don't do discipleship in this 'gospel'. We don't do picking up our cross and following Jesus in this gospel.  We don't do suffering or martyrdom in this gospel.

Kenya has it's own versions of the health and prosperity heresy.  But the results are the same.  Crowds run after these people because they are giving the poor what their itching ears want to hear.  They boast of great miracles, of signs and wonders, but proof is never forthcoming.  They play loud music and dance and shout, and for so many people the noise and 'praise' and shouting and 'tongues-speaking' is a counterfeit accepted as of equal value with genuine spirituality.  In the meantime the gospel, at least the one Jesus and the Apostles preached, is derailed.  Churches are hijacked for the personal gain of the leaders.  'Faith' treats God as a vending machine from whom I can get what I want if I just insert enough of it.  The poor and the sick and the downtrodden are judged as being deficient in faith and deserving of their judgment, rather than as being seen as opportunities for us to demonstrate love, kindness and sacrificial giving.  The highway down which these crowds of adherents are dancing is broad and easy, but no one is warning them that they are heedlessly rushing towards the cliff of destruction.  'What profit is it,' says Jesus, 'if a man or a woman gains the whole world and yet loses his or her soul?'  Indeed.

The health and prosperity heresy has its origins in early and mid-20th century Pentecostalism.  But it has increasingly separated from its Christian roots and grown into something else, something no longer Christian.  Mr. Duplantis may believe he's being a splendid witness for just how good the Lord is.  And sure, may God give us all jets.  But it's pretty clear that the Gospel of our Lord has identified a deeper, darker, more profound need at the center of our hearts and lives, something that a jet, or prosperity or health could never address, something that Jesus himself came to deal with.  And it took an incarnation; it took living our life; it took announcing the inbreaking of the kingdom of God; it took a cross and an ugly death; it took a resurrection; it took a great commission; and it took Pentecost, and men and women willing to be Christ's disciples and give themselves to the utmost, without jets, or mansions, or huge media ministries, or fancy cars or, or...

Mr. Osteen's house.  So blessed.

The health and prosperity heresy represented by Mr. Duplantis (or Mr. Osteen, or 'prophet' Owour, or so many others) would be shocking enough as a parable or some cautionary tale.  But this is reality for too many of our so-called 'Christians'.  So many people are absolutely persuaded that the Vending Machine God of these so-called tele-evangelists is the Triune God of the Holy Scriptures.  They believe that God and his powers can be summoned, controlled, manipulated by their 'faith'.  They believe that acquiring all these material blessings is the result of securing God's favor my means of our faith.  And that this is the goal of the Christian life.  But they are wrong.  They have redefined the clear teachings of the New Testament and the Church's Tradition and have created a new and different religion in which the god Mammon plays a prominent role.  I do not doubt that Mr. Duplantis and Mr. Osteen are utterly sincere. But sincerity is not the issue here.  Another, earlier heresiarch named Arius was also utterly sincere.  And he succeeded in leading perhaps millions of people away from the Jesus of the Apostles' teaching and the Church's belief, creating a new and different Jesus, who was neither fully God nor fully human and who could in fact save no one.  Arianism was exposed almost immediately for what it was by people like St. Athanasius, and the Cappadocian fathers.  But it lingered and pestered the Church for several centuries, eventually unable to sustain its own theological weight.  

The Health and Prosperity has similarly been exposed by many apologists for what it is.  But its many followers seem impervious to critique, unable to see and unable to hear anything other than what they want to see and hear.  They can't fathom that the teaching foisted upon them by these seemingly 'spiritual' men and women will destroy them.  And it will, unless they have the courage to open their eyes and ears to see and hear what these people are actually doing and saying.  May God have mercy on these lost and wandering sheep, and may God raise up many men and women with the courage to say that these fabulously wealthy 'Christian ministers' with their jets and mansions, are, like the emperor with no clothes, theologically naked before the world, enriching themselves off the ignorance and greed of the poor and struggling..  May God help the rest of His Church live has His disciples in this world and demonstrate by alternative example the power of Christ's love where He as called us to be.  Because if we don't take the initiative to demonstrate and explain the gospel, then it is we who have impoverished the world.

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