Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The Anti-Prosperity Hypocrite

A few years ago, my mum chatted with a couple from my previous AOG church, and when they found out that she is attending New Creation Church, they told her to be careful because NCC is a "prosperity church". I have also heard this similar warning from various people and online over the years, and one thing struck me: the warning usually comes from people who are financially comfortable.

These people are enjoying financial prosperity but love to warn others about the teaching of prosperity in churches such as NCC, saying that such teachings cause us to be worldly. They also love to quote 1 Timothy 6:10 - "For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil". They equate the teaching of prosperity with the love of money. The irony is that many of these people do have a lot of money but they don't consider themselves lovers of money. They have a lot of money but they disapprove of the church teaching its people how to have more money the godly way.

The same people naturally disapprove of the preacher being rich; they say that a preacher should be living a simple life. Setting aside the fact that it is almost impossible to set a universal standard for "simple life", these people demand a lifestyle for the preacher which they themselves do not want.  Some, like mike20, the commenter in one of my posts, even say that Jesus taught us to sell our possessions and donate the money to the poor. How many of them really believe that? After they have sold and donated all their possessions, they would be joining the ranks of the poor and waiting for handouts from others who have to sell and donate all their possessions. Is this the Good News?

In Luke 4:16-22, it is recorded that Jesus read from the book of Isaiah: "The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
      because he has anointed me
      to preach good news to the poor.
   He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
      and recovery of sight for the blind,
   to release the oppressed,
    to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor."

After that, He sat down and said "Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing." What exactly is the "good news to the poor" which Jesus was anointed to preach? That the poor will remain poor on earth but they can expect great riches in heaven? What's so good about that?

Didn't Jesus also say in John 10:10 that He came to give us a more abundant life? Did He mean a more abundant life that does not include financial prosperity?

I have a suggestion for these anti-prosperity hypocrites. Why don't you sell and donate all your possessions and then quit your day-job, and preach full-time your anti-prosperity Good News for free? I may still not agree with your theology but at the very least, you have earned my respect.

Monday, July 19, 2010

What Is The "Prosperity Gospel"? - A Statement By The Lausanne Movement

Blogpastor pointed me to this website, "The Lausanne Movement" which published a statement on the "Prosperity Gospel". I agree with the views presented in the statement and reproduce it below for your convenience (please take note of the African context of the statement):

A Statement on the Prosperity Gospel


Lausanne Theology Working Group

From the Africa Chapter - Lausanne Theology Working Group

At its consultations in Akropong, Ghana, 8-9 October, 2008 and 1-4 September 2009
NOTE:  This is a statement, offered as a discussion starter for further reflection (theological, ethical, pastoral and missiological, socio-political and economic) on the phenomenal rise of prosperity teaching around the world at large and Africa in particular. The points below are a digest of many points made in the course of the discussion of three papers at the Oct. 2008 and ten papers at the Sept 2009 consultations.

We define prosperity gospel as the teaching that believers have a right to the blessings of health and wealth and that they can obtain these blessings through positive confessions of faith and the “sowing of seeds” through the faithful payments of tithes and offerings. We recognize that prosperity teaching is a phenomenon that cuts across denominational barriers. Prosperity teaching can be found in varying degrees in mainstream Protestant, Pentecostal as well as Charismatic Churches. It is the phenomenon of prosperity teaching that is being addressed here not any particular denomination or tradition.
We further recognize that there are some dimensions of prosperity teaching that have roots in the Bible, and we affirm such elements of truth below. We do not wish to be exclusively negative, and we recognize the appalling social realities within which this teaching flourishes and the measure of hope it holds out to desperate people.  However, while acknowledging such positive features, it is our overall view that the teachings of those who most vigorously promote the ‘prosperity gospel’ are false and gravely distorting of the Bible, that their practice is often unethical and unChristlike, and that the impact on many churches is pastorally damaging, spiritually unhealthy, and not only offers no lasting hope, but may even deflect people from the message and means of eternal salvation. In such dimensions, it can be soberly described as a false gospel.

We call for further reflection on these matters within the Christian Church, and request the Lausanne movement to be willing to make a very clear statement rejecting the excesses of prosperity teaching as incompatible with evangelical biblical Christianity.
  1. We affirm the miraculous grace and power of God, and welcome the growth of churches and ministries that demonstrate them and that lead people to exercise expectant faith in the living God and his supernatural power. We believe in the power of the Holy Spirit.

    However, we reject as unbiblical the notion that God’s miraculous power can be treated as automatic, or at the disposal of human techniques, or manipulated by human words, actions or rituals.
  1. We affirm that there is a biblical vision of human prospering, and that the Bible includes material welfare (both health and wealth) within its teaching about the blessing of God.  This needs further study and explanation across the whole Bible in both Testaments.  We must not dichotomize the material and the spiritual in unbiblical dualism.

    However, we reject the unbiblical notion that spiritual welfare can be measured in terms of material welfare, or that wealth is always a sign of God’s blessing  (since it can be obtained by oppression, deceit or corruption), or that poverty or illness or early death, is always a sign of God’s curse, or lack of faith, or human curses  (since the Bible explicitly denies that it is always so)
  1. We affirm the biblical teaching on the importance of hard work, and the positive use of all the resources that God has given us – abilities, gifts, the earth, education, wisdom, skills, wealth, etc.  And to the extent that some Prosperity teaching encourages these things, it can have a positive effect on people’s lives. We do not believe in an unbiblical ascetism that rejects such things, or an unbiblical fatalism that sees poverty as a fate that cannot be fought against.

    However, we reject as dangerously contradictory to the sovereign grace of God, the notion that success in life is entirely due to our own striving, wrestling, negotiation, or cleverness.  We reject those elements of Prosperity Teaching that are virtually identical to ‘positive thinking’ and other kinds of ‘self-help’ techniques. 

    We are also grieved to observe that Prosperity Teaching has stressed individual wealth and success, without the need for community accountability, and has thus actually damaged a traditional feature of African society, which was commitment to care within the extended family and wider social community.
  1. We recognize that Prosperity Teaching flourishes in contexts of terrible poverty, and that for many people, it presents their only hope, in the face of constant frustration, the failure of politicians and NGOs, etc.,  for a better future, or even for a more bearable present.  We are angry that such poverty persists and we affirm the Bible’s view that it also angers God and that it is not his will that people should live in abject poverty. We acknowledge and confess that in many situations the Church has lost its prophetic voice in the public arena.

    However, we do not believe that Prosperity Teaching provides a helpful or biblical response to the poverty of the people among whom it flourishes. And we observe that much of this teaching has come from North American sources where people are not materially poor in the same way.
  • It vastly enriches those who preach it, but leaves multitudes no better off than before, with the added burden of disappointed hopes
  • While emphasizing various alleged spiritual or demonic causes of poverty, it gives little or no attention to those causes that are economic and political, including injustice, exploitation, unfair international trade practices, etc. 
  • It thus tends to victimize the poor by making them feel that their poverty is their own fault (which the Bible does not do), while failing to address and denounce those whose greed inflicts poverty on others  (which the Bible does repeatedly).
  • Some prosperity teaching is not really about helping the poor at all, and provides no sustainable answer to the real causes of poverty.

  1. We accept that some prosperity teachers sincerely seek to use the Bible in explaining and promoting their teachings.

    However, we are distressed that much use of the Bible is seriously distorted, selective, and manipulative.  We call for a more careful exegesis of texts,  and a more holistic biblical hermeneutic, and we denounce the way that many texts are twisted out of context and used in ways that contradict some very plain Bible teaching.

    And especially, we deplore the fact that in many churches where Prosperity Teaching is dominant, the Bible is rarely preached in any careful or explanatory way, and the way of salvation, including repentance from sin and saving faith in Christ for forgiveness of sin, and the hope of eternal life, is misrepresented and substituted with material wellbeing.
  1. We rejoice in the phenomenal growth of the numbers of professing Christians in many countries where churches that have adopted prosperity teachings and practice are very popular.

    However, numerical growth or mega-statistics may not necessarily demonstrate the truth of the message that accompanies it, or the belief system behind it. Popularity is no proof of truth;  and people can be deceived in great numbers.
  1. We are pleased to observe that many churches and leaders are critical and in some cases overtly renounce and cut the links with specific aspects of African primal or traditional religion and its practices, where these can be seen to be in conflict with the biblical revelation and worldview.

    Yet it seems clear that there are many aspects of Prosperity Teaching that have their roots in that soil.  We therefore wonder if much popular Christianity is a syncretised super-structure on an underlying worldview that has not been radically transformed by the biblical gospel. We also wonder whether the popularity and attraction of Prosperity Teaching is an indication of the failure of contextualization of the Gospel in Africa.
  1. We observe that many people testify to the way Prosperity Teaching has in fact impacted their lives for the better – encouraging them to have greater faith, to seek to improve their education, or working lives.  We rejoice in this.  There is great power in such testimony, and we thank God when any of his children enjoy his blessing.

    However, we observe equally that many people have been duped by such teaching into false faith and false expectations, and when these are not satisfied, they ‘give up on God’,  or lose their faith altogether and leave the church.  This is tragic, and must be very grievous to God.
  1. We accept that many prosperity teachers mostly have their roots in evangelical churches and traditions, or were brought up under the influence of evangelical parachurch ministries. 

    But we deplore the clear evidence that many of them have in practice moved away from key and fundamental tenets of evangelical faith, including the authority and priority of the Bible as the Word of God, and the centrality of the cross of Christ.
  1. We know that God sometimes puts leaders in positions of significant public fame and influence.

    However, there are aspects of the lifestyle and behaviour of many preachers of Prosperity Teaching that we find deplorable, unethical, and frankly idolatrous (to the god of Mammon), and in some of these respects we may be called upon to identify and reject such things as the marks of false prophets, according to the standards of the Bible.  These include:
  • Flamboyant and excessive wealth and extravagant lifestyles
  • Unethical and manipulative techniques
  • Constant emphasis on money, as if it were a supreme good – which is mammon
  • Replacing the traditional call to repentance and faith with a call to give money
  • Covetousness which is idolatry
  • Living and behaving in ways that are utterly inconsistent with either the example of Jesus or the pattern of discipleship that he taught.
  • Ignoring or contradicting the strong New Testament teaching on the dangers of wealth and the idolatrous sin of greed
  • Failure to preach the word of God in a way that feeds the flock of Christ
  • Failure to preach the whole gospel message of sin, repentance, faith and eternal hope.
  • Failure to preach the whole counsel of God, but replacing it with what people want to hear.
  • Replacing time for evangelism with fund raising events and appeals

First Draft by Rev. Dr. Chris Wright (Chair, Lausanne Theology Working Group)
Edited by Rev. Dr. John Azumah (Member, Lausanne Theology Working Group) In collaboration with Rev. Prof. Kwabena Asamoah-Gyadu, Chair of the Akropong consultations.
This is a collated digest of points made by many contributors, through the written papers and the following discussions.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Limiting The Word of God

In my earlier post, "I Am, Therefore I Do - a little debate on facebook", I showed you an exchange of opinion with Gwee Li Sui over whether Isaiah 53:5 refers to healing of the physical body:

 I did not reply to Gwee but what he said bothered me because the way he interpreted the verse (and other verses) is common among many "knowledgeable" Christians in that they tend to apply the verses to only "a higher spiritual reality", which is of no bloody use to our "lower" physical reality here on earth.

Jesus said in John 10:10 that He came that we "may have and enjoy life, and have it in abundance (to the full, till it overflows)" (Amplified Bible). What is the life that Jesus was referring to? Here on earth or in heaven? Does this abundant life include good health?

Gwee asks, "Did Jesus become very sick or was He made a leper?" Of course not! Isaiah 53:5 is talking about Jesus' work on the Cross, not His minstry on earth. He bore our diseases on the Cross so that we might have divine health.  "Did Jesus live a long life on earth?" Of course not! Jesus' life was cut short so that we might have a long life, in fact, a long and abundant one.

Is Gwee wrong to say that Isaiah 53:5 refers to Jesus dying for our sins? No, he is not wrong but I believe he is wrong to exclude physical healing from the verse; he is shortchanging himself by limiting the Word of God.  Let us take a look at the story recorded in Mark 2 and Luke 5 of  the paralysed man whose friends lowered him from a hole made in the roof into Jesus' presence: What was the first thing that Jesus said to the paralysed man?

Son, your sins are forgiven you.
Mark 2:5
Did the man come to Jesus for forgiveness of his sins or for physical healing? Physical healing, of course! Surely Jesus must have known that! Why then the first thing that Jesus did was to forgive the man's sin?  This is because the greatest power that Jesus has is to forgive sins and He has that power because of His work on the Cross. The power to heal is all wrapped up in His power to forgive sins; if Jesus has the power to forgive because of the Cross, then He definitely has the power to heal because of the Cross.

Jesus himself demonstrated this truth in Mark 2:9-11 :
Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven you,’ or to say, ‘Arise, take up your bed and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has power on earth to forgive sins”—He said to the paralytic, “I say to you, arise, take up your bed, and go to your house.”

Which is easier for Jesus? To heal or to forgive?

 Update: Gwee posted a link to this article on facebook, and a brother made a good point:

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

What Is The "Prosperity Gospel"?

I have never quite understood the label "Prosperity Gospel" slapped by some people on New Creation Church's teachings on prosperity.  What exactly is the definition of "Prosperity Gospel" and in what way is it erroneous?  A facebook acquaintance who appears to be vehemently against the "Prosperity Gospel" posted a link to this article "The Prosperity Gospel: A Modern Day Cargo Cult?", and the writer defined the "Prosperity Gospel" as follows:

In simplest terms, the idea of the law of prosperity requires the adherent to think themselves rich. Whether the blessing is to emanate from the Christian deity or the universe, the philosophy behind the mindset is pretty much the same.

If you were to put it down in an equation, it may look something like this:
Sincere belief in a power waiting to bless abundantly + earnest actions displaying that belief = abundant blessings and fiscal prosperity

The prosperity gospel for those of the Christian background requires eager believers to understand that God wants to bless them. Since He is the maker of the universe, there is no blessing too big or too hard for Him to give. All that He requires is a sincere belief in Him and His blessing power.

As you can see from the definition, the writer has reduced the bible's teachings on prosperity into a formula, and I must say that there are preachers who have done exactly that (but Pastor Prince is not one of them). I am also against such teaching because it fails to show us the heart of God and is based on self-effort i.e. we must do something in order to get blessed or rich.

The term "Prosperity Gospel" itself betrays the bias of the person who slaps this label on a pastor's teaching on prosperity. The Gospel includes prosperity but prosperity itself is not the Gospel. The Gospel i.e. the Good News is this:

13 No one has ever gone to heaven and returned. But the Son of Man has come down from heaven. 14 And as Moses lifted up the bronze snake on a pole in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, 15 so that everyone who believes in him will have eternal life.
 16 “For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. 17 God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him.
 18 “There is no judgment against anyone who believes in him. But anyone who does not believe in him has already been judged for not believing in God’s one and only Son.
John 3:13-18 (NLT)

The Gospel is about we being reconciled to the Heavenly Father through His Son, Jesus Christ. However, this Gospel also brings with it the fringe benefit of prosperity, and health, wholeness, peace, joy, etc for "He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?" (Rom 8:32)  It is unfair to simply accuse a pastor of preaching "The Prosperity Gospel" when prosperity is just a subject among many others which he preaches.

In my seven years of listening to Pastor Prince's sermons, I can say without any doubt that any subject which Pastor Prince preaches on ultimately leads to Jesus Christ and what He has accomplished on the Cross for us, even the subject of prosperity.

The writer of the above-mentioned article says "The prosperity gospel for those of the Christian background requires eager believers to understand that God wants to bless them. Since He is the maker of the universe, there is no blessing too big or too hard for Him to give", and she is right! We need to understand that God wants to FREELY bless us with ALL things WITH CHRIST (Rom 8:32).  If God withholds financial prosperity from us, that means God values financial prosperity more than Jesus; if God withholds physical health from us, that means God values physical health more than Jesus. How can that be? Jesus is the greatest gift that God can give us, therefore "He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?" 

We now give our tithes and offering to the church because we know that God already gave us the greatest gift, His Son. We do not give in order to get back more in return from God but praise God for His grace that when we give, he gives us more in return because we can never outgive God.  Jesus himself says in Luke 6:38, "Give, and you will receive. Your gift will return to you in full—pressed down, shaken together to make room for more, running over, and poured into your lap. The amount you give will determine the amount you get back."  Would you accuse Jesus of preaching the "Prosperity Gospel?" 

Notice that Jesus did NOT say, "Give IN ORDER to receive". Jesus said "Give, AND you will receive"; He just simply stated the cause and effect - when we give, we will receive. It's like this: when you jump into a swimming pool, you will get wet BUT you don't jump into a swimming pool in order to get wet. No, you jump into a swimming pool to swim or play water polo or soak in the water to keep cool but NOT in order to get wet.

We give, not in order to receive. We give to acknowledge and appreciate that whatever we have is all because of God's blessing - "But you shall [earnestly] remember the Lord your God, for it is He Who gives you power to get wealth, that He may establish His covenant which He swore to your fathers, as it is this day." (Deut 8:18). 

Why do we give to the church? When we eat at a restaurant, isn't it normal for us to pay for the food and service? Paul says essentially the same thing in 1 Cor 9:7-14:

7 What soldier has to pay his own expenses? What farmer plants a vineyard and doesn’t have the right to eat some of its fruit? What shepherd cares for a flock of sheep and isn’t allowed to drink some of the milk? 8 Am I expressing merely a human opinion, or does the law say the same thing? 9 For the law of Moses says, “You must not muzzle an ox to keep it from eating as it treads out the grain.” Was God thinking only about oxen when he said this? 10 Wasn’t he actually speaking to us? Yes, it was written for us, so that the one who plows and the one who threshes the grain might both expect a share of the harvest.
 11 Since we have planted spiritual seed among you, aren’t we entitled to a harvest of physical food and drink? 12 If you support others who preach to you, shouldn’t we have an even greater right to be supported? But we have never used this right. We would rather put up with anything than be an obstacle to the Good News about Christ.
 13 Don’t you realize that those who work in the temple get their meals from the offerings brought to the temple? And those who serve at the altar get a share of the sacrificial offerings. 14 In the same way, the Lord ordered that those who preach the Good News should be supported by those who benefit from it.

I understand that those who are against the "Prosperity Gospel" are concerned that followers of such "Prosperity Gospel" preachers are hoodwinked by the preachers into giving money to their "ministry" and enriching only the preachers themselves. I agree that those preachers who manipulate their followers by their preaching into giving IN ORDER to receive deserve to be exposed but we have to be careful not to taint all preachers who preach on the subject of prosperity with one broad stroke of the same brush.   

Finally, it is important for us to remember that when we give to to the church, we are giving to God, not men,  for Hebrews 7:8 says "Here mortal men receive tithes, but there he receives them, of whom it is witnessed that he lives."  Ultimately, God will take care of the money we give to Him, and no preacher abusing God's money can hope to get away with it for long. There have been preachers past who got away with it for a while but in the end, they still had to pay a price for their misdeeds. Recent events in Singapore may yet confirm this once again.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

A New Beginning

Today, I'll be running my dessert stall from a new location - stall no. 130 - which is directly opposite my first stall location (stall no. 141).

For those of you who have not been following the saga of my run-in/stand-off with my ex-landlord, let me explain: I first started my dessert stall at a corner stall - no.141 - about seven years ago but moved to stall no. 139 four years later after a dispute with my ex-landlord.  The hawker centre had inked a deal with a private gas supplier and it had to close the centre for two weeks to lay gas pipes. The gas supplier gave a sum of money to each stall operator to compensate for loss of business for two weeks. However, my landlord refused to hand over the compensation money to me, insisting that it was meant for him, the stallholder, and not for me, the stall operator and even accused me of trying to cheat him of the money.  He also told me that if I didn't like his decision, I could end my lease and leave.  Well, I did and moved to stall no. 139, two units away.

However, stall no. 139's location is not very ideal compared to no. 141 as customers have to first walk past no. 141 before they can notice my stall. My ex-landlord took advantage of this and rented his stall to his sister-in-law to open a dessert stall to cut off my business.  My business was indeed badly affected initially (dropping by about 40%) but it slowly recovered though not to my previous level.  I thank God that He protected me during this period and 22 months later in July last year, that stall was shut down by my ex-landlord because his sister-in-law owed him several months of rental and utilities bills and couldn't pay (I blogged about this here).

I enjoyed improved business for the next few months while my ex-landlord searched for a new tenant. He took so much time because he insisted on finding a tenant to sell desserts only.  Anyway, he finally found one and the new dessert stall opened in October last year.  Thank God that this time, my business was less severely affected (down maybe about 20%) and the wait for victory was much shorter too.  That stall closed down after about 4 months in February this year (I blogged about this here).

You'd think that my ex-landlord would have learnt his lesson but, no, he still insisted on finding another tenant which sells desserts. A fellow stallholder selling "you cha kway" (i.e. deep fried flour fritters) wanted to rent the stall from him but he refused, saying that he was looking for a dessert seller. Well, after leaving his stall empty for almost five months, he finally found another dessert seller which will be opening in a few days' time.
(Update: The new stall has opened but is not really selling desserts. It sells mainly fruit juice, smoothies and cut fruit but my ex-landlord made them keep his ice-shaving machine and bowls and plates, which they do not use, in the stall. I have no idea why they agreed to pay him rent to keep his equipment in the stall!)

Thank God that He already foresaw this, and this time God turned from defense to offense and moved me from no. 139 to no. 130, directly opposite no.141. This location is much better compared to no. 141 because it faces the oncoming customer traffic and therefore customers will see my stall first.

This is the result of  God's favour because I did not actively seek out my new stall location: a few weeks ago, my new landlord approached me and invited me to move over to her stall as her existing tenant had decided to terminate her lease. The timing was also perfect as the hawker centre was scheduled to close for spring cleaning last Monday and Tuesday, and I could move all my equipment over to my new location without worrying about affecting my fellow stallholders' businesses or causing inconvenience to customers.

I see God's hand in this move and I thank God that when I just let go and let Him take care of the situation, He does a perfect work for me. I'm going to work soon and looking forward to this new beginning! Hope to see you guys turn up at my new stall soon ;-)