Lesson 11: So What?

bad theology about moneyMy son likes to add an addendum titled, “So What?” to academic work. I felt compelled to do that after so many respondents reported they agree completely that money controls our society but are not sure that we can do to correct this.

That is especially difficult when the Church’s voice in our democracy seems to support unquestionably the idea that you cannot do anything without money. Televangelists proclaim unabashedly that God wants you to get rich. Increasingly, they are invited to national political events as if they represent the Church. Christians in all traditional communities frequently cite their teachings. Leaders often remind pastors that the Church is a business. Pastors preach stewardship sermons that rather subtlety convey the same message.

I became extremely sensitive about the situation about 50 years ago when a sociologist and I spent an entire weekend watching televangelism. Although the genre was still young, we could watch it 24/7 on multiple channels. Our primary goal was to discover what kind of Bible teaching these preachers who claimed to be Bible-believers offered. Just about every program we watched alleged that the viewers’ local congregations neglected the scriptures. Yet, we found that they cited only two biblical passages all weekend. Two preachers referred to the Genesis creation story in order to champion a fundamentalist interpretation. Everyone in every program mentioned a parable they proclaimed as the law of the seed, one of the laws of creation made famous by Oral Roberts. That was it.

The “Law of the Seed” claims God can only help us if we give him something with which to work. In rather crass ways, the televangelists all boiled this down to sending their ministries money, so God could then return it to the donor increased a hundred fold. Jesus’ ministry was constantly reduced to teaching 5 laws of creation that had to be strictly practiced. For instance, Kenneth Copeland rationalized some of his contributors had not obtained riches, because they simply did not have knowledge of or faith in all the terms of the law. He explained how his father remained poor even though he was a tither, because he did not understand that he had a bank account in heaven but had to pray for a withdrawal before he could use it.

My experience that weekend hooked me on watching televangelism. I find little has changed except the teaching has become more sophisticated over the decades. Christian ministry remains fund raising. Sadly, this has come to characterize much going on in far too many face-to-face congregations as well. Sermons have become psychological therapies that assure people things are going to be all right or else appeals for money so professionals can perform Christ’s work. In fact, some surveys report many Christians think God’s plan for their lives is simply that they will become millionaires.

It is difficult to see what we can do to restore finance to its proper priority in our societies if we have this situation in our churches. Perhaps we can begin by being less restrained and more forceful in challenging the false prophets among us. That means objecting when our own congregations utilize the law of the seed in any way. In fact, every time anyone asserts, “You cannot do anything without money,” we can insist that people recognize that is a half-truth that is the inverse of Jesus’ message unless it is not recognized as such.

None of that will have much impact, however, unless our own lives demonstrate that the Gospel is not good news for the poor, because it promises they will enjoy material wealth but rather because God offers them a good life in their present situation. Our lives have to demonstrate the joys of the Christian life enjoyed without the expenditure of money. Hopefully, we can encourage our communities to exert their energy in following Jesus’ teachings and let the funding take care of itself.

If we are to combat money controlling our society, we certainly have to show it does not control us or our Christian communities. We shall not become frustrated if we remember we are still in but not of the world.

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