Lesson 9: God in a Theology of Glory

TelevangelistEarly in my ministry, the Lutheran Church asked me to investigate the growing Pentecostal movement. With very little effort, I found myself quickly making friends and participating in groups at every level.

When I shared my final report, many of them appreciated everything but one aside I made near the end. In it, I expressed in an unexpected reflection that just about everyone I met was fervently seeking community. I used words like “needy” to describe the loneliness they recounted previous to joining charismatic groups.

My experience led me to study one new movement after another: radical sect communes, evangelical megachurches, healing ministries, independent free churches, and the like. This eventually evolved into investigating television and online ministries.

Every one of them aimed at needy people seeking community. The desperation of the search was evident in the great wealth made from offering a terribly shallow kind of fellowship. Sometimes it amounted to little more than continually restating “God loves you and so do I.”

All were based on a celebrity-type leader who claimed to be the special friend of the participant. They pulled this off by employing very sophisticated gimmicks such as computer-written personal letters. These leaders wielded absolute power that was frequently passed on to family members.

God’s love was reduced to his desire for you to have good health, good family, and good finances. The assumption was that you lacked one or all of these. God would provide them if you prayed properly which meant having another Christian agree with you in your requests. And who better to be your prayer partner than the celebrity preacher?

In television ministries, you could enter into this partnership by sending your prayer request to the televangelist, hopefully accompanied with a contribution to continue the ministry. Interestingly, everyone of the other ministries offered a slightly different form of this kind of deal.

In the days that I did my studies, these ministries were relatively small and had limited influence. Nowadays they have become the establishment. In fact, their techniques have proven so successful that politicians have adopted them.

We find wealthy religious authorities allying with powerful politicians to promise needy people an imaginary community in which they think they are friends with big name celebrities. Sadly, this technique leads to big time exploitation in government as well as religion.

Martin Luther would describe all of this as a theology of glory that preaches a god totally unlike the Father of Jesus. Unlike the Christian God who shares our suffering in a real world, this one makes empty promises based on fantasy. I would argue that this concept of the divinity has corrupted our society at every level.

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2 Enlightened Replies

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  1. Kerry says:

    I’m so learning from and appreciating this series! Many thanks to you, Fritz, and Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours!

  2. Sr. Rita Yeasted, SFCC says:

    Wow, Fritz. Thanks for the Thanksgiving offering. The last lines stopped me cold. I think you’re right, but I don’t know that anyone put it quite so succinctly. Since I went to bed late last night, as usual, I caught the Supreme Court decision that sides with the Diocese of Brooklyn and the Jewish synagogues to allow their religious places of worship to ignore the Governor’s limits on occupancy to prevent the spread of the virus. It was not just the reminder that “Amy Barrett was in town,” but that Roberts had sided with the “other side,” yet now it wasn’t enough. Gone are the wonderful days when the “Three Wise Women” of SCOTUS would vote in a solid liberal way on almost every issue that came before the Court.

    Reading the comments after the article in the Washington Post, ranging from atheists who hectored against all religion, to songs of praise for this conservative win for religious freedom, I caught myself feeling almost ashamed at being such an advocate for organized religion. The truth shall make you free is a great line, but the truth of his decision is that congregants will die and spread the virus “in the name of God, Church, and freedom.” For too many years have we argued Science vs. Religion. I thought, perhaps wrongly, that we had already won that war, but I suspect I was naive.

    So keep grounding us with alternative views of the reality we all face in our everyday lives. News junkie that I am, I need prophets to keep me honest and grounded in the Word of God. Fakes news and fake religion still abound. Our job is to “separate the wheat from the chaff” and find that treasure in the field, spoken of by Jesus. My new year’s resolution is to read more Scripture and sing more hymns. And, hopefully, get back to the theater seats left empty by the virus. I miss live liturgies and live theater, and they actually are pretty much the same genre. Peace and joy.


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