Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The gospel of simplicity

Just the other day a friend of mine from the Church of Scotland, sent me something abut the "prosperity gospel" so prominently found in many of the churches on both sides of the pond. This became something of a starting point for my own rant.

Louis's article got me to thinking. It also made me angry. I'm older now, past fifty, and have sat in many a pew over those days with many denominations. I've sat in small English parishes, as well as large metropolitan churches in the United States. It's quite different now, white haired and all, and being in the pulpit and looking the other way. And having worked in an inner parish setting for the past decade with Hawaii's homeless and mentally ill, has made me see things from a totally different perspective.

I hate being judgemental, but the gospel of prosperity, that following God will somehow magically make us each wealthy, have happy marriages and families, and solve all of our problems, is in a word "stupid" and "unture". It defies both logic and personal experience. Life is not that way, it is simply not true, and moreover it is not the what the gospel teaches.

Not to sound preachy, and forgive me if I come off that way, but the gospel and good news of our loving God, is that we are meant to be servants of others, givers to others, especially to those in need. We are meant to be transformed, changed, and made anew. Making money and being successful is not the measuring rod of one's peity, or of God's blessing. Rather from how I read the gospels, it seems just the opposite. We will be graded on how we treat others, and especially those who are more needy than us.

The gospel of prosperity is a false one demensional lie. It certainly was not Jesus's experience, and it has no place for the St. Francis's and Mother Teresa's of this world, and cannot explain their radical behavior of fleeing the riches of the world, of the "successes" this world has to offer. And as I continne to read and learn about the history of the Chrisitan Church, this theme of sacrifice is one of the greatest parts of the Churches history. And yet it is precisely this counter culture approach that the church needs to reclaim today instead of just simply blending into the world, into the cultural landscape and disappearing altogether. 

Hey I admit it, I'm biased. My own faith tradition is one with a long history of serving those in need often in the inner city setting. Of standing side by side with the poor and needy. My heroes include the Desert Fathers and Mothers, and the Mendicants to name a few. Here's my challange to you. The next time you see one of these talking heads on TV, turn the TV off, and begin reading about the lives of some of the great saints of the past such  as St. Francis or Dominic. Many of these saints were successful in the world's eye, but this opinion was not enough for them. Something in their hearts and experiences longed for something more than the best of the world had to offer. The desire of their hearts was met in following Jesus Christ and in serving others, and often that meant the poorest.

It seems to me, this presents another opportunity for us to continue to be counter cultural and to develop a different way of living, and of believing.


  1. Fr. Andrew, don't apologize for "sounding preachy." You are, after all, a preacher, and you have no meaning if it is not God's meaning. So preach it, brother!

  2. A powerful post, Andy. It reminds me that the Son of Man had nowhere to lay his head, and this cannot mean that God's general rule is financial prosperity and material success for all of his loved ones. It was not so for the apostles. Peter said "I don't have any silver or gold! But I will give you what I do have." Truth is, some believers are wealthy and some are not, and that is just the way God allows it to be, in his providence. The strong always have a duty to help the weak, and this is what we see happening in Acts 2.45. I despair of the televangelists, most of whom seem to be preying on the vulnerable and poor.