Sunday, October 01, 2006

Part 2, Prosperity gospel

They taught what?

One tendency in the church at large from generation to generation is to claim that the previous generation or tradition is somehow inadequate or even apostate. It’s a sinful activity, but can easily be seen in today’s charismatic groups, sighting what they believe as anti-spiritual or anti supernatural teachings and tendencies in previous traditions handed down throughout the centuries.

E.W. Kenyon wrote in his essay, Do you believe in Miracles?, that “Christianity began in miracles; it is propagated by miracles. Every New Birth is a miracle; every answer to prayer is a miracle; every victory over temptation is a miracle. When Reason takes the place of the miraculous, Christianity loses its virility, fascination, and fruitfulness.” To which, the author of this paper wholeheartedly agrees. But Kenyon goes on to write, “On the other hand, we have those who are contending for an original, miraculous, element in Christianity, but declaring that miracles ceased with the death of the apostles; that Christianity does not need the miraculous today to convince men of the Deity of Jesus.”

This claim against a strawman version of the church, a church that denies any supernatural element in the body of Christ that Kenyon writes about may have been an argument of his day, and indeed there is a sort of extremism at work in the body of Christ as whole even in our own times. But Martin Luther, the sixteenth century reformer of the Christian church writes in his small catechism explanation of the third commandment:

We should fear and love God, and so we should not use his name to curse, swear, practice magic, lie or deceive, but in every time of need call upon him, pray to him, praise him and give him thanks.

Call upon him, pray to him, praise him and give him thanks”. Martin Luther is saying here that God is our ultimate provider, even if we don’t recognize our provision as being from God in the first place. In his explanation of the Lord’s Prayer, he writes:

What is meant by daily bread? Everything required to satisfy our bodily needs, such as food and clothing, house and home, fields and flocks, money and property; a pious spouse and good children, trustworthy servants, godly and faithful rulers, good government; seasonable weather, peace and health, order and honor; true friends, faithful neighbors, and the like.

Are Kenyon’s charges against historic Christian beliefs founded in reality? The problem with the claim that miracles are still needed in the church today is that those who press for a more “miraculous” church fail to recognize the single most important miracle God has performed. Faith is a miracle. Faith in times of trouble is a miracle. Faith in times of want is a miracle. As the apostle Peter wrote in his first epistle:

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade—kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. (1 Peter 1:3-7 NIV)

Your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire”. Placed in it’s context, this passage shows that God see’s our faith as having greater worth than even gold. Signs and wonders are not necessary when true God given faith is present. What more could a believer want? Unfortunately, believers still caught in a sinful condition often desire more than just faith from a God who reveals himself to be merciful to the highest. In fact, more often than not, sinful people want to set themselves up as God.

Early Baby Boomer Culture

Once the ideology of “positive thinking” made it’s way into the culture, it wasn’t long before it merged with protestant liberalism5. Timothy Leary, in a speech given at Berkley, September 1966, said, “Like every great religion of the past we seek to find the divinity within and to express this revelation in a life of glorification and the worship of God. These ancient goals we define in the metaphor of the present—turn on, tune in, drop out." Unfortunately, again, we have someone who is not in touch with historic Christianity and proffessing to speak for it. St. Paul, in his letter to the Galatians spoke quite plainly:

May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. (Galatians 6:14, NIV)

Historic Christianity is not concerned with “the divinity within”, as Timothy Leary suggested. Our faith is “objective”, rooted in the finished work of Christ on our behalf. Subjectivity, on the other hand, is a prime property of protestant liberalism. Fredrick Schleiermacher (1768-1834), the father of protestant liberalism, taught:

“As regards Christian theology, it is not its business to formulate and establish a system of objective truth, but simply to present in a clear and connected form a given body of Christian faith as the contents of the Christian consciousness. Dogmatic theology is a connected and accurate account of the doctrine held at a particular time in a given section of the Christian church. But such doctrines as constitute no integral part of the Christian consciousness — e.g. the doctrine of the Trinity — must be excluded from the theological system of the evangelical theologian.”6

Schleiermacher, of course, is not the first individual to make such statements. However, this view began to proliferate throughout Christendom, even as his views on psychology and philosophy made inroads into the culture at large. Systematic Theologian Paul Tillich (1886-1965), Student of Hermeneutics and psychologist Wilhelm Dilthey (1833-1911), Lutheran theologian Richard Rothe (1799-1867), and Southern Baptist E.Y. Mullins (1860-1928), to name a few were all highly influenced by Schleiermacher. Perhaps it’s easy to see how the collective works of these men and other theologians would have affected people such as E. W. Kenyon and Norman Vincent Peale.

As time wore on, and baby boomers grew up to take over the pulpits of the Americas, and “Boomer” theology began to take hold. Televangelists became the rule of the day, but in true historical fashion, most of these televangelists reacted against a perception of historic Christianity that is patently unfounded. Among evangelicals in the United States, the formula “no creed but Christ” became popular as the body of churches moved away from confessional Christianity to a more liberalistic form. The boomers early experiences with eastern cultures and religions made inroads as well, and a new experiential kind of Christianity sprang into being. Speaking in tongues became popular outside of Pentecostal traditions, setting the scene for today’s more prolific prosperity gospel.
5 see also Fredrick Schleiermacher, protestant liberalism turned most of Christianity away from Jesus’ work for our salvation to a religion of the inner man. See also Pietism.
6 See , section on religious system, paragraph 5.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Prosperity Gospel in Popular Christianity

Beginning today, I am publishing a paper that I did on the prosperity gospel. I'll divide it out by sections, with bibliography included as time goes by. I hope many people confused by this gospel will find it helpful.

Prosperity Gospel in Popular Christianity: Syncretism in the 20th and the 21st Century Part 1

Since the inception of Christ’s church, it’s members have been contending “for the Faith which was once for all delivered to the saints”. The apostles, particularly St. Paul, spent what would seem by today’s standards an exorbitant amount of time and energy defending that Faith, both against outside forces and enemies from within. Those first crucial years formed the basis of the Christian religion, spread out across a large area of the Mediterranean and Roman empire reaching, as God had planned it, both Jews and Gentiles everywhere.

One of the primary battles seen in those days came in the form of pagan ideas seeping into the church at large. This process, known as syncretism, began a fight that continues to this day. The apostle John spent time in his letters combating pagan beliefs, addressing such odd behavior and thoughts as the belief that the body was evil and useless and could be abused at will to the belief that Jesus was nothing more than a spirit with no body. St. Peter in his second letter addressed false teachers who were extremely shameless in their activities, even “carousing in broad daylight” (2 Peter 2:13), and said they “have left the straight way and wandered off to follow the way of Balaam” (2 Peter 2:15). St. Jude wrote concerning antinomianism, as did St. Paul in Romans 6 and elsewhere. St. Paul, in particular, fought against legalism and the works righteousness idealism that plagued his own Jewish brothers, the Pharisees.

This battle for the Faith continued with the next generation of the church, with Iraneaus, Polycarp, and Justin Martyr to name a few. When Arianism, or the belief that Jesus was not God in the flesh, reared its head in the third century the first ecumenical council, the Council of Nicea, was called to combat and restore the Faith to its original form once again. The Church fought valiantly against Pelagius (and later the semi-pelagians), stating firmly in the Canons of the Council of Orange:

“If anyone denies that it is the whole man, that is, both body and soul, that was “changed for the worse” through the offense of Adam’s sin, but believes that the freedom of the soul remains unimpaired and that only the body is subject to corruption, he is deceived by the error of Pelagius and contradicts the scripture which says, “The soul that sins shall die” (Ezek. 18:20); and, “Do you not know that if you yield yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are the slaves of the one whom you obey?” (Rom. 6:16); and, “For whatever overcomes a man, to that he is enslaved” (2 Pet. 2:19).” (Canon 1)

The reformation happened exactly for the same reasons. When the Gospel of Jesus Christ had itself been obscured in works righteousness in medieval times, God called Martin Luther, Erasmus, Philip Melenkthon, John Calvin and their contemporaries to step up to restore the Faith once more. This battle for the Faith continued with the coming enlightenment and the era of rationalism, through the time of Frederick Schleiermacher and the dawning of protestant liberalism. Each generation, it would seem, has been called to defend the Faith against those who would pervert it towards their own ends or, more insidiously, because they simply don’t know better.

Today, among many of the citizens and the thousands of denominations that proliferate in the Americas, prosperity reigns. The United States is noted as one of the wealthiest countries in the world, with such abundance and opportunity that millions flock across her borders every year seeking “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”. In a culture where entertainment is king, “pimped out” rides are a new national pastime and morality is redefined on the slightest whim, the church at large still struggles to maintain the “Faith once for all delivered to the saints”. In the following pages the author will attempt to address today’s largest problem that the church has to face: The Prosperity Gospel. One should find it confounding that in a country as wealthy as ours, middle class and upper class church goers would want more “prosperity” than they already have.

An idio-syncretic history

First of all, the author wants to reiterate what the Gospel is, Biblically. It is the Good news, the proclamation that God in His mercy has sent His son to pay the penalty for the sin of the world, and has fulfilled the promise to redeem his people and give them eternal life. This is best summed up in the scripture that every Christian knows: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” This is the culmination of thousands of years of “redemptive” history, following from the covenant with Abraham, continued with Isaac, Jacob, Moses, and David to the coming of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. This is the prosperity that can never die, where people can “glorify God and enjoy him forever” 1

But today, over and against what has been handed down to us once for all, is a radically different understanding of the Gospel. Along with the good news of Jesus Christ is the idea that God wants all His children to be healthy and wealthy; to not be deprived or to suffer in any way. This “gospel” can sometimes be stated as “name it and claim it”, meaning if one has faith that something can be had, one need only name it in prayer and it becomes the property of the one who prayed. To find out where this radical shift began, we shall look at some of recent history, consult the confessions of the reformation churches to compare with what is taught today, and consult those who teach this “prosperity gospel” in the hopes of gleaning insight into how we got to where we are.

The author of this paper would like to draw attention to two individuals from the early twentieth century to begin delving into the origins of today’s prosperity gospel: Essek William Kenyon and Norman Vincent Peale. The former of the two, also known as E.W. Kenyon (1867-1948), was an evangelist and early radio personality who was known as “the faith builder” among his many followers. It is accepted today that he was the unintentional founder of the prosperity movement, known also as the “word of faith” movement. Influenced by the day’s philosophies, he proposed in his book, Jesus the Healer:

‘When you know that "By His stripes you are healed" and you know it as you know that two and two are four, the adversary will have no power over you.

When you know the Power and Authority of the Name of Jesus and that you have a legal right to use it, and the adversary lays siege to you, you will not be filled with fear. You will simply laugh at him and say, "Satan, did you know you were whipped? Leave my body." He will leave.’

This is the standard by which today’s prosperity movement proponents obtain their theology. They take Isaiah 53:5 and 1 Peter 2:24, conflate them to mean that Salvation and physical healing are one and the same, and state it as an overriding truth. Kenyon also wrote in his essay, Do you believe in Miracles?:

Then we have a third group who claim miracles are still being performed; that the sick are healed, that prayers are answered, and that God is a Living reality in the daily life of the believer.

We cannot ignore the amazing growth of Christian Science, Unity, New Thought, and Spiritism.

Kenyon had allowed the teachings of Christian Science to infiltrate his radio broadcasts and his writings. Christian science grew out of New Thought ideals, whose practitioners taught “positive affirmation” leading to health and prosperity. Phineas Parkhurst Quimby (1802-1866), who believed he had discovered the method by which Jesus healed, taught “Disease is due to false reasoning in regard to sensations, which man unwittingly develops by impressing wrong thoughts and mental pictures upon the subconscious spiritual matter.”2.

Norman Vincent Peale (1898-1993), published his book, the Power of Positive Thinking, in 1952 and it has sold nearly 20 million copies since and been translated into over 41 languages. His radio program, the Art of Living, was broadcast by NBC and was on the air for 54 years. At any given time one can type into any Internet search engine “Norman Vincent Peale” and get an endless stream of quotes on positive thinking. He wrote in his introduction to Positive Imaging:

"There is a powerful and mysterious force in human nature... a kind of mental engineering ... a powerful new-old idea.... The concept is a form of mental activity called imaging .... It consists of vividly picturing, in your conscious mind, a desired goal or objective, and holding that image until it sinks into your unconscious mind, where it releases great untapped energies ....When the imaging concept is applied steadily and systematically, it solves problems, strengthens personalities, improves health, and greatly enhances the chances for success in any kind of endeavor. The ideas of imaging has been around for a long time and it has been implicit in all the speaking and writing I have done in the past.

From here we can trace the proliferation of the “word of faith” theology, through E. W Kenyon to Kenneth Hagin, founder proper of the “word of faith” movement to Kenneth Copeland, popular teacher of our day and whose book The Laws of Prosperity we will consult to discover exactly what is found in their belief system.

1 Westminster Shorter Catechism, Question 1
2 The Quimby Manuscripts, edited by Horatio W. Dresser (New Hyde Park, NY: University Books, 1969 [orig. 1921]), 32-35

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

New beginnings... What does it mean to "tear down the high places"...

2Kings 18:1-4

In the third year of Hoshea son of Elah king of Israel, Hezekiah son of Ahaz king of Judah began to reign. He was twenty-five years old when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem twenty-nine years. His motherĂ‚’s name was Abijah daughter of Zechariah. He did what was right in the eyes of the LORD, just as his father David had done. He removed the high places, smashed the sacred stones and cut down the Asherah poles. He broke into pieces the bronze snake Moses had made, for up to that time the Israelites had been burning incense to it. (It was called Nehushtan. )

It's been eight months since I posted on my blog. I sort of abandoned it after the first of the year because a lot had happened in a very short time. Strangely enough, it was eight months of "tearing down" some of my own high places, although there are many still left.

I named my blog "Tear Down the High Places" for two reasons. One was because I had learned a lot about how "Christianity" in the United States was letting people down. It's not just the easy to spot things like "higher criticism" or protestant liberalism as "High Place" or places set up for people to worship false gods, but in the very way that people are interpreting God's word.

The second (or maybe the first instead) was the fact that I realized how much I had let these things color my own way of looking at God and His son, Jesus Christ. It's a startling revelation to realize that not only is the church that you attend preaching about a different Christ and a different father... Butt also to realize that you not only approved of it for years and years, but believed it as well. It was subtle, but it was there. Like when a pastor reads from an approved version of the bible, then says we need to look at another version of the bible to understand it... A version that was never heard of until that moment. Or when a pastor starts preaching on "millions of years" and winds up denying God's words when he said that his creation was "very good". There was good stuff in there, but there was enough leaven to mess up the whole thing.

But more than anything else, I realized that we weren't hearing the gospel. God speaks to ways to us. He speaks in commands, and he speaks in promises. My church speaksa lott about promises, but turns those promises into commands. Those new commands become "principles" that will make you successful or wealthy or healthy... Rightt up until adversity strikes and all of a sudden those "principles" no longer work.

It's my hope that I can use this blog now to make the distinctions that must be made. The first distinction will be on faith, which is the single most misunderstood word in Christianity today.

Be back soon. The peace of God that surpasses all human understanding guard our minds and hearts in Christ Jesus.


Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Happy new year!!!

Peace to all from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

I had such a terribly crazy and busy Christmas. On the one hand, I'm glad that it's over, but on the other hand I'm sorry to see the season go.

I just put up a photo album and angelfire for my wallpapers. Take a look.

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the big test

Since someone, somewhere, has seen fit to deprive the world of Issues etc and take a huge bite out of confessional Lutheranism at the same time, I will not take up the mantle of working to see that those who did it answer for their actions.
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