Sunday 31 August 2008

The example of riches untold

It’s the Guardian angel of thought

I have tendency to fall into a stupor when I get on flight to anywhere, the time before take-off is literally interminable that I sometimes miss the choreography of aircraft safety and the offer of newspapers to read.

I had deliberately left the things I was reading in my bag as I took my window seat but halfway through the flight my mind was aching for input so I asked the lady next to me if I could read her paper.

It was the UK Guardian and I really would not read anything that wet but for the seemingly dire circumstances.

The bottom of the front-page of the Friday 29th of August newspaper had the picture of a lady kneeling down fully and submissively bowed to the floor as if in deep supplication at a religious convention that majored on getting rich [1].

The Prosperity Gospel

I have seen that before and it took years to be weaned off the diet of milk and honey with a tub of unhealthy lard.

The prosperity gospel [2] has taken root in a branch of Christianity that has Pentecostal yearnings, the news feature contends that these ideas of interpretation of the Bible come from Oklahoma which has been the incubator to the wildest inspirations that defy the logic of getting successful.

Now, I have nothing against prosperity, in fact, I am all for prosperity which in essence could be good health, the presence of happiness, the ability to share, having sufficiency to meet ones requirements and something over whilst being content, I doubt if it is all about getting rich [3].

I like people to be ambitious and have good role models too that inspire them to great things, but it is covetous to desire to be like others for the sake of being able to say you have arrived.

Extensive studies [4] have been conducted on whether elements of the Prosperity Gospel do have a theological basis rather than a pseudo-heretical deviation.

Rick Warren [5] who pastors one of the largest congregations in American seems to stand alone from this deluge of “God make me as rich as Richie Rich [6]” syndrome and had a feature run in the Economist [7] about his teachings.

Ghetto churches with a different message

One thing the news feature noticed was most of the congregation seemed to be made of ethnic minorities from West Africa and the Caribbean – I do wonder how these churches integrate into or adapt to the communities they are in.

I remember when looking for a church, years ago, I went to 2 churches in The Hague and Amsterdam, I could have just walked down a street in Lagos, they were alien to the culture and their environment – it was all well to have the comfort of similarity in numbers but that is what the ghetto is made of.

These ghetto “churches” probably do have a message and have the power to inspire in a particular way, but when every message, intonation and supplication begins to read like dollar or pound signs, I worry for where the evil has taken root in the quest for or the love of money.

Between money and wisdom

There are many verses in scripture that suggest it is good to be rich but key to those verses lies the juxtaposition with wisdom because like the Proverbs say, money is of no use to a fool – Proverbs 17:15-17. As we all know, a fool and his money are soon parted too.

Wisdom is the key – Ecclesiastes 7:11-13; it brings prudence to the management of ones resources where the making of ones character can even be an exercise in money management.

The church featured in the news story which happens to be the largest church in the UK ran into some difficulty recently concerning its charitable status as well as financial irregularities with the way its funds seemed to have been diverted to means that were not above board.

Those matters got resolved with the minister in charge having to pay back GBP 200,000. It does not augur well for churches that taken voluntary contributions on the premise of faith and goodwill to end up under financial investigations - it is bad as an example of character and damages the reputation of the greater message - that is a glaring fact that cannot be subject to debate.

Example of riches

As one sits down to listen to the word as preached today, the anecdotes, analogies and allegories sound like the example of riches untold triggered by selfless tithing in the belief that the returns can be a thousand-fold - tendency to go out of context to pursue a particular belief system is rife.

It reminds of an episode years ago where an overdose of this kind of talk lead a friend to believe that God had promised him a large some of money, N17,000, and that was a lot of money; an equivalent of $20,000 or GBP 14,000 at the exchange rates then (1984) as we were all students.

He opened a bank account and waited for the day when the money would be deposited by God, the day finally arrived and he wrote the amount out to cash in a cheque, prayed over it and went to the bank.

He got done for fraud and it was a case that dragged on for a good while, the only saving grace for him was that he did not spend too long in a police cell; it was an eye-opener to all of us – God uses people most of the time and rarely exceptional circumstances, He does not do magic and many confuse the need for the miraculous with unexpected providence of good luck typifying a magical wave of the wand.

Riches of example

The riches of the example of Christian living cannot be just having the best car, the biggest house, the most vulgar bling and the swagger of a garrulous moneybag – it must be the ministering to ones community with whatever little one has got because sufficiency is what matters not excess leading to squander or wanton living 2 Corinthians 3:4-6 & 2 Corinthians 9:7-9.

I seek a gospel that espouses and ululates in the riches of example, it is time to find relevance in our communities which are more diverse than specific race churches or financial-driven thought philosophies; the gospel of the example of riches inspires no confidence in the quality of Christian devotion, dedication and living.

Chasing the cloud of success without the requisite dint of hard work, honesty, good character, reliability, dependability and service to ones community is as far removed from the gospel as the East is from the West.

As for the woman who was pictured kneeling on the front-page of the Guardian, if you are not asking a-miss – Amen.


[1] Religion: Pentecostalist gathering draws worshippers keen to get richer | World news | The Guardian

[2] Prosperity theology - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

[3] - Does God Want You To Be Rich? - The Religion Pages - Sponsored by Unitarian Universalists

[4] ReligionLink - Is the 'prosperity gospel' prospering?

[5] Rick Warren - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

[6] Richie Rich (comics) - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

[7] Rick Warren – Lexington | The next Billy Graham |

Note about originality: The example of riches derives from a phrase used by Bill Clinton where power replaces my use of riches.

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