Saturday, July 17, 2010

Worldliness in the Church

TITLE: Worldliness in the Church
Written by: Conrade Yap
Date: 17 July 2010

MAIN IDEA: Beware the presence of worldliness in the church, especially those that perpetuate the promiscuities of prosperity.

At the end of the 19th Century, Bishop Huntington of Central New York writes this in a religious journal related to the Quakers, 'The Friend.' He warns the professing Church of Christ about the internal threat to the Church: "Worldliness in the Church."

"In prosperous times like ours, and in affluent communities, Antichrist goes himself to church, patronizes preaching, buys a pew, gets himself elected to the vestry, and takes a hand in shaping the policy of the establishment, and by blandishment or bluster, in pitching the keys of the pulpit. All that you may hear said of the mischief of this secular corruption in disordering Christ's family, vitiating doctrine, emasculating the manhood of the ministry, and lowering the standard of personal righteousness, rather understates than exaggerates the fact. It is not scientific doubt, not atheism, not pantheism, not agnosticism, that in our day and in this land is likely to quench the light of the Gospel. It is a proud, sensuous, selfish, luxurious, church-going, hollow-hearted prosperity."

(Bishop Frederic D. Huntington, in THE FRIEND – A religious and Literary Journal, Vol LXII, Philadelphia: WM H Pile’s Sons, 1889, p326)
What a paradox. The more prosperous we are, the greater the tendency toward worldliness. It certainly casts a fresh light to what it means when Jesus tells us to choose between God or Money.  In Matthew 6:24, the word, Mammon, translated as Money, is also understood as 'that which we show our allegiance to.'  We have to choose either to worship God or to worship idols. There is no other way. Huntington hits it hard, and it appears that the battles that he fought in his era, are not so much different than 2010 now. The greatest threat to the Church is the insidious invasion of the pursuit of prosperity instead of the pursuit of Christ.

The 'Prosperity Gospel' has been going on for quite a while. The Wealth and Health teachings have gripped the attention of many faithfuls, who virtually soak in everything the Faith-Word healers and preachers offer on their stage. Under the guise of religion, they have legitimized their pursuit of wealth. Under the convenient permission of God wanting them to be rich, they have justified their own hoarding in the name of using wealth to help others. Under the constant barrage of teachings against the law, they have conveniently excused themselves from having to obey the disciplines of old, in favour of an unlimited providence from a cuddly 'daddy' God. They have replaced the dangers of sin with the wagers of pleasure. The biggest concern I have is the direct equation of blessings with all things 'material.' When this happens, is this not a forming of a golden calf of Materialism? Is this not a new face of Mammon? I ask, how can this ever be a legitimate pursuit of Christ? Do we really need so much 'blessings' in order to bless others? The way to bless others is not on the basis of replicating our own appetites inside them. It is to let them grow their love toward God and neighbour in their own special way.

 [Picture Credit:]

A) Worldliness in the Church
I am not saying that everyone in the prosperity gospel churches are infatuated with materialism. In fact, I will grant that there are genuine people within the flock, who yearns to know and to love Jesus more. Many of them are pious, and are generous with what they have. Some are even prepared to live sacrificially, that the Name of Christ can be broadcast farther. What bothers me is the teaching. If I were to blame, I blame the preachers for giving hopes centered on materialism. I blame these stage performers for trying to paint God like a heavenly treasury, or a heavenly Bank that writes checks that can be readily cashed on earth.  Sometimes, the world that we live in influence our attitudes toward worldly possessions and worldly pursuits.

The Chicago pastor AW Tozer writes,
"In a similar sense, there are those who are more influenced by the world than by the New Testament, and they are not ready for the Holy Spirit. Of these people, we have to say that they are influenced far more by Hollywood than they are by Jerusalem. Their spirit and mode of life are more like Hollywood than it is like Jerusalem. If you were to suddenly set them down in the New Jerusalem, they would not feel at home because their mode, the texture of their mind, has been created for them by twentieth century entertainment and not by the things of God!" (AW Tozer)
Using the formula of entertainment, riches, and health, how can any church NOT draw people in? How can such an organization not grow? How can anyone resist the temptation of getting rich materially while accumulating spiritual knowledge?

B) An Old Argument?
My question is: Is this dated, old warning from Bishop Huntington relevant for us today? For those of us who immediately asks WHY, may I suggest we ask with the same breath, "Why not?"

One of the problems of modern Christianity, especially in developed countries is that we seek ways in which to justify what we have. The rich tries to justify their pursuit of more riches. The poor tries to justify for additional wealth. Prosperity Gospel does not care whether one is rich or poor. For example, in the rich West, "Prosperity Gospel' quickly becomes a convenient way for people to get more in order to become happier. In the poorer parts of the world, like Africa, the poor are deceived into giving away whatever little they have to the coffers of the prosperity preachers, and in the process, starving their needy families for the needed funds to buy food and clothing. In some ways, the fanatical follower of the Prosperity Gospel is like the gambler addicted to gambling.

It is easy for us to go to lengths and defend our current lifestyles. It is easy to blame it on our busy schedules and that we have lots of other things better to do. It is also quite common to say that we cannot control our society. After all, we need to make a living right? Wrong!

C) The Seduction of Positive Power
In the book "Losing Moses on the Freeway," Chris Hedges sees similarities between motivational gurus like Anthony Robbins and the prosperity gospel preachers. He writes about Anthony Robbins:
"His message is a secular version of the television evangelist's gospel of greed and personal empowerment. Once you pay your tithe to these groups, God will shower you with blessings. God will do your bidding. God will make you rich. The testimonials used by these multimillionaire television evangelists differ little from those used by Robbins. Robbins offer secular rather than divine tools to reach the same end. Each peddles a dangerous form of self-worship. They tap into the greed that runs like an electric current through America. They promise quick, easy shortcuts to get what we want, to become the idol we worship." (Chris Hedges, Losing Moses on the Freeway, NY: Free Press, 2005, p161) 
We become the idols we worship. In fact, when followers vigorously, and vehemently defend their prosperity preachers with their lives, they have sought to protect the idols both outside and inside. Both feed on each other. Such adherents need their preachers to feed them more of the prosperity gospel. Without them, they suffocate. That is why they defend tooth and nail to ensure that their prosperity idols remain intact, so that their inner idols remain steadfast in their hearts.

D) Wisdom from Proverbs
The wisdom from Proverbs show us the way to navigate through the valley of the shadow of worldliness. It says:
Two things I ask of you, O Lord; do not refuse me before I die: Keep falsehood and lies far from me; give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread." (Proverbs 30:7-8)
How we need to pray this prayer each day. We need God to show us that all we need is our daily bread. We pray the Lord's prayer to grant us our daily providence, and to lead us not to temptation but to deliver us from evil. We need to declare that God is our Heavenly Father, and in Him alone we trust and declare our sufficiency. God has freed us not only from the law, but also from the deceitful desires after Mammon; and the Money that the idol of prosperity promises.

Beware of the insidious tendencies of the prosperity gospel that leads us to idolatry. They will even use the Name of Christ to legitimize our pursuits. They will accuse those who are against prosperity preaching, to people who prefer poverty and sickness. This is absurd. Such accusations border on mischief more than anything else. Believers in Christ, when they are led by the Spirit will seek to shine a light in a world of darkness. May I encourage believers, even those in the prosperity gospel camp, to seek Christ and Christ alone. That whether in riches or in poverty, it is only Christ they seek. As we do this more and more, we learn to banish worldliness from the church. For the Church, neither prosperity nor poverty should be sought. They must seek Christ alone, and they do so on the sufficiency of the daily bread God faithfully delivers each day.

In Christ, we do not need to come to God: "Can I have more money please?" Instead we come and we say: "Have mercy on me, O God!" Beware too, that worldliness can infect not only churches that teaches the prosperity gospel. It can influence *ANY* church.



Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...

Very well said; informative, challenging and I appreciate the candor of your article. Well said my friend. May God help us!

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