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Does a strong faith in God lead to a prosperous life filled with health and wealth? Since the 1950’s, several Pentecostal and charismatic preachers have been arguing that followers of Jesus should be rich and successful. Oftentimes, they have put their teachings into practice by possessing expensive jet planes and huge mansions.
In this Holy Hangout I talk with design student and Vineyarder Friederike Berghauer from Germany and former Vineyard pastor and blogger Joshua Hopping from the United States. We discuss what prosperity really is, the historical roots to why “Health and Wealth” teaching originated, why it’s popular in Latin America and Africa, Biblical texts that challenge traditional prosperity teaching and the role of contentment and suffering in a Christian’s life.
If you have a suggestion on a topic for a future Hangout and/or want to join, just contact me!
How was Christian community of goods practically organized in the time of the Bible and how should it be organized today?
There are many myths and misconceptions about the apostolic church in Jerusalem and its community of goods. I’ve encountered people who think that all the disciples became homeless and unemployed as “those who owned land or houses sold them” (Acts 4:34), so that community of goods was more about having nothing in common rather than everything in common. In reality, however, they bought new houses after the resources were redistributed equally (8:3). Likewise, they probably bought new land and/or got other sources of income than agriculture.
The reason for doing this was most likely the fact that some people lived in quite luxurious homes while others were living in poor homes or even on the street. Selling everything and collecting the money in one pile under the oversight of the apostles made it possible for the church to provide a descent living for everybody, so that “there were no needy persons among them.” (4:34).
Now, we must remember that in the time of the New Testament there were no bank accounts. Everyone got paid in cash when they received their salary. This meant that even after the initial Great Selling of Everything, Christians in Jerusalem would receive their income individually (and most women, children and disabled people would not have any income at all). (more…)
So it’s no secret that several American prosperity preachers are ridiculously rich. When I’m out speaking about the importance of combining signs and wonders with simplicity and community of goods, my favourite bad example is charismatic Word of Faith leader Kenneth Copeland, who owns a mansion worth six million dollars, two private jets and his own airport, the Kenneth Copeland Airport, where he keeps his jets close to his million-dollar mansion. Most of his money is from ordinary people, who donate thinking that they’re doing something good for God’s Kingdom and that God will bless them with riches as well.
In a recent video, Copeland and Jesse Duplantis give some horrible reasons for why they “need” their luxurious jet planes: they need to stand up and pray, avoid people who want them to pray for them and who are filled with demons, sleep on the plane and travel long distances across America basically every single day. Now, you can stand up and pray on a commercial airline, or sit doing it; ministering to people is obviously a good thing and if you tired just tell them; and rather than spending millions of dollars on these pieces of luxury, I think it would be healthy for these men to travel less and sleep in normal beds more often.
Not only are private jets incredibly expensive when you buy them, but as J. Lee Grady has pointed out, maintenance costs about four million dollars per year, and a flight costs about 100 times more compared to using a normal plane. Flying is very harmful to the environment, and that harm increases enormously when using a private jet instead of a plane that many people fit into; just like buses are better for God’s creation than cars.
Mammonism, the idea that it’s OK for Christians to accumulate and possess wealth, has brought too many saints into ruin and destruction. This teaching kills poor people, as well as corrupts the sanctification process of the rich. Mammon, Wealth, is an enemy to God and it’s really important that we strive for simplicity and equality instead of trying to be as rich as possible.
I have been talking a lot about this in my God vs Wealth Youtube series, and I’ve written about it in my e-book God vs Inequality, but I still felt the need to gather all arguments I have for why Christians shouldn’t be rich in one lecture. It’s one hour long, and you can watch it right here:
In the video I discuss Jesus’ and the apostles’ teaching on wealth and poverty, the wealth of patriarchs and kings in the Old Testament and why it’s not normative for Christians, the woman and the alabaster jar, prosperity theology, and much more. I pray that this will equip God’s people to promote simplicity and equality even more.
Let us end our little blog series on why wealth is wrong. We have already looked at the mathematical argument, where we saw that it is impossible to keep wealth while giving the same wealth to the poor. Then we discussed the economic argument, which says that it is better to invest in goods and services beneficial for the poor rather than superfluities like luxury and entertainment. And last time, I brought up the Bill Gates argument, which states that it is the quantity of what we keep, rather than what we give away, that measures our generosity.
In each post we have started with an argument for why wealth is right, and we shall do the same in this post. The most common moral argument I hear when people defend wealth is: “Rich people have worked hard for their wealth, and deserve therefore to have it and do what they please with it.” It is often combined with “We only have a moral obligation for ourselves and our families, not for the entire world.”
The moral argument for why wealth is wrong, on the other hand, is brilliantly summarized by the apostle John: “If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person?” As I explained in my article about a Christian World Vision, Jesus-followers should without doubt apply the same moralic standpoint on non-believers as well. (more…)
Jesus calls wealth “deceptive” and said that it stifles the obedience to the word of God like thorns (Matthew 13:22). Paul says that we should be content with food and clothing and says that those who want to get rich fall into temptation and snares, which throws men into destruction and perdition (1 Timothy 6: 8-9). James takes an even harsher view: “Listen, you rich, weep and howl for all miseries that shall come upon you. Your riches will rot and your clothes devoured by moths. “(James 5: 1-2) Even Jesus lamenented the rich, while he praised the poor as blessed (Luke 6: 20-24).
The more money and gadgets wealthy people keep for themselves, the less they give to the poor by definition. You can not spend a hundred on makeup while providing the same hundred to a humanitarian organization. The Apostle John writes: “If anyone has earthly possessions and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him?” (1 John 3:17). John the Baptist proclaimed: “Whoever has two tunics should share with the one that has none, and he who has food should do likewise.” (Luke 3:11)
How does the rich Christian relate to the Bible’s radical teaching on wealth control and economic equality? Many do not feel particularly comfortable with it and try to find theological justifications why they can nevertheless be rich. An example of this is the prosperity theology, “Health and Wealth” – message, which says that Christians not only can but should be rich as a result of a strong faith. My impression is that this theology is rarer today than, for example in the 1980s, and that most Christians now agree with St. Paul that prosperity preachers “have lost the truth when they say that fear of God should lead to pofitability.” (1 Timothy 6: 5). (more…)
The Bruderhof is a radical, Anabaptist Christian movement that has practiced community of goods since the 1920’s. Founded in Germany, it had to flee Hitler going to Paraguay, the US and England, although new communities around the world are emerging. Their website and YouTube channel is packed with inspiration and teaching on community of goods, and I found this article by Charles E. Moore to be a brilliant apology of why all Christians should have everything in common. Here’s an excerpt:
Peter does not tell Ananias that he could have come into the Christian community without renouncing the private ownership of his goods. How could he, when Luke wrote that “not a single one said anything was his own” (Acts 4:32) and that “whoever possessed fields or houses sold them,” and that “all the faithful together had everything in common” (Acts 2:44), and so on? Didn’t Jesus say to the crowds, “Every one of you who does not renounce all he has cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:33). Ananias’ sin was that he pretended be a Christian via a counterfeit renunciation. This is why his sin was dealt with so severely. The entire thrust of both Luke and Acts is that those who follow Jesus freely give up everything.
Read the rest of the article here.
I often debate with fellow Christians who, contrary to me, oppose migration from poor countries to rich countries, aid from rich countries to poor countries or that rich countries should take greater responsibility for the environment than poor countries by living simpler. When I argue for why I think these ideas are good, I often point to facts and statistics that for example show that poor countries receive 80 % of all refugees today, or that aid donations are less than 0.3 % of rich countries’ GDP, or that environmental pollution kill more people today than malaria and HIV. Quite often I even have to start with explaining that rich countries are rich; most xenophobic people here in Sweden think that Sweden isn’t a rich country, which of course is the opposite of what the Global Wealth Report recently stated.
However, while I believe these facts are important for the discussion, they are seldom sufficient for my adversaries to change their mind. I find over and over again that even if we can agree upon that the world is unequal and unfair, they don’t have a problem with that while I certainly do. We have different world visions, and they often tell me that I shouldn’t claim that my world vision is more Christian then theirs.
But it is.
Jesus’ ethical teaching is clear and straightforward. Do to others what you would have them do to you (Mt 7:12). That’s a universal command, meaning it applies to all human beings. We should love everyone, even our enemies, and do good to them just as the Father loves and does good to all human beings (Mt 5:43-48). (more…)
When (rich) Christians defend mammonism, the idea that Christians may or should be rich, they often include arguments that aren’t necessarily based on Bible study – such as the arguments I discuss in my God vs Wealth series – but rather in philosophy or economics. These are the sorts of arguments I tackle in my Why Wealth is Wrong series. You can also read my discussions on the economic argument and the mathematical argument.
The Bill Gates argument for why it’s OK to be rich is a variant of the mathematical argument that involves billionaires. Look at Bill Gates, the mammonist says, he’s so generous! He has his Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation that does so much good for the world’s poor. This is because Gates is the richest man in the world, with his net worth of 75 billion US dollars. His abundant wealth allows him to be abundantly generous, and thus he as a rich man should not be condemned but celebrated both for his skills in computer invention and business, and his philanthropy.
The problem with the argument is that it tries to eat the cake and give it away at the same time: wealth is good, because you can give it away. This is the same error as the mathematical argument makes. Saying that wealth is good because billionaires can give lots of money to the poor, is like saying that it’s good to be fat because then you can lose a lot of weight. It’s trying to rationalize a phenomena by arguing that you can get away from it. (more…)
Today is a historic day, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Global Goals for sustainable development just a few hours ago. These goals are sort of a sequel to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) which has been surprisingly successful in making the world a better place: extreme poverty has been cut in half, hunger too, more children go to school, less women and babies die in childbirth, and people live longer. Praise God! John Green, educated Youtuber and a Christian, explains briefly the achievements of the MDGs in this video:
The Global Goals step things up a bit though; the new ambition is to totally eliminate extreme poverty by 2030 and also make sure that nobody goes hungry. Other goals (there are 17 of them) include global gender equality with no more discrimination against women anywhere, reduced economic inequality, reasonable consumption, action against climate change and environmental pollution, etc.
Should Christians support the Global Goals? Duh, obviously. Helping the poor and caring for God’s creation is extremely Biblical, isn’t it? Well, some brothers and sisters do object against the goals in general and the first one about ending poverty in particular. The general critique against goals like this is that we should not imagine ourselves being able to turn this world into a paradise, since all men are sinful (Rom 3:23) and the Kingdom of God is not of this world (Jn 18:34). The particular critique against the idea of ending poverty is that Jesus actually said:
The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want. But you will not always have me. (Mark 14:7)
When the Lord miraculously helped an Israelite woman named Hannah to bear a child, she praised Him in a prayer that is recorded in 1 Samuel 2. It says, among other things: “The Lord sends poverty and wealth; he humbles and he exalts.” (v. 7) Like basically every Bible verse ever, it has often been taken out of context to be used as a proof text for people’s personal views. In this case, it has been argued that 1 Sam 2 divinely sanctions the poverty of the poor and the wealth of the rich, as well as promoting fatalism. I’ve heard several times “It’s not wrong to be rich, it says that the Lord sends wealth”, and sometimes also “It’s useless to fight poverty, it says that the Lord sends it.”
Here’s a radical idea: Let’s look at the context! Hannah says in verses 4 and 5: “The bows of the warriors are broken, but those who stumbled are armed with strength. Those who were full hire themselves out for food, but those who were hungry hunger no more. She who was barren has borne seven children, but she who has had many sons pines away.”
Thus, Hannah argues that there is a transition of fairness at work, where the first will be last and the last will be first. And who’s responsible for this?
This post is written by Jesus Army member Joram on the Forward blog. We met Joram the other day and he told us about what he had experienced in Calais. This text expresses both the pain and hope of the refugee camp in a brilliant way, which is why I re-post it here.
“There was a rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate was laid a poor man named Lazarus, covered in sores, who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man’s table…” (Luke 16:19-21)
Every generation has its ‘Lazarus’: the poor, mistreated, abused, and neglected. Part of this generation’s Lazarus is the third world migrants who wash up on the shores of Europe. Their governments oppress them, abuse them, imprison them, torture them; so those that can escape head for the rich man’s gate known as Europe.
When they wash up on the shore after unspeakable tragedy at sea, some of them head for western France to Calais and the literal gate to the rich man’s land known as the Eurotunnel.
A diaspora of refugees with families shattered and scattered across the globe, children in one country, fathers in another, mothers in another. It was never meant to be like this.
They redefine the word poor – they have smartphones, Nike trainers, mp3 players and navigate at sea using Google Maps. But only because we, in the rich man’s kingdom, are so driven by our mad consumer desire for the latest ‘thing’, we throw last year’s stuff away. But don’t be fooled by this – the real poverty is the loss of loved ones, of being stateless, homeless, jobless and friendless. The sores on the modern Lazarus are underneath his skin, too deep to be seen by the superficial glance of the citizens of the rich man’s country. (more…)
How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity! (Ps 133:1) We’ve now visited around seven different community houses here at the Jesus Army, and it’s so beautiful to see the mixture of different people. Everybody believe in Jesus of course, but apart from that there is great diversity when it comes to age, ethnicity, social background, employment and civil status. Everyone are welcome to join the community, as long as they are committed and serious about it.
This is obviously very Biblical as the apostolic community in Jerusalem that we read about in the book if Acts literally included all the believers: “All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need.” (Acts 2:44-45)
In the Jesus Army’s New Creation Christian Communities, you meet all sorts of people. Yesterday and today we’ve spoken to former drug addicts who have been saved and joined the common purse, as well as academics, nurses and teachers. We’ve spoken to 90-year-olds and people in their 20’s, as well as to parents with kids under the age of five. Everyone are welcome to sell everything and join the community of goods, even those who hardly have anything and mostly bring their debts to the common purse! And there is a strong, tangible brotherhood in the church that is quite unique in our individualist society.
We shouldn’t just talk about how to fight poverty, but also how to fight inequality.
In September, world leaders will gather in New York to agree upon new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that will succeed the old Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Several of the MDG:s were actually fulfilled, such as halving the proportion of poor people worldwide and increasing global health and literacy.
Now, the goals are even more ambitious, striving to eradicate poverty, hunger and illiteracy completely, along with environmental goals such as preserving ecosystems and combating climate change. A key to all this, I think, is goal number 10: to decrease inequality between and within countries.
People aren’t poor because there is a lack of resources in the world, but because they are unevenly distributed. 20% of the world’s population consume 80% of the world’s resources. And the mass consumption of the rich hurts the environment: if everyone lived like the average Swede, we would need three planets. If they lived like the average American, we would need five. In fact, World Overshoot Day, when we have consumed what the earth produces in a year, is today, August 13! This means that during the rest of 2015, we spend, consume and trash resources that we do not replace, and this date has been pushed further back almost every year in the calendar.
‘For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you?When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ (Mt 25:35-40)
The New York Times has written about my little country, Sweden, and how we treat poor immigrants from Romania. It’s not a happy read:
From media reports, Expo has counted 77 attacks against beggars in the last 18 months, though charities assume such crime is underreported.
The attacks include one in Malmo, where tents in a Roma camp were set on fire; another in Boras, where a beggar was run over by a moped; and one in Skara, where at least one migrant was hit by a pellet from an air rifle.
I’m very involved in this situation; as I have shared previously I am almost daily helping poor Romanian immigrants. I have started a small organization with some friends to support them and help them to get housing and an income, and I personally know about 100 people in this situation. The hatred and racism that NY Times is reporting about is something I witness all the time, and I’ve had countless discussions with people who are convinced that these extremely poor beggars are rich, criminal liars who should be deported. (more…)