"God wants us to prosper"?

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Preliminary note: The 5 people who read this blog regularly (come on Al, there may be more like 8) may have noticed that I’ve been posting on days that aren’t strictly my days. And that I seem to have strayed from strictly talking about progressive politics. But you know what, I think that’s okay. I think having more posts keeps the momentum going, and that’s a good thing, so I’m going to keep it up. And, I wanted to say that this little online community has really become something that I look forward to and enjoy. I’m pretty cut off from people here in D.C. other than my coworkers and my husband, since all of our family and friends live far away, so it’s nice to have some kind of community, even if it’s just online.

Yes, the one thing about being secular that is a big downer is that there’s no automatic social outlet for us heathens. I have even thought about (gasp!) trying to find a Unitarian church to go to. Alas, TiVo can only fulfill so many needs. I was thinking about this in relationship to the whole megachurch phenomenon. I’ve sent articles to Al before asking him what C of C folks think of this nondenominational, flashy entertainment, thousands of people, warm fuzzy feel-good-about-yourself-God-loves-you-no-matter-what deal. Even though I’m no longer in the church, I feel like I have the C of C reaction anyway: if it’s too much fun, it ain’t religion. LOL. But seriously, it seems to me that most of the people who attend these churches don’t have a deep spiritual commitment to anything other than feeling good about themselves. It just seems very shallow.

Then I came upon this article in the New York Times this morning about one of the ministers of one of these huge churches in Houston. I was horrified at how materialistic this guy is and how he is using religion as a vehicle to make himself rich and then to justify his wealth. And then there is the whole thing about praying for a good parking spot. Ick!! What do others make of these megachurches?

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8 Responses to “"God wants us to prosper"?”

  1. Terry Austin Says:

    Hi Sandi.

    Osteen reminds me of Rev. Lovejoy of the Simpsons, and I have no idea why. It may be on looks alone. And I always want to call him (Joel) Claude. (Claude Osteen was a pitcher for the Dodgers eons ago.)

    As for the megachurch scene, I much prefer the “small group movement” to the megachurch one. But that’s just me.

    I considered going to a Unitarian church once, but my brain kept connecting Unitarian with “unitard,” and I just couldn’t get past the mental image.

    Today’s word verification is brought to you by “maxluce.”

  2. Whitney Says:

    Sandi, I have the same gut reaction you do. It just seems that there is something so “off” about their approach to God.

    And of course God wants us to prosper–but so we can do good things and help the needy. NOT so we can be rich and have billion dollar homes and million dollar wardrobes. Preachers wearing Armani freak me out. Oh, wait, I wouldn’t know if it were Armani or Dillards. I’m not that sophisticated.

    It’s a very selfish approach, one that we unfortunately see in almost every other corner of our society–may as well pour it into a church setting, right?

    Like Terry, we prefer small churches, too. There’s something about being held accountable in a small church that makes you feel needed and held up to a standard. Even in the Mega CofCs (think the South) I don’t think people have the same sense of accountability or responsibility. Don’t worry, Al, OS was never that to us–we loved it there. You guys were the one and only reason I would’ve stayed on the Gulf Coast.

    Sandi, I’m glad you look forward to this stuff. So do I, and who cares if you post on “your” days. We’re always ready for a discussion.

  3. Al Sturgeon Says:

    Hey Sandi, you keep posting articles any day you want!!! I’ve decided I’m going to try my hand at some different days, too – the more the merrier…

    You found good ol’ Joel Osteen!!! My wife gets nauseous when he comes on television. I never watch him, but once we were in a hotel and caught part of one of his shows/sermons. He talked about his wife teaching him faith by praying for a mansion and getting one. I just laughed.

    But it isn’t really that funny, huh?

    I used to be attracted to the megachurch idea years ago (I like the new term, gigachurch in the article!), but something changed in me along the way. I don’t despise the concept, but I see great danger in it. My favorite author, Eugene Peterson, refers to much of it as idolatry. And I see where he’s coming from. People want something sparkly.

    I’ve got a good friend who preaches at a megachurch, however, and I think he is awesome. (So I won’t be engaging in complete blanket criticism.) But all that glitters is not gold.

    A fomerly well-known youth minister (who is passed on now) named Michael Yaconelli once wrote that the main concern churches should have with numbers is that they don’t get too big. I think his advice is worth considering.

    You see, its hard to deny that churches should be concerned with “growing” given the NT, but I personally subscribe to a different model. If by some weirdness my congregation began to grow large, I would push taking a group and starting another small church in a different part of town instead of selling out and buying a shopping mall.

    But that’s just me…

  4. Duane McCrory Says:

    I, for one, can’t stand the health-and-wealth-gospel approach to Christianity. An affluent lifestyle doesn’t look much like the lifestyle of the one whom we claim to follow, i.e. Jesus.

    The entertainment thing really bugs me too, not because of my Church of Christ background but because there’s a huge difference between worship and entertainment.

    These are just a couple of random thoughts.

  5. DeJon Redd Says:

    I hear ya, Sandi. I get the same feel from the groupies living out the religion of Rick Warren’s “Purpose Driven Life.”

    It all seems so very self-centered … Which is the opposite of what I understand to be Jesus Christ’s example.

    There seems to be a fundamental question of “what can religion/God/church do for me?”In my opinion: wrong question. (I avoid the temptation to use JFK’s powerful, but now trite quote, “Ask not…)

    But a guy I met recently said it much better than I could and took some heat for it. I hope you can check it out.

  6. JD Says:

    Ditto on the ‘health and wealth’gospel.

    I cringe every time I hear someone say, though, that they like small churches. Faith communities are to be outwardly focused. Sometimes … a lot of times … they will be small. But the first church started off with 2,000 members. They did not start off with a gigantic worship service, though … they met in each other’s homes. Effective large churches are built on the foundation of wonderful small groups. So I think I understand when people say “i want a small church” but it sounds like “i hope God doesn’t lead too many people to our church”.

    Needless to say, I have never pastored a mega-church and likely never will … my spiritual gift seems to be shrinking churches.

    Anyhoo … Joel “moonpie” Osteen is a mystery to me. I don’t get it.

    Good thoughts.

  7. Capt MidKnight Says:

    Sandi,
    I’ve never seen Joel Osteen, but I know the type. Your description of him reminds me of another character who preached a gospel of prosperity to the downtrodden some years ago. His name was Rev. Ike and his audience was mostly in the black community. His stock phrase, which he used on almost every broadcast went something like this:

    “I don’t want no pie in the sky when you die bye and bye religion!”
    “I want mine here and now.”

    His message resonated with a lot of the poor who were, understandably, looking for a better life. Of course, in order to show the kind of faith that would bring them the new house or the Cadillac in the driveway, they had to contribute to his ministry etc. etc. etc. You know the drill.

    I’ve watched with interest over the last 40 years or so the attitudes of the “beautiful people” of our society towards religion (by “beautiful people”, I mean mostly those who make their living being in the public eye). Whether Hollywood types or politicians or other “personalities,” most of them will profess a belief in some spiritual system or values, but most will also be quick to point out that they don’t support any “organized religion.” That harsh, mean old God of the Bible doesn’t appeal to them. When pressed to explain what it is they actually do believe, it almost always turns out to be some “liasser faire” type system which (surprise, surprise) places no pressure on them to change their lives and only condemns those who would presume to judge anyone else. This, I think is our current form of idolatry – constructing a religion which will affirm our own beliefs and justify our actions – and censure anyone who might disagree.

    Surprisingly, except for some scientists who became media personalities like Carl Sagan, a strictly Darwinian view of the world has never been very popular with that crowd – probably too depressing. Even the environmentalists who have come on strong in the last 20 years or so often present only those parts of Darwinian theory that seem to support their position. I remember reading one animal rights activist who contended that, since Darwin had proven that there was no basic difference between man and the lower animals – just a few more mutations and a little more evolution – that it was only fair that animals have the same rights as humans. Unfortunately, this fellow hadn’t read quite enough Darwin yet. What Darwin actually teaches is not that every organism is entitled to the same rights, but that no organism is entitled to any rights AT ALL. I do, however, believe in a form of animal rights. A Cocker Spaniel lives in my house and has the right to food and shelter because I, as a higher authority, grant it. Should I decide to withdraw those rights, the puppy is on it’s own. In a Darwinian world, the basic presuppositions do not allow the existence of any higher authority, so, in that world, the very concept of “rights” is nonsense.

    Sorry for the digression, but, believe it or not, I’m getting back around to Joel Osteen types and Mega-Churches.

    The Prosperity Gospel preachers are only one example of a phenomena which is as old as recorded history. No matter what the idea, religion, or system may be, some men will always mis-represent them to further their own agenda. Sometimes they are sincerely mistaken and sometimes they know exactly what they’re doing. Most of us would say the many of the media evangelists like Osteen are mis-representing the Bible – as we understand it. As to his motives, who can say? The Supreme Court decides which side is mis-representing the Constitution when a case come before it, but, in the wider world, we have no such arbiter – nor, I think would we want one.

    Finally, as for Mega Churches, I used to think they weren’t for me, but, like the frog in the pot on the stove, I think the water has been warming up around me for several years. I live in what’s not so jokingly called “The Brass Buckle of the Bible Belt.” There’s literally a church on every corner, and some of them are HUGE. No matter what your persuasion, you can probably find it not far away. Within the Church of Christ community, I can go from the sublime to the ridiculous in about a 10 mile circle. Needless to say, “Church Shopping” is a common practice. My congregation now has about 1,100 on Sunday morning (two services) which is the largest church I’ve ever attended, and is probably about the upper limit of my tolerance. We’ve got some great folks and I’m happy there, but it’s so easy for the real worship to get overwhelmed by the technology and “show business” that has come to characterize the modern church service, even in our brotherhood. We have one or two guys that sit in “Mission Control” up in the balcony every service – behind a console that wouldn’t be out of place on the Starship Enterprise.

    Sometimes I get nostalgic for the “good old days” when I lived in a little town and went to a small church where my family had been members for 5 generations, but those days are gone, along with 8 track tapes, standard transmissions, and two week long summer revival meetings. As Christians, as well as human beings, we’ve got to adapt or die. That much Darwin got right.

    Sorry for the epic post, but I’ve been out of the loop for a while. Every now and then, I get on a rant.
    Capt MidKnight

  8. juvenal_urbino Says:

    Sandi — I had the same thoughts during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, watching T.D. Jakes roam among the completely dispossessed on the floor of the Astrodome.

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