God bless us, with material things

September 10, 2006 | By | 13 Replies More

This much should be obvious to anyone attending most big American churches:  on Sunday mornings, those lots are covered with expensive vehicles.  If you doubt me, just go out and check them; most American churches, any Sunday.  Do we need expensive vehicles to get from here to there?  Absolutely not. 

Is there hypocrisy in the air?  Most churches are “country clubs with steeples,” according to a friend of mine who believes deeply in God but deals with his God privately, not as part of an organized religion. 

Hey, why am I picking on churches?  Well, maybe it’s because church-goers repeatedly claim to me that they are morally superior to me because they are church-goers.  They also tell me that it’s the teachings of Jesus that make them morally superior.  Now I am quite aware that a teaching often attributed to Jesus is that one needs to first sell all his possessions and give the money to the poor before following Him.  This passage makes me think:  “Hey, church-goers, if you are all so morally superior, show it.”  That’s what I think when I see all those unnecessarily fancy vehicles on the church parking lot.

Where do all those church-goers park those vehicles?  Here’s where: in their big garages attached to their expensive houses.   Here’s the issue then:  these holders of substantial wealth are often the same people who profess to believe literally in Biblical scripture. Yet the New Testament isn’t known for encouraging people to acquire wealth.  Or is that still the case?  To put the question another way, how much material wealth may one keep for oneself and how much must one donate to the poor.  Where do you draw that line?

“What line?” say many church-goers.  A recent article by Time (“Does God Want You to Be Rich? A Holy Controversy”) explores this issue.  (The article is available to subscribers only at time.com).

“Why not gain the whole world plus my soul?” according to a Christian cited in the article.  In a poll conducted by Time, 61% of Christians “believed that God wants people to be prosperous.”  Material prosperity is a key part of Joel Osteen’s 4 million-selling book, Your Best Life Now.  In a recent interview with Time, Osteen says “I think God wants us to be prosperous. I think he wants us to be happy.”

Osteen promotes the accumulation of material wealth, even though his site asserts that his followers believe that  “the entire Bible is inspired by God, without error and the authority on which we base our faith, conduct and doctrine.”  Some parts more than others, it seems.   Publisher Weekly has this to say about the book:  “Theologically, Your Best Life Now’s materialism and superficial portrayal of God as the granter of earthly wishes will alienate many Christian readers who can imagine a much bigger God.”

According to the Time article, prosperity is taught by numerous conservative Christian churches. Here’s a reader’s comment from Amazon: “Joel Osteen’s book teaches men to love money and self, and leads them astray by a false gospel.”

Other well-known preachers are cited in the Time article:

“Who would want to get in on something where you’re miserable, poor, broke and ugly and you just have to muddle through until you get to heaven?” asks Joyce Meyer, a popular television preacher and author often lumped in the Prosperity Lite camp. “I believe God wants to give us nice things.” If nothing else, Meyer and other new-breed preachers broach a neglected topic that should really be a staple of Sunday messages: Does God want you to be rich?

Do Christian preachers talk about this important topic of wealth from the pulpit?  Not much:

“Jesus’ words about money don’t make us very comfortable, and people don’t want to hear about it,” notes Collin Hansen, an editor at the evangelical monthly Christianity Today. Pastors are happy to discuss from the pulpit hot-button topics like sex and even politics. But the relative absence of sermons about money—which the Bible mentions several thousand times—is one of the more stunning omissions in American religion, especially among its white middle-class precincts. Princeton University sociologist Robert Wuthnow says much of the U.S. church “talks about giving but does not talk about the broader financial concerns people have, or the pressures at work. There has long been a taboo on talking candidly about money.” In addition to personal finances, a lot of evangelical churches have also avoided any pulpit talk about social inequality.

Thus, here’s another example of a massive communication dysfunction in our society.  We already know that politicians refuse to address critical issues of the dayTime has dared to state that the church-emperor has no clothes.  The above-cited Time article has illuminated that numerous churches, all of them self-proclaimed teachers of morality, refuse to frankly and clearly discuss church-members’ obligations to the desperately poor people of the world.  It’s as if they’ve allowed they’ve allowed their sacred Gospels to be rewritten by Wall Street.  It’s as if dollars were not fungible.   It’s as if they’ve convinced themselves that the same dollars used to buy that Chevy Tahoe or that big-screened television could not also have been spent to save the lives of dying children.

Churches know full well what they are doing.  They know that if they required their members to donate most of the wealth that they currently spend on frivilous things and luxuries, their members would have to say good-bye to their dreams for fancier houses, cars and vacations.  Those churches that actually tried to follow the eye-of-a needle lesson would then experience huge drops in attendance. 

That would mean that they couldn’t afford those fancy new steeples. 

 Addendum

Here are six important statements about wealth from the Bible, courtesy of http://www.godisimaginary.com/i20.htm :

Matthew 6:19

Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Matthew 6:24
No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and Money.

Matthew 19:21
Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

Hebrews 13:5
Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.”

Phil 2:3
Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.

Acts 2:44-45
All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need.

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Category: American Culture, Consumerism, Good and Evil, Religion

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

Comments (13)

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  1. Hello Eric and all,

    RE: "Does God want you to be rich?"

    How about, does the Creator want some people to suffer and starve while others wallow in luxury? What about "serving mammon" (money and materialism) instead of truth, justice, and your fellow souls? How about the rich man and the eye of a needle? Talking about the blind leading the blind…

    Here's some pivotal knowledge (wisdom) so people can stop focusing on symptoms and obfuscatory details and home in like a laser on the root causes of and solutions to humanity's seemingly never-ending struggles.

    Money is the lifeblood of the powerful and the chains and key to human enslavement

    There is a radical and highly effective solution to all of our economic problems that will dramatically simplify, streamline, and revitalize human civilization. It will eliminate all poverty, debt, and the vast majority of crime, material inequality, deception, and injustice. It will also eliminate the underlying causes of most conflicts, while preventing evil scoundrels and their cabals from deceiving, deluding, and bedeviling humanity, ever again. It will likewise eliminate the primary barriers to solving global warming, pollution, and the many evils that result from corporate greed and their control of natural and societal resources. That solution is to simply eliminate money from the human equation, thereby replacing the current system of greed, exploitation, and institutionalized coercion with freewill cooperation, just laws based on verifiable wisdom , and societal goals targeted at benefiting all, not just a self-chosen and abominably greedy few.

    We can now thank millennia of political, monetary, and religious leaders for proving, beyond any shadow of a doubt, that top-down, hierarchical governance is absolute folly and foolishness. Even representative democracy, that great promise of the past, was easily and readily subverted to enslave us all, thanks to money and those that secretly control and deceptively manipulate all currencies and economies. Is there any doubt anymore that entrusting politics and money to solve humanity's problems is delusion of the highest order? Is there any doubt that permitting political and corporate leaders to control the lives of billions has resulted in great evil?

    Here's a real hot potato! Eat it up, digest it, and then feed it's bones to the hungry…

    Most people have no idea that the common-denominator math of all the world's currencies forms an endless loop that generates debt faster than we can ever generate the value to pay for it. This obscured and purposeful math-logic trap at the center of all banking, currencies, and economies is the root cause of poverty. Those who rule this world through fear and deception strive constantly to hide this fact, while pretending to seek solutions to poverty and human struggle. Any who would scoff at this analysis have simply failed to do the math, even though it is based on a simple common-denominator ratio.

    Here is Wisdom

    Doctrine of Two Spirits…

    Peace…

  2. Julie says:

    Here here. Excellent article.

    I'm broke on state benefit, my clothes are falling apart my kids sometimes (mostly) don't have what other kids have. I'm a twice divorced un qualified single parent.

    I have been so badly treated in church you would not believe. Told it's my fault, made to feel inferior as i don't have a fancy car, money, nice things, holidays abroad, I don't speak church speak I just don't fit.

    I love Jesus with all my heart and spend all my time reaching out to and loving the poor in my city.

    Why does the church hate me not accept me ignore me and push me out????

    Matthew 25??

    I just don't know any more and being female doesn't help as the men in church think they have a God given right to Lord it over me and speak to me like I am dirt or ignore me…… i could go on….

    Best wishes

    Julie

  3. Ken Z. says:

    Everything written above is true and more.My experience was as follows:i went to a "elder"(I.E.man placed in a pos. of power)in my local cong. when my wife was ill and i needed 1K to carry us over for a few weeks till my paycheck came in.I was not new there,nor had i ever asked for help before.

    But when he asked how we were doing,i though he actually wanted to help.I explained my need and told him how much(I.E.min.$$) that would get us by and could be repaid ASAP.He said he would get back to us.1 week later he met us at the " weekly Bible study group"he led and we attended.He said he consulted with the other "Elders" and and they all agreed to refused our request and suggested that i take out funds from my retirement to "tide us over".My wife and decided that rather than risk my retirement, we'd put our wedding bands in the pawnshop tp keep from being evicted from our Apt.2 weeks later he went on a extended vacation with his family to europe.Upon returning he boasted of how he PAID SIXTEEN THOUSAND PLUS on his little trip.Then the other elders decided to spend half of the SIXTY THOUSAND they had in the bank to "dress up" the building where they meet.I'm glad i have a strong faith that God sees all and am not going to let these "Mature Elder Christians" shake my faith.

    Though i do believe that while i attend "LEXUS Land Cong." till my lease expires that i will be locating a place where faith is proven by works and not your $$$.(If i wanted that kind of religion i would convert to being a muslim,at least they're upfront about the money thing)

  4. grumpypilgrim says:

    I have a recent experience that relates to Julie's story above. It comes from a sermon I saw this past week on one of the local religious television channels. The preacher pulled a name from the Bible — Paul — then mentioned all the evil things Paul had done, then asked the congregation if Paul would go to heaven or burn in hell. A bit puzzled by a type of question they had never heard before, the congregation paused, then answered "heaven." The preacher then pulled another name from the Bible — Cain — and listed the evil things Cain had done, and again asked the same question: heaven or hell? The answer, again: "heaven." Another name — Able — another list of sins, another answer: "heaven." Another name — David — another list of sins, and again the answer: "heaven." The preacher listed name after name and sin after sin, and each time the answer was the same: "heaven."

    After listing seven or eight names — murders, adulterers, and sinners of every sort who were all, nevertheless, going to heaven — the preacher then asked the congregation: "If all of these people are going to heaven, then why would you not welcome them into your church?"

    It is sad, but true, that some churches have become little more than country clubs with steeples. Officially, they welcome everyone; but, unofficially, you had better fit their socioeconomic mold if you plan on staying and being accepted.

  5. grumpypilgrim says:

    I have a story that relates to Ken's comment about Muslims. When I was in graduate school, I lived in a student dormitory on campus. I was scheduled to move into a new dorm building when my existing lease expired, but the new dorm (which was a brand new construction) was running a few days behind schedule and was not yet ready for occupancy when my existing lease expired. The school's dorm authority refused to let me stay a few days past the expiration of my lease (they needed the rooms for incoming students), so I was stuck without housing for a few days until I could move into the new dorm.

    A Muslim classmate — someone who barely knew me — happened to see me shortly after I received this news, noticed that I looked distressed, and asked me if anything was wrong. I told him my story and, as I came to the end, before I had even finished my last sentence, this fellow interrupted me and invited me to stay in his home until I could move into my new place. And here is the kicker: he and his family would be out of town for the entire duration of my stay.

    I was stunned. It is one thing to invite a stranger to stay in your home; it is a whole other level of faith to invite a stranger to stay in your home when you are not even going to be there.

    I do not know if most Muslims are as welcoming as my classmate, but I must say that some "Christians" I know are not.

  6. texmom says:

    Wow, after reading these comments, I can see why a lot of you are disillusioned about Christianity. Honestly, I have never regularly attended a church that was as cold and callous and selfish as the ones you describe above. Please don't think that is the norm. I believe this happens, but it certainly is not the norm. Of course, people are people, so you will never find a sinless church, either.

    I can also say that the last church we attended had a large percentage of very wealthy people. At first, I thought they would look down on those of us who did not have that kind of money. As I worked with them and got to know them, I discovered they were sweet people with the same type of everyday problems we all have (and money cannot solve). I think it's fair to say that not all wealthy people are evil and/or self-centered.

    The reason I came to this page is because I am reading "Your Best Life Now". I wanted to see for myself how it was written. I have watched Joel Osteen on TV and did not think he came off as preaching a "get rich quick" scheme, so I wanted to read the book for myself. So far I have read two chapters, and have mixed feelings. I think it is healthy for people to have a positive attitude in life, but it does seem that most of his examples are very focused on material gain. Material things are not evil unless you worship them. The jury is out for me, but so far, it does feel like the focus is too "prosperity" oriented.

  7. Erich Vieth says:

    I thought this little cartoon made a nice appendix to this post. Click here

  8. Erich Vieth says:

    Here is another article on the idea that God wants us to have it all NOW. The author is Ebonmuse, who focuses on the "Word of Faith" movement.  It's another version of what he terms "the theology of robber barons." http://www.daylightatheism.org/2007/04/the-root-o

  9. grumpypilgrim says:

    "…the idea that God wants us to have it all NOW."

    This theme frequently appears on televangelism programs: the televangelist will tell his viewers that for every dollar they donate, "God will return your money ten-fold, a hundred-fold, even a thousand-fold…." Yes, that is often the appeal: you, the viewer, will get rich by sending me your money.

    It is so nice of God to do this while the televangelist uses the donations to buy bespoke suits, French-cuffed shirts, big jewelry, a Learjet….

    "You wouldn't want God's messengers wearing sackcloth and looking like vagabonds," they will say. Apparently, they skipped the section in the Bible where it says Jesus wore sackcloth and looked like a vagabond.

    All part of the hard work of Christian evangelism: telling people whatever will convince them to donate money — "you'll be healed," "your prayers will be answered," "you'll spend eternity in heaven," "you'll get rich…." Evangelists are, after all, salespeople working on a commission, and we know how honest and reliable people become in those jobs.

  10. "If i wanted that kind of religion i would convert to being a muslim,at least they’re upfront about the money thing"

    Not sure why you say this, but as far as I have seen the monetary reward plays a less important role for Muslims when it comes to honoring and abiding by their religion.

  11. And if I remember correctly, the Puritans were some kind of Calvinist and according to the teachings of Calvin wealth is a sign of God's benevolence. So, it's probably no surprise if the focus of traditional American Christians might be on material wealth?

  12. Jacine says:

    If Churches have been treating you indifferently because you have money that is wrong. We are meant to love one another. To the bloke who said that he needed $1000.00 and they would not give it to him I think that is appalling.

    On the other hand you can not say you trust in God and then on the other hand look at your bank account and say you are broke. You are relying on this world to provide for you and not GOD.

    Too often though this is what people do. The bible says "Ask and it will be given, knock and the door will be opened"

    "Whatever you ask in faith and believe you shall receive."

    That is the clue FAITH. You can not talk about poorness and poverty and then expect wealth. The very fact that you are talking about it means you do not have faith that your life will be any different.

    There have been many times when I have had no money in my account and have not known where it is coming but I have never fretted or worried. To worry is to turn your back on God and if you do that he definetly will not be giving you the answer you want. I have always believed that the money will be there for me. The thought that it won't be there for me does not even enter my mind.

    As for prosperity God does not want you broke. If you say that money isn't important then you are lying. Try paying your bills without any. And it is the love of money that is the root of evil not money itself.

    You also can never be truly happy unless you have enough money to live comfortably without stress and worry

  13. Kim says:

    I was raised without any belief in God. I used to be as jaded as many of you seem to be from your responses. Then I read the Bible and I finally started to understand.

    Having now attended 5 different churches over the course of 4 years (we move a lot) I have never been to one that didn't speak OFTEN about money. Every Sunday we are reminded that the money we have is not ours but it is just one of God's provision that he blesses us with in order that we may bless others who are less fortunate. This is why we are asked every week to give back to God His tithe and our offerings.

    The concept of good stewardship (wise use of our resources) is also often encouraged. This includes our money, our time, and our talents. So, in my experience, Robert Wuthnow's conclusions are unfounded.

    The poll that resulted in 61% of Christians believe that God wants us to be prosperous is not really indicative of anything unless "prosperous" is defined. I would have to say that I agree that God wants us to be prosperous if that is defined by being in heaven and having eternal life. (like Matt 6:19 speaks of treasures above)

    In Matthew 19:21, Jesus wasn't saying that everyone HAD to do what He asked the rich man to do, though we should be willing to. He saw that in the rich man's heart he valued his possessions more than eternal life and made that heart issue plain to see by giving him the choice to follow him on the condition that he get rid of everything.

    Jesus never condemned people for having things, what he despised is greed and being ungrateful that God has blessed you with what you have. He taught that while you may have things you don't place your security in material possessions, ultimately our lives are in God's hands. Hebrews 13:5 bolsters this: "Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.”

    Dear Julie, I'm sorry to hear that anybody has mistreated you at church. My mother was on welfare, but rather than being angry that we didn't have what others had, we were grateful that we were getting any assistance, we never starved. God is providing for you and you need to recognize that. You're not unqualified, you can type and you write better than many people out there. You have been blessed with intelligence, don't underestimate what a gift that is! I appreciate that you reach out to help others and want to encourage you in those efforts. And, as far as your feminity, Jesus was the first to speak up for women and treat them well, He certainly doesn't consider women inferior. Men and women were created equally valuable. We have different strengths which compliment each other. I'm not sure what the men in your church are doing that is making you feel this way, but "Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you." (Col 3:13)

    Dear Ken, Each of us is given our own responsibility. I agree with the elders of your church for not giving you the $1000. You had the money (even if it was in a fund you designated for something else) but you just didn't want to use it. How would it have been right to loan you money (the church isn't a bank) from funds that are given to the church to provide for those who have NOTHING??? If I ever found out that my church was giving out loans to people in those situations I would question my elder's discernment. "Do not judge, or you too will be judged." (Matthew 7:1) You're judging the elders because of your own covetousness. You covet someone else's money so you resent someone's vacation (but even the Lord rested) or repairs made to the church or the fact that a member drives a Lexus. The elders were likely praying that you would see that your security was not in getting $1000 from them. You needed to trust that the Lord would provide you with what you needed and ultimately He did.

    God provides for all our needs, but the truth is God doesn't want you to "have it all NOW." God loves you and He wants you to accept the sacrifice of His only begotten Son so that through faith you will have assurance that you are saved and have more than you could ever hope for in the next life.

    "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life." (John 3:16)

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