A theological dilemma

A few days ago I blogged on the struggle I was having finding a church that I fitted into (see Rebuilding Conservatism through Modern Churchanity).

Over the last few days I have continued to look at churches and there are two things that are really bugging me about modern churches: prosperity theology and social justice.

Now social justice is something I really believe in and have a real passion for, not just feeding and housing the homeless but also having an impact in the wider community amongst work mates, schools, social clubs etc. For me social justice is about Christians being out in the world as lighthouses amongst the darkness. John 13:35 (NIV) says “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

However, I am finding many churches who are so insular and cater for their own membership and do little for the wider community – or when they do it is through the indoctrination of specific religious beliefs upon people – and this is always bound to end up in massive controversy. Something that I always wonder is why can’t we just go out into the world and serve people first, show them the love of Christ rather than ram church down their throats and then “rescue them”?

Jesus didn’t go out into the world and say in order to be healed you have to first believe this and that and something else and attend church every Sunday, and the special program for people like you on every Tuesday night. No, instead he spoke to people and they were healed in fact sometimes he didn’t even speak to them he just told them to get up and walk. Sure after this they most likely believed but it seems the opposite of what a lot of churches are preaching whereby in order to be healed you must first believe. Surely God can heal those who don’t believe and through that healing they will believe?

Anyway I am already sidetracked; my main gripe/dilemma/issue rests with prosperity theology.

So what is prosperity theology? A really interesting article in Christianity Today puts it this way:

The teaching that believers have a right to the blessings of health and wealth and that they can obtain these blessings through positive confessions of faith and the “sowing of seeds” through the faithful payments of tithes and offerings.

There are a number of verses that are often used to back up this belief, in particular Malachi 3:10-12 (NIV):

Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the Lord Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it. I will prevent pests from devouring your crops, and the vines in your fields will not cast their fruit,” says the Lord Almighty. “Then all the nations will call you blessed, for yours will be a delightful land,” says the Lord Almighty.

Now I certainly have no issue with giving to the church, however, the modern church is so focussed on a money tithe. It was not like that in the past, the reason why the verse says storehouse and not bank is because in the past the tithe was giving of what you actually produced – not just material wealth but also giving of time, and goods, etc.

Lots of modern churches have this focus on giving 10% of your financial income to the church. I whole heartedly disagree with this (and could spend a whole another blog post on this). I believe you should give to God and the church what God has placed on your heart to give. I may not agree with most of what the church I have been attending over the last few weeks but having said that when I got paid I gave what God placed on my heart to give. In addition to this I give to God through serving in other areas both within church and in the wider community (although not much at the moment until I find a new church and get settled).

Opps, I am off on a sidetrack again. Coming back to the idea of Prosperity Theology I fundamentally for a few key reasons:

First the lives of the apostles in the book of Acts certainly do not seem to agree with prosperity theology, in the healing of the crippled beggar in Acts 3:6 (NIV) Then Peter said, “Silver or gold I do not have, but what I have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.” That verse has always spoken to me we don’t need material possessions to follow God, to heal people, or to do God’s work all we need is ourselves.

Jesus actually spoke in many places about the greed associated with building up massive amounts of wealth. And I could go on for many paragraphs about the love of money being the root of all evil and/or how hard it is for a rich man to enter heaven. And I am certainly not saying that you can’t be rich or God can’t bless you, if your heart is in the right place then it is awesome that you have such a blessed life. But there is something that just seems so wrong about preaching that if you give more and more and more to God that you will get more and more and more back. If you don’t get more back does that mean you’re doing something wrong, or your faith is not strong enough?

Second, the book of Job is all about God letting terrible things happening to someone but their faith remaining strong the entire way through. Job didn’t give up just because he gave his whole to God and God didn’t bless him with abundant wealth instead he knew that the reward in heaven was so much more than what we can ever have on earth. (And I know this is a massive over simplification of the entire book).

In a more modern context I find Prosperity Theology not holding true in the whole situation with the poor starving kids in Africa. I say “poor starving kids” a little cynically not because that isn’t the situation but rather the constant pressure in advertising to give money and the problem with go away, that is not the case, sure money is needed to fund things, but more important is people on the ground giving their time and love.

But again coming back onto topic a lot of Christians in areas of the third world have a stronger faith than many Christians do in the restful west. If prosperity theology was so true then why don’t these people just have faith in God and through some miracle everything works out right for them? Africa remains one of those situations where I fail to understand why they get such a rough ride when in the west we get it so good yet we are quite often far worse sinners. And I know there are not degrees of sin, all sin is bad, but yeah it is something I have never quite understood form a spiritual point of view.

So coming back to the hunt for a church to call home, maybe I am being really picky, maybe I am being too religious, maybe I am too focused on doctrine then on God. But the real issue for me is I don’t want religion where God is effectively dead and ritual replaces any chance for the Holy Spirit to move. However, I really seek a place which is alive in passion and worship for God. I love loud modern church music and preaching that is relevant to today.

At the same time this often goes way to far where the music becomes more of a show than worship to God and the preaching crosses over from talking about God and the stories in the bible to instead using modern motivational speaking tricks to keep the audience interested and incorporates so much modern secular business style teaching that somewhere along the way it just becomes Church Inc. I really want something in between, something that is bible based, not steeped in tradition but has respect for it, and has a real passion for both social justice and community.

So far I have not found that in between anywhere near my new house. The question I am really pondering is do I continue to attend a church that I disagree with a core preaching and style of for the purpose of attending church until I either find a church near me that I agree with, or I find an effective way to get to the outer suburbs to attend churches that I do agree with and have a passion to attend? Do I continue to attend a church that I disagree with because the people and community is awesome and being in a new city friends are what I need most?

Is a suitable modern substitute for church: podcasts, worship music, bible reading and commentary, and small group discussions at university? How long can one grow with God and not lose faith with the absence of church, at the same time what if that church is destroying your faith? Can a church destroy faith?  These are all (and there are many more) questions that I am really struggling with at the moment.

As a side note a few years ago The Chaser did quite a funny satire piece on one particular modern church. Now before I get ravaged by people who attend this church note a few things: a) It is comedy, b) You should be able to laugh at yourself, c) If this is how the world really sees you then maybe it is time to consider ways to change that perspective, d) You can only be offended by something if you chose to be offended by it, e) I certainly do not agree with most of it.