WE’VE all heard the phrase ‘worshipping the almighty dollar’.
But there are some people who take the phrase literally. To them, the almighty, as in God, is the key to wealth and riches. Serve him well and material wealth will be the reward.
This philosophy is the cornerstone of an American movement called “prosperity theology”, and one man who preaches its message to his Australian flock is Hillsong Church leader Brian Houston.
Pastor Houston, who is in the news this week over his response to child abuse allegations against his late father, William, at the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, has not always taken kindly to being associated with the so-called “prosperity gospel”.
But it’s kind of hard to distance yourself from it when you’ve penned a book entitled You Need More Money: Discovering God’s Amazing Financial Plan for Your Life.
Conventional Christians argue that the book title, and the philosophy it represents, is a classic inversion of the biblical message. Far from stressing the importance of money, they say the Bible is filled with countless warnings about the dangers of accumulating wealth.
There’s this from Matthew 19:24.
“It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.”
There’s the classic “money is the root of all evil” from Timothy 6:10 which in full reads:
“For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.”
And there’s this elegant, simple quotation from Jesus in Matthew 6:24.
“You cannot serve both God and money.”
Here’s what Anglican Minister Sam Freney wrote after his Hillsong Experience:
“You will hear an attractive message about the God of the universe, committed to you, promising you many good things you can receive if you honestly believe in them. You will hear about the blessing God has planned for you, the better job or bigger house or healthier future in store. But you are unlikely to hear much biblical, orthodox Christianity…”
The thing about any church’s money-obsession is not just that it flagrantly contradicts Jesus’s anti-materialist message. It’s that it strays from Christianity’s traditional God first, me second principle. In traditional Christianity, the believer submits to God’s will and promises to do what God calls him or her to do.
At Hillsong and churches like it, god rewards your faith by giving you what you want. And of course, one way to demonstrate your undying faith is to give hefty donations to the church’s coffers.
It’s all too much for some. Lance Goodall was part of the well-established Garden City Christian Church in Brisbane’s bible belt when the Hillsong juggernaut came along and took over the place.
“The money, the personalities, they took over,” he recalls. “We had a guy on the stage talking about money for 10 minutes.
“Brian Houston gets most of his ideas from American churches. He is very much a mimic and doesn’t have a lot of his own ideas.
“Hillsong paraphrases the Bible. They use no direct biblical quotes, it’s all quite loose. They put their own slant and interpretation on it.
Mr Goodall has since found a different church. But the growth of the prosperity movement continues apace. In America, the billion dollar industry is spearheaded long-established figures like Creflo Dollar. Because hey, who wouldn’t give their life savings to a dude named Dollar?
And then there’s the charismatic, handsome Joel Osteen, who is 51 but looks about 21. One American commentator wrote of Osteen and his wife Victoria:
“The Osteens are phenomenally successful because they are the exaggerated fulfilment of the self-help movement and the cult of celebrity rolled into one massive megachurch media empire.”
That summarises what’s really at play here. Spiritual journeys have become a mask for people’s material journeys. No one pulls that trick better than Brian Houston’s Hillsong. And no one takes it down better than this guy. He’s an American pastor called John Piper, and his 10 minute YouTube takedown of prosperity theology is definitely worth a look.
If you don’t have the time, here’s the best bit:
“It’s tragic thing that one of our greatest exports of America is the prosperity gospel. People are being destroyed by it, god is being dishonoured by it, souls are perishing because of it and a lot of guys are getting rich on it.”
The Washington Post’s ombudsman, Deborah Howell, has posted a column on the reaction to a Pat Oliphant cartoon that ran on the Post’s website Sept. 9. More than 750 people, Pentecostals and others, contacted the paper to say they were offended by what they saw as an attack on the religion. Source