SPICE Pt. 3 – What of the Houses Jesus Promised in Mark 10:30?

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In this third installment of the series on the prosperity gospel, I want to look at another passage used to promise people wealth, but I would start with a story.

Last October on my way to Dallas for the NAPCE conference I discovered as I was about clearing security that my wallet had been stolen at LAX! No money, cards and ID – all gone. Fortunately I eventually cleared security through some special rules designed for similar situations and got on a plane 4 hours later. The rest of that trip took a different trajectory thanks to a lovely couple by the name of Sam and Godline Uzoagba. Not only was someone waiting to pick me up, I was given very comfortable lodging where I was literally waited on and chauffeured to and from the conference venue. Even when there were meals arranged as part of the conference package there were still specially prepared meals waiting for me when I got ‘home’.  I even got to eat some aṅara (an African specie of the egg-plant commonly called garden eggs and traditionally used to serve visitors) grown right in their garden (see picture). It was like being in a presidential suite – only in a home and not a hotel! Sam and I were students together in college and belonged to the same campus fellowship. Godline I had never met prior to the trip but an hour later you would have thought she was my sister. And you would have been right – she is my sister in Christ!

anaraBut besides boring you with stories of my enjoyable trip, what does this have to do with the prosperity gospel? A lot as it turns out, because of a story found in Mark 10:17-30. Often referenced in defense of the claims of the prosperity gospel (see the definition of the prosperity gospel in these SPICE series). Jesus had just ended a conversation with the rich young ruler who left sorrowful and unable to do what it took to be a follower of Jesus.

Note: what Jesus literally asked him to do (sell all his possessions), was not demanded of everyone who met Jesus. He wanted to show the danger of loving and pursuing riches – the same sentiments expressed in 1 Timothy 6:9-10, 17-19.

Jesus’ verdict – how difficult it would be for wealthy people to enter the kingdom of God! The disciples then pointed out to Jesus, that they had left  everything to follow him. Jesus then assured them that every one of them who had left houses, mother, sister, brother, lands etc. to follow him would receive in this life, brothers, sisters, lands, houses together with persecution, and in the age to come eternal life!

So here we see Jesus promising the disciples that being a christian is a good business investment because if you give (or forsake on behalf of) Jesus one house, Jesus would make sure you end up with the title-deed of hundred houses – quid pro quo! Or was he??

The context of the passage is about the danger of riches to people’s souls. He was telling them that as they had given their all for him it was not in vain, they would be blessed. They had left homes and families, but they would receive homes and other relationships (brothers, sister, and mothers etc.) in the people who would come to Christ. That he added persecution is an indication that he wasn’t giving a strict formula for getting back material wealth. Jesus wasn’t giving his disciples a quid pro quo (1:100) formula, so that they could calculate the 1 million they would get after ‘sowing’ 10,000.

The above statement is similar to what the spicy African prosperity gospel promises Christians using passages like Mark 10:30. Let me admit for the time being the possibility of reading that passage with the interpretation that Jesus was literally promising the disciples houses in this passage – let’s call this the “Title Deed position”. The problem with this is that you can’t get another birth mother, brother and sister – will you take land and houses literally in that sense and not take brothers and mothers etc. literally too? If we are consistent with this (Title Deed) reading of the passage, then every Christian will also receive another “birth mother”. Therefore, when my grandfather became a Christian and his witch doctor father, mother and brothers disowned him; God should have miraculously made him have a different literal mother who gave birth to him, as well as literal blood sisters! You see my drift? The other (and bigger) problem with this “Title Deed position” is that it contradicts, not just the context of this whole passage but of the rest of the New Testament.

But wait a minute, don’t move on just yet, someone says to me, since you say the brothers and sisters are brothers and sisters in the faith; What of houses? Are these also houses in the faith? Lands? Are these also lands in the faith? This is a very consistent question, which by the way was asked me by a good friend and brother!

This is where the story of my Dallas trip (with which I began this post) comes in. You see in Christ I have not only gained other brothers, and sisters and mothers, but I have also gained houses! I did not need the title-deed of the house in Dallas to have access to it.  In Acts 9:42-43; 10:5-10 – we see Peter living in a house in Joppa for a while. How? Did he buy a house or have relatives there? Not as far as we know – it was the house of one of these new ‘brothers’ he received and it was Peter’s to use. See specifically Acts 4:32-26 where believers shared their belongings – people shared their homes, others sold their lands and brought the proceeds etc. Jesus promise to his disciples was fulfilled. So if you want to call it houses in the faith, that’s fine with me.

No, Jesus was not giving the disciples an assurance that they would become materially wealthy and own real estate property in the hundreds. Nothing precludes a believer from attaining that financial status, and God does bless his children materially but there is no guarantee of multiple title deeds to any christian – certainly not from this passage.  And any christian whose life is spent pursuing this as a goal is making a tragic mistake as the central message of Mk 10:17-30 reveals.

I have not lost or forsaken as much as many believers have for Christ, even though my hope is that I would without hesitation if I find myself in that literal situation. Nevertheless, as my story above indicates, I have not only received brothers, sisters, mothers, and houses in the faith, I have also received some aṅara in the faith. Yet I didn’t need the title-deed. I doubt Peter and the other apostles would have cared about title deeds either!

PS

Before I end this post, I must make a confession so that all my cards are on the table.

  • I believe one should not build a doctrine on only one verse of scripture – especially if that verse is taken out of its context.
  • I believe we should not ignore our minds when reading the scriptures. Our intellect is a necessary (though perhaps not always sufficient) ingredient for understanding the truth of the Bible.
  • I believe the Bible is coherent – therefore a teaching/interpretation which clearly violates some other clear teachings of the scriptures is questionable at best.

There you have it. I confessed my biases.

What are your thoughts on those houses?

Other posts in the SPICE series:

SPICE: The Prosperity Gospel with an African Flavor

SPICE Pt. 1 – The Prosperity Gospel

SPICE Pt. 2 – Miracle Money in Your Pockets and Bank Account Courtesy of Jesus.

photo credit: moneycrashers.com

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SPICE Pt. 2 – Miracle Money in Your Pockets and Bank Account Courtesy of Jesus.

Prophet Uebert Angel is a Zimbabwean preacher. He tells the secrets of people’s hearts and promises to make miracle money appear in their pockets and accounts. Where was he when I was broke last year. This is the prosperity gospel with an African spice!
Apparently there is a guarantee of riches secured by Christ. And there is proof from scriptures. It should be no surprise that Christians should be rich, after all Jesus was rich says the prophet named Angel. Judas stole from him for 3 years and he didn’t rebuke him because there was plenty of it (the money). The disciples were also all very rich, after all when Jesus said it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God, their response was “who then can be saved?” Meaning (according the dear prophet) they were rich and thus considered Jesus words as  disqualifying them from the kingdom. In fact they made to leave and Jesus held them back and assured them by saying with God all things are possible. Talk about creative Bible reading and interpretation!!
But the Bible says Jesus died to make us rich!
For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich“. 2 Cor. 8:9
 
There is the proof. Jesus died so that we would become rich!
The verse above clearly says Jesus was rich, and became poor to make us rich. What does it mean? The meaning is not far-fetched – we can get it from the context of the passage itself. Basic Bible study teaches us that we should read any verse in context. Otherwise we can make any verse of scripture say anything we want it to say.
The whole context is 2 Cor 8:1-15, and reading this whole passage will show if verse 9 is promising us material riches. Here is what it is saying:
  • Jesus was rich…
    • (in his pre-existent state as the eternal word – John 1:1, the second person of the trinity – the creator and owner of all things)
  • and became poor…
    • Some people think this refers to physical poverty – perhaps> But it definitely refers to his becoming a man and emptying himself of his glory to come in human form John 17:5; Phil. 2:6.
    • About whether Jesus was rich or poor, here’s what we can find out:
      • It seems he was born into poverty – his parents brought the offering presented by those who were too poor to afford a lamb – indicating their poverty (Luke 2:22-24; Leviticus. 12:6-8)
      • We don’t have any biblical evidence that Jesus was poor/destitute as an adult before he started his itinerant ministry. My guess is that he was as well off as any other Jewish artisan, being a carpenter/workman (Mark 6:3)
      • This verse does not prove that Jesus was a pauper all his life.
      • We do know that while Jesus did not suffer hardship or deprivation, he was not was not a rich man as he depended on the hospitality of others such as Lazarus and his sisters. We see that Jesus did not live as a rich man in his statement “foxes have holes…” of Matthew 8:20.
  • so that believers by his poverty might become rich
    • Not materially rich – but spiritually rich 1 Cor 1:4-5; 3:22).
  • Why do I know this the correct reading of the text? From the text itself!
  • Note:
    •  He couldn’t have been saying that Jesus died to guarantee all believers material riches since he was in these very words raising money for the impoverished believers in Jerusalem and had just said the believers in the Macedonian churches were in “…extreme poverty” (2 Corinthians 8:2).
    • Therefore, if this passage is a blanket guarantee of material riches, then God swindled/disappointed the Macedonian believers and Paul is in fact speaking from both ends of his mouth as he tells the Corinthians “Christ died to make believers like you rich but please give some money because these other believers in Jerusalem are so poor that they need your charity and remember the believers in Macedonian believers, also extremely poor, have given too“.
    • To make matters worse, if that verse means that believers are guaranteed material riches, then apart from contradicting everything else in the passage itself, Paul, and the other apostles failed miserably to live out this reality! (By his own testimony he said many times he was homeless and deprived of food and poorly dressed 1 Cor. 4:11). A little later in this very letter he states how he had suffered much (2 Cor. 11:27)

Paul was not saying in 2 Cor. 8:9 that Christ died to increase our financial net worth. He was saying in essence: “this is the example of Jesus, therefore follow his example in giving sacrificially“. He was saying that the incarnation and the gospel is what should inspire our giving.
You see, the context of this verse 2 Cor. 8:9 is that of Paul urging these Corinthian believers to give sacrificially, however, it is taken out of its context to urge believers that Christ died to guarantee them physically and materially riches, and therefore, for them to claim said riches. 

Do you see a difference there? Paul wrote 2 Cor 8:9 to tell believers to give away riches sacrificially to bless others like Christ did; we quote 2 Cor 8:9 to encourage believers to accumulate riches!
I forgot to mention, the spicy African flavored prosperity gospel seems to have a feud with sound Bible interpretation. In the same ministration referenced above on “miracle money”, prophet Angel said the problem with preachers is that they think hermeneutically!
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Set Goals with Outcomes, Not Activities!

I’ve cleaned my room” she said as I walked with her to the room. We got there and I briefly wondered if my daughter had some momentary cognitive lapse.  The problem was that we had different views of the goal. You see, she had picked up all the clothes off the floor but dumped them on the bed! Hers was an activity based goal while mine was outcome based.

And mine wasn’t just better because I was the parent or adult. In fact, adults often have goals like hers.

ImageWhether you’re running a business, leading a non-profit, serving a church,  you need to constantly set goals. Organizational progress is impossible without goals – that bit we know. Perhaps you also know to make your goals SMART.

Yes goals should be Specific, Measurable, Achievable (yet Aggressive), Relevant and Time-bound.

But how do you frame your goals? Do you describe what you will do? Or do you specify what the outcome should be? The latter is always better.

Every parent knows innately that “have a clean and tidy room”, is a better goal than “pick the clothes off the floor”. One is an outcome, the other is an activity. Good teachers know that “…students will be able to resolve challenging problems in mechanics by applying and solving quadratic equations” is a better goal than “I will teach the students all the methods of solving quadratic equations this semester“!

Whether you are rolling out a new product, starting a new ministry or simply trying to get a room clean – frame your goals as outcomes and not as activities.

And yes I explained to my daughter that “what we want is a tidy room”!

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SPICE Pt. 1 – The Prosperity Gospel

ImageThe recent media attention on wealthy Nigerian pastors has led to the critique and defense of pastors buying private jets. However, the problem with the prosperity gospel is not the jets (that is like diagnosing a Malaria patient with headaches!). Jets and other things may be symptoms, but the fundamental problem with the prosperity gospel is with the content itself. It is not the true gospel – it is an erroneous gospel, or at best a distortion of the gospel!
In the long run, it does not promote godliness and it often further impoverishes the poor.

Here’s the outline of this post:
A. What is the gospel
B. What’s the prosperity gospel
C. What is wrong with prosperity gospel
D. Some sociological effects of the prosperity gospel
E. Conditions/things that enable the prosperity gospel in Nigeria
 
AWhat is the gospel? (you may skip to the next section if familiar with the gospel)

1 Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, 2 and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you— unless you believed in vain. 3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures…. 1 Corinthians 15:1-5 (ESV) 

The core of the gospel (good news)  is this:

  • All are sinners – broken God’s law and offended him, separated from God (Isaiah 59:2), dead in our sins (Rom. 6:23; Eph. 2:3), and cannot please God (Rom. 3:10-11), and will suffer damnation (2 Thess. 1:9).
  • As a result of God’s love, Christ died (John 3:16; Rom. 5:8; 1 John 4:9-10), for our sins -as a substitute for us (Isaiah 53:6; 2 Cor. 5:21; Gal:3:13; 1 Peter 2:24), that he was buried, raised on the third day

His death is able to

  1. take away the wrath of God against sin which is directed towards all sinners (Romans 3:25-26; Isaiah 53:5, 10);
  2. set anyone free from the slavery to a sinful life (Romans 6:17, Gal. 3:13, 1 Cor. 7:23, Heb. 2:14-15), and
  3. reconcile people to God (Romans 5:10, 2 Cor. 5:18-20)
  • This is available to anyone who recognizes their sinfulness, repents (Acts 17:30; 2 Corinthians 7:9-10) and trusts Christ completely to save them from their sins. (John 1:12; 3:16).

B. What are the features of the prosperity gospel?

The prosperity teachers I know acknowledge all the above (at least in doctrinal statements), therefore, one might call their content prosperity teaching (instead of prosperity gospel), however, because of how it is inexorably linked to the gospel itself and seeks to convince people that the gospel itself guarantees people material prosperity and wealth, it is rightly called the prosperity gospel. It teaches some or all of the following:

  1. Jesus died to provide you material wealth and God wants you to be rich, therefore Christians should expect material wealth to come their way as a seal of God’s approval.
  2. If material wealth does not manifest, or if you are going through any suffering, it’s probably due to a lack of faith, and you are outside the will of God. In other words, God doesn’t want you to suffer.
  3. Christians should speak positive confessions, and it will make them prosper materially.
  4. If you give to God (usually by giving to the man of God) then God will give you back more money guaranteed. So if you want to prosper or grow richer, “sow a seed” until the desired amount of money is acquired. If you are poor, the way to become rich is by giving to the man of God, who is rich himself, and that is a passport to becoming rich yourself.
  5. All the wealth in the world will be transferred to the Christians before Christ returns, then we will deliver the kingdom to Him.
  6. Jesus lived his earthly life as a rich man

C. What is wrong with this (Prosperity) teaching?

That the Bible clearly teaches God’s blessings is not under question. From Genesis 12 to Deuteronomy 28 etc. it is there. But the Bible does not teach it the way it is presented in this prosperity teaching.
Eg. “JESUS went to the cross to give you a better life to live. Enjoying life to it’s fullness is your covenant inheritance!!!

Excuse me but that is so wrong!! Jesus didn’t go to the cross so you or I can get a better job, live in a nice house and enjoy a life of material wealth. There are many people who hate God and have all those things!You don’t need to be a christian to do all those things – for the most part, if you work hard and become competent at what you do and present your competence, you can accomplish any of those things whether you are a christian or not!

What are the results and dangers of the prosperity gospel?

  1. It distorts the gospel by equating material gain with godliness. People give testimonies of how God “blessed them” materially every Sunday but evil and corruption still abound and thrive in the society. They have “infallible proofs” (to quote some of these testimonies) of God’s work, but is increased net worth really a sign that God has favored someone?
  2. It promotes greed, covetousness and an unhealthy desire for riches – all things that the Bible severely warns against.  (Luke 12:15; Mark 4:19; 1 Timothy 6:9-10, Ephesians 5:3,5) Please read those passages and you will get the idea – the prosperity gospel emphasizes and encourages people toward material wealth “from God”, however, the Bible warns against accumulating material wealth! Subtle but huge difference in the direction of emphasis! The prosperity gospel does not prepare people for eternity, but gives them incentive to live here and little reason to think of the hereafter. However, we do well to heed 1 Corinthians 7:31
  3. It takes away the focus from God the giver, to material wealth, his gifts. While the Bible teaches us to give as an act of worship (Philippians 4:18; Hebrews 13:16), and to give sacrificially according to Christ’s example (2 Corinthians 8) not for what we should gain, this teaching tells believers to give in order to get more.
  4. It downgrades people’s trust and focus from God and his people to one ‘man of God’ who is the mediator of the prosperity.
  5. It preys on the less privileged – who give their little in order for the leaders to live in opulence.
  6. It damages people’s faith, by setting them up for disappointment when the things promised by men of God does not happen.See here for the story of Lawrence Agada, a cashier at Sheraton Hotel and Towers, Ikeja, who stole N39m (worth $247, 000 today, and $342,000 in Feb 2002) from his employers, all of which he used for offerings and gifts to the church believing (in his own words here ) that God “…was going to replace everything, since He is the one I used the money for”! There is some flavor for you – and believe it this is not the only case. I was once told about the severe decline in faith found in Europe and North America, and about the need for Africans to take the gospel back to these nations. I have since confirmed the said decline, but I seriously pray that it is not this brand of faith that we would “take back” there.
  7. The prosperity gospel destroys sincere men (and women) of God who start out with a desire to serve God, but end up serving their bellies!

All these are not new actually – the Bible warns against it in 1 Timothy 6:3-10

“3 If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness, 4 he is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy craving for controversy and for quarrels about words, which produce envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions, 5 and constant friction among people who are depraved in mind and deprived of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain.
6 Now there is great gain in godliness with contentment, 7 for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. 8 But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. 9 But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. 10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs. 1 Timothy 6:3-10 (ESV)

D. What are some of the sociological effects of the prosperity gospel?

In the United States, some researchers have drawn some connection between this prosperity gospel and the subprime-lending boom, which preceded the housing and economic crisis. The effects of this prosperity gospel made people easy prey to unscrupulous bank officials – while the victims gave “testimonies” such as how God ‘miraculously’ made the bank ignore their bad credit and give them a house!! To read more about this check here or here

E. What are some of the enabling conditions that perpetuate the prosperity gospel in Africa?

  1. A Society that worships money. Influence is equated with wealth and opulence in Nigeria. But God has never viewed things that way. God looks at heart issues such as faithfulness and integrity (1 Samuel 16:7). Even in the church (especially in the church) we see this worldly value system. Pastors are not respected because of their faithfulness but often by how ostentatious their display of wealth.
  2.  A society that is void of accountability.  The church is the pillar and ground of the truth – you know what that means? Transparency should be highest in the church. But we have bred a system where pastors and bishops are not accountable to anyone and the people are afraid of accountability.
  3. A church that worships on the idolatrous personality altar of “men of God”. We are told that nobody should say anything about a man of God because if you do, you will be cursed. Really?? Is that really scriptural? Especially if you are speaking out about righteousness and not simply driven by your own spiteful, sinful  motives. See Galatians 2:11-21 where Paul rebukes Peter for hypocrisy. Peter was a ‘senior’ apostle if there ever was any. He was an apostle when Paul was still a persecutor and was one of the people who accepted and validated Paul’s conversion (Acts 9:27). If he believed and behaved like this he would never speak up and Peter would not be corrected. We may think it is respect to ignore spiritual leaders when they sin, but it is really hatred. We can watch a man of God go to hell because we wanted to “touch not the anointed”. I write as a pastor – one of those ‘men of God’ if you like. It is lonely “up” there on the pedestal where people place spiritual leaders as if they are without flaw or struggles. It is also dangerous! Without any form of accountability it is easy to fall away from Jesus. The problem is that after this has happened one can still keep going through the motions for years before it becomes obvious. Love your pastor enough to pray for him, and to be forthright about sin in the church.
  1. A church that is largely ignorant of the true gospel and of doctrine. Today the four letter word of the church is theology or doctrine! Many of the spurious teachings making rounds in the church are things which have been weighed and found wanting long ago but we keep falling for them. We are open to humorous, witty, pragmatic messages which make us feel good but do not build us up in the knowledge of God. But we do not want to learn doctrine, thus when an eloquent preacher with a bold voice comes to town preaching unsound doctrine we get all carried away rather than do what Aquila and Priscilla did with Apollos in Acts 18:24-28.

Anyhow, if Jesus died to make his followers materially rich – then we would need to admit that Jesus ended up a failure since none of his first followers was known for being rich. In fact many of them who started from a position of comfort moved by choice to a rigorous life driven by a higher purpose namely, to see people transformed spiritually by faith in Christ (Eg. Barnabas).

I appeal to my brother preachers in the house. Please let us be responsible with our preaching and teaching of God’s word. We are to model godliness with contentment for God’s people as we serve. Let’s not lose sight of the mission. We are not called to raise up superstars but to raise up people who are being transformed into the image of Christ.

It is hard to show one Bible passage – even one – which shows that part of the mission of Jesus was to make people rich, or give them financial breakthroughs. But our flavored prosperity gospel  attempts to.

Watch out for the next edition of SPICE where some of them are addressed. Meanwhile, whether you found this post spicy or not, please share your thoughts in the comments section.

 

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