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!
But 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!
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:
photo credit: moneycrashers.com