For the third time consecutively in weeks, my pastor unapologetically dwelt on prosperity and said that he would pray for the members to prosper.
He used Jer 33:9 as his text
9 And this city shall be to me a name of joy, a praise and a glory before all the nations of the earth who shall hear of all the good that I do for them. They shall fear and tremble because of all the good and all the prosperity I provide for it.”
Somehow, I became worked up. After the church service I told my wife that I am both sad and angry. Since attending NCC, I have been extremely keyed up to know that my pastor has been at the forefront of preaching the gospel of grace, and according to him, bringing about a revolution of grace since the time of the reformation of the gospel of salvation by faith in God’s grace. I had defended his teachings, enthused others to listen to him, and “marketed” and “promoted” him to others. When this revolution of grace has so much going, to reveal Jesus, to change lives, it has somehow been tainted by this streak of prosperity teaching. I am saddened that this promised blessing of prosperity (not the prosperity gospel) has turned off many unbelievers, mainline denominations and believers from adopting the essence of grace message as preached by my pastor. Oh…., more would have considered this revolution of grace if not for the addition (adulteration?) in the teachings.
The legacy of the WOF persuasions remains. Don’t get me wrong. I am thankful, have personally been touched and received the Lord’s blessings in both these areas, but do not feel comfortable and convinced with the constant emphasis on health and wealth. There is so much our walk as pilgrims which we can learn about. (see previous posts eg “The Full Counsel of God”, 3 John 2, etc etc). But of course many like the prospect and promise of prosperity, not unlike the religious practices in seeking blessings from the idols, praying for success in career, lottery, life-partner, eg. Goddess of Mercy temple in Waterloo Street. But it is a distraction, a distortion of the present time message of the cross.
While the sermon did include a few preceding verses, I came home and read the preceding chapters.
When the book and the contextual circumstances of Jeremiah’s words are considered, I realise that the prosperity in Jer 33:9 makes more sense in terms of the context (relevance) and that prosperity is relative in and with different peoples and cultures.
How is this verse relevant to me? The promise in v9 is directed for the return and restoration of people of Israel after their captivity and exile, and when the Messiah is revealed and begins to rule (in the millennium?) To claim and proclaim that the prosperity is specifically for the congregation of believers today borders on presumption.
How do I define prosperity? WOF teachers would not deny that prosperity refers more to material and tangible quantitative possessions, as my pastor teased that if others do not want it, that’s ok, but he gladly wants this blessing. But how much would be enough? Is it relevant at all to preach the blessing of prosperity to the average believer when Singapore and America ranks amongst the top ten countries in per capital income? And when our church building cost us about US$500M? The local church indeed has prospered, and so have all believers, the moment we are in Christ. Should we constantly get believers to be saved, to be “more saved”, or just remind them that they are saved, completely forgiven once for all and are righteous in Christ – saved by grace, standing in grace and strong in grace? So in truth, when believers are truly blessed in all ways always, isn’t the preaching on prosperity tantamount to tempting others to lust beyond what is needful? In the garden, mankind was tempted with legitimated concerns, and in the wilderness, Jesus was tempted – to stay alive (health), and with the glory and riches of the world (wealth).
While the WOF teachers have brought much to the church, there are aberrations. The pulpit can be a source of temptation – when scriptures are twisted, quoted out of context, manipulated to lure people to lust, and to be greedy for prosperity even when we are not destitute (at least not in America or Singapore).
How do I come to such conclusions? I have begun to read the Pentecostal theologian and scholar Gordon Fee’s classic on “How to Read the Bible” – in terms of exegesis and hermeneutics. I truly want to know Jesus, in Truth and Spirit. I also want to be like a Berean.
Perhaps the following article in full in the next posting might also be of help.
In the article “Which promises are for me?” Jen Wilkin, cautioned that we can be presumptious and misled when promises in the bible are taken out of the context –