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Opinions of Thursday, 29 October 2015

Columnist: Apostle Kwamena Ahinful

Jesus was a rich man -He preached prosperity, not poverty

Mention the phrase –“prosperity gospel”, and you will immediately come up to a near-explosive controversy between the old Christian fogeys (the Christian conservatives) and the charismatics.

Over what? Well, over just the question whether the prosperity gospel being preached by several charismatic pastors is in line with orthodox Bible teachings. Or, as the Christian conservatives bluntly put it, whether Christ preached prosperity or poverty? Christian conservatives charge that the charismatic churches’ undue stress on prosperity, especially to the effect that every church member should be preoccupied with positive thoughts on prosperity and with positive prayers for abundance of wealth and success is rather unbiblical, worldly and misleading.

“This teaching is misguided” one old fundamentalist remarked, “it tends to fine-tune the mind away from spiritual things to the acquisition of material gains. And this goes against what Christ taught about –a Christian’s ready acceptance of poverty and sufferings. This preaching will certainly prevent its believers from going to heaven”, he concluded. Some time ago, the Editorial of the Christian Messenger expressed similar sentiments, actually rejecting this prosperity gospel and correlating it with materialistic lifestyle.

But charismatic (or prosperity gospellers) fiercely rebut this conservative contention and argue that since the prosperity concept deals with the question of health, wealth and life, it is the very thing that Christ preached. For instance, so it is argued by charismatics, Christ’s preaching seen in John 10:10 that “I have come that they may have life and have it more abundantly”, is ample evidence of His prosperity preachings. Charismatics hold that “abundant life” is synonymous with both spiritual and material sufficiency, which means richness in spiritual graces as well as in material things.

If this contention of the charismatics is accepted in its entirety, then one can unmistakably make two inferences. Firstly, that the prosperity concept (with its Biblical phrase ‘abundant-life’) is one which was preached by Christ, and is therefore scriptural. Secondly, since the conservatives’ view of the prosperity gospel is one which is solely material (excluding its spiritual dimensions) they, the conservatives, can be said to be arguing narrow-mindedly or partially, and therefore their exegetical conception of ‘prosperity’ is partial and therefore wrong!

The second argument that the prosperity gospel has no solid Biblical precedents is again rebuffed by prosperity gospellers who contend that several of the old prophets preached prosperity. Examples are that Moses promised prosperity to God’s followers, as can be found in Deuteronomy 28:11, and the ‘you-will-be-prosperous” covenant in Joshua 1:8; and also the Holy Spirit’s prosperity reassurances in David’s Psalm 1:3.

Here again, it is disputed by charismatics that if it is really believed that Christ came not to destroy the laws nor the prophets, but that He only came to fulfill them, then Christ definitely upheld the old prosperity laws (such as tithing and secret alms-giving) and therefore He preached prosperity. Another argument of the Christian conservatives is that since Christ extolled or praised poverty, and even went to the extent of blessing the poor in his declaration “blessed are the poor, for theirs is the kingdom of God” (Luke 6:20), the prosperity gospel cannot be real, since it conflicts with his poverty preachings.

Against this, the charismatics contend that this suspicious argument is founded on a wrong premise derived from a wrong interpretation of Christ’s reference to the poor. It is argued (and I strongly share this view) that St. Luke’s sentence “blessed are the poor” is an ellipticised version of St. Matthew’s “blessed are the poor in spirit” which means that those who are spiritually not proud nor spiritually boastful nor spiritually complacent, have the spiritual privilege of entering heaven to enjoy its blessedness. Succinctly put, “poor in spirit” means: humble in spirit.

Christ’s reference is therefore not to material poverty, or ‘poor men’ as such; otherwise, it might mean that every poor man however wicked, murderous, drunkard, idolatrous, thieving sinner, adulterous etc., is predisposed for heaven. No, that certainly might he contrary to divine laws.

In fact, the annotation of the authoritative NIV Bible on the Luke 6:20 text says that “the beatitudes go deeper than material poverty”. Christ’s saying is therefore meant to pinpoint the need for a person to be spiritually humble (poor) and be spiritually striving, but not spiritually boastful like the self-righteous Pharisee in Luke 18:9-14 who says he is not so much a sinner as the publican. The Christian conservatives’ premise that Christ extolled poverty with his famous saying: “how hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of heaven, … it is easier for a camel to go through a needle’s eye than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God,” (Luke 18:24-25) is undermined by practical logic which asks –does it mean no rich man can enter heaven?

If so, what about the wealthy friends of Christ himself, – Zacchaeus, Nicodemus, Joseph of Arimathea? Did they go to hell because of their wealth? The Bible itself is replete with instances which reassure us that such millionaire patriarchs as Abraham, Isaac, Melchizedek, Jacob, Joseph (the dream interpreter) and others went to heaven after their death. In his book, Heaven and Hell, Swedenborg, the seer, talks about various rich men he encountered when he was visionally ushered into Heaven several times!

Against this background, it might be said that the Christian conservatives’ thinking that Christ condemned riches and preached poverty is only a misunderstanding of the spiritual meaning of what Christ said. Christ’s condemnatory excoriation was directed against those rich people who “serve” or bow to their riches and thus forget God. But wealthy men who use their riches in serving God, giving to the poor and needy, giving to churches to expand or promote the work of God, helping poor churches to be well-established, giving to the disabled, the sick and the aged, whilst leading righteous lives in Christ, will certainly go to heaven. At least, common sense dictates that!

What must be known is that poverty is evil, and people who encounter poverty are often times led into sin of pilfering or stealing, or envy; or into dishonest or ‘kalebule’ trading (commercial spivvery)! King Solomon’s prayer to the Lord: “give me neither poverty . . . less I be poor and steal and take the name of the Lord in vain” (Proverbs 30:8-9) greatly underlines the fact that poverty is an evil spectre that turns to destroy the morals and ‘spirituals’ of a person.

Christ certainly knew all these malignant implications. Could it therefore have been logical for him to have advocated for poverty, preaching that people should be poor, and be led into sin, and at the same time go to heaven? How so abstruse could such a proposition have been! Fact is, Christ himself was never in want: he was sufficiently rich. As Rev. Catherine Ponder describes him, Christ was “a millionaire of Nazareth”! Of course, he never preoccupied himself with his wealth; he gave it out as alms. But the more he gave, the more he received (Luke 6:38). This being so, would one expect such “millionaire Christ” to praise and preach poverty?

It is my submission that Christ indeed preached prosperity, not poverty. And it is high time we threw overboard the paleo-conservative, structured, ‘all-misery’ ideas about the Bible, and embraced its positive overtones which stress that a Christian’s reward is both spiritual and material prosperity or “abundant life”!