Monday, January 16, 2006

The "Prosperity Gospel" in Black Churches and Martin Luther King Day

Today is Martin Luther King Day. Last week it was my great privilege to personally and individually meet with several black Christian pastors and leaders. Through being with them I was given a lot of understanding about relevant situations in today’s black church. One of these leaders is doing a project and writing a book on the loss of the prophetic voice in the black church today because it has acquiesced to the god of money and now preaches the “prosperity gospel.” The sad truth is that many black churches have left the real Gospel and preach the false “prosperity gospel.” (As have, of course, many white and Latino and Asian churches.)
These black churches have no right to celebrate Martin Luther King Day because their prosperity gospel teachings are the near antithesis of the teachings of King, which were far closer to the real Gospel than their teachings are.
Consider this quote that King wrote while in Birmingham Jail: “There was a time when the church was very powerful – in the time when the early Christians rejoiced at being deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed. In those days the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinions; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society. Whenever the early Christians entered a town, the people in power became disturbed and immediately sought to convict the Christians for being “disturbers of the peace” and “outside agitators.” But the Christians pressed on, in the conviction that they were a “colony of heaven” called to obey God rather than man. Small in number, they were big in commitment. They were too God-intoxicated to be “astronomically intimidated.” By their effort and example they brought an end to such ancient evils as infanticide and gladiatorial contests. Things are different now. So often the contemporary church is a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. So often it is an archdefender of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is being consoled by the church’s silent – and often even vocal – sanction of things as they are. But the judgment of God is upon the church as never before. If today’s church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century. Every day I meet young people whose disappointment with the church has turned into outright disgust. Perhaps I have once again been too optimistic? Is organized religion too inextricably bound to the status quo to save our nation and world?”
Those churches that proclaim the “prosperity gospel” are archdefenders of the status quo. In their prosperity teachings they are but the echo of our materialistic consumer culture. Some of these churches are very big in numbers. The size of these churches sadly attests to the number of Christians who have been seduced by these unbiblical teachings. And Martin Luther King would be saddened, too.