Religion blogger Benjamin L. Corey recently shared his views on the mindset of churches in America compared to Christians who serve in places like India. He expressed his disdain for the “Jesus + bling” prosperity gospel that permeates not only mega-churches, but small and medium-sized American churches also. How did we get where we are today, mixing guilt with greed for personal glory?
I believe it’s something that has plagued the church since not long after the Holy Spirit came to inhabit believers at Pentecost. God established the Church to be a theocracy with Christ as the head, but just as ancient Israel wasn’t satisfied with their theocratic society and demanded a human king to rule over them, the church did the same thing by submitting itself to Nicolaitanism to create a “clergy class” that is put on pedestals. The Nicolaitanes (from the Greek “nico” meaning victory as in “Nike” the goddess of victory, and “laity” meaning the people) was the gnostic belief that a certain class of people had special secret knowledge that made them demigods or gods and worthy of reverence just like the Church clings to the idea that seminarians and deacons, elders, bishops, pastors, etc. have super-special anointings and knowledge about the original Bible languages that puts them right next to God while the rest of church folks are beneath them.
The people who buy into this mindset are then easily persuaded by the clergy class’s use of guilt to make them do things to cater to the greed of the clergy class so they can eventually get their glory in some way. With the prosperity gospel, that glory usually takes the form of material luxuries. But it has always been God’s plan to put all believers in the same class, although we may have different methods, ministries, or roles.
The Lord has given us numerous warnings against being kingmakers in both the Old and New Testaments. If you read his warnings to Israel in 1 Samuel 8:11-18 about what a king would demand from them, one of the main demands was tithes, which would be a form of taxation or compulsory tribute. That’s what we have in churches today.
Prior to 1 Samuel, during the period of the judges, Gideon’s son Abimelech killed all of his brothers except the youngest one, Jotham, so he could exalt himself as king of Israel (Judges 9). Jotham escaped to a nearby mountaintop and shouted out a parable/prophecy against Abimelech and his idea of overthrowing the theocracy. In Jotham’s parable, the olive tree, the fig tree, and the grapevine (all of them symbolic of true believers) refused to reign over the trees, while the bramble bush (a thorny bush symbolic of people of unsavory character) accepted the offer with conditions attached and if you read them, they are very similar to what we see in churches today.
In the NT, Jesus tells us not to accept lofty titles (Matthew 23:8-10). When James and John upset the disciples by asking to sit on thrones next to Jesus in heaven, Jesus warned his disciples against imposing lordship and authority over each other (Mark 10:42-44). Paul and his companions deliberately worked jobs to avoid any appearance of covetous demands on churches (Acts 20:33-34; 2 Thessalonians 3:7-10). However, just the opposite of all of these is true in most churches today in the Western Hemisphere.
Guilt, greed, and personal glory are today’s gospel according to meme and are a reflection and perpetuation of our weakened spiritual state. The age of the megachurch would rather see messages of catchy, watered-down words and phrases joined with visually-appealing pictures that amuse us, but lack the in-depth, substantive spiritual truths God is really calling us to.
Harry A. Gaylord