Now that the Unites States and indeed the nations of the world are engaged in a fierce battle for economic survival, it will be interesting to watch the antics of the evangelical church, since its message has been so pegged to the dollar over the last few years.
The prosperity gospel, aka the miracle-for-money theology, or the name-it and claim-it doctrine, had all but replaced the simple “Just as I am” message of old, where the only burden the wretched sinner was required to lay down at the foot of the cross was self, and from thence to plumb the depths of Scripture with the objective to grow in faith and at some point to put away childish things. Back then, “abundant life” meant eternal life, and if a tenth of your income was not required, your mite was given and received with hearts of gladness, as it came from a soul grateful for spiritual succor and scriptural enlightenment.
But all that became outmoded with the evangelicals. God was doing “a new thing”, and the cost of salvation rose to an all-time high. The seeds required to reap abundant living in the here and now was exacting a heavy toll from among believers. In addition to the Old Testament tithe, the love offering, the first fruits and the seed offering were de rigueur in a few congregations, and the trend was catching on fast elsewhere. As pastors shared their fund-raising techniques at annual retreats and conferences chaired by CEOs of the most successful Ministries, numbers became exceedingly important, especially those 15 or 16 digits on the American Express, Master, or Visa card.
It is cheeky of me to bring this up, but when the credit card first appeared on the scene, it had all the trappings, according to heads of certain religious denominations, of some sinister New World Economic Order, and would make the paths straight for Antichrist rule. Nowadays they’ll accept your tithe with the same credit card, even if the digits read 666, since the church had been redirected from its first mission to a new directive, to “take back what the devil has stolen”. God was doing a new thing.
There are stories doing the rounds, of incidents where church doors are locked with the worshippers inside if the targets for their giving are not met, and the collection plates or moneybags are sent around a second, and if necessary, a third time, until the congregation coughs up the correct sum. A brother in Chicago told me about a pastor who refused to switch on the air conditioning during the summer’s sweltering heat, because the congregation had been on several occasions less than forthcoming with meeting the new church building fund. Well? Who did they expect to pay for it, the pastor, on his measly salary?
This very morning, a popular petite blond televangelista interspersed her own gospel message with ads offering the faithful a $59 instant face-lift crème she admits to using herself. Earlier on in the week a well-known televangelist from a Florida mega-church told his viewers with the aid of a master fund raiser and without batting an eyelid, that with this year being o-nine, God would reward them handsomely if they sacrificed increments of $90, $900 or the supreme sacrificial love gift of $9,000! At a time when foreclosures are the order of the day in the State, and his church maintains a crew for its Gulfstream intercontinental jet, his requests were not only insensitive and distasteful, but without a doubt exceedingly disgraceful.
So what is the message of the evangelical church going to be now? I am especially watchful of the congregations in Jamaica that hung their hats on the message of prosperity, where if you loved God and He loved you back, it would be evident in your worldly possessions, the car, the house. God had even spoken on a few occasions through certain prophets, instructing the believers to entrust their savings to the guru of the alternative investment schemes — a believer himself — and the funds would be returned manifold in the fullness of time.
Well, we know how that ended, so what will the message be in the wake of the massive thud that reverberated around the kingdom when the house of cards came crashing down? Will the church return to its first love and its simple, good news of yore? I thought so, until I heard a prominent local bishop-turned-politician exhorting members of his flock to arm themselves against the growing horde of killers intent on tormenting the society. Alas, the ancient maxim “our weapons of warfare are not carnal” has evaporated like will o’ the wisp into the ether, and the Sword of the Spirit has traded places with a 9mm Glock pistol. Another Bishop volunteered his services as chief executioner to expedite the wicked on their journey to the underworld.
And why are some denominations getting hot under the collar and raising objections at the growing influence of the Seventh Day Adventist movement in Jamaica? The SDAs have been busy fulfilling their mission by casting their nets as fishers of men, while the prophets were off courting Mammon and pursuing the pleasures of Forex trading. It’s no mystery.
Now, you may be wondering from whence cometh this cynicism, and could it be that pure Schadenfreude lies at the heart of my musings. But all these shenanigans are enough to test the saints alive and make the sainted dead roll over in their graves. By their absurdities, the churchmen have asked for the attention.
No wonder there was silence in heaven for the space of half an hour when the Lamb broke the seventh seal. There has been much speculation by bible scholars over this line in the first verse of Revelation chapter 8, but it is easy to believe that even heaven was shocked into silence by the actions of those who have taken The Name. And this is just about the time of the seventh seal.