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Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Doing research on prosperity

            Currently, the greatest “iron sharpens iron” aspect in my life at this time are conversations with a man in my church named Don.  The sharpening aspect comes largely out of the differences in our life experiences up to this point of crossing each others’ paths.  He is former military, coming to faith in Jesus during that period, and having been to bible school and being involved in institutional churches that, I perceive, would self-classify themselves as fundamentalist.  I came to faith in Jesus while in high school, with being involved in churches which would consider themselves Calvinist (first ten years), and later undenominational charismatic/Pentecostal (next 35), and going through the secular liberal arts university experience, including being heavily involved in being part of Christian groups as part of it. 
            As such, two Sundays ago, our conversation slipped over to that flavor within the greater body of Christ in the western world that would wear the label “prosperity message.”  In the discussion, I learned from him that this train of thought is not the sole preserve of the Pentecostal/charismatic wing, and I indicated, and I believe that it was to his surprise, that such thought had some form of foothold among the rank-and-file believers of all the p/c churches I had been connected with, without regard to how intellectualist or anti-intellectualist was the leadership.
            As this body meets late on Sunday afternoon, last Sunday morning I started to do a little research on this subject, in that, from where I stand at this time, the main problem with this group of teachings is the normal one for any unbalanced teaching, that verses are taken out of the literary context of the pericope (definition: the sentences before and after that contain a connected thought), and also, as this is one of the bases of many simple church critiques of modern practices, out of cultural context.  This was quite obvious a few years ago (I no longer have a clue exactly when), when Gordon Fee, one of the most respected theologians who is connected to a Pentecostal group, publicly commented about how many media (and other) preacher/teachers were using 3 John 2 and it seemed almost immediately I didn’t hear such personalities refer to this verse.  For reference, the verse says, “Beloved, I pray that you may prosper in all things and be in health, just as your soul prospers.”  What was pointed out is that John, in 2 John, written close to the same time, writes his greeting in code, “To the elect lady and her children,” due to the possible danger of the messenger being caught with the letter.  In such a dangerous situation, where believers might reasonable fear for their physical lives, using 3 John 2 to be a reference for believing for wealth and luxury items in our current culture is just silly in comparison to the context of the time of its writing.
            Anyway, as much as prosperity message is all over Christian tv/radio in comparison to persons teaching the opposite side of this issue, the internet is the opposite, at least in the sense that only persons who see it as incorrect link their writings to that phrase.  I started working on a list of scriptures for some type of orderly comparison, but this turned out to be a project significantly greater than I would have guessed.  This whole writing sounds like a lead-in to an examination of this subject, but I’m not close to done.   

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