I attended a conservative church for a few years when I was staying in Clementi. This church was a pretty legalistic place, insisting that you either use the King James Version of the Bible or you must be reading the wrong version of God’s Word.
Of course, during Sunday sermons there, I always whipped out the NIV version that was given to me by my old church friends at Leng Kwang Baptist. I edited out all the “thee”s and “thou”s with every scripture reading.
But I digress from my main topic.
What I do remember most about the dogmatic church, was trying to push Isaac’s stroller from the road into the church entrance, and find the wheelchair access area blocked by big, fat expensive cars whose drivers could not be bothered to park at the faraway car park. I have a really bad memory, but this is one of the things which I will never forget.
I thought then : “How can Christians be so ungracious to the needy in the church itself?”
Which usually leads to “Is this how the rest of the world sees us? We say one thing, but we do another thing. Aren’t we such hypocrites?”
It’s well-known that Christianity in Singapore is often viewed as a religion for the wealthy. Every week, I see lots of expensive Audis, Mercedes, and other high-end makes in our church car park lot. (That’s not to say there aren’t alot of cheaper Nissans and Toyotas 🙂
Sitting in the courtyard, I observe big fat diamond rings, pricey clothing and lots of maids in tow. The kids in my children’s previous church kindergarten classes are mostly from well-to-do families and throwing big birthday parties are the norm, not the exception.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not jealous at all. God has provided for me all these years, I’ve never had to starve even when my mum was a single parent. And today, I have job that can feed my family, let my wife be a homemaker and buy the kids the toys I never had.
What I’m saying is that because of the general visible level of wealth among many Christians, I’m often concerned about how believers are perceived by non-believers. Why would people come to Christ if we blatantly live a life that we say we aren’t supposed to?
Indeed, with wealth, and many Singaporeans have more relative wealth than other people in the region, it becomes so difficult to extract ourselves from the sinful excesses of society. We live it, we breathe it, we cannot get away from crass consumerism and lust for material things. I’ve been through various buying fads like plastic models, toys and recently, leather watch straps. I keep telling myself to stop, but I can’t until I tire of it.
We go to church, we nod our heads when the pastor says not to love the things of this world. Then after church, we go for lunch and do some window shopping in the heart of Orchard Road, filling our eyes and thoughts with the things of this world. Where ever we walk, there is an advertisement, flyer, billboard or sales promoter shoving such pretty items or services in your face.
I open the newspaper, and it shows me glorious new condominiums I should buy just to upgrade my living standards and reach a higher social caste. Never mind that it will land me in debt till I’m really old, because hey, you can flip it and sell it for a profit when the economy does well! Isn’t that a great way to generate more retirement funds? (It doesn’t remind me that I could just drop dead tomorrow from a million other causes, because the condo developer wants you to live forever or until the housing loan is paid.)
Money, money money, must be funny, in a rich man’s world? ~ Abba.
Christian, Buddhist, or Muslim, we live in a society that demands we attain wealth or be left out of the privileges of life. But my own observation is that it’s Christians who of late, been more than happy to flaunt their wealth and tell others that it’s part of their faith. Membership has its privileges you know.
Some call this the prosperity gospel – where God’s promise is to make you wealthy if you truly believe in His goodness. I’ll make it clear that I think it’s all hogwash. Find me ten wealthy believers and I’ll find you ten poor ones, all with equal faith in God. The ways of God are mysterious, and if all true Christians were automatically rich, there would be no other religion left standing.
Ecclesiastes writes that God may give you great wealth, but it doesn’t mean you’re going to be happy:
I have seen another evil under the sun, and it weighs heavily on mankind: God gives some people wealth, possessions and honor, so that they lack nothing their hearts desire, but God does not grant the- the ability to enjoy them, and strangers enjoy them instead. This is meaningless, a grievous evil. ~ Ecc 6:1
Jesus, as far as I know in the Bible, never ever, ever promised any one great riches on earth, but offered only eternal riches in heaven. Remember, as Christians, we first stick to the words of Jesus Christ. If your pastor tells you Jesus said this and that, GO READ it for yourself! Be sure Jesus and his disciples actually said that.
From the book of Matthew:
Just then a man came up to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?”
“Why do you ask me about what is good?” Jesus replied.
“There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, keep the commandments.”
“Which ones?” he inquired.
Jesus replied, “‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, honor your father and mother, and ‘love your neighbor as yourself.’
“All these I have kept,” the young man said. “What do I still lack?”
Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.Then come, follow me.”
When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth. Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly I tell you, it is hard for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven.
Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and asked, “Who then can be saved?”
Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” Peter answered him, “We have left everything to follow you! What then will there be for us?”
Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first
In the New Testament, the preacher Paul told Timothy, that we should seek godliness with contentment:
But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.~ 1 Tim 6
I’m quite tired of hearing followers of the prosperity gospel insist that it’s not the only thing taught in their churches. The very fact that you subscribe to such a doctrine, already negates the very teachings of Christ, never mind if you’ve done lots of charity work and such. Loving money, or in this case, waiting eagerly for God to shower you with riches, already warps both your own faith, and worse, Jesus’ reputation.
A pastor who keeps moving into bigger and more expensive houses. Doesn’t matter if he earned the money through his businesses or from church tithes. Does he truly love God, or does he love the world?
A female Christian worker who sings to win the lost, but exposes her skin like a harlot and moves like a pole dancer, does she love Christ or does she love her image?
So if God doesn’t make you rich, is your place in heaven still there? Or were you not faithful enough. Our faith cannot be built on such foolishness and silliness.
Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you. ~ Hebrews 13:4
The Bible teaches that believing in Jesus, not the promise of wealth, is the only way to heaven. Throughout the Bible are numerous warnings that the love of money is not to be accepted.
Don’t cast the first stone, take that plank out of your eye, people say. Let God judge!!! But God also tells us to point out evildoers, and to lead my children on the right path. Do I keep quiet when such foolishness exists? God will judge the wrongdoers for their sin, but it is my duty to speak out when the Bible is perverted for sinful means.
Enough of these misguided folks. Read the Bible for yourself and ask God to let you discern between right and wrong. There’s no better solution.
What about us moderate Christians? Do we give up everything now to prove we are worthy Christians? How do we walk the walk when we talk the talk?
I’m not worthy to tell you how to live your life as a better Christian. I am not forgiving enough. I cuss too much. And I don’t do enough for Christ even though he has blessed me with much.
However, let me tell you how I’m going to deal with the hypocrisy I see in me.
When I was a young Christian, I had a long argument with a good friend over these paragraphs in the Bible, which now comes back to me as what I must do, even though it seems so impossible then, and also now:
Therefore, with minds that are alert and fully sober, set your hope on the grace to be brought to you when Jesus Christ is revealed at his coming. As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.” ~ 1 Peter 1
Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord. ~ Hebrews 12:14
Can I be ever seen as holy? I don’t know.
But for His sake, I must keep trying.
PS: John MacArthur has some great sermons on the problems with the prosperity gospel. Read this long sermon here, it’s worth it.