IN THEORY:'Rich Christian' a contradiction

A watchdog group called Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington has called into question financial dealings of Pastor Mac Hammond, who leads Living Work Christian Center in Brooklyn Park, a so-called mega-church.

Hammond calls the group's complaints to the IRS that he violated federal tax law, along with published reports about his dealings, a misunderstanding of the prosperity gospel ministry.

Complaints include alleged sweetheart deals such as a $1.9-million loan with favorable rates given to Hammond, who reportedly lives lavishly, by the church.

But Hammond says his riches are a tool for the ministry.

His Porsche, for example, is a way of bringing people into the church, he says. Expensive clothes are also important, he says, because if he looks better, he preaches better.

Wealth is a way of spreading the gospel, he says.

What do you think about the prosperity gospel ministry — the idea that riches are a tool to spread the gospel, and that wealth can somehow be evidence of God's favor? Can it ever go overboard?

The abundance of money given by contributors or spent by preachers ascribing to the prosperity gospel is not the problem. The problem in this system of belief is the absence, or diminished prominence, of Christ.

There is only one gospel message, and it's simple and unchanging. Christ died for our sins, He was buried and He rose on the third day. Everyone who believes this good news (the meaning of the word "gospel") and personally receives Christ receives eternal life and eternal kinship with God, regardless of how much money He gives them.

Financial prosperity of itself is not condemned in Scripture, but like other blessings, it carries certain obligations. Rich believers are "not to be conceited or to fix their hope on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly supplies us with all things to enjoy." They must "do good...be rich in good works, [and] be generous and ready to share" (1 Timothy 6:17-18).

So if we find a wealthy church, or minister, who preaches Christ first, who exhibits humility, who trusts in God and not in money, who is generous, sharing and doing good with their abundance — let's thank God and find better battles to fight. If we find a church or minister who rejects these principles, let's find better ministries to support.

PASTOR JON BARTA

Valley Baptist Church

The prosperity gospel (aka "name it and claim it") is a gospel of greed. It seeks the Lord, not for Himself, but for what's in His hand. Like dogs that expect treats when they wag their tails, prosperity people want God to fill the slobbering mouths of their bank accounts.

Schemes abound, pandering to the desires of Christian people who compete with the pagan Joneses. "Give To Get" is the phrase theologians use to describe the financial offerings of these people. Prosperity folk hold that if they give $100 to God's "company," He returns their stock a hundredfold. Rarely is this realized, but as chance factors in, some do come into resources and perpetuate the heresy. I would like to think that it's only the very immature, poor, or ignorant who get sucked into this, but, well OK, it is the very immature, poor and ignorant who get sucked into this.

Periodically, a leading preacher of this tripe gets busted for fraud or corruption and everyone looks at the Christian community as if we all endorse such nonsense. These same charlatans reappear years later and garner bigger followings. We can only shake our heads as we return to our smaller congregations to whom we cannot honestly offer riches as a result of their faithful support.

God blessed some people in the Bible financially, and others with a more personal relationship to Himself. Others were martyred for championing God's true Gospel message, which is that all have sinned and are rightly condemned unless they take hold of God's way of saving them — Jesus Christ.

Money helps greatly in life, but it's never the goal, nor is it a mark of true spirituality. To the contrary, Jesus said, "it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 19:23).

THE REV. BRYAN GRIEM

Senior Pastor

MontroseCommunityChurch.org

Like all the Holy Teachers who preceded Him, Bahá'u'lláh, founder of the Bahá'í Faith, taught us that our purpose in life is to attain spiritual riches and that material wealth is only of value as an aid in serving mankind.

He wrote that extremes of wealth and poverty are unhealthy in human society, and that wealth gained through honest endeavor and with God's grace, and when used philanthropically, is acceptable before God. He further said, "man should know his own self and recognize that which leadeth unto loftiness or lowliness, glory or abasement, wealth or poverty," and that once a person reaches this state of maturity, wealth acquired through crafts or professions is commendable when used for "the education of the world and to the edification of its peoples."

The ostentatious display of wealth is questionable as a tool for teaching spiritual values. God's messengers, including Jesus and Bahá'u'lláh, led lives of simplicity and taught by that example. They made it clear that true wealth lies in voluntarily doing good and by the acquisition of virtues, which are the only riches you take with you when you pass from this world to the next. We should be mindful of appropriateness and balance, especially demonstrated by those who live from the contributions representing sacrifice on the parts of their congregants.

BARBARA CRAMER

Secretary

Local Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'ís Glendale

The watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics is not familiar to me, but the issue of wealth and faith certainly is. I am going to venture a guess that Pastor Mac Hammond is almost certainly guilty of heresy, regardless of whether he offended against the IRS.

It is not for nothing that Jesus said it was easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God. Remember the rich young ruler who asked what he must do to acquire eternal life? Jesus told him to go and sell what he owned and give the proceeds to the poor — but the man walked away in sadness because, the Scripture tells us, he had many things.

In the gospel according to Matthew, Jesus is quoted as saying, "Blessed are the poor in spirit." But in Luke's gospel, the quote is, "Blessed are you poor" (Luke 6:20). That's a tough verse for us comfort-minded, success-oriented Americans to hear, but my take on the whole issue of wealth is that nothing should come between you and God, and nothing means your family members, your nice car, your nice house, your comfortable lifestyle, your padded bank account — nothing. What did Jesus have when he died? Only the clothes on his back and possibly a loincloth, which the Roman soldiers cast lots for at the foot of the cross, if Scripture is to be believed.

I am told that Jesus talks about money four times as much as he talks about prayer; whether that statement is true or not, I don't know. But the thrust of Jesus' message as well as the Hebrew prophets before him is that there are things more important than acquiring wealth, such as looking out for the powerless, the orphan, the widow, the homeless, those whom society has forgotten. And generosity (i.e., giving) is thought to be a big plus.

In my mind, to be a rich Christian is almost a contradiction, an oxymoron. I think we are called to give, give, give until it hurts. And then maybe give some more.

Pastor Hammond, in my view, is not only guilty of heresy — he has an idolatry charge to face as well.

THE REV. C. L. "SKIP" LINDEMAN

Congregational Church of the Lighted Window

United Church of Christ

La Cañada Flintridge

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