Yes, that's a rather potent title. But as we are exploring Jesus and what it means to be in His community, this is the diagnosis I am giving the modern church in America.
Let's define our terms first. Narcissism is:
involving a sense of entitlement, a lack of empathy, and a need for
admiration, as characterizing a personality type." (1)
"Prosperity theology views the Bible as a contract between God and humans: if humans have faith in God, he will deliver security and prosperity. The doctrine emphasizes the importance of personal empowerment, proposing that it is God's will for his people to be blessed. The atonement (reconciliation with God) is interpreted to include the alleviation of sickness and poverty, which are viewed as curses to be broken by faith. This is believed to be achieved through donations of money, visualization, and positive confession." (2)
Wow. In just looking over the two definitions that I grabbed from Google, the overlap is astonishing. I am going to integrate the two. I did not plan it this way, but here goes...
"Prosperity theology views the Bible as a contract between God and
humans: if humans have faith in God, he will deliver security and
prosperity. The doctrine emphasizes the importance of personal empowerment proposing that it is God's will for his people to be blessed ("selfishness,
involving a sense of entitlement") The atonement (reconciliation with God) is interpreted to include the alleviation of sickness and poverty, which are viewed as curses to be broken by faith. ("lack of empathy") This is believed to be achieved through donations of money, visualization, and positive confession." ("a need for
Let's break it down. If I have enough faith to believe that God wants and will deliver to me my desires for health, wealth and prosperity, then the focus of my spiritual life will be on me. I will become focused on what my needs, my wants and what will bring me happiness and contentment. I am entitled to this, for God has promised it to me and the Bible is the contract that binds us together. If I see people walking around without manifold blessings, then it is their fault. They haven't the faith and understanding I have; their sickness, their financial failings, their pain is not something for me to weep over. I must educate them about what they are missing in their understanding of the Bible. If they still carry on with pain and suffering after I have enlightened them, then they can forget any help from me, for I don't deal with such matters. I walk in a different kind of existence. In addition, I will have all the people around me admiring my faith as I confess, donate money, visualize and positively confess, for such things are best done in public, are they not? Then when something good comes along, I again go public to show how my faith, my confession, brought it about. This just proves that God and I are in harmony, happily operating in the laws of prosperity.
Wow. I have seen the prosperity gospel filter in to churches that are not, nor would they identify with, a prosperity gospel church. Yet I have, as a worship leader, led congregations in singing about "breaking every chain."
Pray and believe.
I have faith not fear.
Trust in the Lord.
I choose hope.
All these pithy phrases and more have surfaced during this pandemic, which has proven to be an interesting testing ground for the narcissistic/prosperity gospel that is in so many churches--whether openly or has just seeped in from the popular Christian culture.
I wonder how many of my fellow believers will not get vaccinated, because they are showing God and the church how great their faith is? They are trusting their essential oils diffusing all around them to protect them and those they love. Their faith is strong in God's love.
If they did go and get a vaccination, would it cast doubt on their faith to themselves and to those around them? That a vaccination is partnering with the world in trying to solve this epidemic, and not partnering with God and His natural cures?
Sadly, I am watching my fellow brothers and sisters fall into a ditch of their digging: My faith keeps me safe. Those without faith are wearing masks and getting vaccinations, and the mask is the badge of the faithless.
Yet, many have fallen ill. Really ill. Some have died.
So, now, do we conclude that (a) They didn't have enough faith
(b) They may not see how self-centered their theology has become over time. They may not even recognize it.
This pandemic has fractured the Christian community, pitting the "We got this, 'cause we got faith!" to those who say, "Please wear a mask. It shows how your health impacts others, and how you want others to be safe."
This pandemic is the rain, wind and water that has bashed into the American Church House. Its foundation is not surviving the onslaught, for it is not built on Jesus' words:
Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The
rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against
that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the
everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into
practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash. (Matthew 7:24-27)
Our fractured faith community may be crashing down. I find this passage of Scripture very instructive, for these people coming to Jesus were facing an assault on their theology:
Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. Jesus answered, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.”
Then he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree growing in his vineyard, and he went to look for fruit on it but did not find any. So
he said to the man who took care of the vineyard, ‘For three years now
I’ve been coming to look for fruit on this fig tree and haven’t found
any. Cut it down! Why should it use up the soil?’
“‘Sir,’ the man replied, ‘leave it alone for one more year, and I’ll dig around it and fertilize it. If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down.’” (Luke 13:1-8)
The people who came to Jesus with horrible news about Pilate were afraid, yet Jesus could see another emotion operating in them: Pride. That is why, I believe, He brings up the tower incident.
The people telling Jesus about Pilate weren't just reporting; their hearts were crying out, "Could that happen to us? NO! Why not? Because we are good people."
Jesus went right to the heart of the matter: These people had sinful hearts, but their pride told them otherwise. The real question was being asked silently in these people's hearts: Only bad things happen to those who do not have the kind of faith we have. Right! Right?
Comforting, yes, to the people whose faith (they so proudly believed) exempted them from the vicissitudes of life. Their fundamental belief in their own goodness made them lack empathy for the victims. Their theology drove them away from the community. Their fear kept them clinging to a belief that Jesus corrected.
Jesus talks about sin and repentance using both incidents. People died, not because they were "selected" for their unrighteousness; they were living in a fallen world where terrible things happen. To everyone, good, bad or indifferent.
So, Jesus clarified His inspection of their theology with a parable. The fig tree was not producing fruit, yet the caretaker gave it one more year to produce fruit. What was the tree given? Fertilizer. It is the fertilizer of life that makes us grow, and if we push it away out of self-righteousness, fear and not wanting to be with Jesus in a community He has created, we will not produce fruit of any eternal value.
We, in America, are being given a similar opportunity to produce fruit, or the axe will come. Where do we start? With ourselves, repenting of our pride. Then with others, reaching out and loving them with a Christ-centered love.
Now, that's church!
(1) "Narcissism." Google's English Dictionary, Oxford Languages
(2) "Prosperity Gospel" https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prosperity_theology. Accessed 9/25/2021
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