During my recent trip to visit our sister parish in Malawi I noticed that there are two groups very eager to make inroads into the country – the Chinese and Pentecostals. It is well known that the Chinese are searching the world for resources and this explains their presence in Malawi. The Pentecostals (sponsored by churches in the U.S.) are also very intent on Malawi and the gospel that they are proclaiming is the Prosperity Gospel. In a country that has a very young population burdened with chronic unemployment and underemployment, a proclamation of the gospel which stresses material blessings as reward for true faith is proving to be very tempting and appealing for many people.
In my reflection on this I was reminded of a post I wrote for the Feast of St. Lawrence in 2012. Below is the post and why the Christian martyrs are both a witness to the true gospel of Christ as well as standing in witness against the falsity of the prosperity gospel.
There is a malformation of the gospel occurring in our day and it is called the “Prosperity Gospel”. The basic tenet of the Prosperity Gospel (from what I can tell) is that if you have faith then God will bless you abundantly (which means materially). Faith leads to success in all of ones enterprises and endeavors and to comfort in ones life. The Prosperity Gospel proclaims that you can indeed have your best life now! This take on the Gospel is out there, it is prevalent and it has many adherents … the only problem is that it is not Christian.
My question to those who proclaim the Prosperity Gospel is this: if faith equals success, material blessings and comfort then why did Peter and Paul die penniless, in chains and – according to all counts – unsuccessful? Was their faith not strong enough? Did they not really believe in Christ as Lord and Savior? And what about all the other martyrs of our faith (Lawrence included)?
The Prosperity Gospel leaves no room for the martyrs because they stand in witness against its basic tenet.
St. Lawrence was a deacon of the early Roman Church. He lived his faith in a time when the Church was being persecuted. Lawrence was known for his love of the poor and his service to them. He also oversaw the temporal goods of the Roman Church. This was widely known and at one point the prefect of Rome brought in Lawrence and demanded that he hand over the wealth of the church. Lawrence asked for a few days to gather the wealth. After a few days Lawrence once again came before the prefect and presented to him the poor, the beggars, the sick, the elderly, the foreigners and said, “Here, this is the treasure of the church!” Lawrence was martyred (tradition has it by being grilled alive, this is why he is often pictured with a grill).
Lawrence knew that the true prosperity of the gospel is not found in material blessings but in the abundance of love which God has shown for us and which we, in turn, are to show to one another. We have been loved abundantly so we, in turn, must also love abundantly! The treasure of the church continues to be the poor, the outcast, the sick, the foreigner, the elderly, and the one who is hurting because they are the beloved of God and Christ is with them. They might not count much to our world but they are precious in God’s eyes!
The abundance of love is the true prosperity of the gospel.
St. Lawrence and all holy martyrs, pray for us!