Sunday, August 05, 2012

Wine and pandas.

Just returned from New Wine, where I was working for a few days. Never been before and was quite interested. I caught up with a few old friends, which was great.

There was one thing I struggled with: a half-camouflaged prosperity gospel.

This wasn't a gospel of monetary gain as Kenneth Copeland might preach. But it was a message of personal or tribal gain, nonetheless. At 3 of the 4 sessions I went to, the proclamation was that a prayer done right will get results.

Luke 18: 1-8 was used as a description of how persistent prayer gets the world fixed. Mark 9:29 as an injunction to pray harder, while fasting, in order to cast out the demons of our secular society. At a plenary session, there was a stream of open mic testimonies telling how prayer at New Wine had achieved for the storyteller money / relationship / healing / child. Speakers were all leaders of Big Churches that had known Success. The foundational call to a beleaguered church was a call to war - let's pray really, really hard and so force God to show himself and give us victory against a hostile world!

But God is not to be manipulated. Happiness, health and success for self or tribe are not the likely outcome of discipleship. The glory of God is more likely to be seen in sacrifice, humiliation, unexpected outcomes, lost control, than in getting what we want. Let's hear of the glory of God experienced through sickness, solitude, poverty and childlessness, alongside the other stories. Let prayer be submission, not control. It will never be a tool we can use to make God respond!

In terms of our churches (as we know them) growing, surviving, winning back respect... perhaps even this is not to be sought. Perhaps they are the old wineskins. Perhaps not - but we cannot know and should not presume. We seek the glory of God, not the victory of any particular manifestation of the church.

My friend Mike articulated my struggle neatly when he said of certain Christian talks: "it's as if God is a panda: temperamental, near-extinct, only happy to show up when we, his captors, manage to recreate the right habitat and diet." Heaven forbid!

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