Pope Francis versus the Bishop of Bling

“Our life of poverty is as necessary as the work itself. Only in heaven will we see how much we owe the poor for helping us to love God better because of them” – Mother Teresa

Pope Francis is back in the headlines again, this time handing out a temporary suspension to the Bishop of Limburg, Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst. Van Elst had become known as the “Bishop of Bling” and was dressed down this time for his 31 million euro ($42 million) project to build a new residence for himself. Outlandish. Well done Pope Francis, well done.

Apparently no time frame was set for the “sabbatical” but one can imagine it will include some changes of heart on the part of the bishop.

As a charismatic protestant there is no corresponding “pope” to step in and lay the smack down on such nonsense, but we surely have our own bishops of bling. We call them “word faith” preachers or adherents to “prosperity doctrine” (though, to be fair, not all word-faith preachers adhere to prosperity doctrine). You know the type (maybe). “Send us $1000 and you’ll get a share of our anointing” or “you’ll receive 100-fold blessing from the Lord” or “your family members will be saved”. It is shocking to the senses and the conscience – particularly for those who have read the Bible and have any semblance of notion about faith, hope, and love. Seriously, I thought we dealt with all of that in the early church when Peter put Simon the Sorcerer in his place (Acts 8:9-24). (I kid you not, there are “prophets” out  there who ask you to pay a fee, come to their conference and they will lay hands on you and pass on their prophetic anointing. I mean that is cut-and-paste from Acts 8.)

No, we don’t have a pope to deal with these issues, but I will say that the evangelical church world has made great strides in unwinding this … umm … stuff (there was a better word, but it is not fit for print). The old prosperity folks have either gone away, had a heartfelt conversion (see Jim Bakker), or at least modified their message to not focus on the more obscene parts.

It is interesting to see the logic they use though. I’m not talking necessarily about the twisting of scripture, where they snatch a pericope here and there, utterly out of context, throw away sound hermeneutics, and claim that the Bible supports untennable positions. (See, for example, the out-of-context usages of prov 23:7 – “as a man thinks in his heart, so is he” – or 3 John 1:2 – “Beloved, I pray that in all respects you may prosper and be in good health”.) Those are interesting, but I find also interesting the subtle appeal to a peasant’s notion of royalty.

The logic goes like this: “We are royalty by being part of God’s kingdom, someday we will have untold wealth, we’d like to have just some small part of the wealth that is laid up for us now and live the good live – you know, like king’s kids do.” Now, there is obviously danger in the “part of our inheritance now” argument – as the Lord showed clearly in the parable of the Prodigal Son. I will add that this is type of reasoning is exactly the way jealous peasants view royalty. Heck, it’s the way poor people view rich people. “They have everything handed to them and if I were just rich like them then I’d be able to live the easy life.” Of course royals would tell a different tale. Yes, there are clear benefits, but there is also a great burden laid on your shoulders. Wealthy parents who want good things for their children do not make life easy for them. And Kings who want royal character out of their children do not make life easy for them (… that’ll preach right there …).

And so the Pope is cleaning a little house – good for him. Over here in protestant land it is left to the preachers to espouse sound doctrine, and to the faithful themselves to study the word of God with an open heart and reject corrupted messages. And this we will do.

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