My personal experience of church in the UK is almost entirely within evangelicalism and so I readily admit my criticism is selective and it is only my experience. Furthermore this piece is only about one particular form of that evangelicalism.
I had, until recently, been a member of a New Frontiers (NF) church for about four years. In addition to the obvious flirtation with Calvinism, the obsession with a very small amount of Christian leaders such as Terry Virgo, John Piper and Mark Driscoll (at least before his downfall), some weird ideas about apostles, and the bias toward in-house trained young male leaders there was a teaching I never managed to believe and now I have left it is one which makes me cringe. Actually it’s worse than that; it makes me angry.
As with most evangelicals in the UK NF would no doubt reject the typical brand of prosperity gospel represented and easily found on various Sky television channels. The idea that simply giving money will cause you to be blessed or to be healed I never found in NF. But I still think NF is influenced by this kind of thinking and this is how it presents itself.
NF will regularly ask its members to give their testimonies of how God has ‘provided’ for them. This could take the form of physical healing or some more general answer to prayer. Testimonies typically focus on how the person was financially struggling but that how ‘giving it over to God’, or giving money to the church which one really could not sensibly afford to, resulted in their financial blessing. The other typical example is physical healing. Testimonies abound of people being prayed for and healed and yet it’s very hard to hear testimonies of people who have not. If you want your video testimony to be recorded and placed on their websites it really needs to be a story with a ‘miraculous’ ending.
From someone who has spent a significant amount of time within NF I have to admit that the impression you end up with is that in order to fit in with the main body of the church you need to be having some amazing positive experience of God blessing you in one of these two ways. If you don’t have some such story then it’s more than likely that, like myself, you will end up feeling like an outsider.
I wonder what poor Christians would think of this kind (culture) of church? I mean Christians who are really poor. Ones who are starving to death daily. Ones who lack basic housing. Ones who lack basic health care. What kind of ‘god’ helps western Christians who are nowhere near poverty in these realms and yet appears to abandon millions of others even to the point where they literally die from their poverty? Can the church not see how utterly absurd such a notion is?If that is the God of Christianity then it may be that I will have to conclude that is not the God I believe in anymore.
Some may think I raise these issues out of personal bitterness or jealousy (especially since my experience is that I have not been healed) and perhaps there is a small element of that but this in no way invalidates my point. Whatever your response it cannot be written off with an ad hominem!
Where is the church where being poor in spirit, poor in health, and poor in finances makes you feel like you belong?
The poor are a by-product of the system in which we live and for which we are responsible. They are marginalized by our social and cultural world. They are the oppressed, exploited proletariat, robbed of the fruit of their labor and despoiled of their humanity. Hence the poverty of the poor is not a call to generous relief action, but a demand that we go and build a different social order.