I am not an avid fan of TV or films, (outside of News and Sport - no, I am not perfect yet!) so to watch a DVD this week, was a different experience for me. An indulgence!

The movie itself majored on, not indulgence, but indulgences. And how one man's aversion to them sparked the greatest change in the Christian church since the start of the Dark Ages. Whether you have seen the movie or not, you will likely have gathered that I am talking about 'Luther' and the events that led to the Reformation of 1517 onwards.

Every viewer, believer and non-believer alike, would have got up in 'arms' about the 'alms', primarily pillaged from the poor, (thought alms were meant to be for the poor!) and poured into privileged pockets of pope and priesthood.

While the Reformation revolutionised the church of the day, the question I ask myself is, "Do indulgences still exist in the church today?"

Of course, the immediate reaction is "No, we are too sophisticated to be taken in by sheets of paper promising 'pidly' periods in Purgatory (an unscriptural place anyway) for ourselves, family and friends, by paying money to the priest or church!" Or have the indulgences simply changed form?

Let's think about it. How often do we hear, "If you give my ministry or church X dollars, you will be blessed 10 fold, or 100 fold," depending upon the enthusiasm of the preacher, and of course in your faith to believe in him!" Or, from a negative perspective, "If you do not tithe to the church, you will not be blessed financially."

I am forced to ask these questions. "Are all 'good' giving and tithing Christians rich? "Are all 'mean', seldom giving and non-tithing Christians, poor?" And, "Are all non-giving, non-believers, poor?" Reality is, the answer to all three questions is "No"!

You see then, all that has happened today is that the nature of indulgences has changed. In the 16th century, people were genuinely concerned about going to hell. This was the best lever that could be used to prise money out of the poor and gullible.

Today sadly, we are not so concerned about hell, but our world has become hugely materialistic. Money that makes the world go round! And the lack of it stops us participating in the 'good' things of life that advertisers constantly tell us we need to have to be happy! So once again, the poor and gullible grasp at any straw, even God, when Christianity is presented as a means of accumulating wealth.

This truism applies both in the bastion of wealth of America, and in the poverty of much of Africa. I have attended prosperity preachers' meetings in California, seen the working class people attending and the 'old bombs' in the car parks. Surely, if the prosperity gospel was true, there should be lots of Cadillacs, Rolls Royces and Ferraris (other than those belonging to the preachers), owned by those who have gratefully and successfully applied the 'formula' the prosperity preachers propound.

In Africa too, I've experienced prosperity churches full of poor people, who remain poor, while the preachers wear gold chains. Of preachers living a lifestyle they call their people to aspire to, but which they can't achieve. Unless perhaps, they also have a charismatic personality, and can build a prosperity church too!

It was readily apparent in the movie 'Luther', that it was the poor and vulnerable being targeted by the religious super salesmen of the day. Sadly, nothing much has changed.

People can, and no doubt will, quote verses that say that we as Christians should be financially prosperous. Generally however, these verses are taken out of context. A classic is Deuteronomy 8:18. Read the whole passage in 'From the Word'. The section is appropriately headed, 'Do Not Forget The Lord' and primarily, is a warning about the self sufficient attitudes wealth engenders.

Just look at King Solomon. A classic example! And we must remember too, that blessing was primarily physical under the Old Covenant (Job, Abraham, Solomon - but not Moses, the type of Jesus) and primarily spiritual under the New. (Jesus, Paul and all the apostles gave up everything for Jesus, were mistreated and imprisoned, and all except John, martyred for their faith.)

It is true, that if you apply Christian principles in your life, you are likely to be better off financially than when living life in the world, for your values, what you spend your money on, will change. But this will not necessarily make one rich. In fact, Jesus, in the prayer he gave us to use daily, assumed this when He included the phrase:

11 Give us today our daily bread.

Surely an indication that we are to live our lives dependant upon Him, not upon our own provision, which, almost inevitably, happens when we are rich. I speak from practical experience of having been both very successful financially and in relative poverty, twice over during my life. To be honest, in my humanness, I enjoyed wealth the most. But I learned most about, and have come closer to, God during my 'valley' experiences. Now, finally, I can relate to the position of contentment that Paul experienced when he said:

6 But godliness with contentment is great gain. 7 For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. 8 But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. 9 People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. 10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs. (1 Timothy 6:6-10)

Sadly, my friend, there will always be those who will exploit human weaknesses found in each one of us, for their own selfish ends. The tares amongst the wheat. Those who give the impression of knowing Christ but truly live by the ways of the world, readily indulging their indulgences, relying upon the gullible to finance their lifestyles.

As Jesus himself said:

15 “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. 16 By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? 17 Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. (Matthew 7:15-17)

As I mulled over this subject, the Lord gave me a 'David's Doodling' that sums up the maturing process of our ongoing walk of discipleship with our beloved Jesus.

1273. The foolish give seeking earthly return, the wise, to build up treasures in heaven, while the godly give their all out of love for God, with no need of reward.

"Lord, I give my all to you today."

By David Tait in PRAISE GOD IT’S MONDAY! Issue No: 251 Published: 14 Aug 2006

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