Televangelist Kenneth Copeland is now facing flack over an interview gone wrong where he is pressed about his lavish lifestyle.
Much can be said about this interaction, but I want to bring to the surface something he said at the start; refering to global missions, Copeland stated, “It takes a lot of money doing what we do.”
Copeland is known for unashamedly identifying the cross with money and wealth, in essence with power. The New Testament writers seem to take a very different approach, unapologetically tying the gospel to weakness and to shame, mainly the weakness and shame of Roman crucifixion. (One hymn writer calls death by crucifixion “The emblem of suffering and shame.”)
Identifying Christianity with power is not something new and is certainly not something found only within charismatic circles (many point to Constantine for paving the way for a Christianity of glory, devoid of weakness). Copeland’s recent comments remind me of a live conversation between radio-host Jannet Mefferd and apologist Dr. James White following White’s participation in an interfaith dialogue in a mosque. Mefferd took great offense at White’s decision to attend the mosque, and insisted that the advancement of the gospel is dependent on Western values (which she feels are being threatened by Muslims). Mefferd, who is certainly a non-charismatic, subtly identified the Gospel with power in her statement, while also implying that God needs us to advance his Gospel. Statements like “the furtherance Gospel is dependent on wealth” (which is not far from what Copeland said) or “on Western values” (Mefferd’s sentiment) undercuts the very essence of the Gospel which, throughout the New Testament, relentlessly identifies with weakness (many times shaming power and those identifying with power).
As a child growing up in a Christian household, I remember taking offense at those who identified Christianity as merely a poor-man’s religion, as something that only the uneducated were “tricked” into believing (an argument iterated by one like Richard Dawkins). But this seems to be the point the Apostle Paul made in 1 Corinthians 1: that the elite rarely will come to faith, while the “stupid” (in the eyes of the elite) flock to the cross in droves.
The city of Corinth, not unlike America, tended to prize power and knowledge, things the world’s “elite” gravitate toward. As a result, the church of Corinth began to mingle such things with the cross, and Paul’s grave response is that they are at risk of emptying the cross of its power (i.e., the true “power” of the cross is found in its weakness). [The “wisdom” of the cross is also found in its foolish/absurd nature.]
Given that Christianity began as a religion catering to the poor and slaves, staying true to the Gospel involves distancing ourselves from the notion that its spread is dependent on us (on our money and/or Western values). The Gospel has the tendency to thrive in the most unlikeliest of circumstances, further proof that God does not need our assistance!
If 1 Corinthians 1:17-32 teaches us anything, it is not to shy away from a gospel that identifies with weakness, and not be embarrassed by a movement that many see as a “crutch” for the poor and “weak-minded.” One scholar, in talking about 1 Corinthians 1, notes that “There is no doubt that Christianity spread most rapidly among the lower classes, and that this was part of its offensiveness.”¹
Texts to Ponder
1 Corinthians 1
v. 18 For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing [=to the “strong” and “wise], but to us who are being saved [the weak and stupid] it is the power of God.
vv. 26-28a Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things…