In recent years, a large number of stories have been published online about Christian ministers. The emphasis in these stories is about "misery"--individuals having served the Lord their entire life and not even possessing one penny. Because their poverty is not of their own making but rather due to disasters or accidents, they appeal for donations online. Very often they can make a lot of money from such a campaign.
Some such stories are true, but many of them are lies or renderings based on a true event, nevertheless fraudulent. No matter what has occurred during the decades following the opening up in China, the Christian community has left a good impression on the public. The church is approached when people need help, indicating that Christians are seen as people exhibiting love in the spirit of Christ.
However, internally, the Church has started to reflect upon this phenomenon. It is wondered why Christians are prone to fraud and why they blindly donate without distinguishing the truth from a lie and thereby allowing swindlers to get their way. It is observed that beginning last year, some ministers have urged their people to be watchful against online fraud. The truth of many made-up and rendered stories have been revealed enabling believers to avoid donating to fraudulent public WeChat accounts.
What I would emphasize is that stories of misery, sadness, or plight have always been part of the context of traditional churches. Proclaiming fraudulent stories and the preaching of a prosperity gospel are somewhat heretical and require caution.
Proponents of the prosperity gospel claim that the one's success is a result of the effectiveness of the Gospel. Believers will be blessed by God, gain substantial wealth in the present world, find their children enrolled in famous universities, have a good job, good business and a harmonious family. This type of testimony attracts the public to the church and convinces them toaccept the Gospel.
On the other hand, there are churches which portray a different scenario. By focusing more on a Christian's hardships, they emphasise the Gospel's uniqueness and the Christian's being set apart from the world. They say Christians are born to suffer because Jesus, first, did not lead a comfortable life but suffered in this world. Secondly, the world rejects the Gospel as having an opposite message to the world's. And so Christians are meant to be rejected. Thirdly, Christians should put all their attention on the Kingdom of Heaven and the future and not care about the present. Therefore everyone in the church should lead a simple life of hardships, thus conforming to the identity of a Christian. Sometimes for the sake of the Gospel one should give up the good job. Such staunch believers usually receive verbal commendations in the church.
The "hardship" and "prosperity" gospels are of one in the same logic in that both Christ and the Gospel are evidenced through one's own success or failure or through the actual situation of life. However, the testimony mentioned in the Bible is about testifying to the resurrection of Christ. The early Christians testified to all whom they met that Christ was alive. He is the resurrected Lord.
Neither the early church nor the medieval church used the sad life or the life of misery as the primary message of their faith. This message started with the Protestant movement, particularly in the sufferings experienced by the Puritans who were persecuted by the Anglican Church. This has influenced the gospel messages proclaimed in America.
In Asian churches, because more people are generally poor, the church's message has been that Christians are poor people. This has been a rather effective way of gaining strength for the faith. For a long time in Asia, Christianity has been seen as a foreign religion, not well accepted locally. Therefore most Christians were marginalized. In such churches, believers could not pursue a materialistic or oppulent lifestyle but rather, although being poor, honoured themselves by living simply and focusing on the Kingdom of Heaven. This laid the foundation for a culture in Asian churches of having a message that is about misery and suffering.
Therefore, the Christians' current pattern of telling stories of misery grew out of such soil. These stories share one style--that all suffering is caused by forces beyond human control and none of it can be solved by humans either. If readers want to help, they really have only two choices: either donate money or pass it on to someone else to help.
I have downloaded a lot of stories of misery to start to explore the living needs and difficulties of the storyteller inorder to find solutions. However, the ultimate conclusion is that these stories prevent the possibilities for any practical solutions because the message has you either giving a direct donation, passing it on if you have no money, or praying for it. However there is no space to ask more questions.
In summary, the basis for a culture of misery is rooted in the current church, which is not a healthy and normal church's contextual atmosphere and the opposite of the prosperity gospel, each one being at the extreme. The miserable culture results in the inability to and timidity of vibrancy helping believers only to fall into distress.
- Translated by Charlie Li