Ever heard of a Ponzi scheme? Its a financial endevour that promises incredibly high short-term returns. The fradulent part is that there are no actual profits, the scheme works because new investments in the scheme is given for the returns. So money is simply pushed forward and it looks (on the outside) like there is lots of money to be made.
America recently exposed the most recent, partially because of the economic down-turn. Madoff helped people lose some 50 Billion dollars and swindled the likes of Kevin Bacon. and And it got me thinking...
Sometimes Christianity gets promoted as a Ponzi Scheme. People are encouraged to givegivegive for future returns. Why? Because Christianity gives awesome returns. Better than you could get piddling your life away stockpiling goods, money, or entertainment. Think about the language you've heard pastors use lately. The pay-out is awesome! You might not see any of it now, but if you do what you are supposed to, rich will be your reward! Hang in there! Treasure in heaven, my friend!
Sometimes, this "pay-off" is as soon as your next phone call! God will immediately bless you with well-being! Just give me your money! Your relationships will be better! Your job will be more fun! So really, the short-term returns ARE great! They are wonderful and immediate! (It really feeds that convenience bug we have in our society). At the heart of what some people call the Prosperity Gospel is this idea that working for God is profitable - very profitable.
To be sure, faithful Christians are rewarded in the eternal fellowship with God that we call Heaven. But do we have to fleece those around us to achieve that? No wonder young people are turned away from Churches - we've turned them into holding tanks for your resources with little profit to show for it, we are just paying out what others have given. Job's friends lamented the lack of profit attained from remaining sinless or alaigned with God. Proverbs argues that wisdom profits a man better than any precious metal - but even this still considers whether we are better off investing with God or with ourselves.
But before you go getting rid of Christianity, or, Heaven forbid, Jesus - remember this...
Good Christian theology always maintains a healthy tension between faith and works. Good Christian theology also never forgets (as John Wesley didn't) that the journey of faith often takes the focus off the individual profits and changes the conversation to that of sacrifice. Paul considered whatever he "profitted" as loss for Christ. Again, I come back to Romans 8:28 that says that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who are called according to his purposes.
So yeah, I'm defining an idea that should not be used to promote the Gospel but is also incomplete in the metaphor because there really can be no comparison between how God gives and how the world gives. Its not just incomplete because its a detrimental way of understanding what we gain from Christian service, but also incomplete because the focus of a Christian life, at its purist, is NOT about personal profit. God's love is no scheme. Jesus is different. But keep an eye out - you never know when churches or well-meaning Christians slip into this Christian Ponzi Scheme.