One of the easiest temptations for this pewsitter to give into is smugness. When you have something to feel superior about. smugness is easy. Fellow Pewsitters might share one of the more common Sydney Anglicanism smugnesses with me. Here’s a clue in one word: “Hillsong”. Or more accurately, two words: “prosperity gospel”.
That is the idea that God will bless good Christians with material goods, that faith and obedience will be rewarded in dollars. Or that the more you give away, the more you will get. Yep, most Pewsitters are smugly gladdened by the awareness that we reject this way of thinking. But as Sydney Anglican Pewsitters we do have our own form of seeking prosperity. We don’t see it as a gospel and we don’t think much about it, we just do it.
Study hard, keep your nose down, go to university, work even harder, make a respectable but not vulgarly excessive amount of money: that’s the Sydney Anglican unspoken prosperity doctrine. And it has one chief advantage over the more Pentecostal prosperity gospel. It works, almost all the time. Unlike the happy clappy version this prosperity thinking is no doctrine. We don’t claim a Bible justification for it. Rather it is the triumph of pure pragmatism.
It may be that the “prosperity gospel” is waning among our Pentecostal brothers and sisters. I hope so. But the old fashioned sort of prosperity thinking still propers in the leafier suburbs of Christianity.
It comes out clearly in the messages sent out by high profile Anglican institutions that have the money for marketing. “Leadership” is the headline for as campaign run by our highest profile Anglican school. Yes, parents want their boys to be leaders, to end up in charge of other people. That’s what Mrs Zebedee wanted for her boys, too. It is good marketing that like all good advertising plays on at least one of the still deadly seven sins.
Yet if we were truly Biblical wouldn’t there be a “servant-hood” advertisement too? And wouldn’t Down’s kids be as sought after as burly additions to the rugby team or a violin-playing virtuoso?
When a member of an Anglican congregation becomes a judge it is not uncommon for our Diocese Standing Committee to note that fact. But what about someone becoming head of the local sanitation department? Can that not be as worthy of note?
We are respecters of persons, and we have been told not to be.
This is a pewsitter problem. The people who become clergy are rebels who reject this norm. There’s nothing more counter cultural than the un-genteel poverty of the Ministry Training Scheme apprentices. Missionaries are the extremists- the closest thing to a protestant vow of poverty. But for us left in the pews, it is desperately easy for us to be normal.