The Reformation Was about Ending Prosperity Gospel

The Reformation started because Luther objected to this sales pitch

“Lest readers think that Protestants were the ones who gave the Christian world a prosperity gospel, Jake Meador provides a useful reminder that Luther’s objections to Roman Catholicism concerned precisely the profits that church officials made from selling forgiveness for sins that held deceased Christians in purgatory.”

 

Sarah Pulliam Bailey has a piece today (Reformation Day) on rivalry between Brazil’s Pentecostals and Roman Catholics. She frames the competition by invoking Luther and the Reformation:

Speaking from a stage encircled by 12 large wooden crosses, Gabriel Camargo held up wads of fake Brazilian money, showing his flock what could be theirs.

“God will bless you if you give a lot more to the church,” said Camargo, a pastor with the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God.

Then he extended an arm and pointed a large black pouch toward his parishioners in the working-class neighborhood of Osasco.

Pick up your wallets and purses, he said, instructing his flock to look for Brazilian reais. About a dozen people hurried forward, dumping bills and change into the bag.

Those without cash didn’t have to worry: An usher held out a credit card machine. “You’ll have so much money” after giving generously to the church, the pastor boomed, that “smoke is going to come out of the machine.”

In a country struggling with the worst economic crisis in its history, with long queues at unemployment offices and public health clinics, perhaps it’s not surprising that Brazilians are increasingly drawn to the promises of personal wealth.

The belief that faith can lead to riches — known as the prosperity gospel — is a form of Pentecostalism, a Protestant movement that, in a modern-day version of the Protestant Reformation 500 years ago, is challenging the dominance of the Catholic Church in Latin America’s most populous country.

Brazil, which has the most Catholics per capita of any country in the world, is undergoing religious debates similar to those sparked in 1517 by a fiery German preacher named Martin Luther — over church riches and corruption, political power and the proper way to read the Bible. By 2030, Catholics, now the religious majority in Brazil, are projected to become a religious minority.

Lest readers think that Protestants were the ones who gave the Christian world a prosperity gospel, Jake Meador provides a useful reminder that Luther’s objections to Roman Catholicism concerned precisely the profits that church officials made from selling forgiveness for sins that held deceased Christians in purgatory.

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