Money Changers In The Temple
"And the Jews' passover was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem, And found in the temple those that sold oxen and sheep and doves, and the changers of money sitting: And when he had made a scourge of small cords, he drove them all out of the temple, and the sheep, and the oxen; and poured out the changers' money, and overthrew the tables; And said unto them that sold doves, Take these things hence; make not my Father's house an house of merchandise. And his disciples remembered that it was written, The zeal of thine house hath eaten me up." John 2:13-17
Today (June 18, 2008), I visited a large number of web pages of different ministries and churches. I purposely chose some of the larger and more well known ministries and churches, figuring that they would have more extensive websites.
Sure enough, every website was large, well done, easy to navigate, and loaded with more sales tools and pleadings for donations than anything else. On several of the sites, the percentage of tapes, books, bibles, prayer clothes, miracle water and other such things for sale...excuse me, for a love offering of....$.... exceeded 60% of the visible page. On others, it was slightly under 40%...that is, until you clicked on a secondary page, in which case the percentage went off the charts. One particular page, offering a daily scripture, contained 3 lines of scripture, no embellishment or "devotion" to go with it, and 6 Bibles, 12 books by other ministers, 6 sets of tapes/cd's, and 4 different ways to donate.
Another site had a section on the landing page touting that they (the ministry) were "leading the way in financial accountability," and loudly proclaiming how many pages of documents had been turned over to a Senate committee investigating various televangelist's operations. Of course, this particular ministry has refused to join the ECFA (Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability), the world's premier organization for holding ministries accountable for their finances, and has also refused to respond to the BBB Wise Giving Alliance requests for information.
On the one hand, I am fully aware of the fact that getting people to donate money is like pulling hen's teeth. It never ceases to amaze me how Christians, who are exhorted constantly throughout the New Testament to give freely, happily, and liberally, are among the first to be stingy, and in that stinginess to demand something in return. This attitude, of course, tends to lead ministries who are dependent upon donations to do their work to fall in to the trap of having to offer bigger and better incentives. And, of course, just like any business, they have to get more than what it costs to provide, otherwise there's nothing left over to go anywhere else. Kind of a Catch-22.
However, there is some disturbing info that goes along with all this. While most of the donations requested are for the "purpose" of "spreading the Gospel," and evangelizing the "world," it appears that a large chunk of the monies received by these ministries are actually being spent on things other than real ministry work.
It seems somewhat out of character (I'm thinking Elijah, here) when a prominent televangelist spends $5,000+ a night for a suite of rooms at a hotel, is chauffered around in a $200,000 Rolls Royce limo, wears $2,000 dollar suits and $500 shoes, and spends another $500 for a hair style. All paid for by the ministry sales...er, donations.
This polemic (yes, it IS a polemic!) is going to contain two prongs...two very sharply barbed prongs, each one being what it is....sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and [is] a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.
Up first is the attitude of the vast majority of todays Christians...or at least those who populate the church buildings. Stingy to a fault, more interested in making sure they are "good stewards" (read Choke the Eagle), greedy, lazy, wanting everyone else to do everything for them, and most assuredly clothed in the robes, bells and appurtenances of the Pharisee, up to and including ashes to enhance their "godly get-up".
People like this usually buy the cheapest brand of food they can find when they're going to make a donation to the church or community food bank. One small bag of rice, a can of beans, or something from the days-old bread store....and then on to Al Dente Fine Italian Cuisine with the family to bask in the self-righteousness of having "done something for the less fortunate among us."
When it comes to the church and it's affairs and finances, they are more than willing to make sure that the pastor has a parsonage (from which he can be evicted without notice). Sometimes, even the utility bills get paid....until he preaches the wrong thing. But make a living wage? Not from this church!! Why, don't you know that preaching (pastoring, teaching, evangelizing) is supposed to be FREE! It's supposed to be done from the heart. As a matter of fact, preachers ought to have to be "bi-vocational"...I mean, look at Paul...he made tents AND he preached.
Now isn't that convenient! Choose a subject, then use the parts of scripture that fit what we want it to say, and ignore all the rest. Give me a break!
Let's start with what Jesus said, and it applies equally (no respect of persons in this!) to ministers AND church members; "freely you have received, FREELY GIVE." (Mat. 10:8). Follow this up with what the Holy Spirit wrote through Paul when He said; "who goes a warfare any time at his own charges (cost)? who plants a vineyard, and doesn't eat of the fruit from it? or who FEEDS A FLOCK, and doesn't eat of the milk of the flock? For it is written in the law of Moses, DO NOT muzzle the mouth of the ox that treads out the corn. If we have sown unto you spiritual things, [is it] a great thing if we shall reap your carnal things? (1 Cor. 9:7, 9, 11). Sounds like the Corinthians were on the stingy side.
Just a few years later, Paul again had to chide the Corinthians when he had to send some helpers to Corinth to jump-start a collection effort, and he pointed out; "He who sows sparingly shall reap sparingly; and he who sows bountifully shall reap bountifully. Every man according as he determines in his heart, so let him give; NOT GRUDGINGLY, or of necessity (because I'm in need); for God LOVES A CHEERFUL GIVER."
The net result of this kind of attitude is that more and more preachers (many of whom were never called by God, but chose a vocation instead) jump on the bandwagon of constantly moving from church to church, looking for a better compensation package, seeking larger churches for the better pay and perks. Many have found that ministry is much like being a professor in college.....PUBLISH or perish. If they can write enough books and sell enough, then the lack of church pay can be overcome, and help propel them up the ladder to REAL success.
I watched a church one time, in the 80's, vote to invite an evangelist for a week-long revival. They wanted him (and his wife) to conduct bible studies all day long, then preach and sing during the evening for seven days. For this, they agreed that they would guarantee him a minimum of $600, OR the love offering, WHICHEVER WAS GREATER. At the end of the week, it turned out that the love offering was greater by twice...over $1,200. So the church, at the insistence of the head deacon, decided to STEAL the money, and gave the evangelist only the guarantee of $600, claiming that that's all that came in. Theft and lying....all in one fell swoop!
Now let's turn to the other prong, the "ministers" of the Gospel that resort to trickery, shame, enticement, sales gimmicks and outright lying for the sole purpose of pulling in more bucks.
It's almost impossible to detail the myriad ways in which these ministers cajole, wheedle, coerce, shame, blame, cheat and lie in order to increase the donations, and then STEAL most of it (if not all) to support themselves in lavish lifestyles that are so UN-Christlike as to be laughable. Recently, one popular televangelist announced that God told him to build a World Healing Center that included a theme park, in the Dallas/Ft. Worth area. Over a several year period of time, millions of dollars flowed in to the ministry, earmarked for this project (NOTE: the actual amount is unknown, since the ministry refuses to make public any accounting). Finally, the televangelist said that "God told me that now is not the time...maybe later." Does that mean that the minister didn't hear God right to begin with, or that God changed His mind? Whatever the case, there has been no return of the money, no accounting for what happened to it, and no announcement that the money was being funneled into some other IMPORTANT ministry function...such as feeding the poor, sending Bibles to people that need them, etc.
Perhaps you've received a letter from some ministry, which begins with the words "Sister (or Brother) Sewnsew, I was in prayer and the Holy Spirit told me very emphatically that I was to deliver this word to you...." (or some close variation thereof). After one (or two or three) pages of exhortation about your particular plight (usually financial), and liberally interspersed with scriptures (ususally pulled out of context), the prophetic word for you is revealed! "Place this (prayer cloth, penny, vial of genuine Israeli Olive Oil, Holy Water) under your (pillow, bed, doorstoop, sofa, shoe) overnight, then IMMEDIATELY mail it back along with your biggest sacrificial offering so that God can manifest the (10, 100, 1000-fold) blessing to you." And Lord help you once you get on somebody's mailing list! It almost takes an act of congress to get off of it.
I recently went to a Gospel music association's convention, and marveled at the tables set up in a side room by the various groups. From ball caps and t-shirts to pictures of an olive tree framed in "Genuine 2.000 year old Olive tree from the Garden at Gethsemane," the tables were filled with merchandise...including, of course, CD's from the group and music magazines that may (or may not) have featured the particular group. Why? Mainly because the "Christians" who come to hear the singing think that a dollar in the offering plate is more than enough. With 100-150 people in attendance, at a buck apiece, that's....WOW! Of course, it only cost 6-7 THOUSAND dollars to make a CD, and get some pressed, and the group(s) only traveled 200-1,000 miles to get there, and their equipment didn't cost much (2 to 20 thousand), and their next date is another 400 miles away, and the van or bus they travel in gets 8-12 miles per gallon....I think that's where the old saying "gettin' there on a wing and a PRAYER" came from.
How about the mega-church in a mega-city that recently completed a shopping mall in the basement, including a full-service health facility that included an olympic size pool. This church also established classes (at the health facility) twice a week called Aerobics for Jesus, and set aside a special room in the facility for a Yoga for Jesus class specializing in "contemplative prayer," (the allegedly Christianized version of transcendental meditation). This church also happens to have no cross displayed, and a pastor who says he "doesn't know if Jesus is the only way to heaven, but it works for me."
"All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way;..." Isa. 53:6a
"My people have been lost sheep: their shepherds have caused them to go astray, they have turned them away [on] the mountains: they have gone from mountain to hill, they have forgotten their restingplace." Jer. 50:6
Well did Jesus say, and hit the nail on the head, when He looked at the people in the Temple and said "...but you have made it a den of thieves." Mat. 21:13; Mar. 11:17; Luk 19:46
Is it any wonder then, that more and more people are rejecting Christianity, and opting for no religion or those religions that emphasize the importance of self? Is it any wonder that Paul's words to the Romans are truer today than they were 1900 years ago?
"An instructor of the foolish, a teacher of babes, which has a form of knowledge and of the truth in the law. You therefore which teaches another, do you not teach yourself? You that preach a man should not steal, do you steal? You that say a man should not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You that abhor idols, do you commit sacrilege? You that make your boast of the law, through breaking the law do you dishonor God? For the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles (unbelievers) because of you" Romans 2:20-24
For you Christians who frequent Church, it's time for you to get your claws OFF of God's money...He owns everything, including you...if indeed you have been bought with a price. Quit thinking you're doing Him a favor when you let loose of $5 in the offering plate. Start asking Him what HE wants...and then give it, without grudging or complaining. And above all, quit thinking you have to receive some kind of merchandise in return....you've already been blessed with the Word of God...what more do you want?
For you ministers of the Gospel who think you have to turn your building, tent or event into a flea market, it's time for you to start relying on God instead of what you can manufacture, sell, pimp or coerce. And above all, lose the Rolex! Jesus didn't wear an Armani, didn't drive a Rolls, and didn't have a house...much less a mansion. Remember, "...the foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of man has NO WHERE to lay his head." Mat. 8:20