In order to live as those who are both “in the world” and “not of the world,” there’s no denying Christians must wisely use “unrighteous wealth,” as Jesus calls it. Also according to Jesus, Christians should employ a shrewd but genuine generosity in order to build a safety net of friendly relationships against hard times (Luke 15:1-16). Wealth is responsibility, and if one does not handle money wisely—apparently a “very little thing” in God’s eyes—then how can one expect God to entrust him with the “true riches?” This is not to say that money equals spiritual power, nor does it validate the horrid heresy of a prosperity gospel. A fine but clear line exists between using money well for the sake of serving God and serving money (as a god) for the love of money. That line emerges clearly to every honest heart.
“No servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.” (Luke 16:13, NASB)
- The spiritual abuse of money — mistaking the power mankind attributes to money for spiritual influence and/or gains.
- While real spiritual influence cannot be obtained without good money management, there is a clear difference between that and using money to “buy spiritual power/influence.” (ex. Simon the Sorcerer, Acts 8:18-23)
- Commercializing Christianity: which is essentially selling truth, heaven, Jesus etc. by:
- Withholding or putting a price on what spiritual blessings (illumination, teachings, Gospel) instead of ,“Freely you have received. Freely give.” (Matt. 10:9-10)
- Expecting to be paid (salary, benefits) for gospel ministry instead of accepting only free-will gifts (1 Tim. 3:3; 1 Peter 5:1-3; 1 Cor. 9; 2 Cor. 9; Phil. 4:10-20)
- Selling gospel and ministry-related teachings and/or education for money/profit. (Acts 20:17-38)
- Erroneous / Ignorant teaching on New Testament requirements for giving
- Selling / appealing to the sensational as a substitute for the spiritual while watering down the essentials of Christianity (2 Tim. 4:3; Phil. 3:19)
- Withholding or putting a price on what spiritual blessings (illumination, teachings, Gospel) instead of ,“Freely you have received. Freely give.” (Matt. 10:9-10)
- The love of money — desiring wealth for its “security,” power or for what it can “provide,” (a.k.a. covetousness and greed, 1 Tim. 6:9-11).
“That’s quite a list,” is probably how my critic would respond with snide cynicism, and then would attempt to dismantle my arguments by either saying they are contrived or are irrelevant. Firstly, I don’t consider myself above the temptations to these evils. And, I have had to adjust my thinking and approach to ministry as a result of personal submission to these truths. As for their being contrived, I invite the reader to examine the Scriptures I have mentioned in their contexts and reflect on their significance biblically. Concerning real-world relevance, allow me to provide the following examples / applications:
THE “CHRISTIAN” MARKET:
Is Christianity so commercialized that it is marketable, both selling itself and being sold? The quick answer is absolutely yes, and (ironically) both Christians and non-Christians are lining up to coach anyone and everyone on how to tap this gold mine–from marketing one’s church to “successful” book writing to investment firms and market guides.
According to the Wall Street Journal from an article which ran March 28, 2014
Hollywood is attempting to tap more directly into a potentially lucrative market. Faith Driven Consumer, an advocacy group for the Christian market, says 46 million Americans make choices based on Christian values—a market it claims is worth $1.75 trillion annually.”
Within the same article and understanding Hollywood’s market aims, Ray Comfort, (known conservative evangelical leader) submits this quote:
“What we’re saying is ‘Hollywood, do it right and we will fill your pockets with money to overflowing,’ “
And rather naively, Barry Taylor of Fuller Theological Seminary adds that he “believes Hollywood “‘has a genuine desire to have both support from and give honor to ‘religious communities.'”
Please note that Mr. Taylor correctly qualifies ‘religious communities’ (as in more than just Christianity) in his statement. Hollywood does not care about appealing to Christianity alone. It wants to mix just as much religious pluralism into the profitability bowl as it may, because it is in the business of making a profit. For example, the recent Noah, the Movie was anything but Christian, according to Dr. Brian Mattson; and though its showing is driving people to read the Bible, one questions whether the trade-off is worth it.
Laying this fact aside, reason and conflict of interest would indicate that where there is a clearly stated intent to profit from a Christian market, there can be no genuine desire to honor that religion, especially one that describes itself in the terms I have provided above. A genuine desire to honor seeks no profit.
AN APPEAL TO REASON:
Since I have invoked reason regarding conflicts of interest in the marketplace, let me also resurrect Aristotle. It was that ancient philosopher and father of western civilization who said, “The market-place for buying and selling should be separate from [the] public square and at a distance from it” (credit MacroKnow). Now the “public square” in Aristotle’s day was a place of reason, rhetoric, debate, and contemplation regarding truth–whether that be truth in mathematics, truth in politics and economy, truth in religion, truth in philosophy or truth in science.
If a pagan philosopher has enough integrity to keep the philosophical, educational and (may I add) the spiritual at a distance from the market place, then shouldn’t Christians be alarmed at the compromise that “marketability” brings to Christianity–whether Hollywood or other venues? And should we be so naive as to think these marketeers are genuinely seeking to honor Christianity?
I am not concluding that everyone in Hollywood is evil, nor am I insinuating that “Christian films” (when accurate to the exclusive essentials of Christianity and fair to the Bible) are wrong. Christians should and must get the message of Christ to every person possible, through every venue possible. Withstanding, I call for integrity, and that cannot exist where a religion and/or its people are willing to be exploited for their marketability. This was Aristotle’s analogous point regarding the public square and Greek society.
To be sure, arts and entertainment have long been money makers for “the Church.” I do not consider Catholicism genuine Christianity, due to their non-biblical beliefs; but my recent trip to the Vatican in Rome taught me that the Papacy has no problem with charging 20 Euros per head for admission to the Musei Vaticani–where one can find scads of pagan statues, symbols and artifacts right alongside Christian masterpieces. When one considers that the Vatican Museum draws roughly 30,000 visitors a day, then that produces no less than 219 million Euros per year in revenue for the “Holy See.” This does not account for their exclusive tour head sets, or the sale of food and souvenirs at the restaurants and shops inside the city. Nor does it account for any charges for special rites and services in Rome alone… which, apparently (after these 500 years) again includes the sale of indulgences.
CHRISTIAN AUTHORS, MINISTERS & PROFESSIONALS, AND EDUCATIONAL INSTITUTIONS ARE JUST AS GUILTY
Never-mind that secular dollar turners are targeting Christianity as a market. Christians and sacred professionals are just as guilty. Recently, I am disenchanted with Christian consumerism (ex. Duck Dynasty and the growing Christian Celebrity culture). This includes the sale of Christian resources by Christians, for Christians. Before I continue, I realize that in an age of information, access to truth is essential–and one must go through established and proven channels in order to send out vital information to the Body of Christ, let alone reach the unreached. I also recognize that the “servant is worthy of his hire,” but even that statement must be firmly planted in the soil of its biblical context. It is not wrong for Christian institutions and individuals to make use of money for the kingdom. Yet, my appeal is for Christians to make an honest examination of their methods and motives. Where the bondage of a worldly system of product, marketing and profit has infiltrated the Church, then it is time to forge new paths in this information age–paths which align with the Gospel mandate from our Lord, “Freely you have received. Freely give.” Let me be explicit with my meaning by providing examples:
A few days ago, the New York Times ran an article on the Christian music sensation, Hillsong. The band’s “success” is undeniable. 16 million records sold. At $12-$14 per record, that’s between $120 million and $224 million gained by advancing God’s kingdom through ‘Christian music’ and to be used for the further advance of God’s Kingdom. Right? I have no doubt that Hillsong would echo that very statement in all sincerity. And, I will not judge their motives. However, their beliefs, methods and/or means are being questioned by prominent evangelicals and sacred academia for their changes over the years, for their shamefully weak theology that makes them look like proponents of a prosperity gospel, for their approval of naughty celebrities (yes, I said “naughty”), and for their lack of clear moral statement about same-sex relationships and abortion. When one adds these factors to the scientific evidence that Hillsong’s success can be (at least partly) attributed to their unrivaled appeal to the senses of sight, sound and touch; one must ask ‘can the spirit be reached through the senses, and if Hillsong’s message does indeed reach the inner man, what has it got to say?’ Or, is it about the money after all? Would Hillsong have become nearly as “popular” and compromised if they had decided to “freely give” their music recordings and concerts away? Maybe, maybe not.
THE PROSPERITY MOVEMENT, CLOSER TO HOME
On another note, swindling TV evangelists and prosperity gospel preachers are nothing new under the broad umbrella of “Christianity.” Joel Osteen, Creflo Dollar, Oral Roberts, Benny Hinn, Steve Furtik and TD Jakes are names that come immediately to mind. The prosperity gospel is an international phenomenon. Folks, with good reason, like to castigate these sort for their heresy. But, are the same evangelical Christians who throw the stones guilty of sin?
Yes, Osteen is worth 40 million and lives in a 10.5 million mansion. Yes, his former residence valued at $2.9 million while listing a vacant lot near their former home for $1.1. million (Culture Map Houston). Yes, his situation in life reminds one of the Catholic bishop, Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst and likewise draws as much scrutiny. BUT, just like many conservative, evangelical pastors and scholars, Osteen takes no salary; because he makes 10’s of millions on the sales of his books.
Some of the same evangelical authors and professionals that condemn Osteen are every bit as guilty, no matter their solidarity to the biblical Gospel or their moral integrity. For example, the Baptist Messenger reports that renowned authors, Rick Warren and Tim Keller make 100’s of millions from their books’ royalties and “live like kings.” The subject matter of these books typically mixes spiritual truth with self-help and life coaching doctrines. What about Mark Batterson’s The Circle Maker, which aligns itself with Jewish legend and New Age mysticism and Satanism in the Secret in order to “pray circles around your biggest dreams and greatest fears.” And, why has no one cried out about John Ortberg’s The Me I Want to Be: Becoming God’s Best Version of You? Just because these authors make the best seller’s list does not make them best for Christians.
Even evangelical leaders such as Mark Driscoll (who did not receive royalty payments) often employ the ‘unwise but not uncommon or illegal’ means of buying best seller positions for their book sales. Is this not the same as purchasing “spiritual” influence and/or success for their message? Christian leaders seem to be ok with this–or at least–it is “not uncommon.” On the other hand, isn’t this activity the same as Simon the Sorcerer asking Peter how he can obtain the power of the Holy Spirit for money? Does it seem right that most of the greatest teaching and exposition of God’s Word can only be accessed by those who have money to pay for the costs of the copyright, tuition, royalty fees, publisher fees and the marketing venue fees?
I am a proponent of giving honor where honor is due. I am not at all suggesting that Christians become academically irresponsible through plagiarism or delinquent through breaking laws. What I am suggesting is that Christian authors and creators use resources like Creative Commons* or Public Domain^ and rely on the free will gifts of the Body of Christ in order to get the message out to all. Would that bring the biblical literacy we lack to new heights?
“But, that is the work of our own hands,” the defensive evangelicals might retort; “it is an honest living.” Is it? To quote the great Christian apologist, Gregory Nazianzus
[W]ords do not belong more to the speaker of them than to him who called them forth.
Did the Apostles profit monetarily (in the form of expected gains) from what they wrote? Did you not receive the illumination of the Holy Spirit freely, so that you could write the book(s)? So, what ever happened to, “Freely you have received. Freely give?” When did free-will offerings and tent-making cease to be enough for men of God? [Please See also Machetes, “Enough and a Free Gospel]
“But, we had to pay for our Christian higher education; that is not free,” the insistent Christian author may respond. “Yes, isn’t that sad,” I’d say. I am a product of Christian higher education. My training was not free, and I realize that costs had to be met and that men labored in doctrine and in the word in order to bring me that teaching. Yet, again, the biblical example is set by the Apostles, who “taught publicly and house-to-house.” They lived by their trade and received only gifts for their labor (which in Paul’s case, was more abundant that any others’). Yes, they knew what it was to suffer need and have abundance, and that very fact is what proved their motives genuine and their teaching pure. This is the true context of Phil. 4:13, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” That rather puts it all into a less prestigious and prosperous perspective.
If we will not hear the Apostles, let’s listen to Socrates who never charged fees to his students. Admittedly, he was a poor man, but rich in integrity & wisdom. Socrates decries the sophists’ gain in Plato’s Apology (19d, 19e–20a). Christian education should note it?
…if you have heard from anyone that I undertake to teach people and that I make money by it, that is not true either. Although this also seems to me to be a fine thing, if one might be able to teach people, as Gorgias of Leontini and Prodicus of Ceos and Hippias of Elis are. For each of these men, gentlemen, is able to go into any one of the cities and persuade the young men, who can associate for nothing with whomsoever they wish among their own fellow citizens, to give up the association with those men and to associate with them and pay them money and be grateful besides.
Can you imagine our top evangelical Christian universities and colleges offering free tuition? Would that create the kind of good problem we Christians have longed for these past 3 generations?
My aim has not been to rant and rave, though some may see this article as such. Others may call me simple-minded and idealistic. I have attempted to expose just how much sway the economics and power of money has warped contemporary Christianity’s mission across the globe. Those who sell “truth” like it is a marketable commodity (i.e. Christian commercialism, academia) are the money-changers of our day. I have hoped to call us back to sound reason and to the words of Christ and acts of the Apostles.
Proper management of donations is not bad. In fact, it is good and necessary. One cannot be entrusted with true riches until he has mastered the “very little thing” of rightly approaching and using money. Yet, Christianity needs to make sure donations are its mode of operating, not sales, appeals to temporal senses, expected gains, bureaucracy and institutionalism, shady marketing, underhanded bribes, positioning or name making.
Because of books like the Great Evangelical Recession and the ministries noted on the Quick Links page of this site, I choose to believe God has been purging his true Church of doing service to “unrighteous wealth.” I see him equipping his church as a people who are awakened to the biblical philosophy and contemporary methods of forwarding the gospel in this generation, having been freed from materialism and “the other master.”
I just wish books like the Great Evangelical Recession were free to all.
SBC Switches from Grape Juice to Wine for Better Market Value & Profits — Christian Post
Selling assurance of salvation course?! REALLY? “Your money perish with you.” https://t.co/pmfPf3J0HG
— Sam Kean (@snkean) May 15, 2015
— Ligonier Connect (@LigonierConnect) May 14, 2015
Media and Religion – University of Colorado
^Public Domain information – Duke University