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There is a particularly scandalous shame in modern society :
This particular shame is caused by the abuse of the name of Jesus Christ for profit and gain by frauds, charlatans and spiritual impostors whose motivation is sheer human vanity and greed.
ARTICLE QUOTE: "In the money-men's hands, the gospel becomes an oddly show businessy message about prestige, success, good living and good health financed by a substantial bank balance! It seems to be about glamour, brilliantly gleaming white teeth and discreet facial surgery. Yes, their gospel is truly about this world..."
I n the second epistle of Peter, we read of a most serious warning about a particular sort of false teacher who would come in the name of Jesus Christ,
'But there were false prophets among the people, even as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Lord who bought them, and bring on themselves swift destruction.
And many will follow their destructive ways, because of whom the way of truth will be blasphemed.
By covetousness they will exploit you with deceptive words; for a long time their judgment has not been idle, and their destruction does not slumber.' (2 Peter 2:1-3, NKJV).
In verse 3, 'covetousness' comes from the Greek 'pleonexia' (pleonexia) – [The actual Greek word is contained within the brackets if your browser supports Gk. Letters]. This word is derived from pleonektes [pleonekths] which is Gk word 4123 in Strongs. Its meaning is 'desiring more' 'greedy for gain' or, 'avaricious.' Avaricious, of course, is from 'avarice' which means 'extreme greed for wealth and gain.'
The NIV renders the first part of 2 Peter 2:3 as,
'In their greed these teachers will exploit you with stories they have made up...' (2 Peter2:3a, NIV). The NIV Study Bible note on this verse quite correctly states this:
'In their greed: They will be motivated by a desire for money and will commercialise the Christian faith to their own selfish advantage.'
The Amplified Bible has this,
'And many will follow their immoral ways and lascivious doings; because of them the true Way will be maligned and defamed.
And in their covertousness (lust, greed) they will exploit you with false (cunning) arguments...'
(The Amplified Bible, 2 Peter 2:2-3a).
The acclaimed Bible commentator Matthew Henry made this comment upon the false preachers outlined in these verses,
'...(They) who make a gain of those whom they make their proselytes, serving themselves and making some advantage of them; for all this is through covetousness, with a desire and design to get more wealth, or credit, or commendation, by increasing the number of their followers. The faithful ministers of Christ, who show men the way of truth, desire the profit and advantage of their followers, that they may be saved; but these seducing teachers desire and design only their own temporal advantage and worldly grandeur.' (Matthew Henry's Commentary on the Whole Bible; 2 Peter 2:1-3a comments).
But apart from Peter, the apostle Paul also makes a comment about those who were, or would be, motivated to preach the gospel for financial gain:
'Unlike so many, we do not peddle the word of God for profit. On the contrary, in Christ we speak before God with sincerity, like men sent from God.' (2 Corinthians 2:17).
Personally, I find that comment by Paul astonishing! Why? Because in a day in which it was dangerous to be a Christian, Paul already condemns those who 'peddle the word of God for profit'! While such deceivers and manipulators were obviously already around, I believe that Paul's words are largely prophetic and that the Spirit in him was able to look over a thousand years down the road and perceive the prosperity teachers of our own age!
So while many false teachers would come, a particular group of these would simply be motivated by greed and by the desire for personal financial gain. This group would exploit the naïve with 'stories they have made up', in other words, with false doctrines which they would craftily introduce in order to financially enslave somewhat naïve and trusting people, thereby making themselves wealthy. Of course, this is nothing new; for many centuries even the established church in many parts of Europe allowed “bishops” (who were often really politicians) to live in comparative luxury among people who (while they struggled even to survive and to feed their families) were nevertheless ordered to pay a tax to support the often lavish lifestyles of the former. The ordinary poor were taught that it was their 'biblical duty' to pay this church tax (totally, of course, without any biblical support. The reader may wish to review my article, Tithing.).
The Horror of the 'Prosperity Gospel' of Tele-evangelism; A “Gospel” Designed to Extract Money From the Gullible...
In our present day we witness a very extreme form of this in the 'prosperity teaching' preachers of “Tele-evangelism.” I really wish that the term 'tele-evangelism' was indeed a term for genuine Christian teaching which was accessible on television; how utterly tragic that – in my opinion – 95% of it is pseudo-spiritual garbage carefully designed to appeal to the vanity and desire for wealth and success of the viewer. Much of it could only ever appeal to people whose knowledge of Holy Scripture is minimal. And how true are Peter's comments that these people cause the true Way of biblical Christianity to be maligned, or blasphemed! (2 Peter 2:2). There are many many people out there who - once exposed to the deplorable and unchristian antics of the tele-evangelists - say, 'If that is evangelical Christianity I want none of it!'
The typical 'money-man' of tele-evangelism wears highly expensive silk suits, he (or she) purposefully strides the stage (yes, it often appears to be a stage-like setting, as for entertainers, rather than a pulpit, as for Bible teachers - significant?) while yelling out their spiritually-subversive money-based spiel (yes, they often seem to prefer to yell as this world yells, rather than to employ the 'still small voice'). They either directly state or, more often, imply that you too can share their obviously affluent and prosperous lifestyle if you will send your money in to them (oh, I beg your pardon, I mean send in your “tithes and offerings”). Yes, Jesus is mentioned too although quite often in rather a flippant way, rarely (I have noticed) in a respectful manner - but their gospel is a different gospel which would have been unknown to the original apostles.
In the money-men's hands, the gospel becomes an oddly show businessy message about prestige, success, good living and good health financed by a substantial bank balance! It seems to be about glamour, brilliantly gleaming white teeth and discreet facial surgery. Yes, their gospel is truly about this world – the New Testament writers warned about the allure of this world (James 4:4-6; 2 Corinthians 6:14-18) – but suddenly this world and worldliness are apparently good things and those who get sucked in to this teaching are told to “claim in faith” many blessings which – apparently – the Lord is eagerly waiting to pour out on them “if you will just believe.” Again, the odd thing is that most of these “blessings” seem to be concerned with the 'here and now.' Of course, the more biblically-grounded will switch off their televisions in disgust at this outrageously spiritually abusive nonsense but sadly there are many sincere but naïve people out there who are not biblically well-grounded – yes, and in many countries too – many of these people really do get sucked-in and really do think that this stuff is biblical!
The truth is that these gospel 'money-men' can only exist and only prosper not because of the Lord's “eternal laws of finance” (as they might claim) but because of these same decent, honest but naïve and easily-influenced people; and yet the tragic irony is that a large number of these people actually have very little money and yet they are shamelessly exploited en-masse in order to give these gospel fraudsters an easy ride in life.
Some of these gospel money-men have huge healing-type ministries although it is usually quite obvious that they have never carefully studied the scriptural approach to healing; they appear to think that yelling, auto-suggestion and the careful psychological manipulation of an audience (usually associated with top show biz entertainers!) are substitutes for this. It should probably also be noted that there are strong indications of the techniques of hypnotism being employed in some selected on-screen “healings.”
Several big healing-ministry names have repeatedly been asked for more documentation and serious evidence of actual claimed healings for independent assessment by evangelical authorities (especially in the UK), but this has rarely been forthcoming. There have also been serious questions raised about their financial methods in view of the fact that one or two such preachers are either millionaires, or are very close to it.
A Biblical Approach to Money
In complete contrast to the heretical claims of the gospel money-men, the Holy Bible tells us that we should not (I repeat: not) give money to the wealthy – in fact, to give money to the wealthy (according to the Holy Bible which these men profess to teach) is, biblically, described as a sure way to come to financial need oneself! Wow! How different this message is!!
'He who oppresses the poor to increase his wealth and he who gives gifts to the rich – both come to poverty.' (Proverbs 22:16, NIV from now on unless otherwise noted)
A few pages further on from this Scripture, we find another biblical text to note:
'He who gives to the poor will lack nothing, but he who closes his eyes to them receives many curses.' (Proverbs 28:27)
The Bible, in fact, always encourages giving to the poor, but never encourages giving to the rich. So, all preachers should mention this from time to time; Do you have a little extra? Then give it to those who have come to genuine need! Some people claim that the Bible “promises” many things which it does not – but here is a real promise: those who are repeatedly generous to the poor will never come to want themselves!
Now it is true that a measure of prosperity (by the standards of that day) was promised to the Old Testament Israelites if they had continued to be obedient and faithful (and even as things stood, they were generally more prosperous than the surrounding nations). The Lord would also have kept them free from many infectious diseases (Deuteronomy 7:15). We also know that – at an earlier time - Abraham was blessed with plenty (by the standards of his day) because of his faithfulness; moreover, we know that Israel came under a financial curse for not continuing to be faithful (Haggai 1:5-7) and that when many of the Israelites returned to the Promised Land after their captivity, they were promised great blessings if they again started to enthusiastically support the Levitical system in the previously prescribed way – by tithing (Malachi 3:7-10).
But Christ has now come and we now live under the New Covenant. The Levitical system has gone and Jesus and the apostles did not deliver any new financial regulations for the period of the Church between the first and second comings of our Lord. Frankly, there are absolutely no New Testament money regulations – however, there is indeed quite a lot of advice about the approach to finances and to giving among Christians. I have covered this at depth elsewhere (the link to our tithing article occurs earlier in this article), but I would just make one or two further comments here:
All experienced Bible students accept that the principles of the Old Testament can often be applied to us in our day, but only rarely the letter of the law. Christians should indeed be eager to cheerfully give financial support to keep their local church's activities afloat (if they have made a specific commitment to that local church, that is, otherwise they would still probably wish to support various Christian activities/causes/charities), but other than that one can say little. There is no New Testament support for any tithing system; 2 Corinthians 8 and 9 are two whole New Testament chapters about financial giving, Paul could have mentioned tithing here but Paul's comments, and indeed all New Testament teaching, make it clear that any financial regulation could never be part of the life of the New Covenant Church because of the liberty which believers must have in Christ. But (indirectly) Paul does quite possibly refer to tithing in 2 Corinthians 9:7:
'Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.' (2 Corinthians 9:7)
The 'not under compulsion' part may be there because Paul was always aware of the danger of the entrance of legalism - but it completely rules out any regulated financial system for the New Testament Church; in the light of this, one may quite confidently say that tithing has no place in the life of the New Testament Church. Why are so many apparently blind to this Scripture?
When Jesus sent out the very first preachers of the Gospel, He appears to outline a financial approach based entirely on faith. Notice Luke 9:3, Luke 10:4-7 and especially Matthew 10:7-10. The Gospel was to go out entirely without charge; Jesus appears to be saying, 'What has been given to you freely, must never be charged for. Have faith in the Lord to supply the need.' This helps us to see why Paul refuses to go beyond that in laying down any particular financial approach for the people of God to adopt! Some advocates of tithing insist that tithing is a 'faith system' but it is not – it is financial regulation!
To quote the famed Scripture about Jesus being 'the same yesterday, and today and for ever' (Hebrews 13:8) as authority for imposing tithing (as some do) is to show scriptural naievity of the very first order! Exactly the same Scripture is used (actually abused) to “prove” that Christians should still keep the 7th day sabbath or even that Christians are barred from eating pork! But, of course, this Scripture is saying that the eternal righteous character and eternal purposes of Jesus Christ never change; it is not talking about temporary legal regulation (actually, if it were, it would make many other Scriptures wrong)!!
So the New Testament approach to Giving is best summed up by Luke 6:38:
'Give, and it shall be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.' (Luke 6:38)
Yes, there is a sort of 'law of giving' – giving really is 'good for you' – just as long as you are giving where there is need, not giving to the wealthy! Jesus is the Greatest Giver of all, and we too should seek to give generously and freely where we are able – but never under compulsion! Neither, of course, can this giving be confined to the activities of one's local church. I will go further: it should not be. Now, of course, if a Christian should freely decide to give a tenth, a fifth or whatever other proportion of his/her income, maybe during an evangelistic drive and perhaps just for a period of time, that would be fine. But such an individual should then not talk about it – and certainly not boast about it! (Matthew 6:1-4).
A New Testament Approach to Success
The truth is that – according to your New Testament and mine – success for those in Christ Jesus is measured spiritually! And one of the first steps for the believer to take in this direction in order to enjoy the true success which comes only from God is in separating oneself from this world and from worldliness (Romans 12:2)! This takes the true believer in a diametrically opposite direction from the money-motivation of the gospel money-men!
'You adulterous people, don't you know that friendship with the world is hatred towards God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of of the world becomes an enemy of God.
Or do you think scripture says without reason that the spirit He caused to live in us envies intensely?
But he gives us more grace. That is why the Scripture says:
“God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”' (James 4:4-6)
It is the desire for worldly success which caused the man in the parable of the sower to fall away:
'The one who received the seed that fell among the thorns is the man who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfullness of wealth choke it, making it unfruitful.' (Matthew 13:22)
No, true success with God is spiritual success. It is the person who joyfully comes to understand that Christ's sacrifice can be personally applied to cover one's sins and then, confident in the knowledge that thereafter one is covered by the very grace of God (Romans 6:14; Romans 8:1-2), walking forward in sanctification as a Spirit-led true child of God! (Romans 4:7-8, 23-25).
But we are promised trials and sufferings (I repeat: we are promised trials and sufferings in this Christian life! - not health and wealth!) Oh, this is not the sanitised, gleaming white teeth gospel, this is the REAL GOSPEL. We- effectively – have to bear our own crosses and to partake in the sufferings of our elder brother, Jesus Christ! (John 16:33; Romans 5:3-4; Romans 8:18; Philippians 1:29-30; 2Timothy 3:12; Hebrews 12:4-11)
A New Testament Warning to the Gospel Money-men
But the New Testament does have a message for the gospel money-men:
'For godliness with contentment is great gain.
For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it.
But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that.
People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction.
For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.
But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness.' (1 Timothy 6:6-11)
Yes, the prosperity gospel has indeed caused some to stray from the faith, and I call upon any prosperity teachers (and their supporters!) who may be reading this to bitterly repent of their heresy; it is a serious and dangerous heresy because it is directly aimed at Jesus Christ Himself by replacing the true gospel with a counterfeit gospel which could prove to be a ticket to Hell for some! There is greed and cynical financial manipulation out there in the world, of course, but this error has come right into the Church and is directly aimed at the trusting hearts of believers! THIS IS SERIOUS BUSINESS!
Paul said that those who had perverted the gospel at Galatia had become anathema from Christ. Let us read it:
'But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned! As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let him be eternally condemned!' (Galatians 1:8-9)
So this a serious business and a serious heresy; one heresy leads to another and it should be no surprise that the word-faith men so often seem to start by erring in this area but then their biblical errors appear to 'snowball,' and a few years down the line a few even seem to believe that they are almost equal to God (Matthew 7:15-23)!
Heartfelt biblical repentance is the only answer, for fortunately we serve a very merciful God.
Robin A. Brace
The reader may also wish to read:
ALL ABOUT FAITH
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