Making Merchandise of the Gospel
The Scriptures clearly teach that one who labors extensively to study and teach the gospel, thus depriving himself of a regular income, has the right to be supported financially by those to whom the instruction is imparted. It is his “right” (1 Corinthians 9:4-6), and it is his students’ “responsibility.” Paul spends a considerable portion of the ninth chapter of 1 Corinthians in arguing the case for ministerial support. A similar, though briefer, point is made in the epistle to the Galatians (6:6).
It is one thing to receive a reasonable level of support for work done; it is entirely another matter when men (and women) make “merchandise” of people (2 Peter 2:3), or, as the New American Standard Bible renders it, they “exploit” you. Noted scholar D. Edmond Hiebert once observed that such charlatans are not concerned for the welfare of the sheep; rather, their aim is to shear them of their wool! Such individuals suppose that “godliness is a way of gain” (1 Timothy 6:3). Unfortunately, there are those who use the “gospel” as a way of lining their own pockets. Two cases have generated considerable interest of late.
First, there is the matter of John Hagee, the flamboyant “pastor” of the Cornerstone Church in San Antonio, Texas. Hagee speaks to thousands each week by way of his Global Evangelism Television network that accesses 127 television stations and 82 radio stations around the nation. “Pastor” Hagee’s doctrinal positions stand in opposition to New Testament teaching in numerous particulars. On occasion, however, he does present some commendable lessons against the moral corruption that has engulfed our nation.
The Hagee enterprise brought in more than $18 million in revenue in 2001. Mr. Hagee’s personal salary/benefit package amounted to more than $1.25 million—according to a recent article published on the San Antonio Express-News website. The gentleman’s personal holdings, and a John Hagee Rabbi Trust, include a six-bedroom home in San Antonio (worth about $688,900), and a 7,696 acre ranch valued at some $2.1 million.
In addition, Hagee’s wife, Diane, also draws a salary in the neighborhood of $127,000 annually from the Cornerstone/GETV ministry. Is this what hard-working folks sacrifice their money to support?
Joyce Meyer has been described by one sympathetic journalist as the woman preacher who “sounds like a gravely-voiced waitress in a greasy-spoon diner.” The sixty-year-old female version of Hagee (contra 1 Timothy 2:12), operating out of Fenton, Missouri, admonishes her disciples not to “get too attached to possessions.” She wants her people to give their prosperity “back to God”—which, ideally, is to be detoured through her.
Joyce and her husband, Dave, live in a 7,000 square foot house (eight bedrooms and seven baths) valued at $521,000. Not too shabby for Fenton, Missouri. She zips about town in her $62,000 silver Lexus SC340 sports car (a gift from a supporter).
As head of “Joyce Meyer Ministries,” she presides over a $57 million tele-ministry empire. Her broadcasts reach out to 2.5 billion people over 400 television stations and 300 radio stations. Meyer’s recent campaign in Detroit was expected to draw some 40,000 people. At some of her convention meetings she charges a $50 per-head registration fee. Not bad for a few presentations that, for the most part, represent a stand-up comedy routine interspersed with a smattering of Scripture (a considerable portion of which is misapplied).
It is no small wonder that “Christianity” has a bad name with many, who see some of these hucksters as being more in touch with “Cash-anity” than anything genuinely identified with him who had no place to lay his head.
Christ vs. Corrupt Commercialism
There is no place in the Gospel records where the anger of Jesus Christ is more evident than in his dealings with religious leaders who were fleecing people in the name of God. On two occasions he cast out of the temple those who were bilking the common folk under the guise of spirituality (see John 13-22, and Matthew 21:12-17; Mark 11:15-19; Luke 19:45-48). Two classes of “church crooks” received his wrath: those who bought and sold sacrificial animals and those who exchanged Greek and Roman coinage (with their idol images) into currency acceptable in the temple—with extravagant fees charged for the services. William Barclay observed that it “was a rampant and shameless injustice—and what was worse, it was being done in the name of religion.”
The acquisition of extravagant wealth under the guise of “ministering” on behalf of Christ has become a smear upon the “Christian” image in this nation. And there is no reason to believe that the abuse will subside. If one may be permitted to borrow some of Paul’s phraseology: the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, which some (“clerics”), reaching for, have perverted the faith, and, eventually, will be pierced through with many sorrows.
A Concluding Word of Caution
There should be a note of caution here for every genuine preacher of the gospel. Ministers must be especially careful as to how they are involved with church funds. No solitary person needs to “keep the books,” with no accountability to responsible brethren. Church finances ought to be monitored by elders, or, when there are no elders, a plurality of faithful brethren. This is the prudent way to protect one’s reputation from the charge of impropriety, and to protect the church from mishandling or incompetence.
The Christian will attempt to “take thought for things honorable in the sight of all men” (Romans 12:17). It would serve one well to study Paul’s example of the careful handling and disposition of church funds (2 Corinthians 8:20ff). The misappropriation or misuse of church funds is a problem that has troubled many a congregation, and a word to the wise should be sufficient.