Whom Shall You Serve?
By Jason Brown
Toward the end of his ministry the Apostle Paul tells Timothy, his young disciple, that "the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves with many sorrows" (1st Tim. 6:10). Peter warned that some would arise among believers to make merchandise of them for gain and profit. (2nd Peter 2:2-4). These and other strong warnings lie throughout the New Testament:
Beware the snare set by money; it could cost a Christian their salvation.
Today’s mega-ministries have taken a different route. They seem enchanted by the lure of riches here on earth and encourage their followers to reach for it all as well. Just say the right things, think the right thoughts, and presto, instant prosperity. In doing this these ministries reveal their heart’s true intent. They have apparently forgotten the full counsel of God. It is convenient to cleverly quote certain verses out of context regarding money while ignoring that the earthly ministry of Jesus had a lot to say regarding financial riches. Two incidents in particular, his conversation with a rich young ruler and his driving out the moneychangers and businessmen from the Jerusalem temple, stand out as examples that closely parallel the state of the modern American church.
Jesus’ conversation with the rich young ruler (Matt.19:16-24, Mark 10:17-25, Luke 18:18-25) is representative of individual obsession, or steadfast clinging, to worldly possessions and goods. Here a man of prominence approached the Son of Man, calling Him “Good Master”. Jesus had compassion and loved him. He could see that the man was truly searching for the truth. His life was empty because something was lacking. This would not seem so to his contemporaries. First century Judea regarded poverty as a curse while prosperity was a blessing from by God.
Unlike most of the Pharisees, this young ruler knew there was something he needed. The man was willing to do whatever it took to obtain eternal life. He knew that this Galilean called Jesus was close to God (or perhaps that he was God) maybe He could tell him what was lacking in his life. Jesus’ answer, however, was not expected: “go thy way, sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, take up the cross, and follow me”(Mark 10:21). The call of discipleship was not free it came with a cost as well as a price. Jesus told the full and total truth to the ruler but did the young man really want to hear the answer to his question?
The bible doesn’t further record what became of this young ruler with many possessions. The point is that when it came time to make a decision regarding eternal life he turned away from following Jesus and eternal life because his faith was securely ground in his great wealth. He was close, he knew Jesus could help him and he wanted more than just simple ordinances and empty rituals. It was not an easy decision. He was sad “at that saying, and went away grieved: for he had great possessions”(Mark 10:22) but unfortunately he came up short because his heart was fixed on his riches. He was grieved at what he was doing but grief alone did not wipe out his trust in mammon.
Some time later Jesus was going into the Temple at Jerusalem. He was taken for a shock. His house of prayer for all the nations to admire and see was not the same as before. Moneylenders and sellers were inside conducting their worldly business! Jesus swiftly “began to cast out them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and the seats of them that sold doves; And would not suffer that any man should carry any vessel through the temple” (Mark 11:15-16). This was not pleasing to the Son of Man who had fierce words toward the religious leaders who permitted this blasphemous outrage.
Throughout the four Gospels there are few times that Jesus displays such intensity of anger as when he witnessed the sight of the Temple, His holy House of Prayer being turned into a den of coveting, buying, selling, business dealing. The holy place had built another altar inside. Another god was being served, revered, and obeyed. It is interesting to note that Israel’s spiritual leaders were more offended at Jesus’ actions than what was occurring before. “And the scribes and chief priests heard it, and sought how they might destroy him: for they feared him, because all the people was astonished at his doctrine” (Mark 11:18). Had materialism so thoroughly saturated the spiritual leadership that what was once sinful and shocking no longer bothered anyone?
Jesus’ words and teachings stood for truth and He was determined to rectify the worship of material wealth inside the Holy house of the Lord. The Temple symbolized the Jewish nation, what was being worshipped inside and condoned by the priests meant everything and defined who Abraham’s seed were. Unfortunately the eyes of the Pharisees had made their decision for wealth long ago. Disturbing the money was not something to be lightly tolerated and so one more strike was laid against the Son of Man in sending Him on the road to Calvary.
Jesus’ anger and driving the moneychangers and businesspeople from the temple best illustrate the times of the religious leadership corporately. First century Palestine had degenerated to allowing profit and gain a prominent seat before the eternal spiritual things of the Lord. Of the two, the greater problem Jesus had with the scribes and leaders’ greed, obsession with obtaining more and this was being done right in God’s own temple. Modern religious leaders of our own time closely resemble sellers and moneychangers than with humble servants dedicated to teaching the whole counsel of the Lord. God’s Holy Word may be upon their lips but the bottom line is always inside their thoughts. How to make more here and now has replaced eternal glory.
As always in any endeavor, Christians should strive to be balanced and temperate in all dealings. It should be remembered that neither poverty nor riches are listed among the fruits of the spirit. Throughout most of church history the opposite was emphasized. Roman Catholicism officially stressed poverty as holy, noble, and even a high spiritual calling on the path to godly living. Things have clearly changed, however, since the Middle Ages. The pendulum has swung toward the opposite side in a big way.
America’s modern prosperity gospel has its roots in the post World War II generation when, various ministers began peddling the notion that sowing seed in a good ground ministry + seed faith = abundant financial success. These ministers, many of whom came from humble origins themselves, actually were men of their times.
American culture at large had endured a lengthy economic depression and one of civilizations’ worst wars. After nearly twenty years of economic suffering, success suddenly seemed just around the corner; indeed it was. The 1945-1973 period is considered by some historians to be one of the world’s greatest periods of economic growth in real terms. Most Americans’ living standards greatly improved. The time was ripe for new concepts in all disciplines, including economics. Regarding money, the new idea was having more was a good thing. New technologies, bigger suburban houses and cars symbolized the good life.
It is only natural that as America’s living standard improved new forms of worship would arise to reflect what the masses desired. Ministries such as Oral Roberts, A.A. Allen, and Norman Vincent Peale sprung up to preach a more positive and rewarding gospel filled with material benefits for all. New ideas such as seed faith, sowing and reaping a hundredfold for a perpetual harvest found eager audiences willing to do whatever it took to achieve a slice of the pie. It was all so easy, so simple. With just a little extra effort a person could positively think, sow, and reap their way to great wealth. The question seldom asked is: did these concepts actually work that way for the majority? Not really.
What should disturb many believers is their leader’s blind veneration at Mammon’s altar because it distorts everything preached until the bottom line becomes what is worshipped. The problem is to whom can a person complain? All the things Jesus tossed out of the Temple have returned. The sanctuary was thrown wide open to all sorts of chicanery. The hard questions are never asked; maybe the answers are too difficult to deal with.
Why has church growth replaced traditional witnessing methods? Answer: because more money can be had with a dumbed-down, crossless, selfish-based Christianity. Why has today’s church aped every single cultural trend including the world’s drug-laced, sensual rhythmic rock, even calling it “Christian”? Answer: Mammon insists her high priests insult the masses’ intelligence. It is easier to gain people’s hearts and pocketbooks when they are fed nothing but a sugary diet of mindless entertainment. The result is a congregation of sheeple that falls for anything peddled their way. The Gospel of Salvation, when it is considered at all, is merely an afterthought similar to a full dinner burp. (note: Most of the attendees at “Christian” rock concerts are saved so it’s not really about saving lives; it’s about making merchandise of the flock).
The church leaders constant cry for more never ceases. Increased numbers mean more offerings. This increases the churches budget in order to do--what? Great mighty things for God, comes the reply. It is an insulting one at that. God’s true church is 2,000 years old and has managed quite well, way before the numerous self-named ministries ever showed up. These leaders dedicated to mega-more and more reflect the current attitudes in the church. Today’s ministries are run more along the lines of corporate business empires rather than simple churches. The leaders now assume the role of CEO and attend prayer-funding conferences in order to keep their coffers filled and their database of partners overflowing.
Another function the self-named ministry performs is damage control among the faithful. Every so often, an Enron-like scandal occurs within televangelism or mega-ministryland that warrants the leaders to do damage control so that the fears of the prayer-shareholders and prayer-partners are allayed, least they take their prayers and business elsewhere. That is all that drives these mammonites: an obsession for more. From the glorious golden heights of TBN to the humongeous cathedrals (complete with coffee bars) built in Southern California the goal to reach is more. More for the budget, more numbers to keep the church’s mega-status intact, because more today will never be enough for tomorrow.
While the church has been largely silent on the issue of greed and gain sometimes it takes a worldly humorist like Al Franken to point out the deficiencies of the prosperity gospel. In his 2003 bestseller “Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them” one chapter is entitled “Supply Side Jesus”. Serialized in cartoon form, the chapter shows a person in first century Judea being mistaken for the Son of God until he has total power and control to tell them anything. This “savior” is dressed in rich apparel, spends quite a lot, and is totally obsessed with money. When finally the true Jesus is presented, the people turn away in disgust. The real Jesus is not wealthy, He is not dressed in the best finery available and He is about to suffer and pay a horrible price for mankind. The Supply Side “Jesus” deems these things too costly and decides to enter the Roman government instead. It is sad whenever a non-Christian has the sense to see the dangers of loving money above God while the church is consumed with growth and are too busy down on all fours greedily lapping up whatever loot is available.
Where are the honest godly leaders and teachers? When will they speak out in one voice against this onslaught of mammon and greed? It is a very faint small voice indeed. It is not amplified with the best hi-fi sub woofer speaker-system conveniently simulcast globally without commercials. With brave notable exceptions quenching the lust for mammon will not be easy. The message in today’s churches is controlled by whatever the leaders say it is and currently the message is for more and more.
The Lord expects his children to be faithful to the Word. We must allow it to abide in our minds and hearts, walking it out daily, living it through hourly. Whatever current trend the popular culture is following at the moment, we must not allow it to be dressed up in Christian robes, called a thing of God and marketed to the gullible as if they were foolish chattel. One sincerely hopes and prays that honest leaders will arise in the church, ready to preach the full Gospel without compromise, willing to lead an exemplary life (as seen in 1 Timothy 3:1-9), free from idolatrous coveting, and above all else, replace this modern Mammonite message with the Gospel of Jesus Christ and Him Crucified. No man can serve two masters. Whom shall you serve today?