The books of I & II Peter deal with the premise of falsehood often, both in leaders/teachers and the saints of God. Continuing the theme that Jesus began in His ministry, who warned that the real dangers of falsehood would come from within the flock, and mostly at the top of the flock (Mark 7:15), Peter ties on and shows how the old and modern Church became a capital investment for many, both then, and in the times to come.
“And through covetousness shall they with feigned words make merchandise of you:…” – 2 Peter 2:3, KJV
This of course was a long time practice in some fashion, and New Testament believers, especially those of Jewish descent were accustomed to the worship being commercialized. The one time recorded in the Bible where Jesus became enraged was when he found the money changing tables at the entrance to the Temple. The leaders of day had learned how to create forced offering plates, causing worshipers to pay for approved sacrificial animals or other goods so that they could indulge themselves. (Matthew 21, Mark 11,Luke 19)
In reading commentaries, foot notes and other words on this Scripture, mostly to help me better understand what I was reading, the verse notes in the Life in the Spirit Study Bible produced by Zondervan gave the clearest meaning that I could find.
“The false teachers will commercialize the gospel, being experts in greed and in getting money from believers to enhance their ministries and affluent lifestyles. (1) Believers must be aware that one of the chief methods of false ministries is to use ‘feigned words’ i.e., to tell impressive, but false stories, or to give exaggerated statistics in order to inspire God’s people to give money. They glorify themselves and enhance their ministries with these fabricated stories. (cf. 2 Cor 2:17) Thus, the unwary and sincere child of God becomes an object of exploitation.”
In my previous Church there was taught a heavy emphasis on Tithes & Offerings, so heavy that it was a heaven or hell, fire and brimstone meeting each time it was taught. (Please read my article on Is Tithing for New Testament Christians for an explanation on where I stand here.) So strong that it was taught a 10% tithe on gross income was REQUIRED both for Salvation and to be a member of the Church, and since Malachi 3:8 mentions offerings too, the Church required 5% offerings (to make the math easy) on gross income. Thus, membership to the Church and to Heaven required 15% Tithes & Offerings. Disclaimer: I do believe it is good, healthy and honoring of God to give of our finances to the Work of God! Just not under compulsion.
I underlined ‘and in getting money from believers to enhance their ministries and affluent lifestyles‘ for an example. There is absolutely nothing wrong with a minister having nice things, living in nice homes, driving nice cars. This can be taken to excess like anything and some teachers I know use the following verse to justify excessive lifestyles. This verse is used to explain how they deserve extra financial rewards.
“Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honour, especially they who labour in the word and doctrine.” – I Timothy 5:17, KJV
What is the ‘Affluent Lifestyle’
According to Merriam-Webster, ‘affluent‘ is defined as “
Of course, contrasting this with Biblical examples, we see Jesus teaching such an opposite role for the ministers of his creating:
“Then he called his twelve disciples together, and gave them power and authority over all devils, and to cure diseases. And he sent them to preach the kingdom of God, and to heal the sick. And he said unto them, Take nothing for your journey, neither staves, nor scrip, neither bread, neither money; neither have two coats apiece.” – Luke 9:1, KJV
In the book What a Difference a Line can Make by Larry Booker, Mr. Booker makes the case against ‘Costly Apparel’. In the Pentecostal denomination, Holiness is defined as abstaining from any jewelry, makeup, excessive or outlandish hair-do’s, clothing styles, rigid dress standards, etc.
In his book Mr. Booker speaks of making the covenant with himself not to wear expensive watches like Rolex (or knock offs), or his wife wearing fur jackets (even if fake) because it gave the impression of wealth & riches to their congregation. You can tell where Mr. Booker’s spirit is (at least, where it was when writing the book).
He may have the material capabilities to have these things, but he doesn’t want to set the imagery before his flock or visitors that he is there to get wealthy off the offerings of congregants. A leader of a flock is there to guide, protect and to feed. So many modern leaders are being fed, and fed very well by their flocks.
Signs of Merchandising
Some ways to tell if you are being merchandised by your church are;
- Excessive teaching/requirement on giving to the Church as a means to get or maintain Salvation
- Promises of wealth & abundance as a reward for giving to the Church
- Promises of curse or judgement for non-giving
These are always traces of merchandising and are following by:
- Leaders purchase and own new luxury vehivles, entire family has luxury vehicles and they are always brand new
- Live in rich homes or in rich neighborhoods
- Clothes are designer name brands only, clothing accessories (purses, shoes, etc) often cost more than a normal wardrobe
Let me end with the disclaimer that I do not believe it is wrong for leaders, teachers, Pastors to be taken care of. Somewhere in the middle is a place of balance where Jesus expected his disciples to be at. Don’t live in excess he told them, you don’t need extra wardrobes, pockets full of cash, etc to be effective evangelists. But our Lord did expect the recipients to feed, house and help those evangelists.
Try the spirits, see if they be of God, pray over your leaders and church. If you feel you are being merchandised, stop feeding a wrong cause. Desire to do good works and let your time, effort and if you choose, your finances be used towards helping others!
“And above all things have fervent[taut, stretched] charity[love] among yourselves: for charity shall cover a multitude of sins.”