The conversation at a pastoral conference in the Northeast some years ago went something like this:
“Pastor, you head up one of the largest yet poorest churches in the region and today, you’re dressed in the finest apparel and you drive one of the nicest and most expensive cars here.”
“Yes, son, that is true. My congregation wants to see their pastor living a successful life.”
“Well, of course they do. When they see your extravagance, it justifies their own greed.”
The conversation ended rather abruptly at that point. A very dear friend of mine, Ole Anthony of The Trinity Foundation, and I have had this and many other conversations with the pastorate from all across the country while discussing the church’s role in meeting the needs of the poor. But the contemporary traveling ectoplasm show parading as the gospel is unbelievably far removed from its early roots and is centered around the hypothesis that God is a cosmic slot machine, waiting for the faithful to pull the lever of faith and cash in.
At least, that is what the “name it and claim it” model of evangelicalism would have us believe, but the aggregate result more closely resembles a metaphysical version of the Enron Corp. collapse than touching the heavenly host.
Recently, the United States Senate has called into question the lifestyles and financial expenditures of some televangelists. Oklahoma City’s station KFOR-TV Channel 4 has followed up with a very interesting but not surprising report on the lifestyles of Oklahoma’s most rich and famous clergy members. But what was most alarming was the response of Christians when asked how they felt about these lifestyles.
One woman responded by saying in effect that there’s no reason why ministers shouldn’t live in a nice home, like a doctor or lawyer. Of course there isn’t! Because when we witness those called to be servants living in the lap of luxury, it gives the rest of us lowly believers an excuse to call in our spiritual chips and pursue fleshly riches with reckless abandon. After all, if it’s good for the pastor, it must be good for us, right?
The passage KFOR used to justify the quest for wealth (Deuteronomy 8:18) is taken completely out of context. The following passage was left out of the report. It says, “If you ever forget the Lord your God and follow other gods and worship and bow down to them, I testify against you today that you will surely be destroyed.”
Benny Hinn, Robert Tilton, Paul Crouch, Jim Bakker and Jimmy Swaggart’s financial model of Christianity has become the norm rather than the exception, and as the reformer Martin Luther said of the “enthusiasts” of his day, you would think that “they had swallowed the Holy Spirit, feathers and all.” The gospel of greed has replaced the true gospel of death to self. But that’s OK because the pastor says I should live in luxury, have immeasurable wealth and exceptional health. I’m a “kingdom kid!”
Blessed are the poor in spirit? Please ” that’s so last millennia! Don’t bother me right now “¦ I’m watching my church service on my iPhone.
Black is host of Wild Oklahoma radio and television, the recipient of the 2007 Oklahoma Rifle Association’s Mike McCarville Media Award and a consultant living in Edmond.