Saturday, January 3, 2009

MONEY: The Central Idol of the "Church"

"Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
(Matt 6:19-21)

What do you suppose that means?

Obviously, it cannot mean what it says, literally, or about 90% of the pastoral leadership of modern churches would be in serious trouble, along with 99% of their congregations.

As I think about the inroads made into "sound churches" by the pervasive, perverted "prosperity gospel" at one moment I am befuddled at how this could happen, then the next moment, it seems no mystery at all. The so-called "church" of the Western world, the US in particular, is populated by people who are absolutely in love with comfort, and that comfort is provided and maintained by their great god Mammon.

I'm having one of those spells where it is just beyond me to understand how any body of professing believers with even a superficial knowledge of the Word of God can justify their extravagant lifestyle at the expense of a world where the other 98% of the population is starving for both the Gospel and/or a good meal.

We have reached the point, the degree of compromise, the level of rationalization, of self-justification, that we think nothing of paying pastors $250,000 a year to reign over congregations which meet in $25 million buildings. And so glibly excuse such actions by saying: "...worthy of double honor..." "maintain the standard of living of the...." etc, etc. That's life in the culture here....Gotta compete.......Just like top executives.......ad nauseum.

Now, I refer only to "sound churches" with regard to doctrine. The clown-led entertainment centers featuring Cashflow Dollars, Ken $opeland, and that bunch, are not worth discussing. There's nothing right about them; they preach "another gospel which is not the Gospel." But how about these churches where the Gospel is indeed preached? There's this great gulf between Doctrine and Practice!

So many have the Doctrine down...they are puttin' out the Word, regularly. Great....but how do they live? Extravagantly. Why? Because we love Comfort. We love Luxury. We love Stuff. More is better than Less, much better. Comfort is Expected; it is Deserved; it is Our Right as Americans!

So, I pose a few questions, first to Pastors/Elders/Evangelists:

How can you look yourself in the mirror after taking that $150,000. or $250,000. salary when you know there are struggling pastors/church planters risking their lives, living in huts, scraping out a living in the jungles and in the ghettos of third-world countries as they minister the Gospel to their mission field?

And to you, Mr Church Member:

How can you support this idolatrous practice of building multi-million dollar palaces and paying pastors and staff corporate-level salaries? It is so self-centered, self-perpetuating, almost incestuous. Take a church with a $3 million dollar budget. Often 60-70% of that goes for salaries and benefits for all the staff/employees. Most of the rest goes for debt service. A mere pittance might go for outreach of some kind.......maybe.

So, for $3 million, who is reached? "Oh" you say "We baptized 50 last year..." Great! Lots of those baptisms are "internal".....church family children, members who were recently converted after years of membership, etc. How many are from really reaching outside, from actually obeying the Great Commission? I'm gonna mark it on the wall here: very few.

Of course, there are exceptions. Thank God for the exceptions. I'm not about the exceptions; I'm talking about the vast majority of these self-sustaining, self-perpetuating, modern, doctrinally-sound churches which maintain a facade of evangelicalism, but in fact are mostly internalized and nearly worthless.

You know, you could take one of these places where they spent $2 million on staff salaries/benefits, cut that in half...poor pastor--now only making $100,000/year!--and for the $1 million freed up by that action, you could support 200 indigenous pastors in various third-world countries; or, you could build 100 church buildings in some of those countries; or, you could build 200 decent homes for those pastors who are living in huts, etc, etc....and that's from one church budget, in one year.

Don't even ask me what could be done with the difference in money between that $25 million building program and a $1 million utilitarian building without the basketball court, sauna, and coffee bar.

I know that this will probably never happen...rarely at best. Comfort is our goal; Mammon is the god who provides. We have an image to maintain. This is America. We have to treat our pastor right. We need a fine building to attract (fill in the blank).

I've been called an ascetic for this kind of thinking. More mockery is probably forthcoming. Simple living is un-American, I guess. I know this: we live on a whole lot less than $250,000. a year...about 90% less. We have decent vehicles (too many), a fairly warm house, air conditioning, running water, electricity, insurance, satellite tv, computers, internet, real estate, more food than we need, medical care, and do this without being on the dole. No one will ever convince me, I'm sure, that this idea of the church living up to the standards of the world is justifiable in any way. It's compromise. It's shameful. The Western church is spared judgment only because of the long-suffering of God. May he grant us repentance, and quickly!

1 comment:

mefrye said...

Bro. Ed,

This is a great post and oh so true too.

Mike