When he threw the merchants and money changers out of the temple, Jesus said,
“My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’? But you have made it a den of robbers.”Mark 11:17
The “you” is plural and probably refers to the religious leaders, including the high priest. They were getting rich by creating a system where those who wanted to offer sacrifice had to use the services of the merchants and money changers.
As the writer of Ecclesiastes has indicated, there is nothing new under the sun. Anything that is good, can and will be corrupted by our Enemy. So, financial misconduct by church leaders should not come as a huge surprise.
Fast forward to 2021.
All my life, I have had to endure news reports about financial scandals and opulent living of purportedly Christian leaders and teachers. Reports of gold-plated bathroom fixtures and other excesses in the homes of such leaders are used by media outlets for grabbing the attention of viewers.
I need to mention that for every one of the leaders who have disgraced themselves and the name of Christ, there are thousands of faithful ministers who are usually underpaid and overworked. For them I am grateful.
My point in writing this post is to ask us to reexamine what we are expecting in a church organization. Are we enamored by the buildings and grounds? Are we looking for marble entryways and fountains? Are we looking for a mystical experience on Sunday that is produced by a carefully crafted worship center and carefully scripted program?
I must admit that I love visiting old church buildings with stained glass windows, high ceilings, etc. I appreciate the beauty of the buildings and the attention to detail that was paid by the designers and builders of those buildings.
But in those visits, I have to remind myself that the building isn’t the church, the building potentially houses the church. The church is the group of believers that gather for worship in that building. The church building is a tool for ministry, not an end in itself.
This line of thinking also helps me when I see beautiful church buildings that are no longer used for worship. In Eastern Pennsylvania where I live, there are many such that are no longer functioning churches. They are now restaurants, art galleries, museums, and a personal residence in one case I know of.
My tendency is to think this a shame, but when a tool is no longer useful, it should be discarded. If those buildings no longer assist in advancing the cause of Christ, then they should be sold to be whatever the next owner wishes them to be.
Bigger isn’t always better. Numbers don’t always tell the story. Apparently successful does not always mean truly successful.
The result of this musing is that I conclude that most, if not all of the scandals involving financial misconduct of church leaders result from a misunderstanding of the purpose of the church. This coupled with a misunderstanding of the Biblical principles for church leadership provides fertile soil for the seed of greed to grow in the leaders.
The leaders in question could not have lived opulent lifestyles if the congregants had not given them lots of money. Why did they give the money? The conclusion I draw is that they gave to make the organization bigger and the building more extravagant. In some cases, they gave because of a false promise to the givers that what they give will be multiplied and given back to them. None of these is given to us as a legitimate goal in Scripture.
As I examine the New Testament, I also see that the churches were to be ruled by elders rather than by a single man. The plurality (more than one) of elders provides for mutual accountability which will also help prevent such misconduct.
Greed is alive and well, and we should be vigilant against it in our own hearts and the organizations we participate in.
If you are encouraged by this post or would like to make a comment, please use the comment form below to offer your feedback. If you are reading this in an email and would like to comment, you can reply to the email or click on the “Read in browser” link below to go to the web page where you can enter a comment. I enjoy hearing from you.