Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Peddling the Word of God

What does it mean to peddle the Word of God (2 Corinthians 2:17)? One example is the sellers and money changers in the Temple. Jesus drove them out, saying they had turned a house of prayer into a den of thieves (Matthew 21:12,13). Also, there was Simon Magus, who thought he could buy the gifts of the Holy Spirit (Acts 8:18-24), making simony the traditional name for this practice. We are told we should give out the truth and benefits of God freely, without looking for monetary gain (Matthew 10:8; 1 Thessalonians 2:5; 1 Timothy 6:5-10).

But Scripture also teaches that those who communicate spiritual things should be recompensed with physical things (Romans 15:27; 1 Corinthians 9:6-11; 1 Timothy 5:17,18; Philippians 4:10-19). How go these two fit together? The simple answer is we should not charge people to minister to them, but those who minister should be paid out of gratitude for their ministry. In practice, this can sometimes be a difficult line to draw.

To complicate things, there is a strong suspicion on the part of most unbelievers and even many believers that Christian organizations are just after their money. Unfortunately, there have been and are organizations that have done things that justify this suspicion. Therefore, while it is virtually impossible to allay everyone's suspicion, we need to be careful not to project that image. This is particularly true when dealing with unbelievers. Christian ministries should, in general, be supported by those who recognize the benefit of them. Paul writes about refusing to ask for legitimate recompense in order to minister to people more effectively (1 Corinthians 9:12-18; 2 Corinthians 11:7-12; 1 Thessalonians 2:9). But Christian organizations do need funds to operate, and it is impossible to placate every overly suspicious person. We do need to make an effort, though.

Another complication is the tendency to exalt certain people as celebrities and to allow them liberties unacceptable for ordinary ministries. Now I want to be careful here, because there are high profile ministries which accomplish things for the cause of Christ that could not be accomplished otherwise. But I believe first priority should be given to your local church, the people who know you and minister to you directly. And when you do support a high profile ministry, it should be because of the real value of the ministry, not name recognition. We particularly need to avoid the obvious con men and those who offer to provide us just about anything if we send them money. We need to be very careful not to give to anyone who is blatantly peddling the gospel.

The result of these two complications working together can be to give celebrities license to get away with whatever they want, while forcing local congregations to be afraid to even teach Biblical principles on handling money because they might lose members. This is a topsy-turvy situation that needs to be corrected.

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