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Sunday, April 3, 2011

on charlatans

            When Mao took over mainland China and forced Christian missionaries to either flee the country or be killed, there were about 1 million believers in the country.  In the early 1990’s, when the government decided, for economic reasons, to allow outsiders to be able to see what was inside the country, the number of Christians had grown to 50 million (admittedly, both these numbers are unprovable estimates).  This happened without church buildings, formally trained leaders, money for programs or anything else, freedom of speech, and with the overt opposition of the government.
            Here in North America, believers in Jesus to have freedom of speech, the right to form not-for-profit corporations, make tax favored contributions to such corporations, the corporations can hire persons to specifically work for the organization, and spend money on programs, real estate, advertising and marketing.  For all that, the number of persons who admit to being believers is staying steady or growing slightly, less than the general population increase, and overt public mockery of the Christian faith has increased greatly.  Unfortunately, all too much of the mockery is deserved.  We have seen supposed “evangelists” hire actors to act out being healed.  We have heard of roving teachers do “word of knowledge” by having an associate small talk persons before a service about their problems, and then, by earpiece, tell the supposed man of God who these people are so they can say seemingly impossible things to humanly know before an audience.  I believe that the gifts of the Spirit are for today, but there is a huge monetary temptation to fake the miraculous, such that the tricksters have been attracted to the Pentecostal flavor of faith in Jesus, and the charlatans are, almost assuredly, among the regionally or nationally famous, or will be eventually.
            I have heard unbelievers accuse pastors of being in it for the money.  I have heard everyday, small church pastors respond that they do not make that much.  The point is that they make anything at all.  The Old Testament priesthood was to be supported by the rest of b’nai yesrael (Children of Israel, the Jewish people of that time).  Today, the common justification for paying pastors, and from that, their assistants, music leaders, secretaries, and janitors, is based on Matthew 10:10, “for a worker is worthy of his food.”  If one reads the verses around it, the context is Jesus sending his disciples out to minister to people on their own, possibly for the first time.  Just before this statement, Jesus directed, “Provide neither gold nor silver nor copper in your money belts” (verse 9).  The cultural context was much different than our society today or most societies at most times.  In Old Covenant Israel (and the Old Covenant did not end until Jesus’ death—that is part of His sacrificial death being the perfect sacrifice—it was the sacrifice that fulfilled the Old Covenant), it was expected that people take it travelers and strangers, and the Law provided that the poor (and Jesus and the disciples were poor) were allowed to glean from the corners of the fields.  The worker is worthy of his food, and basic needs. Their in nothing even implied about a salary almost at a level for others with masters degrees (a ratio common in many institutions which demand that level of training to be an institutional leader), or as one prosperity teacher in Florida claimed he was given three gold Mercedes (one of which he says he gave to one of the church elders), a house in an expensive neighborhood, a pool, lawn service, and pool maintenance (he was “given” all this by the organization he controlled the finances for, according to papers filed when his wife decided to divorce him).     
            I believe that this kind of stuff is why we aren’t seeing believers in Jesus multiply. Most persons I know came to Jesus either via an average everyday believer sharing their faith, not via a ten minute Four Spiritual Laws conversation, but conversations day by day combined with living a consistent, although not necessarily perfect, life of desiring to honor Jesus, or the Holy Spirit speaking into or some words in the Bible (either reading or knowing from having heard at a time previously) a person’s life miraculously, maybe by just saying a few words into one’s spirit or through a difficult situation of life showing God’s communication to man.  I am certain there are exceptions to what I just said, as the only rule I see is that, just like God doesn’t miraculously heal by someone praying or doing the same thing every time, how the Spirit guides each person to a place to repent is different, also.
            As I now see it, the early apostles and workers were supported financially because they were going to other cultures where they may not have had the ability to support themselves.  Even then, Paul, the persons who we are told the most of, with regard to his travels in communicating the message of Jesus, had a skill which was highly adaptable to moving from city to city, admittedly more adaptable than most skills which are valued in western cultures today, but, conversely, was necessary due to their not being others near where he was going (at least originally) to help him. 
            As for myself, I know that my intellectual talent is not in the same ballpark with C.S. Lewis, but I can agree with his statement (this is not an exact quote because I don’t know where to look it up at the moment), “I am glad that I have never made my living from theology.”

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