Here is a prophecy in 2 Peter 2:3 that has recently come to my attention. Read it in different translations:
“In their greed these teachers will exploit you with stories they have made up. Their condemnation has long been hanging over them, and their destruction has not been sleeping.” (NIV)
“And in their greed they will exploit you with false words. Their condemnation from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep.” (ESV)
And my favorite translation of the verse;
“And through covetousness shall they with feigned words make merchandise of you: whose judgment now of a long time lingereth not, and their damnation slumbereth not.” (KJV)
Looking at the verse in context, Peter is warning about false teachers to come. The ESV’s heading for the entire chapter is called “False Prophets and Teachers” and the chapter goes on to describe all the qualities of false teachers and prophets who are prophesied to come. Peter opens with chapter 1 in reminding the brethren that our salvation is sure, and that Christ’s word in the prophetic is glorious. He tells us in chapter 2 about those prophecies, namely focusing on the false teachers and prophets, and then continues the thought in chapter 3, reminding the brethren to think on these things and be duly warned. He then reassures the church that the Day of the Lord will come, and all the false teachers and prophets will be dealt with in due time.
We are told in His word that what will happen is that false teachers will make the Word a merchandise and they will exploit the believers. They do this because they are greedy. When it happens it will not be because they made a mistake, or briefly had a period of a wayward interpretations, or due to Christian immaturity. The bible says they do it on purpose and they do because they want money.
So back to the verse. Are the brethren exploited? Is the word being merchandised? Yes.
The consumerism in current Christianity bothered me when I attended the Beth Moore live weekend “bible study” at the Time Warner Arena. The slickness of the extravaganza was shocking, and the prices of food the vendors were charging really made me think of the moneylenders in the temple.
When the Fireproof movie came out I was struck by the push to buy the DVD, the books, the “Love Dare” diary. I mentioned that in another blog post, that fads in Christianity seem to come with their own cottage industry or marketing and merchandising of trinkets.
Same with the Courageous merchandise. You can buy a pack, complete with The Resolution For Men Book, the Resolution Certificate print (as seen in the movie) and the FREE Bonus I Resolve/I Will wristband. Hurry while supplies last.
Then I read of all these mega-church pastors who quit their post at a church to go on book tours.
There is nothing wrong with a pastor writing a book. Nothing. What the prophecy says is that they will be false, they will write false things, and make merchandise out of the false words and they will exploit the people who support them. And that, my brethren, is exactly what is happening today.
Rob Bell, founder of Mars Hill Bible Church in MI, recently released the heretical book, Love Wins. Love Wins impugns the character of God by saying that hell is not real.
After the book was a runaway success, Bell resigned the ministry and went on a tour. An article in Crosswalk noted, “Bell’s resignation makes him the latest in a string a celebrity pastors who have said goodbye to weekly sermons, potluck dinners and other staples of church life. “A New Kind of Christianity” author Brian McLaren, “Crazy Love” author Francis Chan, “Deep Church” author Jim Belcher and the popular British Bible scholar N.T. Wright have all left their church leadership positions in recent years.”
Bell left his church “to pursue a growing number of strategic opportunities.”
The article states, “For pastors with ambitions to reach huge audiences, there’s often no better platform than the megachurch, which has given rise to powerhouse media empires from T.D. Jakes to Max Lucado to Joel Osteen and many others. But some high-profile pastors are opting to leave congregational ministry altogether to pursue publishing and other media ventures full time.”
Media empires is right. And the article correctly noted that the mega-church has become a ‘platform’ from which to launch that media empire, make a lot of money, and go on tour, leaving the picked-over flock behind.
Speaking of cottage industry, never mind the packets, kits, trinkets, and books, there are new businesses springing up to support the business of Christianity. For example, Alive Communications is a Colorado Springs, Colo., literary agency that represents megachurch pastors. Now pastors need agents? Apparently so.
Even the woman are getting in on it. Priscilla Shirer, daughter of popular preacher Tony Evans, is also her own cottage industry. “Conservative Bible teachers like Shirer have built a new paradigm for feminine preaching, an ingenious blend of traditional revivalism, modern therapeutic culture and the gabby intimacy of Oprah. … This theology has spawned a subculture of Bible studies, conferences, ministries, religious retreats and literature ranging from Christian fitness books to Christian romance novels, all produced by and for evangelical women.” (source)
For the women who go on tour, this cottage industry is at the expense of biblical womanhood. The article notes that Mr Shirer spends much of the day negotiating Priscilla’s speaking invitations and her book contracts. In the afternoon it’s often Mr Shirer who collects the boys from school. Back home, Priscilla and Jerry divide chores and child care equally. “Jerry quit his job to run his wife’s ministry. Priscilla now accepts about 20 out of some 300 speaking invitations each year, and she publishes a stream of Bible studies, workbooks and corresponding DVDs intended for women to read and watch with their girlfriends from church. Jerry does his share of housework and child care so that Priscilla can study and write. He travels with his wife everywhere. Whenever possible, they take their sons along on her speaking trips, but they often deposit the boys with Jerry’s mother.”
And don’t forget to pick up your Shirer “I Am Resolved” tee shirt on your way out.
After Rob Bell left in a cloud of dust for his book and speaking tour, the remaining pastor at Mars Hill shortly decided to leave also. Shane Hipps said he enjoys “serving the broader church” by speaking and writing. The ‘broader church’ is code for, well, the world. Hipps worried that if he accepted the new role as main teacher after Rob Bell’s departure to serve the world, (they don’t call them preachers at Mars Hill), “I would have to dramatically reduce my service to the broader church which is an integral part of my sense of call.” Translation: I will have to be accountable to the elders and I’d have to curtail my book tours. Ix-nay on the teaching-ay. Who wants to be stuck at a podium preaching week after week when you can be a media darling and start an empire? Good bye Mars Hill, hello new book, “Selling Water by the River: A book about the Life Jesus Promised and the Religion that Gets in the Way.”
This writer below in the next article asks a good question, many good questions as a matter of fact. Who decided that these particular teachers speak for the local church?
“The idea of a celebrity Bible teacher, a teacher who teaches thousands and thousands of people through media, isn’t antithetical to the Bible’s presentation of discipleship, but it certainly isn’t normative. It’s not what the Bible has in mind. And one of the reasons is this: The ministry of the “celebrity” Bible teacher tends to undermine the ministry of the local church pastor.” … “What I will ask, however, is whether my fellow Christians have the courage to admit that Beth Moore and Rick Warren and the next publishing superstars are, in large part, promoted by Lifeway for profits? Not chosen by God, but chosen by Lifeway and other publishers for potential book sales? Lifeway would say chosen and promoted for the good of my church. Well, if it’s profitable. If you can’t see that, you’re naive.” … I’m distressed that Christian media’s capitalistic agenda has become the source of an unquestioned spiritual authority in so many churches.”
John MacArthur exposits the Peter verse, “The operating motive, the underlying cause. Verse 3, “And in greed they will exploit you with false words.” Here’s another component that you need to know about. What drives them on the inside to do what they do? Listen very carefully. They’re not driven by immorality. They’re not driven by aselgeia, sexual immorality. You can do that by yourself. That’s not going to make you a false teacher. You can be immoral all alone in your own little world with just the people you choose to be immoral with, you don’t need to be a false teacher to be immoral. And if all they wanted to do was fulfill their sensual desire, they wouldn’t need to be a false teacher. But there’s another component. What is it? Greed…greed.”
“The driving force of their enterprise to be teachers is not the love of the truth, it’s not submission to the Lord, it’s not even sexual immorality, they can do that in the pew. The driving force is money. The word pleonexiameans uncontrolled greed. They’re expert at it. They’re in it to accumulate money. And watch them, they do. Verse 14 of the same chapter, “Their eyes are full of adultery…obviously…they never cease from sin, they never submit to lordship, they entice unstable souls…why do they do that?…because their hearts…boy, this is really graphic..are trained in…what?…greed.” They’re experts at it. They can con money out of anybody. They want money. They want money. They want your money. They want anybody’s money.’ … “They exploit you, they get rich off you with false words.”
Now you might deduce that I am offended at Christian merchandising of God’s word. That I am concerned with women who have their own cottage industries of tours of ‘bible studies” and products at the expense of their children, their husbands and their husbands’ jobs. But this next bit really gets me.
“Bell’s 2009 project, Drops Like Stars, explores the links between creativity and suffering. Drops Like Stars was an international tour and a book, initially handwritten by Bell, with photographs. The title of the project comes from a young child’s view of raindrops on a window at night. Rather than focusing on the conundrum of why an all-powerful God would allow suffering, Bell instead looks at the creativity, empathy, new connections, and growth that can spring from suffering. When asked in an interview how he had become interested in suffering, Bell replied that as a pastor he had been given a front row seat in the most poignant moment’s of people’s lives. At the same time he was doing lectures on creativity and realized, “There was a connection between these two halves of my life – all these connections between suffering and art-making.” (source)
He had a ‘front row seat’ to people’s spiritual and emotional pain, and decided to make money off it. This right there is a fulfillment of the worst kind of the prophecy Peter warned us about.
Though Bell’s book is a sad instance of the merchandising of God’s word and exploitation of His people, this one is just plain silly and ridiculous:
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The 2 Peter 2:3 verse says “they will exploit you” or “they will make merchandise of you” and the Greek word for exploit is emporeusontai, from which we get the English word emporium. Emporium is a term used for a store selling a wide variety of goods, and for marketplaces or trading centers.
Making money is no problem. Writing a book is no problem. Having money is no problem. Being a megachurch pastor is not a problem (usually). But false teachers will come in, and not sparing the flock, they will exploit the Word and the people for their greedy purposes. I believe it is clear that it is happening to a high degree today. All I can say is,
“The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” (Mark 1:15)