By Elizabeth Prata
Recently an article was published by a yellow journalist against a well-established, reputable ministry, charging its leader with the sin of wealth, hypocrisy, and comparing him to false teachers. The organization she wrote negatively about is Grace Community Church, Grace To You, and John MacArthur.
There are two issues with the article. One is the brand of “journalism” displayed in the article, and the other issue is whether a well-known pastor or teacher having money or wealth presents an immoral problem in and of itself, which is what the yellow article intimates.
This article from the Rochester Institute of Technology is of interest: WAR, PROPAGANDA AND MISINFORMATION: THE EVOLUTION OF FAKE NEWS. It explains what yellow journalism is, how it emerged with mass media of the late 1800s, and how yellow journalism has easily morphed onto digital media and found a new home. It’s instructive and interesting, too.
The writing in the article from this woman writer betrays a negative agenda, that she came to a conclusion prior to gathering facts and then shaped the article using the facts that fit the agenda she set out to accomplish. This is otherwise known as a hit piece. We read on Wiktionary that “A hit piece is a published article or post aiming to sway public opinion by presenting false or biased information in a way that appears objective and truthful.” (Source).
Or this from Oxford Dictionary: “an article, a documentary, etc. that deliberately tries to make somebody/something look bad by presenting information about them that appears to be true and accurate but actually is not.”
A reporter is supposed to be fair, charitable, and to remember that one’s words carry weight. A reporter can shape opinions, sway public attitudes, and even cause the downfall of a person or organization. This happens in a good way, as when investigative reporter Nellie Bly famously exposed the deplorable conditions in the Women’s Lunatic Asylum on Blackwell’s Island in New York in 1887. Reforms happened because of her exposé.
Or as in 2002, when the “Boston Globe’s Spotlight team, a group of five investigative journalists, uncovered the widespread sexual abuse of children by scores of the district’s clergy. They also revealed a cover-up: that priests accused of misconduct were being systematically removed and allowed to work in other parishes.” Reforms happened in the Roman Catholic Church because of the reporting.
The other plus side of investigative reporting besides just exposing something, is that the information in the report helps people make decisions about their individual future action regarding the target of the investigation. When the information is fair and unbiased, it helps people make good decisions. When it’s unfair and agenda-driven, people come to poor conclusions, their opinion slyly swayed by biased reporting to the detriment of the person or organization.
Uncharitable Christian investigators should be even more mindful of these things than a secular reporter, since they are part of Jesus’ body. Those who use their Christian voice and platform to get clicks, to enact their vendetta against a Christian, or who are unprofessional, cast negative light to an already damaged profession. This grieves me for my former profession and as a Christian. It grieves me for the name of Christ that people act this way in His name, even for Restoring the Church as the writer claims. I find the whole scenario distasteful.
The main issue is, is it a sin for a Christian to be wealthy? To have money? A vacation home? A high-seeming salary?
Let’s look to the Bible first. In the Old Testament, Abraham and Job were incredibly wealthy. There is no hint of the scriptures saying anything against these men for simply possessing money. In fact, after the LORD tested Job, the LORD restored Job’s fortunes doubly. (Job 42:10). Abraham was counted as righteous. Isaac was rich, too. (Genesis 26:12-13). Nebuchadnezzar was also wealthy, king of one of the most powerful and wealthy empires ever. (Daniel 5:19).
In the New Testament, we see that Nicodemus was wealthy. (John 19:39). Lydia, seller of purple, was also likely very wealthy. They were not condemned for having a high salary, property, or money, nor was any intimation of malfeasance or immorality made against them in scriptures. We see also that there was the Rich Man (with Lazarus at his gate), and the Rich Young Ruler who had much property. Judas was in charge of the ministry money. He had control of the purse.
What the Bible says is that the LOVE of money is the root of evil. We look to see not that they have money, but what they DO with it. Possession is not a crime. Unwise or greedy shepherding, is.
Job and Abraham acknowledged God as their benefactor. They worshiped him for Himself, and thanked Him for their possessions, which they called blessings because they knew they were.
On the other hand, Nebuchadnezzar claimed to have grown his empire and his wealth himself, denying God’s hand in it. This indeed brought punishment. God turned the king into an unreasoning animal for 7 years. When the King came out of it, Nebuchadnezzar then acknowledged God as his benefactor, and supreme King over all. Nebuchadnezzar was not condemned for having money, the Lord gave it to him in the first place! He was punished for taking it for himself and excluding God’s hand in it as Supreme Benefactor.
The Rich Young Ruler was shown to have wealth, but his wealth actually had him. He was unwilling to let go of his property to ensure salvation for soul. His idol was money and he clung to it to the exclusion of holiness, grace, and mercy of salvation- and in violation of the Second Commandment not to have any other gods before God. (Matthew 19:16-29).
Job knew that the Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away, naked he came into the world and naked he would leave. It is the Lord’s will to give anything to anyone at any time, or to take it from them in His good pleasure. Job’s hands were open. The Rich Man and the Rich Young ruler’s were closed.
Possession of wealth isn’t an immoral act. How the character of the person shows through in his or her handling of the money is the key to whether a problem exists or not. Judas stole from the ministry purse. We’ve seen Nebuchadnezzar’s problem was self-exaltation at the expense of God’s glory. (As a side note, we see that Herod was struck for the same reason, though money wasn’t an immediate issue. Herod accepted glory that was God’s, and so he was eaten by worms and died. (Acts 12:23).
Money can blind a person and tempt him beyond what he can bear. Money can make a person cling to idols, or believe he is above the law. Money can make a person insular and uncaring to the needs of others (The Rich Man & Lazarus). Wealth is often the vehicle for a person’s downfall, but having it is not a sin. Abraham tithed generously. He was generous to his nephew Lot in allowing him to choose first by taking the choicest lands and accepting second best for himself. Job prayed and worshiped daily. Nicodemus spent for spices what in today’s money would be about $150,000 to add to Jesus’ burial in honor of his Savior and King.
Money isn’t the issue, looking at a person’s character with it, is. Let’s look at some biblical warning signs that a person’s eye may be shifting from looking at Jesus to looking at his pile of wealth.
Is your pastor, elder, favorite online teacher becoming greedy and having issues with loving money too much by accumulating possessions neverendingly? The Bible is replete with warnings against this. One warning sign is from Luke 12:15–
But He said to them, “Beware, and be on your guard against every form of greed; for not even when one is affluent does his life consist of his possessions.”
Another warning sign is to see if the person a cheerful giver (open hands) or miserly and grumpy about it? Each one must do just as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. (2 Corinthians 9:7).
Ecclesiastes 5:10-20 speaks about the futility loving money. The love of it drives one to accumulate more possessions, and the more possessions he accumulates the less satisfied he is. Greed is always a downward spiral.
Another warning sign that someone may not be shepherding his means in a Godly way is if strife surrounds the person. Greed in a man stirs up strife says Proverbs 28:25. The proverb goes on to say that those who trust the Lord will prosper, indicating that the greedy man’s trust is misplaced (he trusts his wealth) while the prosperous man trusts rightly- in the Lord.
Pastor Don Green of Truth Community Church and a former elder at Grace Community Church wrote an essay on the subject, here. His essay is a solid defense of Grace Community Church and John MacArthur.
People have contacted me, worried about continuing to donate to the ministry or reconsidering it based on the article. If you have worries or doubts, please read Green’s, and also Phil Johnson’s piece giving a bit of inside information on the level of and character of John MacArthur’s stewardship.
Please consider the Bible’s instruction about attitudes toward wealth and greed, and apply those standards to the person or organization you’re considering donating to or participating with. And finally, please know that journalism nowadays is a profession rife with charlatans, both secular and allegedly Christian. Just because something published seems like an objective report, in these days, more often than not, it isn’t. Trust what the Word of God says and always look to that as the standard for assessing character.
We live in evil times. Paul notes to Timothy that people even who profess Christ (but are not saved, because they deny His power) will do their evil worst against the Church. Be on guard.
But realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come. For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self-control, brutal, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power; Avoid such men as these. 2 Timothy 3:1-5.