A Pharisaical Phenomenon
Recently I found myself in an online discussion with a friend in which I was critical of a satirical meme I felt promoted a cynical, anti-Christian narrative. My point was that we need to give our fellow believers, even the wealthy ones, some grace to be human and flawed. No one really knows the heart of a man but God, so we should give them the benefit of the doubt and not assume that because they live in a big, beautiful home they are corrupt and greedy. The Bible gives us many examples of flawed humans used by God in amazing ways. It’s that very concept that gives me hope for my own life!
Today I find myself contemplating the same topic (wealthy Christian preachers) from a different angle. I want to temper the concept of extending grace with the equally important concept of seeking righteousness.
“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles? Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Therefore by their fruits you will know them.”
In my previous post, I defended (to a degree) a particular wealthy Christian preacher by pointing out the positive things her ministry has done over the years; things that directly contradicted the point of the message behind the satire. Here’s an excerpt of what I said.
“I would submit its a matter of the heart; that its not having wealth which is sinful, its what you do with it and what it does to you. Who knows the heart of a man, but God? I am hesitant to let any human being draw the line between what is “enough” for a man to have, and what is “too much”. What if we limit what God wants to do in a man’s life by telling him he can’t earn more than $X? Money is simply a tool, a resource. It can be used for good or evil. It seems to me the wiser course of action is to let God decide where that line of “too much” is to be drawn in the heart of each man.”
My larger point was that it’s not about the wealth of a man, it’s about his heart. In the ugly video below (which I first came across at PirateChristian.com), we see two seemingly reasonable and wealthy Christian men making comments that reveal how lost and clouded their hearts have become:
The problem I have with this clip is not that these guys have too much wealth, or that it’s morally wrong to own a private jet. The problem is what their words reveal about the condition of their hearts. There are a number of moral and theological problems here, but I’ll just mention two big things that jumped out at me:
- The idea that the important work of God cannot be done without a private jet. Mr. Copland said he would need to stop 90% of what he’s doing today if he were forced to fly commercial airlines “because you can’t get there from here.” The ugliness of this statement is staggering. Is he suggesting that Christians can’t talk to God while on commercial flights? Or is it something more sinister? Is he suggesting that he has some sort of exclusive connection with God, above and beyond normal Christians, which requires so much mental focus and physical space to move it just won’t work unless he’s on a private jet? Is he suggesting that a preacher without a private jet is incapable of fully answering God’s call on his life? Surely he recognizes that Jesus traveled among the “unwashed masses” as a servant.
- The story about being on Oral Robert’s private jet was also disturbing. Mr. Copland was told the plane was a sanctuary, that it “protects the anointing on brother Roberts.” Is the true anointing of God incapable of withstanding exposure to commercial air travel? Apparently, it was agitating Mr. Robert’s spirit with all the people coming up to him on commercial flights, talking to him and asking for prayer. The nerve! Mr. Copland actually described flying commercial as getting in a “looooong tube with a bunch of demons.” Wow. What about us regular old Christians who fly coach? Are we just Pringles trapped in a can, waiting for the devil to munch on us?
Jesus often took time alone to talk with God; it’s an important spiritual discipline to be sure. But are these preachers suggesting that the only time they have to be alone with God is on a jet as they travel from one meeting to another? As I’ve said, no one truly knows the heart of a man but God. But the Bible also tells us, “…the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.” (Luke 6:45b) So I am submitting this post as a red flag of concern. I hope I’m wrong, and in fact, I prayed for both of these men and their ministries today.
I did not, however, send them any money.
“Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.” —James 3:1