Getting older, not necessarily wiser!
There are some things I have seen in my travels that have caused me to question much of what I was taught my youth about centralized and organized religion, of any type. I can remember traveling though areas where the inhabitants basically live in huts and each day is just a struggle to survive for so many. And in the midst of this squalor, I have seen huge edifices of religion in sharp contrast. And I had to ask myself why?
I am not singling out any specific belief system here, as I have seen this sort of display of wealth cross many boundaries of faith. I will say that I find it more prevalent in centralized religions. I will admit my experience with most religions is somewhat lacking, so I will not speak to them. I will speak to the religious institutions I grew up with however.
I will begin this exploration with an anecdotal experience from my past, which I will call the tale of two pastors. The first pastor leads a church of about 500 families. He lived with his wife and two kids in a small two bedroom house, and drove a five year old car. The second pastor also leads a church of about 500 families. He and his wife (no kids) lived in a five bedroom house on two acres in a rich suburb, and acquire a new car every year.
Having spent time in both churches, there was a visible contrast there also. The first pastors church was a come as you are sort of place. The pastor, a part time janitor, and a part time secretary where the only paid employees. Beyond building maintenance, and a few improvement projects, most of the church funds collected went to what I would consider worthwhile missions supporting poor people who through no fault of their own could not support themselves. In worship services there was some music, but the main focus was always the bible.
In the second pastors church they would give you sideways dirty looks if you were not dressed to the nines. There was a paid professional worship team. The church was large (way larger than it needed to be), and emaculate. There where continuing projects to acquire more land and expand the worship facility, even though it was far larger than it needed too be. The worship services were nothing short of an extravaganza, with the focus on entertainment and almost no focus on the bible.
I remember when the first pastor passed away, the news papers where shocked to find that he was worth over two million dollars. In an interesting contrast, the second pastor was prosecuted for embezzlement along with a few other crimes that same year, and is now spending several years in jail.
It is not the wealth of a religious leader that is the problem. It is three (or maybe five) of the seven deadly sins that are (Pope Gregory I, 590 AD). Greed, Pride, and Envy are definitely on the list. I am leaning towards including lust and gluttony, though I am sure they apply in many cases.
No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money. Matthew 6:24
Lets get this out of the way first, the bible does not say that money is evil, and we read in in first Timothy 5:18 that a worker is worthy of their wages. Rather it is the pursuit of wealth that is evil. Technically in Matthew, the word used is mammon, meaning wealth in general and is associated with greed (one of the deadly sins).
It has become apparent to me for some time now that some of those proclaiming to be men of God, are more interested in being seen as part of the rich, powerful, and famous. It may be just me but I see no reason for any name brand merchandise, other than showing off to others.
Here are some practical examples of how I evaluate church leadership, and determine if they are going down the worn path. My suggestion would be running away from these churches.
Offering Calls For the Pastor: Avoid churches that have a special offering call for the pastor, especially if that person is already receiving a salary. There is no need for a special offering. If people want to give to the pastor they can do it during the normal offering. Passing the plate a second time is counterproductive.
Authoritarianism: Avoid churches that discourage debate or even disagreement with the tenets, specific beliefs, and leadership. You will know them as they like to throw around the various uses of “submit” in the New Testament. The actual Greek word used is “hupotasso”, which has a variety of meanings. In most cases I have observed, these verses are used wrong. In the end you are responsible to God, not the church leadership.
The Prideful and the Envious: This one is easy, just check if the pastor is up there in a very expensive name brand suit. Does the pastor think he needs a private jet or a boat? Does the pastor where obscene amounts of precious metals and gemstones? I would strongly suggest avoiding these churches.
Hypocritical Socialight: A pastor is suppose to serve his flock, not the other way around. And in to days modern church the pastor has assumed all the roles, including evangelism. Does the pastor spend time hobnobbing with the rich and powerful? Or do they spend the majority of their time with the poor and the unsaved. If they are not spending the majority of time with the poor and unsaved, chances are this is another church you want to avoid.
I could go on with examples I have seen, but by this point you should get the idea. Look for a church that is elder led, preaches the entire bible, and the pastor actually acts like a pastor.
Don’t go to a church to be entertained. The reasons to go to church are to learn the bible, fellowship, and worship God. Anything else is a distraction. Church should not be a social club.