Rethinking What We Sell
“Out of love for the truth and from desire to elucidate it. . .”
That’s the way Martin Luther started his letter commonly referred to as the 95 Theses. Luther nailed his 95 theses to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg in 1517, a practice that was like sending out a company-wide meeting invite today. On Luther’s mind was letters of indulgences. The practice of buying indulgences allowed people to buy their salvation. This was unacceptable to Luther. He strongly believed that one lived a life of humility in order to receive God’s grace. After 1507, sales of Indulgences took a steep climb because the Papal Court was in great financial trouble.
In the 1700s, selling pews in the church became a common practice. Where the pews were placed was based, of course, on the price of the purchase and the importance of the family.
Sad to say, in the 1900s it seems that all limits came off and you could then buy a denomination-specific bible or one with the name of your favorite televangelist on it. Today in the first decade of the 2000s, everything in the church is for sale. As if you need a list here we go.
You can buy oil necessary for anointing; this will cost you more if it’s fragrant. You can buy miracle water guaranteed to give you what you want. You can buy your way out of debt; just send that popular preacher $2008 before the end of the year and – poof! – your debts shall be, I say, shall be forgiven! Oh, I feel my strength coming on, probably because I bought my prayer shawl; you know it’s the only way to the threshing room.
Think we don’t sell pews anymore? If so, you’re wrong. Just let a popular preacher, celebrity or politician visit. I’ve never seen them on the back row or in the overflow room, have you? But wait there’s more. If you like what you just heard and want more, not a problem. You can buy the word of God, (you know you need it), for just $59.99 plus shipping and handling, mind you and still there’s more. Need a personal word form God? Just call the Master Prophet’s pay-per-minute phone line, and he or one of his students in the school of the prophets will be sure to send you a prophetic word just for you. Just one problem; one of my former pastors and I both sent in for a word, (a total experiment), and as we expected, we both got the same personal letter. Yes, we could get out of our negative situation, by paying him to release the word on us. It wasn’t cheap either. If you’re thinking, man I’m in the wrong business, you’re in luck. For just a couple thousand of dollars you too can pay to BECOME a PROPHET!
Marriage problems? We’ve got a conference. Church security needs? We’ve got a conference. Want to get out of debt? You guessed it, we’ve got a conference. Um, no, it’s not free. Any wonder why “Jamaica plans to tap into the thriving market for religious-oriented tourism to invigorate the island’s sagging economy?” After all, the global religious tourism market is an $18 billion-a-year industry.
Think all this money is for the advancement of the kingdom of God? Then how do we explain the lifestyles of televangelists and others who obviously profit greatly by selling God, the church, and the Gospel?
Do I sound angry? I am. Aren’t you? Do you think that preachers are called to prosperity? Do you think that prosperity is God’s priority for you? What does the bible mean when it says:
“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.”
Why do we pay for copies of sermons from preachers who are salaried to prepare and preach them? Please don’t tell me that it’s to cover the cost. Many pastors and preachers today are making their sermons available for download, podcast and webcast for free.
Just in case you are thinking, “but the laborer is worthy of his hire,” let’s look at that in context for a second. It’s Matthew 10:7-10
Tell them that the kingdom is here.
Bring health to the sick. Raise the dead. Touch the untouchables. Kick out the demons. You have been treated generously, so live generously.
Don’t think you have to put on a fund-raising campaign before you start.
You don’t need a lot of equipment. You are the equipment, and all you need to keep that going is three meals a day. Travel light.
As I think and re-think about the way we do church, I’ve come to believe that if we don’t stop selling everything, we’ll remain oblivious to the fact that we are selling out. Does anybody else feel like flipping tables with Jesus? Hoorah!