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Beware of Hucksters and Hypocrites in Churches

All the passages below are taken from Max Lucado’s book “And the Angels were Silent,” published in 1992 by Multnomah Press, Oregon.

 

Speedy Morris is the basketball coach for LaSalle University.

He was shaving when his wife told him he was wanted on the phone by Sports Illustrated. He got so excited over the prospect of national recognition that he hurried his shave and nicked himself. Not wanting to delay the caller, he ran out of the bathroom, lost his balance, and tumbled down the stair. Limping, with blood and lather on his face, he finally got to the phone.

Sports Illustrated?” he panted.

Imagine Morris’s disappointment when the voice on the other end droned, “Yes it is, and for seventy-five cents an issue you can get a year’s subscription.. .”1

It’s tough to be let down. It’s disappointing when you think someone is interested in you, only to find they are interested in your money. When salespeople do it, it’s irritating---but when people of faith do it, it can be devastating.

It’s a sad but true fact of the faith: religion is used for profit and prestige. When it is, there are two results: people are exploited and God is infuriated.

There’s no better example of this than what happened at the temple. After he had entered the city on the back of a donkey, Jesus “went into the Temple. After he had looked at everything, since it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve apostles.” (Mark 11:11 NCV)

Did you catch that? The first place Jesus went when he arrived in Jerusalem was the temple. He’d just been paraded through the streets and treated like a king. It was Sunday, the first day of the Passover week. Hundreds of thousands of people packed the narrow stone streets. Rivers of pilgrims flooded the marketplace. Jesus elbowed his way through the sea of people as evening was about to fall. He walked into the temple area, looked around, and walked out.

Want to know what he saw? Then read what he did on Monday, the next morning when he returned. “Jesus went into the Temple and threw out all the people who were buying and selling there. He turned over the tables of those who were exchanging different kinds of money, and he upset the benches of those who were selling doves. Jesus said to all the people there, ‘It is written in the Scriptures, “My temple will be called a house for prayer.” But you are changing it into a “hideout for robbers.”’” (Matthew 21:12-13 NCV)

What did he see? Hucksters. Faith peddlers. What lit the fire under Jesus’ broiler? What was his first thought on Monday? People in the temple making a franchise out of the faith.

It was Passover week. The Passover was the highlight of the Jewish calendar. People came front all regions and many countries to be present for the celebration. Upon arriving they were obligated to meet two requirements.

First an animal sacrifice, usually a dove. The dove had to be perfect, without blemish. The animal could be brought in from anywhere, but odds were that if you brought a sacrifice from another place, yours would be considered insufficient by the authorities in the temple. So, under the guise of keeping the sacrifice pure, the dove sellers sold doves---at their price.

Second, the people had to pay a tax, a temple tax. It was due every year. During Passover the tax had to be rendered in local currency. Knowing many foreigners would be in Jerusalem to pay the tax, money changers conveniently set up tables and offered to exchange the foreign money for local---for a modest fee, of course,

It’s not difficult to see what angered Jesus. Pilgrims journeyed days to see God, to witness the holy, to worship His Majesty. But before they were taken into the presence of God, they were taken to cleaners. What was promised and what was delivered were two different things.

Want to anger God? Get in the way of people who want to see him. Want to feel his fury? Exploit people in the name of God.

Mark it down. Religious hucksters poke the fire of divine wrath.

“I’ve had enough,” was written all over the Messiah’s face. In he stormed. Doves flapped and tables flew. People scampered and traders scattered.

This was not an impulsive show. This was not a temper tantrum.  It was a deliberate act with an intentional message. Jesus had seen the money-changers the day before. He went to sleep with pictures of this midway and its barkers in his memory. And when he woke up the next morning, knowing his days were drawing to a close, he chose to make a point: “You cash in on my people and you’ve got me to answer to.” God will never hold guiltless those who exploit the privilege of worship.

 

Some years ago I was in the Miami airport to pick up a friend. As I walked through the terminal, a convert of an Eastern cult got my attention.

You know the kind I’m talking about: beads, sandals, frozen smile, backpack of books.

“Sir,” she said. (I should have kept walking.)

“Sir, just a moment, please.” Well, I had a moment. I was early and the plane was late, so what harm? (I should have kept walking.)

I stopped and she began her spiel. She said she was a teacher and her school was celebrating an anniversary. In honor of the event, they were giving away a book which explained their philosophy. She placed a copy in my hand. It was a thick hardback with a mystic cover. A glum-looking guy was sitting cross-legged with his hands folded.

I thanked her for the book and began to walk away.

“Sir?” I stopped. I knew what was coming

“Would you like to make a donation to our school?”

“No,” I responded, “but thanks for the book.”

I began to walk away. She followed and tapped me on the shoulder.

“Sir, everyone so far has given a donation in appreciation for the gift.”

“That’s good,” I replied, “but I don’t think I will. But I appreciate the book.” I turned and began to walk away. I hadn’t even taken a step, however, when she spoke again. This time she was agitated.

“Sir,” and she opened her purse so I could see her collection of dollars and coins. “If you were sincere in your gratitude you would give a donation in appreciation.”

That was low. That was sneaky. Insulting. I’m not usually terse, but I couldn’t resist “That may be true,” I responded, “but if you were sincere, you wouldn’t give me a gift and then ask me to pay for it

She reached for the book, but I tucked it under my arm and walked away.

A small victory against the mammoth of hucksterism.

Sadly, the hucksters win more than they lose. And, even more sadly, hucksters garb themselves in Christian costumes as much as those of Eastern cults.

You’ve seen them. The talk is smooth. The vocabulary eloquent. The appearance genuine. They are on your television. They are on your radio. They may even be in your pulpit.

May I speak candidly?

The time has come to tolerate religious hucksters no longer. These seekers of “sancti-money” have stained the reputation of Christianity. They have muddied the altars and shattered the stained glass. They manipulate the easily deceived. They are not governed by God; they are governed by greed. They are not led by the Spirit; they are propelled by pride. They are marshmallow phonies who excel in emotion and fail in doctrine. They strip-mine faith to get a dollar and rape the pew to get a payment. Our master unveiled their scams and so must we.

How? By recognizing them. Two trademarks give them away. One, they emphasize their profit more than the Prophet.

In the church in Crete some people made a living off the gullible souls in the church. Paul had strong words about them. “These people must be stopped, because they are upsetting whole families by teaching things they should not teach, which they do to get rich by cheating people” (Titus 1:11 NCV)

Listen carefully to the television evangelist. Analyze the words of the radio preacher. Note the emphasis of the message. What is the burden? Your salvation or your donation? Monitor what is said. Is money always needed yesterday? Are you promised health if you give and hell if you don’t? If so, ignore him.

A second characteristic of ecclesiastical con men: they build more knees than they build faith.

Medicine men tell you to stay out of the pharmacy. They don’t want you trying other treatments. Neither do hucksters. They present themselves as pioneers that the mainline church couldn’t stomach, but, in reality, they are lone wolves on the prowl.

 They have franchised an approach and want to protect it. Their bread and butter is the uniqueness of their faith. Only they can give you what you need. Their cure-all kit is the solution to your aches. Just as the dove-sellers were intolerant of imported birds, the hucksters are wary of imported faith.

Their aim is to cultivate a clientele of loyal checkbooks.

“Look out for those who cause people to be against each other and who upset other people’s faith. They are against the true teaching you learned, so stay away from them. Such people are not serving our Lord Christ but are only doing what pleases themselves. They use fancy talk and fine words to fool the minds of those who do not know about evil.”(Romans 16:17-18 NCV)

Christ’s passion on Monday is indignant. For that reason I make no apology about challenging you to call the cards on these guys. God has been calling a halt to babblers building towers for centuries. So should we.

If not, it could happen again.

No one ever expected it would happen the first time. Especially with this church. It was the model congregation. A heated swimming pool was made available for underprivileged kids. Horses were provided for inner city children to ride. The church gave scholarships and provided housing for senior citizens. It even had an animal shelter and medical facility, an out-patient care facility, and a drug rehabilitation program.

Walter Mondale wrote that the pastor was an “inspiration to us all.” The Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare cited the pastor’s outstanding contribution. We are told “he knew how to inspire hope. He was committed to people in need, he counseled prisoners and juvenile delinquents. He started a job placement center; he opened rest homes and homes for the retarded; he had a health clinic; he organized a vocational training center; he provided free legal aid; he founded a community center; he preached about God. He even claimed to cast out demons, do miracles, and heal.”2

Lofty words. A lengthy resume for what appeared to be a mighty spiritual leader and his church. Where is that congregation today? What is she doing now?

The church is dead... literally.

Death occurred the day the pastor called the members to the pavilion. They heard his hypnotic voice over the speaker system and from all corners of the farm they came. He sat in his large chair and spoke into a hand-held microphone about the beauty of death and the certainty that they would meet again.

The people were surrounded by armed guards. A vat of cyanide-laced Kool-Aid was brought out. Most of the cult members drank the poison with no resistance. Those who did resist were forced to drink.

First, the babies and children---about eighty---were given the fatal drink. Then the adults---women and men, leaders and followers, and finally the pastor.

Everything was calm for a few minutes, then the convulsions began, screams filled the Guyana sky, mass confusion broke out. In a few minutes, it was over. The members of the Peoples Temple Christian Church were all dead. All 780 of them.

And so was their leader, Jim Jones.

Mark it down and beware: there are hucksters in God’s house. Don’t be fooled by their looks. Don’t be dazzled by their words. Be careful. Remember why Jesus purged the temple. Those closest to it may be the farthest from it. (59-65)

 

Notes

1.    Paul Harvey’s For What It’s Worth, ed. Paul Harvey, Jr.(New York, N.Y.: Bantam Book,1991), 118

2.    Mel White, Deceived, as quoted by John MacArthur, Jr. in The MacArthur New Testament Commentary, Matthew 1-7 (Chicago,I11,: Moody Press,1985), 462

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