The Unethical, Soul-winning Church

Scandalized, but not by the cross.

Over the past year, the evangelical Christian world has seen more than a few scandals crop up among the mega-church leadership titans. Mark Driscoll has been allegedly plagiarizing content for books  (although Tyndale publishing did an in-house investigation which they claimed came back clean) and also using church tithe to artificially boost his “Real Marriage” book on the New York Times bestseller ratings. Then, you have Steven Furtick who besides being lambasted for purchasing a multi-million dollar home, he has been allegedly manipulating people to baptisms.

There comes a point where one has to ask, is it worth the headache for the evangelical world to have multi-million dollar industries built around specific personalities? And is it worth defaming the name of Jesus Christ to tolerate unethical practices for the spread of the gospel? My hope is that most people would realize these are rhetorical questions which shouldn’t take more than a millisecond of thought and then answer with a resounding “No”.

Do the ends justify the means?

Somewhere in the last century, the evangelical Christian culture in the west decided that when Christ said “Go ye therefore and teach all nations” (Matt. 28:19), He concluded it with “by any means necessary” and then He lit a cigar, put on some Ray-Bans and ascended to the sky.

The methodology of evangelism in the United States went from street corner preaching (which we can all admit is a little bit annoying) to covertly disguising the Christian message into the cultural milieu in hopes of driving  people into the doors of our churches. The latter has it’s own ill-advised effects. This model is called the “seeker-driven” model of doing church and it’s become astronomically popular. But how does this relate to Furtick and Driscoll? Well, the idea that is behind these churches stems from a “marketing” methodology in regards to evangelism. The steps are usually as follows:

  1. Plant a church.
  2. Get a snazzy website, maybe a billboard and a lot of trendy, hip people on board.
  3. Cultivate the church’s image.
  4. The church grows and the lead pastor’s influence grows.
  5. The lead pastor must now keep the money and influence coming for the church to continue to grow and thrive.
  6. The marketing methods increase, and the church’s continue to grow with newcomers (who are willing to tithe of course.)

This growth plan is becoming common, not because all church planters are seeking the limelight (although some may indeed be doing so), but it’s because they know no other way to evangelize without offending culture. Indeed, there are many groups who evangelize by offending culture repeatedly and they wear it like a badge of honor. But when the church becomes a sort of industry, finely-tuned to win souls, it will eventually run into some ethical dilemmas. Christ doesn’t call us to just make sure we stay away from sin in our moral behavior, but He calls us to pursue virtue and honor in our behavior. His ethics are much higher than the world’s.

For example, they may choose to expand to a second or third campus site for the church, but that may also raise the question of whether or not the money would be better spent in serving the poor and the needy. Or, they may want to continue to increase the lead pastor’s salary as he takes on about as much as a Fortune 500 CEO would. They may soon see no problem in buying a jet plane for the pastor or a multi-million dollar home. Are these things immoral or illegal? No. But that’s not really the point, is it?

Walk the walk.

So, what can a Christian today do? Well first, you can speak up. If you’re at a church which may be a well-meaning place which is trying to preach the Gospel truthfully but the church has become more like a company and the pastors like executives, so they start to address issues from a business paradigm. Maybe they start believing that “better marketing” is the answer for spreading the gospel, not…you know preaching the good news in word and deed so much.

Second, stop using the excuse “Well, everybody else is doing it”. The Church should be above reproach. Paul exhorts the Philippian church after instructing them on their behavior:

That ye may be blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world; (Phil. 2:15, KJV)

and to the Thessalonians:

Abstain from all appearance of evil. (1 Thess. 5:22, KJV)

Notice, there’s no caveat by Paul of “…unless it wins more souls to the Kingdom!” Paul also usually caps these exhortation segments of his letters of with a word on the sanctification of the body because he wants the believers he’s addressing to know that this work is important for conforming them to Christ. Any reproach Christ got from the world was because He was stating the truth of repentance and how to offer one’s self to God wholly and completely.

I have one more word from 2 Clement, a letter so circulated it was almost universally considered canon on par with Paul (and honestly, the Roman Catholic church still considers it as such). The author is not considered to actually be Clement any more, but the words still echo the truth of our time:

When the pagans hear from our mouths the oracles of God, they marvel at their beauty and greatness. But when they discover that our actions are not worthy of the words we speak, they turn from wonder to blasphemy, saying that it is a myth and a delusion. (13:3)

Meaning, you can speak prophetic words or be a great orator – but unless your actions are worthy of the words you actually speak, the world won’t care. They’ll go back to a life empty of Christ or the truth He came to gift us. Why? Because they perceive that being a Christian means nothing more than being part of a nice social club with a rock band and a lecture. There is no actual challenge to a higher, more virtuous life, especially when the church’s leadership doesn’t even subscribe to that. 
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