Christians Who Sell Jesus
Joe the Author
Joe is a gifted author who writes books to help churches be healthier. He has valuable biblical teaching to share, and he genuinely wants to serve the Body of Christ. Since he has friends in high places, he’s been able to get his books published by a large and influential Christian publishing house. He’s happy that the publisher only charges $14.99 for each of his paperbacks, and $9.99 for the e-book versions. They pay him a dollar royalty for each sale. When people ask him about how much he makes from his books, he’s always quick to say that he’s not in it for the money, and the small kickback he gets doesn’t even cover the amount of time each book takes him to write. The fact that he’s losing money (in the sense that his profits don’t equal the value of his time) makes him feel good that he’s making a sacrifice for the Kingdom of God.
Although Joe is well-meaning and sincere, and willing to sacrifice time and money to build up God’s Church, he has been deceived in several ways. First, he wrongly assumes that Scripture allows the sale of ministry. What he’s doing is clearly Christian ministry, and both Jesus and Paul make it crystal clear through their lived example and teaching that ministry should never be sold, but it should definitely be supported by the free generosity of God’s people.
Second, Joe wrongly believes that the only way Christian writers can care for their families and keep from poverty is by putting price tags on their books. The Bible and Church history are full of examples of servants of God who were provided for through the free giving of his people to do ministry, or who worked a secular job (like making tents) in order to pay the bills.
Third, Joe has been deceived by promises of renown and acclaim if he publishes with a big-name publisher. Although he knows that he could distribute his book for free online digitally, and self-publish a paper version without receiving any profit, the lure of being perceived as a “legitimate” or “real” author because of the imprint of a well-known publisher prevailed. However, he covers up this desire for prestige by telling himself that a big publisher will reach more people. This may or may not be so, since he has never tried the alternative, but it doesn’t matter. God does not measure success in numbers of copies distributed, but rather in obedience. And obedience would mean giving his writing away, and supporting his ability to write by some other means than selling it. Joe is unintentionally living the lie that reaching more people with his writing is more important than obeying God. For him, the ends justify the means.
Jane the Free Thinker
Jane believes that there are no guiding principles in Scripture regarding money and ministry because “everything is ministry, if it’s done as unto the Lord, right? As long as we’re loving God and our neighbor and seeking to make disciples, all of life is ministry! A janitor can work for the glory of God, and when he does, that’s a ministry just as important as preaching. A Christian flipping burgers can be a ministry just as much as praying for someone’s healing!” So Jane has concluded that, just as a janitor can demand payment for the work he is doing, a preacher can demand payment for each sermon he preaches.
It’s true that all of life should be lived to the glory of God, and that all believers are priests and should actively participate in building up the Body of Christ. But Jane has believed the lie that Scripture does not distinguish spiritual things from earthly things. Although she is well-meaning, and wants to glorify God, she has mistakenly oversimplified what it means to do Christian ministry. She also has wrongly conflated the truth that we should do everything as unto the Lord with the truth that some things are uniquely suited for the edification of the Church. The sincerity of encouragement and love are utterly compromised when done in exchange for money. Even unbelievers understand that some things like friendship and marriage should not be sold, and if they are sold, they are no longer real. Jane means well, but has been led astray by her culture’s obsession with money and materialism, along with the desire to force Scripture to support the status quo.
Steve the Biblical Counselor
Steve is a biblical counselor. He believes that God has called him to minister to the broken in spirit, and he sincerely wants to help people be healed and whole, walking in victory over sin through the power of the gospel. But he’s concerned that if he charges the same rates for counseling sessions as other prominent biblical counselors in his area, he’ll end up alienating the poor. During times of prayer he believes that God has placed a desire within him to simply give counsel for free, but older, more experienced counselors have talked him out of it. “God gave you common sense, and you need to be responsible and provide for your family,” they say. “Besides, if people don’t pay you for your counsel, they won’t value it.” So Steve has reluctantly decided to charge half of what most people usually charge.
Although Steve believes that the Bible is sufficient for godly wisdom, he has failed to turn to it for answers to the simple question as to whether he should require payment for “speaking truth in love” to broken people. He has failed to heed Jesus’ command to give freely (Matt 10:8), and allowed the conventional, worldly wisdom of his superiors to eclipse the sincere desire God has placed on his heart. He has also believed the lie that biblical counselors are somehow “above” raising support (as most missionaries do) to be able to minister freely and without compromising their sincerity. Steve is a tragic example of someone with an honest desire to honor God, but who was derailed by the blindness, complacency, and carnal pragmatism around him. He’s trapped in a fog of confusion. In the end, biblical counselors are offering to lead people to Jesus through the Scriptures, with wisdom, truth, and sincere friendship–things that cannot and should never be sold. But Steve is unable to see this fact.
James the Worship Composer
James is a worship leader. When he was single he wrote some of his best worship songs in the evenings while working at a bookstore to make ends meet. His heart’s passion is to serve the Church with Bible-saturated, God-centered, beautiful music that will point people to Christ. In the days of MySpace he was happy to post his songs for free for people to stream, and some of them started going viral. Eventually a Christian record label approached him and laid out a plan to turn his passion into a “career.” James trusted them because they seemed like sincere believers and were obviously “professionals” who had been in the worship business for decades. They convinced him that the best way to bless the most Christians with his music would be to join them and use his gifts to generate a full-time income.
Now James leads worship events for large conferences and usually charges an upfront fee of tens of thousands of dollars for each event. His songs are now sung in churches around the world and bring in a steady stream of income through royalties and CCLI. He’s happy that more people than he ever imagined are being touched by his music and encounter the presence of God. His recordings are no longer free to listen to, but every now and then he’ll release one at no cost to download, which makes him feel good that he has done his part to be generous.
James has been deceived by the “professionals” into believing that the worship of God can be sold as a commodity. He also has bought into the lie that reaching large numbers of people means that God must automatically approve of the way one is doing ministry. God must be happy and honored with the means, if the outcome is large. Unfortunately he has failed to take seriously the account of Jesus cleansing the temple because the place of worship and prayer had been turned into a marketplace. If James is honest with himself, he remembers being happier before he turned his passion into a full time career that denies people access to his music unless they pay. Although his former way of life proved that he could write amazing songs for the Church without treating it as a full time business, he now tries to convince himself that it’s the only way for him to make it “sustainable.” He has already signed contracts and feels trapped in a corporate landscape that feels nothing like a real ministry. But everyone he respects is doing the same thing, and older, wiser Christians assure him that he’s doing what’s sensible, and that God is using him powerfully. And so, in his heart, the lie that the Jesus trade is respectable and inevitable has prevailed.
Luke the Sought-After Preacher
Luke is a gifted preacher and speaker. Some of the biggest summer camps book him years in advance, and large churches love to invite him to present at conferences.
In the early years of his preaching ministry he would only receive honorariums as a free gift that churches might give him to help cover expenses. But now he receives more requests than he can commit to. At one point an old pastor told him that he needed to think about charging upfront for speaking engagements. This would help limit the amount of requests and enable him to start a college fund for his kids. His family agreed that this was a wise idea, and after considering it prayerfully, Luke began making it clear that he would require X amount in payment in addition to all of his travel expenses before agreeing to speak at an event. At first he didn’t like how this exchange felt, especially when smaller, likable churches couldn’t afford what he asked. But as the money started to flow, after a while he got used to it.
Once in a while when Luke has quieted his heart and is out on an evening walk with God, conflicted sentiments crowd his thoughts, and his conscience wonders whether he’s doing the right thing by putting a price tag on sharing what God has freely given him. But he’s quick to tell himself, “At least you don’t charge as much as your friend David does. He charges twice as much and doesn’t even have the greatest things to say. Most respected Christian celebrities charge for speaking. Besides, how else could you help your kids with their college expenses? God wants you to care for your family.”
Luke is a classic example of a man who bases his pursuit of holiness on people around him instead of on the standard of God’s Word. As long as he’s a little better than “that other guy,” he feels justified. He has believed a few lies: 1) putting his kids through college is more important than obeying God, 2) God is incapable of providing for his children through any other means than the ill-gotten gain of peddling God’s Word, 3) as long as his sin is not as extreme as those around him, God is pleased and honored, 4) widely-respected, famous evangelicals are a better standard to live by than Scripture. While Luke is not actively trying to do evil, he has become complacent with the default state of affairs around him and is content to go with the flow. He’s comfortable with worldly ways of thinking about money and ministry, so why rock the boat?
Mandy the Biblical Scholar
Mandy is an Old Testament scholar and the author of some of the best commentaries on Job and Amos. Both are published by Zondervan and don’t cost more than other commentaries. She’s also employed by a legacy Bible institute and teaches several courses, including biblical Hebrew. She regularly tells her friends that she has a dream job and couldn’t be more grateful for the opportunity to do what she loves. People respect her and look up to her as a nearly perfect model of someone who has given her life to God’s service, blessing readers and students year after year.
Unfortunately and unwittingly, Mandy is selling Jesus. The problem for her, like many others, is the fact that she has simply never thought about copyright or the status quo of selling Christian teaching. Even though she is a deep, critical thinker and has a PhD, she hasn’t taken the time to think biblically about whether it’s right to sell her commentaries on God’s Word or require students to pay tuition before being able to learn about the Bible from her. She has accepted an old, widespread system without a second thought, assuming that the system is biblical because so many other people have bought into it. If you were to challenge her to think differently and reconsider how biblical the system is, she would dismiss any contrary ideas as “fringe” and not worthy of her time. Like Luke (above), she’s comfortable with the way things are. In this way she resembles antebellum Christians who were extremely comfortable with the slave trade, and many historic Roman Catholic priests who were comfortable selling baptism. Besides, she might lose her dream job if she started to take what Scripture says about money and ministry seriously. Better to leave well enough alone, and if anyone brings it up, simply silence them by forcing certain parts of Scripture to support the status quo of commercializing Christianity. Ignorance is bliss.
Julia the YouTuber/Blogger
Julia is a well-known Christian YouTuber and blogger. Her mission is to leverage the reach of the internet to edify believers with God-centered, Christ-exalting content. She’s particularly called to minister to women who have been victims of abuse, helping them seek healing in Christ. When her subscriber count hit 100,000 she was advised by her cousin to monetize the channel and start earning ad revenue and seek out sponsors. When she asked her followers about this idea, most people said, “Of course! We would gladly sit through ads to support the great things you share! God has obviously blessed you! A worker is worthy of her wages! You go girl!”
Now Julia has nearly half a million followers and several revenue streams besides ads and sponsors. First, she has a special subscription option that enables people to access some of her content early, as well as suggest ideas for future videos and blogs. People who pay for an even more premium subscription also get some kind of free merch once a year, along with an opportunity to ask her questions in a livestream she does every couple months.
When her sister admonished her to think more carefully about whether it’s biblical to force people to watch ads before receiving spiritual guidance from her, she got offended. “It’s not like I’m driving a Tesla and live in Beverly Hills! I always tithe, and I support six different charities. These income streams allow me to give more than I ever have in my life! How dare you judge me, when the Bible clearly says that you shouldn’t muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain! Besides, people don’t have to sign up for the premium stuff, and they can get an ad blocker if they don’t wanna watch the ads. Or if they don’t like it, they can go listen to someone else! It’s a free country.”
Julia has bought into the lie that, as long as you don’t maintain an extravagant lifestyle, you’re incapable of mismanaging the relationship between money and ministry. Whether or not people “like” how she is monetizing her service to God is irrelevant to God. Jesus wants his servants to give what they have been given without cost in order to reflect 1) the radical generosity of his own heart, 2) the sincerity of Julia’s own ministry, and 3) the truth that spiritual things are not commodities to be bought and sold like everything else in the world’s marketplace. As it stands, the sincerity of Julia’s ministry is seriously compromised, since there is nothing to keep someone from thinking that she has ulterior financial motives for the truth she imparts. She is unable to be above the reproach of using Jesus as a platform for making money. God is more interested in her obedience than whether she gives her ill-gotten gain to charities or churches. Finally, Julia has failed to truly love those who listen to her, for true Christian love never has strings attached. Love lays down profit and pleasure, and endures pain for the sake of others.
Tom the Seminary President
Tom follows in the footsteps of many seminary leaders who have gone before him since the seminary was founded in 1892. He has inherited a system and structure that is typical of nearly all seminaries around the world: students must pay tuition if they want to receive spiritual guidance and biblical teaching. Thankfully, the seminary has some endowments that allow it to keep its course prices down, but Tom is well aware that there are many people who never attend his seminary because of the cost. Although there are scholarships available, they are limited and usually reserved for international students. Sometimes at night he thinks about how nice it would be if professors could simply be like missionaries and raise support, freeing themselves to teach without charging students money. Or why couldn’t there be more bivocational professors who support themselves with another job like Paul did and offer their services to the seminary for free? But then he shakes his head and laughs at how impossible his idealistic musings are. The seminary has been operating the same way for too long. Tradition can’t be broken. There are too many people who would hate his ideas and keep them from even being tried. Why bother with a pipe dream?
Tom, like most, is well-meaning and wants to do the right thing. But he’s also still largely ignorant of the biblical teaching on money and ministry. He has believed the lie that obeying God is an ideal fantasy, especially when it involves breaking with tradition. While Tom is impressed by the size, age, and influence of his seminary, God is not impressed. Nor is God impressed by its lack of fundamental obedience to the command to freely give what they have freely received. Tom is also a coward, fearing man more than his Creator. And if he’s willing to admit it, he doesn’t have faith that God would provide enough support for the seminary professors. He doesn’t even believe that the professors themselves would have enough faith to even attempt to raise support. And very few of them have any other skill that might enable them to be bivocational like Paul. In the end, Tom’s God is too small to overcome these obstacles to true obedience. The wisdom of a capitalistic economy is better than God’s wisdom for “building up the Body of Christ through sound biblical teaching” (the seminary’s slogan). The scale at which Tom’s seminary does ministry requires more money than God could supply through the generous colabor of his people, so Jesus must be sold in order to cover the costs. Once again, the ends justify the means, sincerity is compromised, God is defamed and belittled as a commodity.
Jada the Publishing CEO
Jada runs a nonprofit Christian publishing house. One of the best and brightest authors she publishes came to her one day and proposed two new ideas. He wanted to publish his next book on a God-centered view of marriage as public domain (or Creative Commons Zero), and he wanted to make the book available in several digital formats for free on his personal website. Jada listened patiently to his petition and then explained, “I admire your generosity, but we live in a fallen world where there is a real possibility that someone might exploit your book if it’s made available so openly. Someone might make a derivative work and then lock it up in a restrictive copyright. Anyone could freely alter your writing according to their own opinions and then set up a printing press to produce copies. Besides, we need to make money off of your book to cover the costs of typesetting, cover design, marketing, etc. And if you make it freely available to download, that’ll eat into our profits. Obviously we’re not in this for the money, but we’ve got bills to pay and we want to be good stewards of our resources.” The author eventually understood and went away disappointed.
Jada is deceived in several ways. First, she thinks that the best solution to living in a fallen world is to respond in fear, limit the spread of Christian teaching, and use man-made copyright laws that were created solely for monetary gain. Her fear mongering contradicts both the clear teaching of Scripture regarding the sovereignty of God and the testimony of history (she cannot name a single historical example of her fear being realized). What’s more, she’s failed to understand that Scripture itself survived uncorrupted for thousands of years without the protection of copyright law, and there are Bible versions in the public domain that have never been manipulated harmfully.
Second, Jada has been deceived into thinking that copyright law actually keeps bad people from doing bad things to good content. The reality is that it only gives her the right to sue them if she ever finds out about it, and she probably won’t. In the end, copyright law really only prevents law-abiding Christians from sharing good content out of joy with their neighbor–it hinders them from loving their neighbor in that way. And it does nothing to hinder law-breakers from doing anything they like with it, since the mere words “All rights reserved” cannot physically stop anyone from doing what they see fit.
Finally, Jada has believed the lie that God cannot provide for the publication costs, and thus the only way to cover those costs is by denying people access to the author’s teaching unless they pay. In other words, she naively thinks that her non-profit publishing house is incapable of running like any other non-profit–by the free donations of God’s people. Even though the biblical model of how a local church pays the bills (through free tithes and offerings) is staring her right in the face week after week, she is blind to this solution. Obedience to God in this area is a low priority for Jada, since “the way things have always been done” keeps her in the stranglehold of expediency. Christ is not honored by ministries that operate out of baseless fear and blindness at the expense of reflecting the extravagant generosity in the heart of our Father.
Jordan the Famous Pastor
Jordan pastors Beverly Hills Baptist Church, one of the largest and most influential churches in California. His sermons are renowned for their combination of clarity, passion, intellectual rigor, and gospel-centered eloquence. Although his church and nonprofit organization take in millions of dollars/year in donations, most of his sermons are not free to download online. Instead, each of his sermons is listed on the church webstore for 99 cents. When people ask him why he doesn’t make his sermons available for free, he typically answers with several reasons.
“First, you’ve gotta understand that in the old days when I started preaching, there was no Internet. You had to order a cassette tape recording of a sermon if you wanted it. And those cassettes weren’t free, because the physical tape had a cost, and no one complained about that. So we’re just continuing that tradition, and covering the costs of the servers and people who maintain the website.
“Second, don’t forget that the sermons I preach are considered ‘works for hire,’ so they legally belong to my church, which is my employer. I don’t own them; the church owns them. So when you pay for them, the money doesn’t go into my pocket; it goes into the church’s ministry account. And I’m not receiving any commission for the sermon sales. My church is just doing what any honest business would do to pay the bills and make the sermon distribution system sustainable.
“Third, I want to talk about the preaching of the Word as a means of grace. Most people don’t understand that it’s only a means of grace when administered in the context of the corporate worship of the people of God. In that case it would be wrong to charge money for it, such as an admission fee. But digital recordings of sermons are not delivered in the context of corporate worship, so they’re in a completely separate category, and the Bible leaves it to us to treat these special circumstances with wisdom, since they aren’t addressed in Scripture. A biblical doctrine of preaching would tend to put recorded sermons in the same category as Christian books. Both are definitely useful, but not an essential part of the Christian life, so we’re free to sell them.
“Finally, to be honest, why wouldn’t my church want to charge for access to my sermons? We don’t think it strange that pastors charge for the books they write. And just like books, these sermons are expensive to produce. This is Beverly Hills we’re talking about. While most churches may get things done through volunteer work, we’re in a city that demands a higher standard, so we hire professionals and use premium services. And that’s not cheap. So the money our church makes off the sermons barely covers the cost of production.”
Jordan means well, and genuinely thinks he’s doing what’s right in the sight of God, but the culture around him has squeezed him into its mold. He has believed the lie that it is impossible to cover the cost of a website by donations. And he fails to realize that the sincerity of his preaching is compromised by selling it, no matter what the price may be. His God is not big enough to provide money to pay the bills.
Jordan has also been fooled by the idea that Christians in rich areas must match their milieu with lavish spending and offer “premium” ministry. If God chooses not to provide the money for plush frills for a church through the free generosity of his people, then he probably doesn’t want them to have those frills.
Next, by saying that his recorded sermons are not technically a means of grace, he assumes that the Holy Spirit is limited by technology. While this argument may sound sophisticated to some on the surface, it’s a classic example of how clever men can be when they want to find a technical loophole to justify themselves. When he compares recorded sermons to books in order to prove the legitimacy of what his church is doing, he commits the error of using one widespread wrong to make another wrong feel ok. In other words, he claims that one culturally respectable sin makes another similar sin respectable. But this is not how the Bible or the Christian life work. God condemns the selling of godly instruction (Micah 3:11), and does not limit it to corporate worship. Jesus commands the free giving of ministry (Matt 10:8) and doesn’t confine that free giving to a specific context. Sadly and ironically, the pastor who thousands look to for Scriptural guidance has not shown sufficient care in looking to Scripture for guidance on whether he should sell his own teaching. In this area he has been conformed to the pattern of this world.
Rob the Strategic Vision Officer
Rob Hood is the strategic vision officer of a prominent organization that publishes academic biblical literature. After many trips overseas and conversations with leaders from the global south, he was struck with the scarcity of serious biblical study resources in the developing world. He recognized that voices from around the globe are underrepresented in the West, and that many people struggle to gain access to the literature they need to do biblical research. As a response, he and his colleagues developed policies that would make it easier for poorer countries to have free access to the academic resources his organization publishes. In short, these policies describe strategies for robbing the rich to feed the poor:
Strategy 1: “Charge premium prices in rich countries like the US for the biblical content we publish, and use that money to donate free copies to seminary libraries and Christian leaders in poor countries.”
Strategy 2: “Charge for or give away digital resources based on IP address. If someone accesses our website from an IP address of a country with a GDP per capita that is substantially lower than the average GDP per capita of the United States and the European Union, a page with free PDFs will be available. If someone visits our website from an IP address in a country of high GDP, they will only be able to access those same resources through a paywall.”
While Rob should be commended for his passion to serve the under-resourced and learn from the marginalized cultures of the world, his strategy falls short of what God has made clear in Scripture. First, in Matthew 10:8 Jesus commanded his disciples to give freely to everyone, not just the poor. Likewise, in Micah 3:11 God condemns priests for teaching for money in general, not just for charging the poor. Simply put, the Bible never gives a green light to sell holy things to anyone–rich or poor. Unfortunately, Rob has fallen into the same error that so many around him have championed: the belief that the ends justify the means, and that God doesn’t care about the means as long as the end result is good. The biblical model for doing what Rob wants to do would be to give everything they publish to poor and rich alike, and rely on God and his people to supply their operations costs through the free generosity of believers.
On a practical note, Rob has grossly misunderstood the reality of higher income countries. Simply because someone lives in a rich country does not mean they are rich or able to afford a $40 commentary on a book of the Bible, etc. The idea that in these countries there are no poor people who have a strong desire to learn and go deeper into Scripture, grow in their faith, and avail themselves of serious biblical tools and resources is both naive and false. But Rob’s strategies would block them from the good teaching his organization publishes. It is clear in Scripture that Jesus was not only concerned with the poor in other countries; he had a deep compassion for the poor of his own country. While Rob feels really good about his ideas, and others herald him as heroic for such forward-thinking generosity, his organization’s actions sadly fall short of the glory of God.
Susan the Bible Study Author
Susan writes Bible studies for women and does speaking tours around the USA. She is the founder of Living Water Ministries, and reaches millions of women with her events and books. Her passion is to equip and empower women with a solid knowledge of the scriptures and challenge them to study the Bible deeply and seriously. On her ministry’s website their stated mission is “to encourage all to know and love Jesus Christ through the study of Scripture.” Her latest Bible study of Philippians is called The Surpassing Worth of Knowing Jesus, and you can buy the digital workbook for $20. Conference tickets to her Philippians study tour are $85 for adults. Live streaming tickets are also available, but if you live within a 150 mile radius of where the conference will be held, you are not allowed to stream the event. The streaming cost for a small group of up to twelve people is $125. If you have more than twelve, you must pay $20/additional attendee. Once you purchase the streaming access, the video recordings will be available to you for only 30 days after the event. You can own the digital download of the entire five-session study of Philippians for $50. The ministry website also has the option to give a donation.
Susan has never thought about an alternative way to do what she does. She grew up around the selling of ministry, and in her circles no one has ever questioned it. On the contrary, everyone she has come into contact with has celebrated the Jesus-trade in nearly all its forms. Susan is proud of her ability to support her household with her gift of teaching. She’s also happy to be an example to her millions of followers of a woman who values her gifts enough to charge a fair price for them. What’s more, the numbers of women impacted by her ministry speak for themselves. No one would ever question that God is 100% pleased with the way she’s doing ministry, since so many books have been purchased, so many venues sold out, and lives changed. If she were to explain to someone the biblical foundation for selling her ministry, she would probably quote 1 Corinthians 9:14: “Those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel.” She considers herself simply to be obedient to that verse by getting her living by the sale of gospel ministry.
Susan has been deceived by her Christian cultural milieu into thinking that it’s ok to deny people access to the knowledge of Christ unless they pay for it (although neither she nor her friends would describe it that way). She has turned encouragement “to know and love Jesus Christ through the study of Scripture” into merchandise. Although it would be easy for a person of her celebrity to fund her ministry through the donations of thousands of devoted women who have been blessed by her teaching, she chooses to trust in worldly ways of funding to lead people to Jesus. She doesn’t realize that what she is doing makes no sense at the most fundamental levels of logic. If she really wants to encourage as many people as possible to know and love Jesus Christ, why would she block access to her teaching with a paywall? Limiting access to ministry that leads to a deeper knowledge of Jesus and the Bible is the opposite of her mission statement, which gives the impression that money is really her main concern, and helping people know and love Jesus is second.
Susan does not realize that the sincerity of her ministry is compromised by every resource she sells, since it sends a clear message to the whole world: “I can’t trust Christ my Master to provide for me through the free generosity of his people, nor am I willing to give sacrificially for the sake of God’s Kingdom. I would rather keep millions of people from being blessed by the teaching that God has freely given me than lose the ability to monetize it in ways that Scripture condemns.” Ironically, the woman who seeks to spread a passion for the Bible has ignored or misconstrued the Bible’s teaching on money and ministry. The woman who wants people to know Jesus has turned Jesus into a product to be bought and sold.
Sadly, Susan cannot be excused on the basis of being young and naive. She is actually 60 years old and has been serving the Lord in ministry for 30 of those years and studying the Bible assiduously. Like many others, she has completely misinterpreted 1 Corinthians 9:14 to mean that she has permission to sell the gospel as a commodity in order to “get her living by the gospel.” But it doesn’t say that at all. It simply says that she should be able to get her living by the gospel, which requires her to go back to Matthew 10:8 and listen to Jesus in order to understand how she should be compensated for her work of gospel proclamation. There she’ll find it clear that Jesus forbids selling her teaching, and instructs her to receive support from God’s people.
Bob the Economist
Bob loves economics. He believes that God has given capitalism to the world as a gift that we should steward wisely. But because Jesus and Paul did not know anything about modern economies of scale, he feels led to help people make better decisions about how to manage ministry in our forward-thinking culture. He has encouraged his pastors to begin charging money to pray for people. Their time is a scarce resource, and economics is all about getting scarce resources to the right people. There are too many people for the pastors to pray for, so they can use economics to help narrow down the people who are more serious about needing prayer. In other words, those who are willing to pay. He also has encouraged them to associate a standard fee for baptisms, since there are real costs to filling the baptistry and the time required to council and teach those who are seeking baptism (not to mention the time it takes to plan and execute the baptisms themselves). Bob tells the pastors that this is the most sustainable way to operate, and that they’re only covering costs, not selling the ministry itself.
Although he has good intentions, Bob has been deceived by the notion that expediency is more important than what Scripture teaches. He’s more excited about economics than about studying, understanding, and obeying God’s word. He would rather force Scripture to support his pet ideas than allow Scripture to condemn them. Swayed by the pride that economic expertise and power bring, he is acting as though his ways are better than God’s. He hasn’t even seriously given thought to passages like the account of Jesus cleansing the temple, Matthew 10:8, or Micah 3:11. In his heart of hearts he’s convinced that it’s far more important for the Church to be up-to-date, relevant, and economically savvy. Bob has also been encouraged his church leaders to commit the sin of partiality (James 2). He believes that by charging money for prayer, the right people will be prayed for, and the wrong people will leave the pastors alone. But in the end this will always privilege the rich and discriminate against the poor–something the heart of Yahweh abhors.
Chris the Prophetic Voice
Chris has a timely message and warning for the Church. He’s filled with a passionate and prophetic urgency to admonish evangelicals about the dangers he sees looming ahead if they do not repent and reform in seven key areas. So he has written a book in the form of a letter called Dear Church: Seven Lies Seducing Evangelicals. In the book he talks about how these lies are slowly infiltrating Christendom, and he desperately wants people to be aware of the dire consequences. Speaking from decades of pastoral experience, he believes that God has commanded him to sound a wake-up call to his people, and that he would have blood on his hands if he failed to raise these concerns. Chris has shared in multiple interviews that he had no intentions to write another book in his life, but God made it clear to him that he needed to help deliver people from the deadly deceptions of our anti-Christian culture.
Since Chris is already a well-established author, he published his “letter” with a legacy publishing house. There are two options to choose from: a Kindle version for $14.99, and a hardback for $21.99. It is not freely available in any format, and copying it or sharing it is strictly forbidden in the “All Rights Reserved” notice at the beginning of the book.
As we’ve already seen from other profiles like that of “Joe the Author,” what Chris has done is a clear violation of Christ’s command (Matt 10:8) and the wider teaching of Scripture (e.g. 2 Cor 2:17, Micah 3:11, 2 Cor 9). But from a purely pragmatic perspective, Chris’s choice for spreading his timely message is completely insane and hypocritical. It is evil, cruel, and illogical. Why?
- When you write a letter to someone, it’s an insult to require money from that person before allowing them to read it. It goes against the very definition of a letter to charge the recipient for it.
- It is both illogical and evil to put a paywall between people and urgent warnings. It’s illogical because, if you truly want to save people from imminent harm, you want them to get access to your warning as quickly, effortlessly, and freely as possible. For example, if you charge a fee before people can hear a hurricane or fire warning, it reveals that you don’t truly want to save lives, nor do you have any real “urgency” in your heart. This paywall is also evil and cruel because it ensures that many people will suffer harm or death because they didn’t hear the warning, especially the poor. Chris, by putting his book behind a paywall, has sealed painful consequences for many people, for which he will be held accountable at the judgment (by his own assessment and admission).
- People who are the most vulnerable to these lies of our anti-Christian culture are often the least likely to pay for a book in order to find out how they’ve been seduced. Many people who are deceived believe with all their hearts that they’re walking in the truth. They scoff at the idea of going out of their way to pay someone to tell them what lies they’ve fallen for.
Ironically, Chris has contributed to the lies that harm evangelicals by believing and promoting a lie himself: the lie that Christian exhortation and messages inspired by the Spirit of God (speaking truth) can be turned into merchandise. He is not only aggravating the current crisis by keeping his important letter behind a paywall, but also helping to spread the deception that the only way to warn people is by selling that warning.
What’s even more tragic is that Chris genuinely has radically important things to say. When Christians read his book they wish they could share it with hundreds of their friends who are flirting with the perils he describes. But they can neither convince their friends to buy it, nor afford to buy a copy for everyone in their life who needs to hear his Bible-saturated admonitions. In spite of this frustration, most believers slavishly accept this cruel evil as normal, and even defend it as the way things should be. And so, many people remain deceived and unwarned, while Chris and his publisher grow richer.