For thus hath the Lord said unto me, Go, set a watchman, let him declare what he seeth. (Isa 21:6)
Support for the Senate investigation into prosperity preachers’ financial dealings continues to grow. Lee Grady, editor of Charisma magazine has gone on record welcoming a congressional-led “reformation,”1 and now Michael Barrick of MinistryWatch.com has also joined the charge. Barrick has reportedly said of the investigation, led by Sen. Charles Grassley, that: “If the Church fails to hold its own accountable and if its most visible leaders fail to live by the very standards they purport to proclaim, then we should applaud when a leader with the standing of Grassley demands accountability.”2 Yet, applause may be premature.
As members in Christian industry join the bandwagon of ministry watchdogs they may be overlooking a few key points regarding their brand of church accountability, and the means for achieving it. And these oversights raise some questions.
The prompting, in the first place, of congressional fishing expeditions into ministries that have satisfied IRS requirements calls into question the motives of those who initiate it. Are they really concerned with financial accountability, or is it because they find a particular religious teaching distasteful that they seek to punish by other means what they cannot censor?
By their use of the term “the church,” in the second place, do these watchdogs imply that these ministries they lead the charge on are congregations in the Church of Jesus Christ, the body of saints who are born again believers? Thirdly, do they also imply that they are in that body too?
The answers on these questions are important because they prescribe or explain courses of action, but no possible answer on any of of the first two questions should result in the action these watchdogs are taking.
If it is the case that these ministries’ religious teachings are the real reason behind the action of these watchdogs, that they are so distasteful to their doctrinal sensibilities, then it might have occurred to them that perhaps these are not Christian ministries. In which case, they have an obligation to expose them (Rom 16:17,18), but they have no justification to persecute them. And if any of them are Christian ministries, they have no doctrinal justification to go before the law.
These are points that Barrick neglected to take note of while applauding an onslaught of congressional oversight to ensure that those ministries follow their own catechisms. Another point he neglects is the need to abide by any instructions that would apply here to himself on this subject:
Dare any of you, having a matter against another, go to law before the unjust, and not before the saints? (1Co 6:1)
Now, Barrick and Grady and Ole Anthony of Trinity Foundation, who initiated the investigation, may say that they have aired it out with these ministries for several years and have gotten nowhere. But did any one of them actually have a matter against them, other then a disagreement over doctrine? It hardly appears that it is anything else (they question their fidelity because of lavish lifestyles which by prosperity teaching is a sign of God’s blessing), and even if they had a matter they stand to be rebuked for their action, or endorsement of it:
I speak to your shame. Is it so, that there is not a wise man among you? no, not one that shall be able to judge between his brethren? But brother goeth to law with brother, and that before the unbelievers. (1Co 6:5-6)
This is a key point to consider here in determining a legal action; that it should not set unbelievers to adjudicate the affairs of the saints. These are supposed to be spiritual in their reckoning amongst themselves and not carnal (Grassley not withstanding, the House of Representatives is a secular body). While Barrick is correct to observe that: “How these televangelists respond will reflect directly upon the Gospel of Jesus Christ,”3 which has already been made a casualty on many fronts due to scandalous behavior of professing Christians, in and out of the pulpit; his scrutiny appears to fail him in close quarters.
If he and the rest of these watchdogs are themselves Christians-in-watching, they should be able assess the negative impact their own actions would have on the gospel; affixing the seal of Christianity to these organizations in question, and whetting legislative appetites to attack real gospel preachers they find offensive. Moreover, in light of that concern, they should have acted out of the knowledge that it would be better for the Church if they would suffer a matter unresolved (if there be a matter), than to take it to the unsaved:
Now therefore there is utterly a fault among you, because ye go to law one with another. Why do ye not rather take wrong? why do ye not rather suffer yourselves to be defrauded? (1Co 6:7)
It is one thing to be a watchman alerting the sheep to wolves in sheep’s clothing. Therein is plenty of work that will only cease when the Lord returns. Until then, the wolves, for the most part, are going to remain wolves, and sheep will be sheep; some of whom will be torn on occasion. That’s the reason for the watchman. He is to spend his time warning the sheep, not taking the wolves to court. Perhaps only two sorts of watchmen would fail to understand this. One would be too unlearned to be at his post.
1. Lillian Kwon, “More Questions Raised in Probe of Preachers,”The Christian Post, December 04, 2007.
2. Lillian Kwon, “Grassley Still Waiting on Preachers Under Financial Scrutiny,” The Christian Post, December 19, 2007