The U.S. Senate Finance Committee has recently begun a probe into the financial practices of some religious organizations claiming Non-Profit Tax-exempt status under federal laws. Senator Charles Grassley, the Committee’s ranking Republican member, as part of the larger probe, has launched an investigation of six of the nation’s most prominent charismatic ministries: Benny Hinn, Kenneth and Gloria Copeland, David and Joyce Meyer; Randy and Paula White; Creflo and Taffi Dollar; and Eddie Long.
The Iowa lawmaker, who spearheaded past whistle-blowing crusades of secular non-profits such as the American Red Cross, based on citizen complaints received by his office, sent letters to these six organizations demanding they provide him within a few weeks various types of audited financial records documenting lavish purchases, extraordinary expenditures, and inordinate compensation amounts, among other financial activity, along with governing board meeting minutes authorizing them. In the letters released this past Tuesday the Senator indicated his purpose was to verify the ministries’ compliance with U.S. tax laws. Among his requisitions were:
- Documentation of the financial transactions of Benny Hinn Ministries’ purchase of his $3 million home in California;
- Accounts of Eddie Long’s purchase of his $1.4 million, sprawling 20-acre estate outside Atlanta;
- A receipt for Tampa-based television preacher Paula White’s reported gift of a Bentley convertible to celebrity pastor, T.D. Jakes;
- Records delineating the source of funding for posh furnishings in iconic Bible teacher Joyce Meyer’s Missouri headquarters—including a $30,000 malachite table, a $23,000 marble top commode, and a $19,000 pair of Dresden vases;
- Explanation of Pacific island vacation trips by Kenneth and Gloria Copeland using a plane purportedly owned by their ministry;
- Clarification of high-profile Atlanta faith preacher Creflo Dollar’s role in raising a major portion of a $2 million donation to his mentor, Kenneth Copeland.
A top associate speaking on behalf of Grassley reportedly indicated the senator has no hidden agenda, and is not conspiring to deny anybody of religious freedom, but that he is seeking assurance that these six organizations are not misusing charitable contributions to pay for mansions, plastic surgeries, and other lavish perks. “The Christian public should have demanded a higher level of accountability a long time ago.”
This public probe comes on the heels of a rash of scandals in 2007 involving high-profile church leaders and TV-evangelists, the latest of which is allegations of financial mismanagement and other misconduct by ORU president, Richard Roberts, forcing his resignation and the bifurcation of ORU from Oral Roberts Evangelistic Association, which has been its parent organization since its founding. These along with the many other well-publicized disgraces involving well-known preachers, clergy, and church officials over the last few decades have produced an at least partially deserved blight upon modern Christendom. Per usual, the improper conduct of an errant few has disgraced the whole Body of Christ, and in the eyes of the world tarnished the service of thousands of upright, law-abiding, modestly-living, and modestly-compensated ministers in this country, who daily carry out their typically selfless and sacrificial servitude in relative obscurity and little recognition.
The view I have held privately for years going back to the days of the widely-publicized Jim Bakker and Jimmy Swaggart debacles is that while the world and worldly-minded Christians judge such rogue preachers on the premise of financial malfeasance, moral failures, and their sundry legal violations, God Himself is judging many prominent ministries against a much loftier standard, having to do with attitudes of ascendancy and elitism manifest in their blatant lack of compassion and benevolence toward the thousands of other, lesser-known ministries in this country whose missions and ministry endeavors are no less worthy of financial support than their own. Few of the “mega-ministries” that began emerging in the 1950s and ’60s have shown significant desire to “share the wealth” with other worthy ministries. When they have contributed to other ministry organizations, often a major part of their motivation is to curry some sort of favor and/or reciprocation from the receiving minister and/or his/her ministry organization. What makes this the height of hypocrisy is that these are the same well-known and well-healed ministers who constantly, and in some cases obsessively, demand sacrificial benevolence of their supporters toward their own coffers.
Personally, I believe that from the Divine perspective, ministries who have been afforded a prominence and platform that enables them to draw millions of dollars in annual contributions—and there are now scores upon scores of them in our nation—bear a responsibility, if not a Divine requirement, to help other ministries who are just as dedicated and devoted to the calling and ministry mission they’ve been given by God as those mega-ministries. Frequently and shamefully, however, the leaders of the mega-ministries become as arrogant and haughty as the mega-moguls of the world, hoarding, or in some cases, squandering their burgeoning treasuries on the further expansion of their own private kingdoms and the aggrandizement of their ministerial monarchs. Moreover, instead of having a sense of corporate responsibility toward other members of the Body of Christ, in direct contradiction of Scripture, they adopt the mindsets of the corporate world wherein they regard other ministries as competitors and mortal enemies. It is just an unfortunate and shameful fact that precious few of the mega-ministries and mega-churches regularly donate any substantial amount of the scores or hundreds of millions of annual income to help other ministries other than the obligatory “missionary” ministries or projects in some way related to their ministry or denomination, which often is motivated more by the PR benefits than genuine benevolence. Exceptions do exist, but they are relatively rare.
A Stricter Judgment!
The Holy Spirit makes it clear in Scripture that spiritual leaders “incur a stricter judgment” by God (Jas. 3:1), and that to whom much is given, much is required, and to whom much is entrusted, much is demanded both by God and men (Lk. 12:48; cf., NAS, AB, KJV). Nevertheless, in every age there are those like “Diotrephes, who loves to be first among them” (3 Jn. 1:9), who push and shove their way through the sheepfold in ambition-driven ascension to ascendancy and the accoutrements it affords. Unfortunately, self-aggrandizing charlatans do exist, and are always among us—tares sown amidst the wheat, wolves in sheep’s clothing—”who suppose that godliness is a means of gain” (1 Tim. 6:5). In fact, the Holy Spirit through the prophetic pen of the Apostle Paul warned that the times in the last days would become laden with severe difficulty resulting first and foremost from of a pervasion among humans of rank narcissism and self-aggrandizement:
But realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come. For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self-control, brutal, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power; Avoid such men as these. (2 Tim. 3:1-5)
Notice that every one of these ungodly, carnal traits Prophet Paul delineated are rooted in self-centeredness and self-love. The very first two traits he named as being culpable for the “difficult” or “perilous” times that would prevail in the last days is that mankind would be “lovers of self” and “lovers of money,” followed by boastfulness and arrogance, two other leading markers of self-centeredness. Such an apostate spiritual atmosphere for the end-times as the Spirit describes should not be surprising to students of biblical sociology and eschatology, but what is often surprising to the average Christian is that the end-times church, following the lead of self-absorbed leaders, will be swept up into this perfidious prevailing wind of worldliness propelled by the ultimate idolatry of gross narcissism, with which the “millennium generation” is so thoroughly permeated.
Both the Apostle Peter and Jude through indignation-charged inspiration of the Spirit directed some of the most stinging and utter rebuke in all of the Bible toward this ilk of false prophets and false teachers that existed in every Church age and yet captivates massive portions of the current Church by means of corrupted charisma. Peter wrote:
But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will also be false teachers among you, who will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing swift destruction upon themselves. Many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of the truth will be maligned; and in their greed they will exploit you with false words; their judgment from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep. (2 Pet. 2:1-3)
…enticing unstable souls, having a heart trained in greed, accursed children; forsaking the right way, they have gone astray, having followed the way of Balaam, the son of Beor, who loved the wages of unrighteousness; but he received a rebuke for his own transgression, for a mute donkey, speaking with a voice of a man, restrained the madness of the prophet. These are springs without water and mists driven by a storm, for whom the black darkness has been reserved. For speaking out arrogant words of vanity they entice by fleshly desires, by sensuality, those who barely escape from the ones who live in error, promising them freedom while they themselves are slaves of corruption; for by what a man is overcome, by this he is enslaved. (2 Pet. 2:14-19)
Jude’s entire Epistle is a divine-diversion from his intended topic and -diatribe against unscrupulous counterfeit ministers, messengers of Satan transformed as angels of light:
For certain persons have crept in unnoticed, those who were long beforehand marked out for this condemnation, ungodly persons who turn the grace of our God into licentiousness and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ…. Yet in the same way these men, also by dreaming, defile the flesh, and reject authority, and revile angelic majesties….But these men revile the things which they do not understand; and the things which they know by instinct, like unreasoning animals, by these things they are destroyed. Woe to them! For they have gone the way of Cain, and for pay they have rushed headlong into the error of Balaam, and perished in the rebellion of Korah. These are the men who are hidden reefs in your love feasts when they feast with you without fear, caring for themselves; clouds without water, carried along by winds; autumn trees without fruit, doubly dead, uprooted; wild waves of the sea, casting up their own shame like foam; wandering stars, for whom the black darkness has been reserved forever….But you, beloved, ought to remember the words that were spoken beforehand by the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ, that they were saying to you, “In the last time there will be mockers, following after their own ungodly lusts.” These are the ones who cause divisions, worldly-minded, devoid of the Spirit. (Jude 4-19, excerpts)
But, what a rude awakening is coming, and is indeed just on the horizon for today’s lukewarm Laodicean church. There is a shaking that is coming in which EVERYTHING that can be shaken will be, and every mountain and hill (human kingdoms and dynasties) shall be made low, and every valley shall be lifted up or exalted, and the rough ground shall be made a plain, and the rugged terrain, a valley (Isa. 40:3-5). It shall be a fierce day of accounting and reckoning, a day when God sets up His scales and weighs against His holy standard the works of the ministries he finds at work when He returns. Indeed, it shall be on that day when Jesus’ prediction, “many who are first will be last; and the last first” (Mat. 19:30), shall have some of its greatest application to this ilk of church leader who has been corrupted by the love of money and prostituted himself and his ministry in pursuit of a purely monetary “prosperity” and financially-measured “success.”
I remind you that nearly two-thousand years ago the Spirit expressly warned, “THE TIME IS COME that judgment MUST BEGIN at the house of God” (1 Pet. 4:17, KJV). If the time had come then, how much closer are we to it today? And, notice that God’s judgment MUST begin with God’s household, meaning the church, the betrothed to Christ, who Christ will return to claim as his Eternal Bride. That Day of Judgment of the house of God has been fast approaching for many years, and I believe shall begin to suddenly take place in the year ahead, 2008. The suddenness of it shall catch many unawares and overtake them like a thief in the night. “In one day,” many covetous Christian leaders shall begin to inherit judgment from God in various forms that shall result in major reversals in their ministries, and many shall lose the fortunes they have amassed from the tithes and offerings they have extruded, and in some cases extorted, from the hard-earned money of hard-working and sacrificially-giving donors, and along with it the excessively luxurious lifestyles to which some of them have become accustomed and reliant.
Coming Soon: Day of Reckoning!
A “Day Of Reckoning” is surely coming to many irresponsible and unscrupulous ministries. I believe we are about to see a fulfillment of the Prophet Malachi’s prophecy in the Church that will begin with the leaders (Levites, “sons of Levi”):
Behold, I am going to send My messenger, and he will clear the way before Me And the Lord, whom you seek, will suddenly come to His temple; and the messenger of the covenant, in whom you delight, behold, He is coming,” says the LORD of hosts. “But who can endure the day of His coming? And who can stand when He appears? For He is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap. “He will sit as a smelter and purifier of silver, and He will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, so that they may present to the LORD offerings in righteousness. Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the LORD as in the days of old and as in former years. Then I will draw near to you for judgment; and I will be a swift witness against the sorcerers and against the adulterers and against those who swear falsely, and against those who oppress the wage earner in his wages, the widow and the orphan, and those who turn aside the alien and do not fear Me,” says the LORD of hosts.
I will be devoting a series of forthcoming posts to what I believe the Lord is speaking regarding the sundry matters raised in this article. But, the paramount point here is that it is a shameful indictment on the modern church, as well as on purporting neo-prophets that a Senator’s spokesman has to be the spokesman God uses to issue the prophetic rebuke concerning the excesses found in some portions of the Neo-Pentecostal Church, “The Christian public should have demanded a higher level of accountability a long time ago.”
May God in His mercy forgive us, and send us true prophets like the selfless and uncompromised prophets of old pronouncing a penetrating “Thus saith the Lord” no matter the cost, in contrast to the plethora of selfishly-ambitious and self-aggrandizing profiteers of today promising personal wealth, health, and happiness through the latest revolutionary self-help discovery or program!
Release and Sending of True Prophets
There is no question in my mind that beginning in 2008, God is going to call forth many John-The- Baptist-type prophets to be voices crying out in the wilderness to make straight the way of the Lord, proclaiming piercing prophetic messages that will penetrate the lukewarmness and complacency, and in some cases the apostasy, presently pervading the Church at-large. Their central theme will be the same as that of the original John-The-Baptist and Jesus Himself — the first word of the Gospel — “Repent! For the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand!”
God will soon send unto the Church those prophetic voices it so desperately needs! Fearless and fierce deliverers of the Spirit sent by God with a mandate to upset the idols men have set up, to call into line all who have gotten out of line, to bring down what humanism has built up, to destruct what idolatry has constructed, to root up what vain human philosophy has planted in the minds of men, to overcome the complacency, apathy, and pacifism that has come over the Saints of God. These prophets, when they are released from their holes and caves, deserts and wildernesses, will not come promoting and pimping for a corrupted, counterfeit “prophetic movement” for their own selfish-gain, but will come as servants and sacrificially employ the anointing of their office to build and plant the Church Jesus is building and planting (Jer. 1:10; Is. 61:1-3).
Beware of the false prophets, who come to you wearing sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are self-serving wolves with ravenous appetites of every kind of lust and avarice. You will know them by their fruit, not their prophetic gifts (cf., Mat. 7:15,16).
Send us, O God, those true prophets Leonard Ravenhill envisioned who know no compromise, have no price tag, cannot be bought out or bought off; who daily breathe the rarified air of divine inspiration; who march to a different drumbeat; seers sent to lead the blind; those that are unabashedly forthright, unashamedly outright, having lives that are upright, but who claim no birthright; dwellers in splendid isolation in the natural realm, yet in the heights of God in the spirit realm; firebrands possessed with passion, purpose, and pugnacity of the Spirit; sent-ones sent into the valleys of spiritual malaise and waywardness with a heart-piercing, conscience-pricking, “Thus saith the Lord!” God, send us, true prophets!