Off and on in the past, I've pointed out Steve Shultz's ridiculously commercialized web site "Elijah List". Since then it hasn't changed in the slightest, for it's just as unsightly as ever for its kitschy advertising. It's nauseating to look at. Although it's not my intention here to criticize any particular ministry Shultz happens to mention or showcase, lately I've become convinced that Shultz's web site is as good as any an illustration of a deeper on-going problem in charismatic or pentecostal churches, particularly in something that is often called the "prophetic ministry".
To put it as succinctly as possible, I am convinced that Money is an especially dangerous source of corruption in the prophetic ministry. When I see a person who claims to have such a ministry, and visiting a church not his own, and collecting per-person "registration fees" from the members for attending his "seminar," then my alert klaxons start sounding and all sorts of red lights start flashing. This is because of all the potential problems that can arise from this practice.
Now I see no problem with a church inviting outside ministers to come and paying them a fixed amount to cover their travel and living expenses. This is only fair. But per-person registration fees are something else entirely different. That is because the more people who turn out, the bigger the "prophet's profits" become. This bothers me a lot¹.
I think it's a source of corruption because it can easily produce the temptation to start saying what people want to hear rather then giving out what the H.S. is actually saying. And saying what people want to hear is the "market-proven" good way to get more people to come out. And the more people who come out naturally means the bigger the monetary return. Now I am not saying the minister necessarily doesn't have a genuine gifting, or even sincere motives, but rather I am saying that someone in this sort of ministry has to strictly guard himself from falling into what the Bible calls the "Error of Balaam." Of course, anyone who has read Numbers and Jude would know that Balaam was the infamous prophet of old who is held up as the foremost example of corruption for the sake of gain. At one time Balaam may have been a genuine prophet of God, but he corrupted the calling of his for the sake of profit, thus earning for himself everlasting opprobrium. God even used a dumb ass to rebuke Balaam because of his greed.
I am saying all this precisely because I believe the "prophetic ministry" is greatly needed today and I hold it in high regard². Therefore, all the more I believe that it's a ministry that has to be conducted with the upmost of scrupulous integrity³. And money is a great source of temptation that can undermine such a ministry. (The love of money is not called the "root of all sorts of evil" for mere laughs and jollies.) Now consider the counter-example of the prophet Elisha. After Naaman the Syrian general was healed of his leprosy, out of sincere if misdirected gratitude he offered Elisha a rich bounty. But Elisha adamantly refused it. (In fact, at the start of the episode, Elisha refused to come out and personally see Naaman face-to-face—instead, he merely sent word that Naaman was to go wash himself in the Jordan River, whereupon he would be healed.) However, later, behind his back, Elisha's servant Gehazi went chasing after Naaman with a concocted story about Elisha changing his mind and needing some remuneration, whereupon Gehazi pocketed for himself some loot from Naaman. For this Gehazi himself was struck with leprosy. And, of course, back in the book of Numbers, we know that old Balaam was later struck down by the sword of the Israelites. No report was given in Scriptures, however, regarding what became of Balaam's talking ass. Perhaps, it went on to get a college education.
I think I have illustrated my point clearly enough. And I think there is getting to be way too much laxity about this matter. And it seems that things are getting pretty lax nearly everywhere I look. This charging of "fees" is almost a feature endemic to the culture, and I consider this very worrisome and corrupting tendency. And unfortunately, as it is nowadays, in many people's minds charismatics and pentecostals are too readily associated with flagrant money-grubbing charlatans, a good example of whom would be Benny Hinn, who has loaded himself with treasure, private jets, and multimillion-dollar mansions.
We really need to do some serious housecleaning. First, we've got to admit the house has gotten dirty.
Now if I am wrong about all this, then I wish somebody would kindly take the time to explain to me precisely why I'm wrong. Strike me in the face if need be, for it would be a blessing. But please don't just dismiss what I'm saying as mere querulousness. (Some pastors do that when faced with any sort of criticism.) I am not pointing out this stuff because I have some perverse desire to rock the boat, just for the fun of it, or because I view myself as another Luther out to excoriate the sale of indulgences. No, I am just simply very troubled by this practice because it seems to be something that would be highly susceptible to abuse. It makes me wonder about the real motives behind some "prophetic ministries". And everytime I look at "Elijah List", I can't help but wonder, for Schultz's web site makes merchandise out of prophecy. Will his business eventually go public and start selling shares on Wall Street?
I vaguely remember something about somebody in the Bible getting really upset about money-changers in the Temple.
Yet, on the other hand, very few people read Lunar Skeletons. So why do I bother? Being a realist, I know it's very unlikely that my ruminations on this subject will make any difference. Things are just going to get more corrupt.
¹ Or, to put it in different words, I think the practice stinks to high heaven. The whole notion bugs me, that it's somehow okay to buy and sell the holy things of God. The profit motive might be as American as apple pie, yet it doesn't belong everywhere in life—there are just some places where it should be excluded. There's too much monetarization of charisma going on.
² If many pastors are getting burned out nowadays because of their ministries (and polls seem to indicate this), well, it is little wonder that this is the case, especially considering that churches nowadays are trying to operate without the entire panoply of ministries described by Paul in Ephesians 4:11. It's tough trying to manage the entire show by yourself as a one-man band.
³ Curiously enough, the Didache, a very ancient xtian church manual which is dated to around 70 to 150 AD, has some specific instructions about how the church is to deal with itinerate prophets, especially in regards to money. For example:
Now concerning the apostles and prophets, deal with them as follows in accordance with the rule of the gospel. Let every apostle who comes to you be welcomed as if he were the Lord. But he is not to stay for more than one day, unless there is need, in which case he may stay another. But if he stays three days, he is a false prophet. And when the apostle leaves, he is to take nothing except bread until he finds his next night's lodging. But if he asks for money, he is a false prophet.
This is from the J.B. Lightfoot and J.R. Harmer translation. When you read the rest of what the Didache says on the subject, you'll see that it's a tad harsher than even what I am saying.