The Ponzi Church

What kind of preaching is it when so many things are promised to a person? If we are promised to have a good life, to be free from addictions, health, wealth, even heaven itself, these things sound so good. Indeed the Gospel is the promise of salvation that we look forward to. We know of the promises made to Abraham, to Israel, to Moses, to Adam, to David and the promises made to God’s people. What promises come from the pulpit must then be true to the Gospel.

Syncretism is where a two different ideas are joined together to try to bridge the two. Often we might see the religious elements of two opposed or different religions become a new religion or appear to be one of the original beliefs that existed. It would be easy to pick out if it were such things as blowing on a pair of dice and taking communion were combined so that we blew on the cup and bread to wish ourselves luck.

But how much harder is it to discern practices that are more rational appearing? Can we see parallels in general cultural practices? And isn’t often the source of syncretistic religion based on the cultural practices of a society that is introduced to new philosophies? It seems strange to say that the financial and business models would become part of religion but they are philosophies none the less. Or maybe it can be the other way around, that business reflects the prevalent ideas found in a religion.

What about Ponzi schemes, where earlier “investors” are paid off with the money collected from new “investors”. Often by word of mouth or by affinity these hucksters operate. Some of these schemes are very clever and the perpetrators of them are as skilled at hiding their tracks as they are at defrauding their hapless victims. Many times they escape detection and sometimes because of how laws are written they even escape being charged. There is nothing funny about their crimes, and whether they are caught or not, their crime is horrendous. Many times their schemes are likened to a house of cards that ultimately collapses and reveals the truth. Even at that point the charade may continue where blame is directed to those that tried to reveal the fraud or prosecute it.

How many times have ministers fallen from “grace” and been shamed publicly? How more often do their “churches” collapse and the only excuses heard are that the Devil or perhaps the government was against them? When con-artists rule the pulpit they do so to satisfy their earthly desires. It is not always money that motivates them, sometimes it is vain self glory and the lust for power. How deluded some become, and it is said “Power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely”, and the delusion requires ever more to be satisfied.

When the preaching of the Gospel pure to draw in sinners to repentance is no longer enough to satisfy the yearnings of a church polity the schemes soon follow. “How do we bring people in?”, the cry goes out, “we need to bring more people to Christ!”, exclaims another as the focus shifts from the Word to an earthly concern. Now, make no mistake, it is valid to seek to bring people in and to bring them to Christ, but the problem does not lie with wanting to spread the Gospel. No, the problem is with something deeper.

There are those who go to great lengths to “save” a sinner, even feeling a personal shame if they were not successful in converting someone. Something interesting my brother once said was that most salespeople need to make a sale to feel validated or they feel like failures. Now what is that? Perhaps we might feel like failures if someone is not converted? Ah, but this is how the Ponzi Church grows, ignore the obvious signs of problems and “work together to build the church” some might say.

But when the Gospel falls from it’s place and is set aside, even slightly, in it’s place comes another attraction. Soon worship is not focused on the Gospel but on particular entertainments, the quiet and resolute heart strengthened by the Holy Spirit is ignored and instead some visible acts and evidence are demanded. Preaching Christ crucified and resurrected is trivial compared to stirring personal testimonies… or music that gladdens the senses… or amusing and gripping anecdotes… or the latest social causes and efforts. And the church grows as the deceitful heart is validated by those things.

More and greater things soon need to come. Building programs are pushed forward. Reclaiming the country (or the city) for Christ is the battle cry. We need to do this… we need to do that…maybe it is even rearranging the pews… or eliminating them altogether and putting in tables instead. Goals soon emerge, and if we are not with the program we aren’t faithful enough. And if we do this or do that then people will come. We are promised growth in our church. We may even see growth and be convinced our efforts are working.

Pulpit imposters may sound conservative, even rational and Biblical, or we may see them as political liberals because they promote a social gospel. The end of either is religious fraud, for neither is true to the Gospel of Christ. They mix sound doctrines with the leaven of the Pharisees, the works of the deceitful heart, or even with the unbelievers rationale. They sound religious. They speak with apparent authority. They prey on the gullible minds… they are con artists that often do not truly believe what they preach.

Has a man ever been drawn to God through something other than the Holy Spirit working on his heart? Has he known the promise of Christ and what are the dividends of his faith? No man needs complex and seductive reasons to believe the simple gospel and to live it. Worship is not man centred but focused on God. A church is not a social club but a gathering of people looking to God. But in the Ponzi church we might be led to believe otherwise.