By Jeffery Kingry
This article will likely land me in a pickle with some brethren. It seems as though some articles I write, though obviously directed at the abuse of a system, are invariably taken as a blanket disavowal of the proper use of the thing. In this series of articles we are attempting to direct attention to the biblical concepts concerning the quality of life in Christ. I am not opposed to free enterprise or to selling a product for a profit, or even a preacher working for a short while to supplement his support (or provide it). I have done all three, and believe that Christians have the liberty to do so. But, one thing Christians do not have liberty to do is practice covetousness, worldliness, exploitation, materialism, and indulgence. Our Lord is our example, and that is what this article is about.
There is a sordid canker which is eating away at the hearts of hundreds of brethren. The materialistic society we live in, and the love of gain of the saints gripped by it is destroying whatever chance some may ever have of enjoying the good life.
This writer has observed for several years the effect that a desire for gain has had upon brethren. To deny that materialism and its temptations are not existent among those brethren who scramble to sell soap, powdered protein and vitamins, “personal work” kits, books, papers, encyclopedias, insurance, mutual funds, and other “part-time” pursuits is to deny reality. Not every brother who involves himself in such work for gain is necessarily covetous, but this writer has seen enough to wash his own hands of the contaminating influence in his work as a preacher.
My first contact with the seamy side of the “get it quick” way to riches was in 1968. I had just returned home from a lonesome and brutalizing year in Viet Nam, enrolled in Florida College. The very first person to visit my wife and me in our apartment was an ex-preacher. We were pleased and impressed that his empathy would move him to come by and say hello. But, within five minutes of his arrival, he began his prepared talk on Amway (“It’s the American Way!”) and the Amway plan. Expensive soap, and its sale would end our financial worries and put us on easy street if we just had sufficient faith and would invest a small amount of our time and money. When it become obvious that we were not about to spend (having barely enough to meet our needs as it was), our brother closed his briefcase, apologized for leaving so hurriedly, turned down a cup of coffee, and was off to his next appointment.
We had received our first Amway burn. Through the years I have seen young men of promise quit preaching to chase the Amway dollar. I would see Amway bucks eat the heart out of congregations as brethren chased Amway prospects instead of the Gospel. In their deceived the blinding greed I have heard “Direct Distributors” explain how their Amway business enabled them more opportunities to preach the Gospel than they ever had as preachers. They even believed it, they had repeated it so long as justification for leaving the fields of the Lord to plow their own fields with dollars.
Recently a new product has arisen to capture the minds and hearts of brethren who feel they do not have enough. Several preachers contacted me while I was preaching in Annapolis, Maryland to sell “Slender Now,” a “fool-proof” means of weight loss. (The powder and vitamin diet supplement sells at an inflated cost, and is actually inferior to products selling at half the cost in healthy food stores. Recent set-backs in the industry caused by people whose electrolyte balance was disrupted by the modified fasting diet, and who ultimately died, have caused Slender Now to go out of business.) One brother called me long-distance from Pennsylvania in an effort to “sign up” another distributor (every person signed up to sell the product becomes a source of income for the one who signs him up. A set percentage of whatever he sells goes to the one who introduced him. A refined system of parasitism that feeds on greed.) His long-distance call was somewhat puzzling, as he had never called me before, not even to announce their meetings.
“Well . . . If you are not interested in making money – Brother Kingry, then don’t listen . . . .”
“But, I am already fully supported in my work as an evangelist! “
“Yes, I know. But just think. If you sell `Slender Now’ you could be independent of the brethren. You wouldn’t have to raise support!”
“I don’t know that I want to be, or should be independent of my brethren.”
“Well,” he finished, “Many preachers are doing it. And that money that is now supporting you, could be going to other areas if you would just be reasonable. There is `Slender Now’ money going into the church treasury here and all over the U.S.A.”
At the Florida College lectureship a few years ago, the “Slender Now” Cadillacs were in plentiful and ostentatious show. As the week progressed, so did those who made their rounds promoting their respective products. Amway had developed a new wrinkle through the years. Did you know that Amway will make you free? All the preachers selling Amway wore gold lapel pins that declared “Free” on their suits to promote and advertise the freedom offered by Amway.
One brother, whom I have known for years and thought well of, was standing next to a brother who later that year was fired by the elders at a church where he worked over Amway conflicts. Both wore a free button. I walked up and asked “What does the free stand for? `The truth shall make you free?”‘ My friend was embarrassed, and obviously uncomfortable. He did not want to talk about it. His “sponsor.”- was quick to respond; “No. Something better than that! Amway will make you free!” As he went into his pitch I kept looking with wider eyes and astonishment at my friend. He shrank and crumbled in upon himself. He walked away, and when I saw him later that day, he had removed his pin. I never said a word. The blasphemy and sickness of it was too evident except to the most corrupt.
I heard from one of my brethren who had left one of the larger churches in the Tampa area over the sin that had been stirred up in that church by “Slender Now” and “Amway.” From the pulpit and Bible classes the prosperous preacher /salesman had been preaching, “Prosperity of a physical nature is a sign of God’s blessing.” The preacher had come when the church had been between preachers and said in a humble tone, “I have made my fortune in business, and now I devote all my energies to the work of the Lord, I will move here to work with you for free, for my needs have already been met.” His first acts once moved was to sign up the elders, deacons, and leader members to sell his product. He openly endorsed and preached the doctrine of Bildad, the Shuhite: “If thou wert pure and upright; surely now He would awake for thee, and make the habitation of thy righteousness prosperous” (Job 8). Of Bildad, God said, “My wrath is kindled against thee . . . for ye have not spoken the thing that is right” (42:7).
A Sordid Way
“Woe unto you who are rich! For ye have received your consolation. Woe unto ye that are full! For ye shall hunger . . thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee: then whose shall those things be, which thou hast provided? So is he that layeth up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God” (Luke 6: 24, 25; 12:20, 21).
Shame and woe upon the brethren who make merchandise out of their brethren, and look upon the church as their private fishing hole. These salesmen are like those described by the Apostle Paul, “He is proud, knowing nothing . . . supposing that gain is godliness; from such withdraw thyself. Only godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain that we can carry nothing out. And having food and raiment let us be therewith content. But they who will be rich fall into a. temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and destructive desires which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some have coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows” (1 Tim. 6:5ff).
For the preacher,, God says, “Thou therefore, endure hardness as a good soldier of Jesus Christ. No man that warreth entangleth himself with the affairs of this life that he may please him who hath called him to be a soldier . . . . If man therefore purgeth himself from these, he shall be a vessel unto honor, sanctified and meet for the Master’s use, and prepared for every good work” (2 Tim, 2:3, 4, 21).
Yet, the way of Balaam declares a “New Way” for the follower of Jesus: “Let us buy and sell and make gain from our brother’s need, that we might spend it on our own indulgence.” They claim to give proportionately to the church, as justification for their high degree of materialism. Yet, like the self-righteous rich of the day of our Lord, they give of their abundance, with no sacrifice from the reservoirs of plenty.
“We Are Just Like Paul!”
These rocks who lurk beneath the water to shipwreck the innocent have had the arrogance to declare a comparison between their deeds, and those of the Apostle Paul. “Paul supported himself by tent-making rather than take the money of the church, that he might be independent!”
The grotesqueness of this distorted claim is beyond comprehension. The apostle “suffered want” (I Cor. 4:9ff) that he might preach the gospel to the Gentiles without a hint of personal profit or commercial advantage that might be brought if he sought any kind of financial support from his new converts. In fact, Paul’s labor was in indictment of these very men, who as in Paul’s day use the brethren as a source of income.
“But what I do, that I will do, that I may cut off occasion from them who desire occasion; that wherein they glory, they may be found even as we. For such are false apostles, deceitful workers . . . . Satan’s ministers; whose end will be according to their works” (2 Cor. 11:8, 15). Paul’s work of sacrifice, laboring with his own hands in honest work to further the gospel “taking nothing of the Gentiles because of His name’s sake (3 Jn. 6-8) is the exact opposite of those who come to “labor” with a church for “free” that they might take their money in a way other than directly out of the treasury.
I mentioned at the beginning of this article, that the writing of it would get me in a pickle with some brethren. “The rich hath many friends” (Prov. 14:20) who will rush to his aid and support. “The rich man’s wealth is :his strong city . . (he) answereth roughly” (18:11; 23). “The rich man is wise in his own conceit” (28:11) and will not hear a rebuke. “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God” (Matt. 19:24), and yet some bold brethren are determined to try. My responsibility as a servant of God is to “Charge them that are rich in this world, that they be not high minded, nor trust in uncertain riches . . .” (I Tim. 6:17). But it will always be the “rich men who oppress you, and draw you into court” (Jas. 2:6). The rich, and those who would be rich are those who fall into the snare.
The abundant life is not to be found in “something for nothing”: getting gain with little effort. It is not to be found in emulating the rich, but the poor. Satan offers cars, cash, freedom, and prosperity. They call gain godliness and evidence of it. Yet, they are wells without water, clouds carried by the storm, promising life, yet holding only blackness. When they speak their glowing testimonials of prosperity and riches, they allure through the desires of the flesh. Unaware and underpaid preachers are their prey. While they promise independence and glory, they themselves are the slaves of their own rotting lives, for as it is written “A man is slave to that which he serves.” They serve their own belly, even while they claim to share. Does this sound to harsh? These are the word that Peter used to describe the same kind of men 2,000 years ago (2 Pet. 2:15-19).
Those preachers and brethren who would not fall prey to covetous practices must reply, “Thy money perish with thee,” and serve God as a true soldier.
Truth Magazine XXIII: 30, pp. 487-489
August 2, 1979