By Lewis Willis
Gospel preachers have, for years, sought to establish that there are scriptural limitations on what the Church can and cannot do. Great care has been used to show that what the Church does must be authorized by the Lord (Col. 3:17). Furthermore, because the church is a divine institution, it must engage itself only in divinely prescribed activities. The New Testament identifies what the mission of the Church is (Eph. 4:12). It is limited by the authority under which it functions to being active in the fields of edification, evangelism and benevolence. Though most of the teaching on this subject during my lifetime has been directed to the church, some instruction has been given to the religious world in general through various avenues of teaching in use by local congregations. It appears that people in denominations have difficulty agreeing with the Scriptures on this subject.
It should not come as too great a surprise that members do not understand what the mission of the church is. You see, the preachers at whose feet they receive instruction do not understand the mission of the church either! Have you ever considered some of the things being done by churches in this world?
The Roman Catholic “Christian (?) Brothers” have a winery that competes with Ernest and Julio Gallo. A Catholic bank in Italy hit the headlines not too long ago when they lost around $1 billion in a swindler’s scheme. They were competing with the world’s banking industry. Locally, Catholics involve themselves in competition with the gambling interests of the country, conducting bingo and Las Vegas Nights. Rex Humbard’s operation owned an office complex for awhile and they are in the cafeteria and apartment business, in competition with these industries locally. Pat Robertson’s religious operation formed an entire television network. Jim Baker’s PTL Club has built a camping resort with all the trapping’s. Several years ago, some of our own brethren proposed building a meeting house on Manhattan Island, with apartments overhead which they planned to sell. I don’t remember how that idea turned out. But, the world’s preachers apparently haven’t the foggiest idea what the mission of the Church is. That is why they lead people in the banking, wine-making, gambling, cafeteria, office/apartment, television and camping business. And, that is exactly what it is – business! Business is not the business of the Church! You would think preachers would know this.
Most recently, religion has gotten some help in defining what its mission is. Dr. Robert Schuller, of the “Hour Of Prayer” television program in Garden Grove, California has gotten into some trouble over his church’s activities. He is the “father” of the Crystal Cathedral that has attracted national attention from the news media. Recently, his operation has attracted media attention of another kind. All of the major networks have reported that Schuller has been billed by the California Tax Agency for $400,000 for taxes incurred due to some of the activities he conducts at the ,Crystal Cathedral. You see, he has concerts, aerobics, etc., for which he charges admittance. The tax department reasoned that if they assessed tax on such entertainment conducted by private enterprise, consistency demanded assessing tax on the same activities even if a church (?) provided it. And, by what authority does a church charge for its services? Perhaps these religious (?) operations could increase revenues by charging admission to their worship services! I think I’ll get a patent on that idea before one of them thinks of it. I should make enough to buy me a pair of alligator boots and a couple of new dresses for my wife. Why not?
Schuller mildly protested that action of the State. But, he also stated in several interviews that he intends to pay the tax. No need to worry – he will just appeal to all his supporters to help him pay the bill. It should not take more than three or four weekly appeals to get that small amount of cash into his coffers. My, if he gets more than that maybe he could get Frank Sinatra for his next concert! Or, if his begging is especially effective and enough money comes in he might go into competition with General Motors and start building cars – ” in the name of the Lord,” of course! These fellows have tried almost everything else, why not try building cars? You know, if your “ministry” is going to be unique, you have to do something dramatic.
Schuller and the others may not be able to tell you what the mission of the Church is, but, thankfully, the tax man can! Maybe there is still some hope. In the meantime, they will continue to come up with and promote their moneymaking schemes and gullible people will continue to enrich them. The Apostle Peter warned that “. . . through covetousness shall they with feigned words make merchandise of you” (2 Pet. 2:3). I was just thinkin’ – I wonder if these promoters have ever run across any of those religious operators that Peter talked about? If so, I suspect they would identify them as those who oppose their moneygrubbing and begging. Meanwhile, thank the Lord for the tax man. He will at least make it a little more difficult for these extortioners. And, what he does not take care of now, the Lord will take care of at the Judgment!
Guardian of Truth XXVII: 13, p. 395
July 7, 1983