Some churches have even established banks to lay their treasures on earth.
On 31st December, 2010, Pastor Chris Oyakhilome of Christ Embassy, Lagos, opened a new chapter in church business in Nigeria. He charged a gate-fee of 1,000 naira for people attending his church’s New Year’s Eve service. This turned out to be a very profitable innovation. Christ Embassy reportedly made over 25 million naira that night.
The economic implications of Pastor Chris’ ingenuity are mouth-watering. Just do the math. If some of the Christian outreaches on the Lagos-Ibadan expressway adopt his modus-operandi, they can make a cool 300 million naira in just one night of devotion to God.
It is increasingly difficult to differentiate between some churches and limited liability companies. Many are now multinationals, with their own headquarters, branch networks, boards of directors and salaried staff. Mega-pastors in designer-suits fly around in church-owned jet-airplanes, investing surplus church-funds in business ventures and stocks and shares. Pastors trading with church-funds were among those whose fingers got burnt when the Nigerian stock-market crashed in 2009.
But should church-funds be traded for financial gain on the stock-exchange? Jesus leaves no room for double-mindedness. He says: “No one can serve two masters. You cannot serve both God and Money” (Matthew 6:24).
Nevertheless, Bishop Eddie Long of New Birth Missionary Baptist Church, Lithonia, U.S.A. is unapologetic. Describing himself as one of “God’s CEO’s,” he declares: “We’re not just a church, we’re an international corporation. We’re not just a bumbling bunch of preachers who can’t talk and all we’re doing is baptising babies. I deal with the White House. I deal with Tony Blair. I deal with Presidents around the world. I pastor a multimillion-dollar congregation. You’ve got to put me on a different scale than the little black preacher sitting over there that’s supposed to be just getting by because the people are suffering.”
The Bishop certainly knows his onions. There is now no business like church-business. Jesus says: “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s” (Matthew 22:21). However, church-company earnings are tax-free. “Shareholders” are thoroughly bewitched. They receive no dividends; neither do they even get annual reports. Nevertheless, they are the financiers of lavish management lifestyles. CEO-pastors can even kick some of them out of the “company” with impunity, without bothering to give any refunds. Should there be “troublemakers,” we have a ready defence: “Touch not my anointed; do my prophets no harm” (Psalm 105:15).
Church business empires
New-generation churches sometimes resemble shopping-malls. We have gyms; delicatessens; bookstores; even real-estate enterprises. We don’t say no to credit-cards at “offering-time: blessing-time.” Our outreaches double as flea-markets where stands can be rented to hawk a potpourri of goods and services. Never mind that Jesus says: “Go into all the world and preach the gospel” (Mark 16:15). We have converted this to: “Go into the world and build business empires.”
Jesus asks rhetorically: “What will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul?” (Mark 8:36). But since pecuniary gain is the new bottom line for preaching the gospel, virtually all mega-churches are now preoccupied with gaining the whole world. Schools and universities serve one primary purpose; to provide students with the tools with which to gain this world. Nevertheless, some churches have established them; even though the kingdom of God is not of this world. Ironically, most of our members, whose offerings are used to fund them, cannot afford the high fees.
Church-business has become so lucrative; some churches have even established banks to lay their treasures on earth. But Jesus counsels: “Lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:20-21). Collections were only made in the New Testament bible church for the poor. However, today’s church-banks don’t even lend to the poor. Moreover, we lend with interest; in contravention of basic kingdom principles (Luke 6:34-35; Exodus 22:25).
Banking on God
Charles Fillmore of Unity School of Christianity, Kansas City, U.S.A. maintains poverty is a sin. Accordingly, he rewrites Psalm 23 to reflect the new ethos of commercial Christianity. This reads: “The Lord is my banker; my credit is good. He maketh me to lie down in the consciousness of omnipresent abundance. He giveth me the key to His strong box. He restoreth my faith in His riches. He guideth me in the paths of prosperity for his name’s sake.”
“Yea, though I walk in the very shadow of debt, I shall fear no evil, for Thou art with me. Thou preparest a way for me in the presence of the collector. Thou fillest my wallet with plenty; my measure runneth over. Surely goodness and plenty will follow me all the days of my life, and I shall do business in the name of the Lord forever.”