Practical Application of the Word of God
In “The Jazz Age Roots of Modern Religious Organizations – Part 1,” we discussed the origins, in the 1920’s, of modern religious organizations.
In “The Jazz Age Roots of Modern Religious Organizations – Part 2,” we discussed how modern religious organizations began to be run by businessmen, after the Great Depression, like businesses and how these businesses began to build their brands and brand loyalty using the same methods with emerging technologies they had used to fuel the consumerism and materialism of the 1920’s, with the fortuitous backdrop of another global conflict on the near horizon.
In this post, we will look at how these religious organizations used World War II to build collateral and devotees with viral marketing, salvation threats, and claims of being the sole link the rest of humanity had with God and Christ.
We will also see how, after World War II right through today, the businessmen-turned-preachers used even newer technologies and global and national affairs to become the gods of their organizations.
In their roles as gods – which usurped God and Jesus Christ – we will see how their intimidation, demands, and empire-building mindsets led to idolatry among their adherents and to abuse of power, accumulation of vast wealth which they spent lavishly on themselves, and a highly-developed sense of entitlement, all of which fuel even more pervasively the religion-as-business model today.
The gathering gloom in the late 1930’s and early 1940’s was the perfect vehicle for the businessmen-turned-preachers to gain leverage and, more importantly, gain paying customers to their particular religious organizations.
With the vast majority of American households now owning the medium of the day – radio – and with the far-reaching airways coverage, especially at night, programming fell into three categories: religious, news, and entertainment.
Religious programming was considered equal to news and entertainment programming so radio businessmen-turned-preachers flooded the airways.
These businessmen-turned-preachers began to fine-tune their messaging as World War II began and eventually encompassed the globe.
One area that consistently brought more listeners – and more money – was tying current world events to prophetic events in the Bible.
In conjunction with the promises to reveal prophecies being fulfilled in the moment – each one proclaimed they were the only ones who could do that – came the very thing that Jesus Christ warned all of us as His disciples not to fall for: false prophecies about world rulers, countries, and dates of when prophecies would be fulfilled, including the second coming of Jesus Christ.
This became the crux of the message that these businessmen-turned-preachers would rely on to build and maintain the religious organizations they were building.
The overall message was straightforward. God gave us a work to do (preaching the gospel). Time is short. Send money – or you will not not be faithful servants (a perversion of Christ’s parable in Matthew 25:14-30) – so we can do this work. Save yourselves by teaming up with us and you’ll get power and authority at the end.
But when the financial story of these religious organizations – past and present – is revealed, most of the money is not being spent on “a work of preaching the gospel.” Instead, it is spent on overhead: salaries, benefits, business expenses, gifts, travel, lodging, and events.
Many of the leaders have and do believe image is everything and they can often spend a lot of money on projecting and maintaining that image. It’s always justified with the statement that they are representing God and Jesus Christ and it matters how that looks to the world.
But is that true scripturally?
Moses was fresh off the farm from herding sheep for 40 years when he appeared before Pharoah at God’s command. It’s a safe bet to say that he didn’t have any material weath and his dress was clean and neat, but it was that of a shepherd.
Think about Paul who was called by God to be an apostle of Jesus Christ. Read his description of what that entailed in II Corinthians 11:23-28. Does that sound like a man who was keeping up appearances?
Read Christ’s own instructions to the disciples He sent out to preach about the kingdom of God. It is important to remember that these disciples gave up lucrative careers to follow Christ. Christ repeated these instructions to the additional 70 men He sent out to do the same thing.
It was never about image. That came about and has become a mantra because of greed for money and lust for power.
Meanwhile, never deterred by a thundering wake of failed interpretations of prophecies in scripture and false prophecies of Christ’s second coming, these religious organizations and the men who built them continued to make predictions about prophesies and Christ’s return that failed. And are still failing.
In the 1990’s, a dimension that was always an implicit part of these religious organizations was brought to the forefront. This dimension is the “health-and-wealth” gospel and it is the focus of bringing money and numbers into many religious organizations.
Even if a religious organization claims they don’t preach this, they are lying. Sermons are replete with stories of financial or health blessings because the believers obeyed God. The implication is always “this can be yours too if you obey God.”
There is always the message, however subtle, that obeying God (and this is obeying God as interpreted by the religious organization, not by what God Himself says obedience to Him consists of) will bring abundance (physical and financial) and if someone isn’t experiencing abundance, then it’s because they’re sinning against God.
And yet Jesus Christ Himself said that there would always be the poor among us.
And Jesus Christ also pointed out the offering of an impoverished widow as a sign of her wholehearted commitment to God, but He didn’t go over to her and make her wealthy and well.
So the health-and-wealth gospel is unscriptural, whether it is a religious organization’s main message or it is a subtle thread running through their main message (and which usually comes to the forefront when they are asking for money).
Jesus Christ did not tie righteousness or sin to wealth or health. If a person is experiencing abundance, then, it doesn’t mean they are righteous. And if a person is experiencing a lack of abundance, it doesn’t mean they are deliberately sinning.
To equate these, which all religious organizations do in some form or fashion, is unbiblical and it is wrong.
Religious organizations today continue in the model and the methods established by the businessmen-turned-preachers who honed their skills as marketers and salesmen during the Jazz Age of the 1920’s.
But having given the history of how humans have built modern religion organizations for their own gain, it must also be said that God used some of them to call people to Himself to give to Jesus Christ.
And this is the irony (and the hand of God) in this all-consuming quest by these businessmen-turned-preachers to capitalize – “show me the money and I’ll show you the way out of all this catastrophic stuff that’s about ready to happen” – on the mood of fear and apprehension that has been a constant feature of life since the late 1930’s in the United States.
Along the way, God used some of these businessmen-turned-preachers as a vehicle – by revealing some of the truths in His word (which eventually got tainted and corrupted along the way by the businessmen-turned-preachers as they set themselves in the place of God and by the people who chose to follow the human gods instead of God the Father and Jesus Christ) and opening the understanding of some of the listeners to His truth.
We see God doing the same thing throughout scripture. Unscrupulous people accomplished the will of God.
Look at Balaam in Numbers 22. The apostle Paul talks about this in Philippians 1:15-18 and in Titus 1 (it is instructive that one of God’s qualifications for an elder – the Greek word is presbýteros, which simply means a mature man who, because of his age and experience physically and spiritually, has wise and sound judgment – is that he is not greedy for money).
So while these businessmen-turned-preachers and those who continue to follow in their footsteps built religious organizations for wealth and power (for the wrong reasons and with the wrong motives), God used and uses them to fulfill His purpose in calling people to Himself and giving them to Jesus Christ to shepherd.
And that’s what we as the ekklesia need to remember always. We can recognize that God can, and sometimes does, use anybody to accomplish His will. However, that person – and the organization they build – being used is not our god. And that person – and the organization they build – being used is not infallible nor perfect.
The world never begins and ends with any human being or organization. Period.
It begins and ends with God and Jesus Christ alone. We belong to them alone.
Our allegiance, our loyalty, our worship, our commitment, our faith, our trust, and our belief belongs to them alone.
When humans and organizations try to persuade us to pledge our loyalty, our faith, our trust, our belief, and our worship to anything physical – human or organization – they are asking us to break the first and great commandment (which encompasses the first five commandments in Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5 – the fifth commandment is the bridge commandment because we are commanded by God to honor both our Father in heaven and we are commanded by God to honor our physical parents).
Idolatry is the sin we see over and over in scripture, in both the Old Testament and in the New Testament, that we humans are most susceptible to and which we are most prone to committing in the guise of worshiping God.
We need to repent. Anything or anyone that we worship, believe, obey, and trust other than God Almighty is an idol. Our worship, our belief, our trust, and our faith must be in God and in Jesus Christ. And that means it must be in God’s word alone.
We can’t assume that anything that we hear or read – even though many times the people saying it or writing it purport to speak for God and to have special spiritual understanding and wisdom – by human beings (and that includes this blog) is true and is accurate.
God’s word is the only source of truth.
We must pray, asking God to teach us and grant us His wisdom, His understanding, and His discernment to rightly divide His word of truth. We don’t depend on other imperfect humans like ourselves to do that for us. We go to the source – scripture – and we study it. And then we apply it.
Our first conscious moment in the resurrection will bring us face to face with Jesus Christ. Whether our names are in the Book of Life will depend on whether we have depended on, lived by, grown in, and developed the character of the same books (God’s word) that will be opened in the second resurrection.
Jesus Christ will not be interested in our interpretation or others’ interpretations of the word of God. We will not be able to say “well, I thought…” or “my minister said…” or “the ‘church’ wrote this paper and it said…” because He will look you and me in the eyes and answer, “What did I say?”
That is what we need to know, we need to understand, and we need to live by. Period.
Do not be deceived. There are no substitutions for the word of God. And you and I are each responsible for learning it, knowing it, understanding it, obeying it, and living by it. No one else can do that for you and me.
The responsibility in the human side of the equation (God and Jesus Christ do all the heavy lifting on their side of the equation, without which we are helpless) lies with you and me alone, not with anyone else.
So I implore each of us to be diligent to let no human (or organization) take our crown.