5 Signs Your Church Is A Ponzi Scheme

Reza Aslan is not a Christian, he is just married to one. He is a professor at my university. Very controversial. Hated by most Muslims, Christians and atheists. If I was not going to be a teaching assistant next quarter, I would have taken a creative writing class under him. Although, I do not ascribe to his theological views, Reza Aslan’s thoughts on churches as Ponzi schemes ring true.

And so the idea that you could transform Jesus’s teaching into an appeal for material wealth is astounding to me… This is about as far from the message that the historical Jesus preached as one can get. It’s less a church than a pyramid scheme.

Reza Aslan, author of Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus

1. When the Preacher Is the Church Poster Boy

I once read a book by a famous preacher. The back cover had a smiling man with a gold Rolex dangling on his hand. He was the apex of wealth. After reading a few pages, I learned the author owned a fleet of cars, including a Bentley and a house on a hill, fully paid. It was all because of faith. As I rushed through the pages I longed to be like him. He was the faith poster boy. Faith was a vehicle for material gain. For any Ponzi scheme to succeed, it needs a success story.

According to prosperity theology, faith is not a God-granted, God-centered act of the will. Rather it is a humanly wrought spiritual force, directed at God. Indeed, any theology that views faith solely as a means to material gain rather than justification before God must be judged faulty and inadequate.

Justin Taylor, 5 Theological Errors of the Prosperity Gospel

2. When the Sermons are Self-help Guides

John Piper once advised, “Look out for the absence of serious exposition of Scripture. Does the preaching take the Bible seriously by explaining what is really there in texts?” I will add these questions. Does every sermon series by your pastor have merchandize to go along with it? If so, you need to begin to ask yourself if you are not being fleeced. A good slogan, a T-shirt, a book and a DVD goes a long way in a scam. Motivational talks are a necessary ingredient for a successful Ponzi scheme. Remember all pyramid schemes hold annual conventions with success coaches as speakers.

A Christian obsession with therapeutic self-help fads reveals how disconnected we are from substantive historic theology and the ancient practice of spiritual direction.

Brian Zahnd, The Cross as Counter-Script

3. When the Preacher Gets Richer With No Definite Source of Incomes

Pastoring is a noble profession and ministers should not suffer if the church can help. Most Ponzi schemes start as a legitimate business initiatives until greed creeps in. Pastors are not immune from greed, Christian tabloids have enough proof to support that. However, believers often are guilty of enabling greed in their leaders through lack of understanding scriptures. So, as the church grows believers give more, not to support other believers, but the pastor.

Whereas the gospel of the cross calls for repentance and denial of self and other things, the gospel of champagne calls for self-satisfaction in response to stimuli from diverse entertaining attractions.

Femi Adeleye, Preachers of a Different Gospel

4. When More Cars is the Goal

I have preached several sermons encouraging people to give cheerfully because God loves a cheerful giver. But to prompt giving I would remind people about the Malachi Curse. Like a cunning rat that bites and blows air to soothe its victim, I would talk about how God gives more to gives. People would give anticipating more from God, I was wrong. Others did better than me, they came up with a seed concept. If you want a better car, give the pastor the one you have. It is the promise of greater returns that sustains any Ponzi scheme.

Like the pyramid scheme, the prosperity gospel doesn’t necessarily require financially desperate people. It just needs people who are sufficiently idolatrous. We don’t fall for pyramid schemes because we’re stupid. We fall for them because we want to fall for them. We want the money, health, and esteem they offer—and we want it quick.

Nicholas McDonald, Why the Prosperity Gospel is the Worst Pyramid Scheme Ever

5. When You Should Give the Church Only

Why do we write a check to a local church when we give to the Lord?  Many preachers equate giving to God as giving to their churches. If you give to a homeless person, your mother or troubled sibling, is it not giving to the Lord? All pyramid schemes claim they are the only legit ones. Believers need to ask honest questions to avoid falling prey to deception and manipulation.

Generosity is noble, it is a necessary virtue, but can easily be manipulated by those who should encourage it. When believers give, they are participating in the nature of God, and this should not be limited to the offering bowl only, but extended to those without a meal for dinner, a sweater for the winter or a place to spend the night.

Me, I Could not Find Any Quote About This, so I Just Made This Up


Scripture Thought

And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who sold, saying to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be a house of prayer,’ but you have made it a den of robbers.”

Luk 19:45-46 ESV

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48 Comments

      1. I have been talking about this with people, but it seems the Christians are only interested in what God can give them here and now, that is why the fall prey to this type of teaching. Everywhere you go, people hand you fliers of miracles and financial breakthrough happening in their church. No one want to talk about the suffering of Jesus. A friend of mine uses the word a tither(some one who pays tithe),that because he is a tither he will be making money. It is never rosy, that is why we should be grounded in the word of God; So that when the situation becomes tough,we would not say that God failed us.

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  1. Thank you. This “prosperity” is part and parcel of what I was fed a lot of years. It is good to see there are those who recognize the truth!

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    1. I was a rebellious young believer who thought my pastor did not want me to be rich. When I went to college, I began following prosperity preachers on TBN, DAYSTAR and God TV. There was a library with hundreds of books on prosperity theology. By the time I finished college I had written my first book, a pathetic excuse of Christian exegesis, that reduced Christ parable of the sower to tips for success. Thank God I am the only person who read the book. I still have a copy in my files as a memento of how gracious God is.

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    1. Some time ago, I nearly spoiled a day out with my wife when I began passionately talking about how God never called us to give for a church building fund. Our families are far, and I told her God called us to support them. That is the good religion spoken of in the Bible.

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      1. I hear you! Hubby and I can discuss such at great length. I appreciate finding someone else with such passion. It is increasingly rare, sadly.

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      2. I’m not good with knowing or remembering Scripture, but aren’t we supposed to support and help brothers and sisters mainly? not sure, but doesn’t seem like there are many brothers and sisters in church buildings.

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      1. Thanks for the conversational starter within your post and this passage:

        “And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who sold, saying to them, ‘It is written, ‘My house shall be a house of prayer,’ but you have made it a den of robbers'” (Luke19:45-46 ESV).

        Who said the following, which you quoted?

        “A Christian obsession with therapeutic self-help fads reveals how disconnected we are from substantive historic theology and the ancient practice of spiritual direction.”

        Was this a John Piper quotation?

        Theology is the wisdom of men.

        Ancient practice?

        It is not a practice. It is not ancient, but alive! The Spirit is a way of life (John 15:26-27).

        Regarding the following:

        “All pyramid schemes claim they are the only legit ones. Believers need to ask honest questions to avoid falling prey to deception and manipulation.”

        Believers need to assess their local church drive for programs, requiring thousands of dollars and additional paid staff. Why? They are falling pray to gospel and power of God by means of dollars not by the Spirit.

        The Evangelical church US and Western culture is living the life of the church in Laodicea (Revelation 3:14-21).

        https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Revelation+3%3A14-20&version=ESV

        Shepherds and congregations akin to John Piper (Laodicea and Sardis) are about to go through the fire very soon.

        Blessings
        Psalm 27

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        1. The quote was from an article by Brian Zahnd who limited authentic Christianity to the religion of the early church until second century. As you pointed out if only believers could awaken to the reality that we are the Church, the body of Christ, fully alive in Him.

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  2. Ha! My dear mother and I discuss this all of the time since there seems to be so many new churches in our area with no cause. The notion of “ponze scheme churches” has become a mega business and sadly it is ongoing. These churches are especially rampant in third world countries where poverty forces many to search for help anywhere and everywhere. Pastors with no other sources of income besides tithes and offerings who are flying private jets and driving half a million dollar cars, whose church members have no idea where their next meal will come from. Build a church pantry, perhaps? But, of course not. Oh! did I mention that in some of these churches you need to be on a waiting list for three months just to speak to the head pastor lol

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  3. Terrific commentary! I clicked on this expecting to see someone bashing Christians (as a Christian I like to read other points of view) and was pleasantly surprised that, instead, you are helping seekers to avoid the pitfalls. I go to a small town church that avoids all these things you mentioned, but our church is slowly failing because so many prefer the large “mega” churches that just dole out what they want to hear and they see a rich pastor and think “I can have what he has just by following the preacher!” So many have strayed far from the original Biblical teachings. Thank you for this post.

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  4. I quite agree with you regarding material riches and the church. Besides it all beginning with the growing coffers of the Catholic Church, this, my friend, is a growing reason why the overt form of Christianity is declined in the minds of those out there. Though a Pagan myself and having been there once, my respect for an honest faith remains supreme. Remain true to your cause.

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  5. I agree with the conclusions made and have advocated similar views. The church (building) and God are not synonymous as some would have those who refuse to read and understand The Word for themselves–believe. Being in a right relationship with God–provides all the direction we need in giving–who all who will receive–not just in a building.

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  6. Thank you. That was such a good post and well delivered. I will repost it. I hope it makes people more aware of the prosperity gospel and how to distinguish it from the true Gospel.
    I like the point that giving to the Lord does not equate to giving to the Church. My fear is that people will view all Churches and pastors as greedy. That is not the case at all. Many pastors could be making very good money in a secular business but have given it up for the work of the ministry. So continue to support your deserving local Church and don’t forget that the other giving you described is giving to the Lord also.
    The best ministry happens one to one not through institutions.

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    1. A Ponzi scheme is a fraudulent investment operation where the operator, an individual or organization, pays returns to its investors from new capital paid to the operators by new investors, rather than from profit earned by the operator.- Wikipedia

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  7. Reblogged this on PHDinMeBlog and commented:
    Hey Scholars!

    I know I have not gone into detail about why we were told to leave the church we had been attending. I want to give myself some time with that personally. But I had to repost this after I saw it because it was timely for me to read today AND this IS one of the reasons the lead pastor asked us to leave the church. He said we were not tithing (he had looked at church statements and giving as he warned the Board he would) and he did not find it acceptable that indeed we were tithing (once my husband told him) but not to the church. Listen scholars, know The Creator, Source, Abba, God for YOURSELF! Don’t be fleeced!

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  8. Going by this definitions, it seems to me that there are many ponzi schemes around. Smiles. But let us not condemn… let the Spirit of God guide us on where, when and to whom we give.

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  9. Having finished reading Jesus has left the building by Paul Vieira for the second time and reading this blog i couldn’t help but say God help us.

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