Friday, February 1, 2013

Cheap Christian Preachers! Acts 24

Today, let’s put a little compare and contrast together, shall we?

Let’s take the Apostle Paul and the semi-anonymous embarrassment to Christian ministry currently in the news here for writing on a receipt that since God gets 10%, the server was getting nothing. Now, a quick note: if you have not noticed, there are times when someone wants to make a point and will fake an event to get attention. That may be what happened here. Or the individual may be a self-proclaimed “pastor” of a not real church. We’ll take this one at face value for starters.

Now, back to going completely through the Bible: Acts 24 (link). Paul, still on trial. Honestly, from this point forward Acts is a mash-up between the Gospel Channel, CourTV, and Extreme Shipwrecks. Paul is on trial here, on trial there, and shipwrecked over yonder—and in the middle of it, he’s preaching the truth of Jesus Christ. Right now, he’s on trial in Caesarea Maritima (most likely that one. There’s lots of Caesareas back in the day.) His case has shifted over to the Roman Judicial System, which fortunately gives Paul certain rights.

Meanwhile, in 21st Century America, apparently a large group of people went out to eat, resulting in the automatic charge of an 18% service fee. (Admittedly, I don’t know if those fees are charged and then auto-paid as gratuity to servers or if the restaurant is skimming some of that. Nor do I like them—somewhat out of jealousy that no such thing went on when I was in tipped-service and somewhat out of aggravation in that, since myself, my wife, my sister, and many other friends have all worked as servers, non-snarly servers always get above that level from me.)

Moving forward, though, apparently the individual who got the receipt felt it better to put on it that “God gets 10%” and then to zero-out the service charge. The cheapskate then preceded to sign the receipt and include “Pastor” on the signature line.

I have a couple of problems with this without getting back to the text. First of all: I have one credit card that includes “Rev” on it, but I don’t even sign that one with the “Rev” title. I sign my name. If you have a relationship with me based on my profession and therefore choose to call me “Pastor Doug” or “Brother Doug” then that’s fine. If I ever finish all the school I intend, then in the academic world I would be “Dr. Hibbard.” The truth is, though, that if you want to call me by name, then do so. The only time I ever would insist on any title would be that academic one: if I get the Ph.D. and you are one of my students, you will have to call me Dr. in class.

But to walk around with “Pastor” on your sleeve? Really? When you demand the respect you think you deserve, you show you do not deserve it. Outside of structured discipline systems, like the military, you do not go around insisting on people being in awe of you. Inside a system like the military (or police, fire departments, etc…) the ranks and ratings are part of the necessary culture. A pastor, though, is a pastor and if you have to sign your credit card slips with it, you are thinking more highly of yourself than you ought. Then we could talk at length about whether or not 10% is either “going to God” or is even a New Covenant mandate. That’s another post.

Let us return to Caesarea, and then back to (wherever the above happened. I thought I saw Philadelphia, but I’m not sure). Paul is kept in prison, and Felix the Governor sends for him from time to time. Why?

Felix wants to see if Paul will slide him a bribe to get out. Paul never does so. How Luke knows this was Felix’s motivation is uncertain, but Luke was likely with the group that was taking care of Paul in those days, so he may have heard the gossip from the working folks in the system. Or he just knew that was how Roman justice worked: a little extra grease moved the wheels of justice a little faster.

Paul never pays that bribe. He holds to his integrity and will not besmirch the character and reputation of himself, his fellow believers, or his Savior Jesus Christ for an easier time in jail. He stays in prison rather than pay a bribe not to keep the money but to keep his integrity.

Contra our modern day image in ministry, thanks to cheapskates and charlatans that consider their work for God to be an opportunity for personal enrichment. The consideration that we would be enriched should never cross our minds. Yes, there is legitimacy in making sure we’ve got a can of spam and some loaf bread to not starve if possible, but the nonsense of pursuing personal enrichment has to stop.

The plain testimony of one of the first leaders in ministry among the pagan world shows us what our attitude should be: I will allow myself to be imprisoned rather than bring reproach upon the Name above All Names. I will stay in prison, even though I am having to pay for my food (true, often in Roman times), though I could get out rather than behave in an unrighteous manner.

Christian people: we have got to do better than this. We have got to demand better than this from our leaders. The world seeks to discredit the Church of the Living God enough, we cannot sit by and leave people in leadership roles that do nothing but help.

Today’s Nerd Note: There is a lot of good stuff in Acts 24. Read it. Look at Paul’s use of proper etiquette in his defense. Look at his submission to the system. No resorting to trite memes or simple tweet-bashes. He is clear, comes back to the Gospel, and takes the lumps that come from it.

Far better than suing those who opposed him for being too mean.

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