Karen E. Pansler, J.D.
We must not be blinded by the popularity of dazzling religious idols and dazzling false disciples.
The work of the true teacher is to win souls to Christ.
Neither Jesus nor His disciples ever begged for money.
We can’t be fooled by the razzle-dazzle of religious superstars.
Around Christmas 2002, a televangelist’s worker called me begging for a donation of $100. I had been out of work for several months and truly had no money to give. I explained that I was unemployed and needed my money for food and utilities. Of course, the caller was trained to then ask for a lesser amount such as $35 or $25 arguing that God expects us to sacrifice everything for His work. Well, this televangelist isn’t sacrificing anything for the Lord’s work. On the contrary, he’s enjoying lavish living: grand houses, expensive vehicles, and custom-made suits. Yes, he’s living the good life. Yet, he’s willing to take the food from my mouth to pay for his costly pleasures. I refuse to support televangelists’ dazzling lifestyles while honest, hard-working people can often barely make ends meet.
You’ve seen these religious superstars on television. They dazzle the eye with their flashy, tailor-made clothing. Some of the women wear diamonds and even have sequins on their costumes. Yes, they’re costumes, not just clothing. It’s religious show business. They’re all flash and they talk about cash; specifically, your cash - they want it. How do they try to get it? With dazzling dress, dazzling words, and dazzling doctrines. They're dazzling disciples.
Just look at the vulgar sets of some religious television shows: oversized furniture painted gold, including oversized chairs painted gold to look like thrones. These vain and pompous false disciples crown themselves religious royalty and want to rule the religious world. Consequently, they dictate that we send our money to them to support their kingdom. Of course, they call it God’s kingdom. Furthermore, to get more of our money to expand their empires, they oppress and intimidate us by threatening that God will punish us or cast us out if we don’t support them financially. Or, they try to keep us quiet and content by bribes of entertainment and promises of prosperity.
Clearly, their real motive is not the salvation of souls, but their own selfish gain. They are greedy and covet our money. Greed is their motivation and inspiration. Enslaved to luxurious, self-indulgent living, they stoop to low tactics to support their high living. So, they try to impress us with their costumes, their bearing, their pompous utterances, and their false miracles. In other words, they really don’t want us to worship God. They want us to worship them.
Religious imposters have always been around. The scribes and the Pharisees were religious imposters and schemed to get the widows’ money. They enlarged the borders of their garments and loved other pompous display. How did Christ react to hypocrites? “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye devour widows’ houses, and for a pretence make long prayer: therefore ye shall receive the greater damnation” (Matthew 23:14). “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisee, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited selpulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men’s bones, and of all uncleanness. Even so ye also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity” (Matthew 23:27, 28). Christ does not use soft words of compassion when condemning false disciples - hypocrites.
In a letter to Titus, the Apostle Paul warns us: “For there are many unruly and vain talkers and deceivers, specially they of the circumcision: Whose mouths must be stopped, who subvert whole houses, teaching things which they ought not, for filthy lucre’s sake” (Titus 1:10, 11). From the beginning of Christianity, false disciples taught false doctrines for the love of money and not for the love of God.
Today many ministers preach false doctrines to get our money. For example, false disciples teach that if we give them our money, God will cause us to prosper because He wants us to be rich. They beg and beg and beg for our money. These men are not true disciples, but religious beggars. They beg for a living. They do a little bit of preaching and a whole lot of begging. “And through covetousness shall they with feigned words make merchandise of you: whose judgment now of a long time lingereth not, and their damnation slumberth not” (II Peter 2:3). Now if the gospel of prosperity is true, then wouldn’t Jesus and His disciples have been the richest men on earth? Where were their costly clothes, fine chariots, and multi-million dollar houses? The Bible even warns us that it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God (Matthew 19:24).
Another gimmick of a televangelist to get more of our money to pay for his tailor-made clothes, expensive vehicles, and multi-million dollar beach house is preaching that we owe God back tithes just as we might owe the government back taxes. Surprisingly, many people believe whatever this man says because he performs false miracles.
Many Christians feel that if men show signs and wonders then it’s proof that they are true apostles. But the Bible warns us, “For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ. And no marvel; for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light. Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also be transformed as the ministers of righteousness; whose end shall be according to their works” (II Corinthians 11:13-15). “And the devil that deceived them was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are, and shall be tormented day and night for ever and ever” (Revelation 20:10).
Beware of deceitful workers. Satan is the Great Deceiver. “Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves” (Matthew 7:15). Of course, undisguised wolves would be too obvious. On the other hand, wolves in sheep’s clothing can get to the sheep and their money. What better way for Satan to devour Christians' money than to appear as a sheep. Again, beware of deceitful workers. They want your body, mind, soul, and money.
The sad truth is that religious superstars live grand lifestyles while most of their financial supporters live modestly. To illustrate, my grandparents, James and Mary Bailey, were hard-working, honest, God-fearing people. My grandfather worked in the coal mines – a dirty and dangerous job. Many years ago, they watched a popular husband and wife religious television show. My grandparents faithfully sent their hard-earned money to this TV couple who wasted the donations on lavish living and building their little kingdom. As part of the religious show business, the husband and wife shed tears and their voices trembled as they begged their viewers to send extra money that month because of a financial crisis. Without their financial support, they begged, God’s work could not continue. My grandmother would say to my grandfather, "Well, I guess we better send Jim some more money."
Sadly, my grandparents sincerely believed this greedy couple needed money to continue God’s work, so they sent their hard-earned savings. They sacrificed the necessities so these religious superstars could buy extravagant luxuries. While my grandparents lived in a humble house in a coal mining town in Pennsylvania, this greedy TV couple had lavish houses in Palm Springs, the mountains, and elsewhere. In other words, my grandparents, along with millions of people around the world, were blinded by the religious superstars’ dazzling tears, dazzling entertainment, and dazzling words.
Unfortunately, religious superstars mix false gospel in with the true gospel. They preach a fool's gospel. It's like fool's gold. As you know, iron pyrite is a yellow mineral with high luster that looks so much like pure gold that some men are fooled by it. That's why it’s called fool’s gold. Well, religious superstars mix enough true gospel in with their false gospel that it looks and sounds like the real gospel. You know the saying, “All that glitters is not gold.” Look and listen carefully to religious superstars and other dazzling disciples. Are their dazzling doctrines and dazzling miracles pure gold or fool's gold?
If we are Biblically ignorant, religious superstars and other dazzling false disciples will lead us astray spiritually and rob us financially. But, we may argue, these men and women sound so good, and they look so good; they’re well-dressed and confident. Surely, these are signs from God that they’re anointed. Some even claim they’re anointed. Besides, we argue, we’re too smart to be deceived by false disciples. Again, John warns us, “Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1).
False teachers use their golden voices to urge us to worship them. Oh, we say, we don’t worship them! However, many Christians refuse to watch secular television because they feel it’s too worldly. They pride themselves on watching religious television only. Yet, most of them worship these religious superstars and turn them into idols. They blindly worship them and unquestioningly lavish their esteem, love, and money on them. They worship these religious idols more than they worship God. We sneer at the Israelites for worshipping a golden calf, but we’ve set up our own idols – living idols – religious superstars.
We must not be blinded by the razzle-dazzle of religious superstars and dazzling false disciples. The work of the true teacher is to win souls to Christ. Neither Jesus nor His disciples ever begged for money. Yes, God wants us to be rich! God wants us to be rich in character and rich in wisdom. We’re going to be surprised to see a lot of humble, old-fashioned Christians in heaven; men and women of sturdy, self-respecting character who lived a simple and God-fearing life. Many humble Christians who are overlooked on earth will be looked up to in heaven. I wonder how many religious superstars we’ll see in heaven.