November 30 2004
Late one evening as I was waiting for my wife to return home from her job, I was flicking through the television channels when I happened upon a Christian network. Not surprising, they were conducting another telethon, and since I was too tired to read, yet not tired enough to go to sleep I settled in and began to watch some of America's most respected Christian minds attempt to make their case as to why everyone watching should send in their best gift possible.
"What you have here," one man said, "is an opportunity to finance the end time harvest. We are attempting to get a new satellite into orbit that will broadcast the gospel twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week to the Middle East. Dollars equals souls," he continued, "dollars equals souls." Another man in the background, seemingly excited over this new catch phrase echoed his agreement, and enthusiasm, "yes, yes, Amen, dollars equals souls."
As I continued to watch I became increasingly uncomfortable as thoughts began to form, and as I began to realize that although on the surface this seemed like a noble cause, I had seen something similar take place some fifteen years ago, that had dire consequences for the true Christians of another region, namely Eastern Europe.
First let's make the obvious crystal clear. Dollars don't equal souls, laborers, and the word of God equal souls. In order to bring in the harvest, Jesus said He needed laborers, men willing to sacrifice of themselves, to lay aside their plans for this life, and offer their all to the pursuit of furthering the Kingdom of God. When Jesus sent out the 70 disciples, He did not tell them to take provisions, he did not tell them to make sure they have enough cash in their expense account, on the contrary he told them to take nothing. He commanded them to carry neither money bag, sack, nor sandals, nor were they supposed to greet anyone along the road. All they had was Christ's word, and that was enough for them to go and preach the gospel.
The fact that men believe the amount of money a ministry raises, equals the souls it will reach for the kingdom of God, was not the most disturbing thought I had that night. The question that would make its way to the surface of my consciousness each time I heard the phrase, "we will be taking the gospel to the Middle East," was which gospel are you planning on taking to the Middle East?
I have often wondered how the glamour gospel would play in a place like Sudan, or Iran, or Iraq, places where Christians are put to death for their faith, places where there is a sacrifice involved, a price to be paid for calling yourself a Child of God.
How will Christians that are being persecuted, hunted and hounded, killed and maimed, react to the gospel of superstar Christianity, private jets, body guards, multi-million dollar homes, and autograph hounds?
Is this the gospel we are planning to reach them with? Do we have the audacity to tell those that are suffering for the Gospel's sake that they are ignorant, that all their suffering is for naught, that in fact because they suffer for Christ's sake they are not in God's perfect will?
What does American Christianity have to offer to the persecuted Church?
How can we conceive of going to preach the "I've got to have it all" doctrines, to those souls who still consider that it is a joy to suffer for the sake of the gospel?
Imagine just for an instant a private jet blazing over the horizon of the Sudan, landing on a private air strip, a well coiffed man reeking of arrogance, stepping off the plane, the sun glinting off his multi ringed fingers, and his diamond crusted wrist watch, addressing the survivors of the Christian community whom one Sunday morning were locked in their church and set ablaze while in fellowship.
Imagine this selfsame man, chastising them for not having enough faith to believe God for an indoor pool, and a fleet of new cars.
I know its hard to believe, but there are places on this planet where Christians are more spiritual than here. There are Christians in this world whose spirituality extends beyond the temporal things, beyond the things of this earth and they find their fulfillment, and joy in the things of God, places where prophecy, dreams, visions, and miracles are not the exception but the norm.
So back to my original question, what gospel are we planning to preach to those of the Middle East? One thing we have to keep in mind, is that these people have seen the true power of God, and once you've experienced the power of God, theatrics, and multi-colored lights, a tingle in your fingers or a good belly laugh just won't do. What can we possibly hope to teach those wholly sacrificed to the cause of Christ, when discipleship in this nation only extends to touching one's television screen?
I remember a story I heard as a child, of a Christian body that went to live on an island off the coast of Italy, so they could learn to serve God, and draw closer to Him. These were simple people, peasants, and all they had were the testimony of Christ, and the promises that God had made to all His children, that if they would seek, they would surely find. After some years, the news reached some priests that there was a group, on this island, who simply prayed to God, not having been taught the church prayers, or the cannon. Three priest set out in a boat, reached the island, and informed all that were gathered there, that they had come to save their souls, they had come to teach them how to say the rosary, and pray the right way. Innocent as these brothers were, they received the priests, and tried to learn from their teaching. Finally the priests felt it was time to leave, they got in their boat and began to row toward the mainland. Suddenly a man ran out of the tree line, and continued to run toward them, waving and asking them to stop. He ran to the side of the boat and between gasps, he said, "we need you to come back, we forgot the prayer, we don't remember how to say it." The priests looked shocked and amazed, the man was running on water, he hadn't noticed, but the priests had. The elder of the group hung his head, and said, "However you've been praying, whatever devotions you've been making to God, continue to do so. Forget what we attempted to teach you, because it is obvious your faith is greater than ours, and through God, your faith allows you to do what we cannot." The man turned, and walked on the water until he reached the shore.
Is it not the same thing some are attempting to do today? Trying to force feed a watered down, powerless gospel of material excess to servants who glory in their tribulations, who see the hand of God on a daily basis, who have joy and peace in spite of all that has come against them?
The last thing I want to do through this article is get on a soapbox and say that money is not needed in ministry. It would be an insult to your intelligence. However, if for an instant we would take a step back, and think not on how we can build a bigger kingdom for ourselves on earth, if for an instant we would stop trying to take the glory that is due God, and place it on ourselves saying we've saved souls, and truly seek to help the persecuted church in the Middle East, we would clearly see new avenues to pursue, wherein we could actually help, not hurt those already on the frontlines, pastors and evangelists already sacrificing their lives to further the kingdom of God.
If indeed we are successful in promoting the glamour gospel in these nations where Christians still meet to fellowship in the late hours of the night, in basements and caves, where they are still called upon to sacrifice their lives, I fear history will repeat itself, and true men of God, selfless servants whose only desire was to preach the true gospel, will once more weep bitter tears.
I write this article this day, because I fear for the future of the true church in the Middle East, just as some feared for the future of the Church in Eastern Europe. Fifteen years ago, when some made their concerns known, when they saw the unhealthy teachings that were streaming into their nations, they were waved off as uneducated, simple men who feared progress. Now in many churches, we see their worst fears have been realized, congregations stripped of their spiritual essence, stripped of the power of God, priceless virtues that have been replaced with trinkets and entertaining plays. I know many Eastern European Pastors that still mourn the day they allowed westernized Christianity to be preached from their pulpits, because to this day the damage reverberates, and they draw further and further away from the true gospel of Christ.
The true harvest will not be brought into the storehouse by gimmicks, or enticing words, but by tireless laborers, those scarred and bruised servants of Christ, who gladly lay down their lives just to tell one more person about Jesus.
The following is an article that I've had for some time, and happened upon it once more just a few days ago. I believe it is something every Christian should read and take to heart. I urge you to take the time, and read it carefully, and let the truth of it speak to you.
With love in Christ,
Michael Boldea Jr.
"And so, my friends and fellow believers in Christ's injunction to send the gospel abroad into every land, it is with great pleasure that I want to present to our beloved brothers and sisters in the church behind what we have called the Iron Curtain these last fifty years, a check from money raised by faithful believers across America - money we hope you will use joyfully and fruitfully in building up the body of believers and churches you have so faithfully maintained during these long hours of darkness under the shadow of Communism."
"Ladies and gentlemen," he went on, "I want you to meet a man I know you are eager to hear from, a man who carried the standard of the cross bravely, as you know - imprisoned and tortured, he never gave in to those who would destroy his faith. And so now, Dieder - Dieder Palacki, won't you please come, accept this money on behalf of Christians behind the Iron Curtain everywhere. I have here a check for three million dollars to give you!"
At the words, sighs and gasps and a few low whistles could be heard, all of which gave way to a round of applause, with many Praise the Lords and Hallelujahs sprinkled throughout.
He turned, expecting Palacki to stand, come forward and shake the outstretched hand that awaited him.
But instead Palacki remained seated where he was, until the clapping died down. At last he rose, came forward, took the check, shook MacPatrick's hand unaggressively, but still said nothing. Slightly unnerved, but still not losing his cool, MacPatrick resumed his own seat with the other dignitaries.
Slowly Palacki make his way toward the podium. He appeared not even to notice the applauding reception that broke out again, and in his eyes was not a look of warmth.
Reaching the center of the platform, he did not lift his head to scan the faces of his listeners. Instead he stood still, looking down at the lectern before him. He had no notes.
Gradually the clapping died down and the hall fell silent. Still Palacki stared downward in front of him, while the delegates waited expectantly.
It was several long moments before he at last spoke. "It has been a curious past several days," he began, speaking softly. "I have been listening with great interest to the many discussions and exhortations, all with the end in view of promoting the Christian faith in a region of the world where one might conclude never before had a single soul heard the name Jesus of Nazareth."
"Indeed, If I were newly arrived on this planet and had come to this conference as an angel whose assignment it was to report back to our Father on the state of his people on the earth, I would have reason to conclude that a huge segment of the world's population had just been discovered of whom no one had ever heard before and who therefore had no Christian tradition whatsoever. As I have listened I have found myself wondering if any Christians have ever existed outside the United States or Great Britain."
"So as I say, it has been with great interest that I have attempted to absorb the perspectives represented among you. I must admit that when the invitation came to join you, and even to address this gathering, I found myself seized with a certain trepidation. As you know, large assemblies of Christians such as this have not been customary where I come from, and thus most of my work among Christians has been in small groups of less than one hundred. Addressing several thousand I found a very intimidating prospect."
"In the end however, I decided to join you, for we pastors and Christians from the regions formerly behind the Iron Curtain are certainly excited about the new possibilities for evangelism in our nations too."
"But as I listened to more and more talk of money and pamphlets, of missionaries being sent and books being shipped, of teachers and pastors coming to help and train us in spreading the gospel, and of your gospel TV and radio stations and your gospel trains and gospel trucks full of your Western-style gospel paraphernalia - your badges and tracts and stickers and music and gaily written happiness-books with their joy-filled, razzle-dazzle Christianity - a knot has steadily risen in my stomach."
"Do not forget, I have spent much time in your countries. I have been in your churches and bookstores. I have witnessed with my own eyes the trappings of your so-called spiritual prosperity, which is really no prosperity at all, but a hollow empty shell."
"Something within me wants to shout and say to you all, 'Go home to your contented and wealthy homes and communities and churches. The Good News of Jesus Christ is alive and vibrant and is fully capable of carrying itself abroad into the hearts of hungry men and women without the benefit of your expensive and lavish commercial efforts on its behalf."
"Why do you think that those of us such as my brothers Wurmbrand and Duduman and Vins and others have been risking our lives for all these years? Each of us has been imprisoned, beaten, tortured, humiliated because of our preaching of Christ's gospel."
"For thirty years we have smuggled and traveled, taught, preached, gone hungry, organized, yes, and even spoken and written to you of the West as well. Thousands upon thousands of our fellow Poles and Russians and Slavs and East Germans have laid their lives on the line for the sake of their faith and in order to share that faith with others."
"I tell you, my friends, God's church is alive and well in the areas you represent as lost and in such desperate need. Small, perhaps, it may be, but it is alive and thriving because in our corners of the world there is a price to be paid to call yourself a disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ. A price that cannot be measured, as you seem to measure all things - by money. No, you who hear my words who I hope and pray are my brothers and sisters, it costs to believe in the East. It costs all you have to be a Christian. So there are very few lukewarm, halfhearted souls among us. To be halfhearted can cost you your life!"
"For years we have tried to alert you Christians of the West to the true state of affairs behind the Iron Curtain. We have written, we have traveled, we have spoken, we have prayed, we have wept."
"How many of you listened to us?"
"My brother and friend Alexandr Solzhenitsyn attempted for a decade to be heard, as have so many others. We asked for your prayers, for Bibles, for help in teaching and training our people. And some help did come, for which we were grateful."
"But the rest of you continued to feed your own mammoth religious systems, building yet bigger and bigger transmitting stations and more television stations and publishing more books - all in the name of proclaiming the gospel."
"But did you ever give of yourselves? Did you come help us? Did you pray for us? Did you suffer and die and starve with us? How much did you really care about the people you now so pompously think you will save for the kingdom?"
"Where have you been all this time? We needed your help and prayers and support and Bibles when times were hard! We have been beaten and imprisoned and even killed for the gospel's sake. Where were you when it counted? We lived our faith behind the Iron Curtain, and now that it is down, who is to say we even want you coming with your pompous egoism and self-reliance?"
"Come now! Did you seriously expect a huge outpouring of goodwill and gratefulness from those of us representing the East for all these grandiose plans you would make for our people?"
"Did you really envision a great unity of working together in this time when you say opportunity for harvest is so great? To listen to you, all that we have been pouring our lives out for these last four decades of repression counts for naught. Do you truly expect us to share your enthusiasm and welcome you and your wealthy brand of capitalistic Christianity with open arms?"
"Think again, my friends, those I would still call my brothers and sisters in spite of your blindness. Pause and consider the egotism of your presumption and the worldliness of your method."
By now the auditorium was filled with the heaviness of shocked silence. No one dared move a muscle or so much as shift in his seat. But Palacki's chastening diatribe was not over yet.
"How dare you well-fed, contented, prosperous Christians of the West, come here now and think you can throw your money at us poor unfortunates and suddenly 'save the world' with all the gadgets and inventions and high-tech wizardry of electronic spirituality! You with your multi-million-dollar architecturally imposing churches, you with your computer Bibles and preprogrammed Bible Studies, you with your posh cars and soft, upholstered pews, your grand libraries of Christian books, your leather-bound reference Bibles, you who have all the answers to the world's ills nicely at hand to spout off when asked."
"How many of you have been hauled away at gunpoint for attending a spiritual discussion? When was the last time you were beaten for uttering a sentence of prayer? Do you think you can spread the gospel with a conference, with programs, with satellites, with your television and music, with your preaching?"
"Have we Christians of the East been idle all this time? What would you have us to do, go off quietly somewhere so you can come in and pat yourselves on the back before your watching congregations and claim credit for saving all the souls who would be lost without you?"
"No my shallow brothers and sisters of wealthy, contented Western evangelicalism! Build a prayer tower or a glass church somewhere, but think not that your money can save souls. Go back from whence you came, and spend your evangelistic self-gratifying mammon elsewhere!"
Suddenly he stopped, stood another two or three seconds gazing at his listeners with calm countenance, yet flaming eyes. Then, with decisive motion he ripped the check he was still holding into several pieces and let it drop to the floor.
Palacki turned and strode off the platform and out of sight, leaving his hearers gaping in stunned silence.