Commercializing the Word of God
“WE ARE not peddlers of the word of God as many men are,” declared an apostle of Christ Jesus. (2 Cor. 2:17, NW) Thus it was that even in the days of the apostles there were “many men” who claimed to preach the Word of God, but in reality they were only clever salesmen, doing good business for themselves. The interest they had in the Word of God was not for the good of their hearers but for their own profit, their own aggrandizement. If the Word of God had already been commercialized at that early date, then how much more likely it would be commercialized today, when the world so worshipfully adores the god Mammon. A candid look at Christendom, therefore, should prove to be eye-opening.
A not uncommon practice in churches today is that of tithing. This is the taxing of church members one tenth of their earnings, and it is a practice used by the Mormons, Adventists and others. The preachers repeatedly harp on tithing and the parishioners are firmly led to believe that it would be Scripturally wrong for them to give less than a tenth of their income to the demanding church. But how is this a sign that the Word of God is being commercialized? Is not tithing approved by the Bible? Under the Law of Moses, yes! But we do not find Jesus recommending tithing to his followers. His disciples were sent out to preach the gospel free, not to demand tithes. (Matt. 10:8, 9) True, Christ upheld tithing while the Jewish Law was in effect, but tithing came to an end when the Law was abolished by God through Christ Jesus. (Eph. 2:15; Col. 2:13, 14) The Bible is definitely clear that the early Christians had no system of tithing; all giving was on a voluntary basis. (1 Cor. 16:1, 2; 2 Cor. 9:1-5) Hence, insistence on tithing, a practice no longer Scripturally required, is peddling the Word of God and making dishonest gain by means of it!
Another feature common to Christendom’s churches is the ever-present collection plate. Pew-sitters know with what persistent zeal it is passed, then repassed under some new name such as “penny collection,” “foreign work,” “pastor’s anniversary” or “pastor’s salary.” If collections are not adequate in the eyes of church officials there is often an eloquent plea for more “offerings.” Such a system, subtly playing upon the “fear of men” and man’s desire for prestige, embarrasses the parishioners into giving. Hardly an example of cheerful giving!—2 Cor. 9:7.
But since the passing of collection plates may not always fill church moneybags, an expedient has been resorted to that is really clever—coin envelopes. A year’s supply of the colorful envelopes is distributed to church members at the beginning of the year. The coin envelopes are often dated and require the name of the giver. This system utilizes embarrassment not only to stimulate regular giving but also to increase the amount of the “offerings.” This cunning money-making method is often made more alluring. A firm that deals in selling coin envelopes to churches, called Parish Service Company, some time ago sent out a circular to pastors of various churches. It is interesting to note what the circular says:
“If your church needs money, read what others say about this time-proven and tested plan . . . The coin slots in our Lenten Folders are ‘Dated,’ too! No haphazard giving on the part of your members. The ‘Date’ of each slot tells them at a glance whether they are generous or derelict. Every year the copy and art work are completely changed. . . . Fragrance has been added to Lenten Self-Denial Folders this year [because] scientific tests have proven that fragrance has a profound effect on the subconscious mind. It should help to ‘sell’ the idea of generous giving. . . . So if your church wants to share in the large profits so easily obtained . . . ” This appealing to the “subconscious mind” to induce worshipers to give, does it not indicate a greater concern for money on the part of the “preachers” than for the Word of God? Can we conceive of Jesus or the apostles passing out perfumed coin envelopes to stimulate “subconscious” giving? How different are Christendom’s churches from the apostle who said: “It was with working night and day, so as not to put an expensive burden upon any one of you, that we preached the good news of God to you”!—1 Thess. 2:9, NW.
BAZAARS AND CARNIVALS
But the call to fill church money chests never ends with coin envelopes. For the profit-making efforts appear under the guise of church socials and bazaars. Parishioners contribute heavily of their material goods to support the bazaars. The superbazaars may go on for weeks, and booths will vend about everything from cake to hardware. Contests and fortune-telling booths are also often used at bazaars to attract the people. How different from Jesus, who provided meals for the 5,000 and 4,000, not to fleece them, but to teach them freely the truth from God’s Word!
Roman Catholic churches frequently put on what are called “carnivals,” which are really grandiose bazaars. For example, there was the “St. Christina’s Carnival” in Chicago. Colorful church leaflets advertised the fact that there would be homecooked meals and “games.” The main attractions had nothing to do with the Bible: The giving away of ten dollars every hour on the hour; also a chance to win a new car, provided a “donation” was made for each ticket. To encourage attendance at the carnival rain or shine, it was announced that “your automobile will be blessed both Sundays.” And in a special letter the “Father” admonished parishioners: “Talk up this carnival everywhere.” Talk up Bible truths? Never! But talk up profit-making carnivals, oh, yes!
Every observing person knows that the Catholic Church has a remarkable fondness for the marvelous money-raising method called “bingo.” Some priests are so religiously devoted to bingo parties that the “games” go on whether legal or illegal. If illegal the priests may apply political pressure as a “Father” from St. Mary’s of Redford Roman Catholic church in Detroit, Michigan, did. This “Father” told the mayor that the church was going to operate roulette wheels, chuck-a-luck, bingo and other games of chance regardless, adding: “We have a lot of voters in our parish and there is an election coming.”—Detroit News, March 20, 1941.
When it comes to lottery tickets and raffles, all kinds of churches jump on the gambling band wagon. Protestant churches particularly delight in the lucrative idea of raffling off an automobile. Frequently seen is a shiny new automobile with the familiar gaudy sign on top, inviting pedestrians to “donate” a dollar to some church and thus become eligible to win the car. Many localities now outlaw gambling, though churches are often exempt. At Indianapolis in April, 1953, an agent for a $10,000 lottery sponsored by the parent-teacher club of St. Rita’s Roman Catholic church was arrested when police, impounding his car for nonpayment of traffic fines, found in it 1,871 books of lottery tickets. He was charged with violation of the antigambling law, but when the case came to court it was ruled that churches were exempt from the law. Indiana’s law, prohibiting gambling in saloons and night clubs but allowing it in churches, prompted a few Lutheran ministers of Fort Wayne to remark that it was a “double standard of morals with the churches definitely on the lower level.”
A Roman Catholic parish in Stourbridge, Worcestershire, England, found something better than bingo—a football pool and racing tip sheet combined. The leaflet listed England’s top football games on one side and a likely winner at one of the nation’s race tracks on the other. Parishioners were invited to receive the tips regularly by making a down payment of a shilling, and a shilling a week thereafter. So Christendom’s churches have used the Bible as a rallying cry for their bingo parties, lotteries and other gambling games. How like the money-changers whom Jesus drove from the temple, saying: “‘My house will be called a house of prayer,’ but you are making it a cave of robbers”! (Matt. 21:13, NW) But, then, the commercializers of the Word of God are not interested in doing as Paul said: “We have renounced the underhanded things of which to be ashamed, not walking in craftiness neither adulterating the word of God.”—2 Cor. 4:2, NW.
WEDDING OF RELIGION AND COMMERCE
Churches today are openly linking themselves with commerce. A striking example of this in the United States is the “church stamp plan.” According to this scheme, a store will issue one church stamp for every dollar purchase. The customers, receiving their stamps, paste them on a “church stamp chart.” When the chart is filled with one hundred stamps it is to be given to “the church of your choice.” The church then exchanges the chart for one dollar in cash. The stamps are never of any real value to the public, the instructions saying: “The only right which you acquire in said stamps is to present them to your church treasurer so that he can present them to us for cash.” Churches in turn do a good deed for commerce by directing parishioners to trade with the stores that handle church stamps. The connection with commerce is obvious; and as far as the church member is concerned he is hardly an example of a “cheerful giver,” for he can do nothing else with the stamps than give them to a church!
At times the wedding of commerce and organized religion more closely resembles the wedding of piety and jewelry. Devout churchgoers fall victim to the religious gadgeteer who sells every conceivable type of charm, relic and gadget. There are St. Christopher money clips, St. Anthony key chains, miraculous medal bracelets, images of saints, rosaries, “rosary clickers,” etc.—tons of religious knickknacks peddled under the guise of Christianity. Is this not commercializing the Word of God? The condemnation comes from their own mouths. Reported the New York Times of April 11, 1953: “Deploring the commercialization of images of the church, Sister Mary Jeanne, editor of The Catholic Art Quarterly, declared today that the sale of religious pictures and statues has become a ‘racket.’” The Times then quotes her exact words: “Priests and sisters, to whom the laity naturally look for guidance, are often even more deeply corrupted for the simple reason that they open their hearts even more generously to the available images. . . . One thing that can be produced cheaply and sold easily is the so-called religious ware for the pious, for the uncritical and devout believer. It is still a good racket today.” Agreed! It is still a seductive scheme that flourishes in Christendom. Whose fault is it, then, that the devout are hoodwinked and inveigled into buying tons of religious trinkets? The clergy themselves! The ones responsible for leading the laity! The ones who are “even more deeply corrupted”! The clergy could enlighten the people as to the unscripturalness of images, the futility of rosaries, miraculous medals, shrines, candles, etc., but a profitable business would thereby vanish.—Matt. 6:7, 8; Acts 17:29.
PURGATORY AND BEGGING
One of the star profit makers for the Catholic Church is the purgatory doctrine. According to this teaching the dead are not dead but are suffering torment. Parishioners are taught that the suffering ones cannot help themselves but a priest on earth can; hence, relatives of the dead ones are induced to pay priests vast sums of money to say masses for the suffering soul. The more masses said, the better—at least for the profit-seeking church. People of means are urged to leave several thousand dollars to provide for masses to be said perpetually for them after they die. Here is a flagrant example of commercializing and peddling the Word of God, for the masses do no good for the living or the dead. The people get nothing for their money, because purgatory is not taught by the Bible nor is the word “purgatory” even mentioned by God’s Word. Above all, God could never be bought with money; he is not a receiver of bribes!—Eccl. 9:10; Acts 8:20.
And what shall we think of the numberless other profit-making schemes carried on by Christendom’s churches? Do the athletic contests, the bowling alleys in church basements, the annual outings and church picnics, spring rallies and winter rallies, “Lord’s auctions” and church dances really advance the Word of God? Did early Christians use Christianity as a cloak for downright begging? Yet today how often nuns and cleric-garbed persons sit in hotel lobbies, railroad stations and on public thoroughfares with outstretched pot to collect the coins! Can this be true Christianity, this sitting with pots, collecting coins? Hardly! Jesus did nothing of the sort. The truth is that Christendom’s “saintly” beggars differ little from the tramps and drunken loafers that sit upon the sidewalk. They both give nothing, take all!
Our look at Christendom, which claims to speak for God, shows that she has made a profitable business out of the Word of God. Her money will not save her at Armageddon, nor her profession of Christianity: “‘Master, Master, did we not prophesy in your name?’ . . . And yet then I will confess to them: I never knew you at all. Get away from me, you workers of lawlessness.” (Matt. 7:22, 23, NW) But there is a group of Christians today that do not peddle the Word of God. They are Jehovah’s witnesses, who, in 1952, devoted over 68,000,000 hours to freely preaching the pure Word of God. Their work is carried on by the Scriptural method: “Let each one do just as he has resolved in his heart, not grudgingly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” (2 Cor. 9:7, NW) Jehovah’s witnesses will keep on proclaiming the judgments of Jehovah, and when the smoke of Armageddon clears it will reveal a new world free of traffickers in the Word of God.—Zech. 14:21, AS; 2 Pet. 3:13.