by Stella Ramsaroop
(Originally published in Guyana's Kaieteur News on 18 May 2006)
I have often wondered what Jesus would say about those who peddle God. This thought came to my mind once again this week when I found out that the big-time American televangelist Benny Hinn is to be in Trinidad and Tobago this weekend.
No doubt there will be scores of people who will turn out for his crusade. Perhaps there will be some Guyanese who attend as well. After all, this man is supposed to have a direct line to God himself. Yet I still cannot help but wonder what Jesus would say about Benny Hinn and his multi-million dollar crusades.
I do hope you will indulge me a bit in this column. I have mentioned that I was once very religious and that I have extensively studied and even taught Christian scripture for many years. As such, I thought it would be fun to use my knowledge of the Bible to answer my own question of what Jesus would say about ministers like Benny Hinn.
Let me begin by talking about Hinn and his ministry. He is one of those ministers who bring in millions of American dollars every year from those faithful to Christianity. He is also one of those types of ministers who live an extravagantly lavish lifestyle. So much so that many of the news shows in the US have done exposes on his extravagance.
The Trinidad Express recently highlighted one of Hinn's many excessive spending sprees, "In 2003, en route home from a European crusade, during a layover in Milan, Italy, for refuelling of his jet and allowing for pilot rest, Pastor Hinn selected a hotel suite, said to be the largest on the continent. The 'room' offered 5,400 sq ft of living space, including a 100-foot long indoor swimming pool outfitted in genuine marble, 'essentials' costing TT$63,000 per night." That is over US$10,000!
Don't get me wrong, I think it is just fine for a person to spend their own money on nice things, but I have serious issues when a minister spends the money given to him/her by old grandmothers who can barely keep food on their own table. These ministers often promise their followers that if they if generously to his/her ministry, God will give them back even more.
When Hinn went to Nigeria last year, he railed the people during one of his meetings because of the low turnout and because they did not come close to giving him the US$4 million he was promised by the local ministers who sponsored his crusade.
If the NBC report was right, perhaps if Benny sacrificed his nice hotel room, his US$10 million home and the US$115,000 monthly operating costs of his private jet and Mercedes Benz (costing about US$80,000 each) then maybe he wouldn't be so worried about covering the costs of his crusades. After all, when someone gives to his ministry, I bet they are hoping the money goes to help others – not to put Benny into lavish cars, jets and hotel rooms.
I just hate to see people manipulated – whether by politicians or by ministers who claim to hear from God. It would be better to keep your money or give it to a poor person on the street than to send it to such ministers.
However, in a case like this, my reason and logic will make no headway with those who might be swindle by ministries who peddle God. So let us instead find out what Jesus had to say about it. Are you ready for a mid-week sermon?
Let me start first by admonishing Christians that Proverbs 14:15 says, "Only simpletons believe everything they are told! The prudent carefully consider their steps." It is a noble quest to seek answers to questions of orthodoxy (correct Biblical interpretation).
Acts 17:10-12 tells us that the Bereans questioned even the apostles Paul and Silas when they taught in the synagogue. Verse 11 says, "They (the Bereans) searched the Scriptures day after day to check up on Paul and Silas, to see if they were really teaching the truth." (NLT) And the Bereans were considered nobler than those in Thessalonica because of their questioning.
Remember that according to the Bible, "there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus" (1 Timothy 2:5). Therefore, the people are supposed to be able talk to Jesus themselves. As such, the scriptures I just mentioned clearly encourage believers to seek the truth and to not believe every thing they are told. If you are a Christian, the Bible is the standard by which you should live – not a standard raised by a man or woman.
Now back to Benny Hinn and his extravagance. Here is what the Jesus says, "I tell you the truth, it is very hard for a rich person to get into the Kingdom of Heaven. I say it again -- it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God!" (Matthew 19:23-24) If this is true, then why would any minister want to be rich?
The apostle Paul said in Philippians 4:11-12, "For I have learned how to get along happily whether I have much or little. I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything, I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. For I can do everything with the help of Christ who gives me the strength I need."
If Jesus and Paul could get by on little and chose to live a life of temperate moderation, why are so many ministers ignoring their examples and choosing a live of extravagance while they expect people who live in poverty to pay for their excessiveness? I wonder how many Guyanese pastors will be attending this meeting and staying in posh hotel rooms paid for by their poor congregation?
At Hinn's meeting this weekend, there will no doubt be special seating in the front for the "important" people. Once again this is in opposition to the Bible. "My dear brothers and sisters, how can you claim that you have faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ if you favour some people more than others? For instance, suppose someone comes into your meeting dressed in fancy clothes and expensive jewellery, and another comes in who is poor and dressed in shabby clothes. If you give special attention and a good seat to the rich person, but you say to the poor one, 'you can stand over there, or else sit on the floor' -- well, doesn't this discrimination show that you are guided by wrong motives?" James 2:1-4
How far away from the Bible has Christianity gone? So far that those who claim to know God the most seem to know him very little at all. Hinn and other ministers like him are perfect examples of how a Christian should not act. I do not even claim to be a Christian, yet even a heathen like me can spot a minister who is peddling God instead of sharing "Good News." This concludes today's sermon.