This story starts the beginning of a new section with which we here at The Essential Church will engage the world. The new section here is called “Scripture and Culture,” and it is essential that we know how to apply Scripture to the culture in which we live.
Today’s story concerns a church in North Carolina called Word of Faith Fellowship that has been investigated as of late for a number of immoral activities that have transpired at the church. Among them, the Founder of the church, Jane Whaley, told parishioners in her church who were struggling to pay their tithes to file fraudulent unemployment claims in order to receive money with which to continue paying their 10% tithe to the church. Here’s what the Associated Press has to say:
When Randy Fields’ construction company faced potential ruin because of the cratering economy, he pleaded with his pastor at Word of Faith Fellowship church to reduce the amount of money he was required to tithe every week.
To his shock, Fields said church founder Jane Whaley proposed a divine plan that would allow him to continue contributing at least 10 percent of his income to the secretive evangelical church while helping his company survive: He would file fraudulent unemployment claims on behalf of his employees. She called it, he said, “God’s plan.”
Fields and 10 other former congregants told The Associated Press that they and dozens of employees who were church members filed bogus claims at Word of Faith Fellowship leaders’ direction, and said they had been interviewed at length about the false claims by investigators with the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
So, let’s assess this situation: a church member couldn’t pay his tithes, so he asked for a reduction in the mandatory tithe. And instead of Whaley providing tips on how to save money, how to shop for more affordable prices, and so on, Whaley tells him and many others to file fraudulent unemployment claims “on behalf of his employees” for tithe money. In other words, Whaley told the congregants at Word of Faith to defraud the government so that she could continue to see the money funneled into her church. She is a Pastor, the Founder of Word of Faith Fellowship, and yet, she told other believers (those in her church) to defraud the government because it is “God’s plan.”
While this is an outrage on the surface (and it’s an outrage beneath the surface, too), it’s even more of an outrage because a woman who proclaims herself a leader of a church has told congregants at her church that lying and cheating the government is part of God’s plan. This is flat-out unbiblical and a slap in the face to God Himself. Let’s see what Scripture has to say about Whaley’s claim. We’ll start with what the Lord tells us about government:
Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. 2 Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves. 3 For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same. 4 For he is God’s minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil. 5 Therefore you must be subject, not only because of wrath but also for conscience’ sake. 6 For because of this you also pay taxes, for they are God’s ministers attending continually to this very thing. 7 Render therefore to all their due: taxes to whom taxes are due, customs to whom customs, fear to whom fear, honor to whom honor. (Romans 13:1-7, NKJV)
The words translated “governing authorities” here is the Greek phrase eksousiais huperexousais, which means “superior [huperexousais] powers [eksousiais].” The superior powers, as we will know from the context, refers to government; we know this because Paul tells the Romans “For because of this you also pay taxes” (Romans 13:6), and then he tells them to pay “customs to whom customs” are due (v.7). You pay customs and taxes to government, and the government exists to execute wrath on evildoers (this is why policemen make up what is known as “law enforcement”). Paul says that every soul is to be subject to the government, to the higher powers, to the reigning authorities (as it is said in a translation I can’t recall).
The rest of verse 1 and all of verse 2 gets to the heart of the problem with Whaley’s advice:
For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. 2 Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves. (Romans 13:1b-2)
What does the Scripture say? “the authorities that exist are appointed by God. Therefore whoever resists the authority resist the ordinance of God.” In other words, God has appointed the authorities, therefore, they act as His servants. When a person resists the law, he or she resists the God-appointed authorities, and, thus, “resists the ordinance of God.” To resist the God-given authorities is to resist God Himself. So, when Whaley told her congregants to cheat the government to pay tithes in the church, she was telling them, in terms that may appear harsh, to “cheat God so that they could give to God.” Does this make any sense? No, not at all.
Whaley told her congregants to defraud the government, to disobey the government’s rules against fraudulent unemployment claims, because it was “God’s plan.” But Whaley is wrong, terribly wrong. What about these opening verses of Romans 13 says that to disobey the governing authorities is in God’s plan? If you’re not seeing it, you’re not blind. I don’t see it, either. And I don’t think Whaley cared about her morals and her Christian convictions when she told them to file and steal unemployment money for the purposes of church tithes. Whaley cared only about the money.
Whaley’s statement undermines the righteousness of God
The Lord has given us His Word as the moral compass by which we are to live our lives, and nowhere in it do we find that it’s okay to sin so that we can serve the Lord. Here’s what Paul had to say about morally sinful living:
What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? 2 Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it? 3 Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? 4 Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. (Romans 6:1-4)
“Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound?” Paul asks. To put it in the context of Whaley’s statement and her parishioners’ actions, “Should we file fraudulent claims so that our tithes may abound?” I agree with Paul’s answer: Certainly not, or, as the Greek says “May it never be!” (Greek me genoito). In other words, Paul never advocated that we sin so that good may result, nor did he ever indicate that it was okay to do sinful things as long as good resulted in the end. Paul wasn’t, to use an ethics term many will know, a consequentialist, believing that “the ends justify the means.” Paul would never have consented to the idea that filing fraudulent claims, filing a lie about one’s financial state, was okay in order to pay greater church money – any more than he would’ve advocated being a stripper and “stripping for Jesus” to make income or sell drugs in order to fund a church ministry.
I know a church that has created a drinking ministry (called “Pint Night”; I’m serious) that is devoted to meeting drinkers where they are (in the clubs and at bars) in order to drink alongside unbelievers and share the gospel over a keg of beer. I mean, Paul said “he became all things to all men to win them to Christ,” but I don’t think he had an alcoholic drinker listed as a talent or job on his “resume.” That is, drinking alongside of them while unbelievers get inebriated is not the way to win them to Christ (if it is, when exactly do they come to the realization that Jesus loves them? When they start slurring their speech?)
This madness has to stop. The investigation done by the Associated Press shows us that not all Christians are a problem in the world, but false Christians are a problem. I’m not against a woman in leadership, and I believe God calls men as well as women to accomplish His purposes. The Spirit of God gives gifts as He wills, not as our gender traditions dictate, so Whaley’s gender is not the problem. The problem with this situation, however, is that she used her spiritual authority and God-given power to destroy the moral compass of many individuals who didn’t feel right about lying to the government. And yet, because so many Christians trust their spiritual leaders and rarely question anything they say, these congregants found themselves doing something against their conscience in order to please Whaley and continue paying their tithes in church.
Scripture also tells us that God doesn’t lie:
“God is not a man, that He should lie,
Nor a son of man, that He should repent.
Has He said, and will He not do?
Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good?
20 Behold, I have received a command to bless;
He has blessed, and I cannot reverse it. (Numbers 23:19-20)
If God doesn’t lie, then He doesn’t endorse lying, which means that Whaley’s actions and those of her congregants were sinful and clearly against the righteous character of God.
These individuals were tempted not by God, not because it was God’s plan, but because of their own lusts for money:
11 Beloved, do not imitate what is evil, but what is good. He who does good is of God, but he who does evil has not seen God. (3 John 1:11)
13 Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone. 14 But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. 15 Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death. (James 1:13-15)
I mourn this situation, I truly do. And I wish that it had never happened. Sadly, it’s just one more bad Christian situation in the spotlight that will only make the world hate the church that much more, and make some interested unbelievers doubt the presence of God is real because of a woman who told her church members to lie in order to get money. We are to represent the Lord accurately, and when we don’t, we cause the world to blaspheme His name. And causing the world to blaspheme the Lord doesn’t come without consequences (2 Samuel 12:13-14). In Whaley’s case, I hope her consequences include jail time and the shutting down of her church. The Lord can restore Whaley. She can repent of her sin in leadership and the Lord can use her later on, but she should be under the watchful eye of a head leader over her in the future because she’s shown that, when she’s in charge, churches self-destruct from the inside out.
God calls us for His ministry work, to work in His vineyard, but we don’t get to destroy the Church because He purchased it with His own blood (Acts 20:28). Those that do will answer to Him, both now and at judgment.
May believers rise up with a genuine Word of Faith who’ll use faith to rely on the Lord for provision (“the Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want,” see Psalm 23:1) instead of lying to obtain it themselves.