The Gift of God

Once, I was watching a prominent Charismatic evangelist on a Christian network preach a message on salvation and healing. As he preached, I listened attentively. I thought, “He’s really doing a good job presenting the gospel.” Then, he gave the altar call. He said, “If you’re ready to receive from God, come now and sow your $1000 seed faith gift into our ministry.” I wish I could say that I was surprised, but I was not. This is all too common in contemporary Pentecostal and Charismatic churches. And frankly, it is appalling. Salvation and healing are the free gifts of God. Jesus paid it all!

Simon Magus was a notorious Samaritan magician who heard the preaching of Philip, believed on Christ and was baptized (Acts 8:13). Because of his preconversion experience in the magical arts, he was “constantly amazed” at the “signs and great miracles” that were taking place at the hands of the apostles and elders of the church. He was seduced by power and offered money to the apostles so that he might receive the power of the Spirit. Peter’s rebuke was harsh. “May your silver perish with you.” Previously, Peter had pronounced judgment upon Ananias and Sapphira because they had lied to the Holy Spirit (Acts 5). They died at the feet of Peter. Simon was offered the possibility of repentance, but was sternly warned of impending eternal destruction. Peter declared, “Your heart is not right before God.”

Jesus warned of the corrupting influence of power and money (Matthew 6:34; 7:21-23). Likewise, Paul said that leaders in the church should be “free from the love of money” (1 Timothy 3:3). He explained, “For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs” (1 Timothy 6:10). Just as Peter had discerned the greed of Ananias’ heart, he discerned the “intent” of Simon’s heart. Simon Magus’ love of power and money had produced in him “the gall of bitterness” and “the bondage of iniquity.” Indeed, he had wandered from the faith. In the tradition of the church, Simon is remembered as the first heretic. Also, his name is associated with the scandal of power and greed within the church. The crime of “simony” is defined as buying the holy offices of the church. Simon was not the last believer to be scandalized by the love of money.

In 1517, Pope Leo X offered indulgences, a pardon of temporal punishment, to all who would give money in support of the construction of St. Peter’s Basilica. To put this in the language of the contemporary Pentecostal/Charismatic Movement, if believers would “plant a seed faith gift” in support of St. Peter’s, then their sins would be forgiven. In effect, God’s grace was for sale. Johann Tetzel, a German Dominican friar, was appointed commissioner for the Pope and authorized to sell indulgences throughout Germany. Tetzel preached, “. . . all who confess and in penance put alms into the coffer according to the counsel of the confessor, will obtain complete remission of all their sins.” Like a wolf, Tetzel preyed upon the despair of God’s lambs, enriching himself as well as the coffers of the Pope. It was Tetzel’s activity that stirred the passions of Martin Luther. Luther denounced the practice of selling indulgences. He wrote, “It is certain that when the penny jingles into the money-box, gain and avarice can be increased, but the result of the intercession of the Church is in the power of God alone.” According to Luther, salvation, and pardon from sin, could not be purchased because “the just shall live by faith.” Salvation and healing are the free and gracious acts of God. With Luther’s protest, the Protestant Reformation was launched.

The Roman Catholic Church eventually recognized the error. After the Council of Trent, Pope Pius V issued a decree that forbade the granting of indulgences associated with any financial transaction.

The Pentecostal Movement has been scandalized by the “prosperity gospel.” The love of money has corrupted Pentecostal and Charismatic churches from pulpit to pew. It seems that the new sacramental element is coin and currency. A relationship with God is presented in terms of a contractual agreement between business partners. The anointing and grace of God have become commodities that are auctioned to the highest bidder. Charismatic men and women who proclaim the message of Jesus Christ have cheapened that which is more desirable than the finest gold. In the process, their anointing has become “a ring of gold in a swine’s snout” (Proverbs 11:22). It may be that, like Simon Magus, the Pentecostal/Charismatic Movement will perish with our silver.

This much is certain. The substance of the kingdom of God is not the perishable wealth of this present age. The gift of God cannot be obtained with money. The price of human redemption has been paid with the blood of God’s dear Son. God the Father has extended his two hands—Son and Spirit— to save and heal all who will respond in sincere faith. Rich and poor alike have the same access to the throne of grace. Luther was right. The righteous by faith shall live!