warrensmith.jpgChristian Leaders Must Be Careful Not To Elevate Constitutional Principles Above Biblical Principles
In Exodus 3 we see one of the most beautiful, delicious ironies in all of recorded human history. It is the story of the captives plundering the captors. Just before the Hebrew people were led out of Egypt by Moses, the women asked their Egyptian masters for gifts to see them on their journey: “But every woman shall ask of her neighbor and the woman who lives in her house, articles of silver and articles of gold, and clothing; and you will put them on your sons and daughters. Thus you will plunder the Egyptians.” (Ex. 3:22)

Many Egyptians apparently gave generously out of genuine affection for the Hebrews. But Pharaoh himself had another motive for allowing the plundering to go on. He wanted the rest of the world to know he was too rich and powerful to antagonize. He wanted the rest of the world to say, “If their slaves are this rich, how powerful must the Pharaoh himself be?” It was a “vanity of vanities,” but all a part of God’s sovereign plan.
However, just a few chapters later, we see God’s Chosen People using God’s good gift to them to build a Golden Calf. So it is we see in Scripture for the first time, but not for the last, a tragic tendency of humankind: to worship the gift and not the Giver.
I was reminded of that unfortunate reality during my coverage of the investigation by Sen. Charles Grassley of six televangelists. The so-called “Grassley Six” are (along with their associated organizations and spouses) Creflo Dollar, Kenneth Copeland, Benny Hinn, Joyce Meyer, Paula White, and Eddie Long. My coverage of them and Grassley’s investigation for WORLD Magazine and for the Evangelical Press News Service (much of it a collaboration with Rusty Leonard and MinistryWatch.com) has revealed enormous excesses by these ministries: mansions, private jets, luxurious vacations, and much more. But these excesses are not my real concern. My real concern is the shroud of secrecy and darkness and falsehood with which these televangelists conceal themselves. Copeland, in particular, has said he is an “open book” while his books remain closed. Creflo Dollar told “Larry King Live” that he had “nothing to hide” while he continues to hide his financial dealings from Grassley and from the public.
Friends, whatever you think of their “prosperity theology,” this lack of transparency is simply not a biblical response. Scripture is plain that Christians should be “children of light” (I Thess. 5:5) and not of darkness. Indeed, scripture reserves special condemnation for the “works of darkness.” (Rom. 13:12) We are told that our deeds should be “above reproach.” (II Tim. 3:2) Whatever else these verses might mean, surely they also mean that complete openness, transparency, and self-disclosure should be the proper posture for both individual Christians and for any organization that presumes to call itself a Christian ministry.
But what is particularly interesting about the Grassley Six is that they have found some unlikely advocates. The Alliance Defense Fund, a legal defense group that is normally a great defender of Christian values, appears to be on the side of the “Grassley Six.” Gary McCaleb, the ADF’s senior counsel, criticized the “tone” of Grassley’s investigation. The American Center For Law and Justice, led by conservative firebrand Jay Sekulow, said it was “concerned about the constitutional issues raised by the inquiry.” Kelly Shackleford of the Texas-based Liberty Legal Institute voiced similar concerns.
Mssrs. Sekulow, McCaleb, and Shackleford are right. There are constitutional issues here. But I am surprised that these so-called “Christian legal” groups are not much more concerned about the biblical issues. If the Bible says we MUST be transparent, no Christian should care that the Constitution says we MAY be opaque? The Constitution is a great document, perhaps the greatest document ever devised by human hands. But its greatness – and, more to the point, its authority – are far short of the greatness and authority of Scripture. Indeed, I would argue that whatever greatness and authority the Constitution does have is born of its consistency with biblical principles. In any case, when the two are in conflict, it should be Scripture — not the Constitution – that defines the behavior of Christians. Any legal group that denies or undercuts that principle has to that extent given up its right to be called “Christian.”
Here’s the bottom line: Christians are required to be open, honest, and above reproach in all our dealings. This should be any Christian ministry’s or church’s “default” posture toward its members, its donors, and the world at-large. We shouldn’t need a law to require it, but we surely don’t need to hide behind the Constitution to prevent it.
Just as the Hebrews turned God’s good gifts into a golden calf, these Christian groups are in danger of turning one of God’s good gifts to us – the U.S. Constitution – into a modern-day idol. And by allowing a defense of constitutional rights to take precedent over a clear proclamation of biblical responsibilities, the legal defenders of the “Grassley Six” – whether they call themselves Christian or not – are miserable defenders of the Gospel.
Warren Cole Smith is the editor and publisher of the Evangelical Press News Service.
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