Den of Robbers Ministries

Expulsion of the merchants from the temple. 2012. A.N. Mironov

In the popular evangelical scene in India today, ‘ministry’ is the new startup. It almost looks like if you don’t have a ‘ministry’ you are not a ‘man of God’. So this religious entrepreneurs starts a ministry to make riches and fame for themselves. Whether they believe in Jesus or not, they are focused on their own gain. To be successful in this venture the entrepreneur need more followers, especially the affluent ones. Greater the followers, greater the ‘man of God’ becomes. So what do they do to draw followers?

They advertise that they have super-powers to do miracles, or predict the future and tell your past or have immense knowledge about bible and spiritual matters. In this way they position themselves more closer to God. After building this image, they preach about getting rich and successful because that is where the returns are for them. Their role models are past generation successful charlatans not Jesus. TV and social media is the best invention they could ever get in the right time to build their brand and expand their enterprise. They go to any extent to protect their brand, and keep good relations with bureaucrats and politicians so that they don’t get into trouble.

In most cases, the founder and the close family members are the sole proprietors of these startups where the entrepreneur is supreme and is not accountable to anyone. Though they may start small but eventually become large empires with global presence in all areas. From church, to evangelism, to healing, to education, to charity etc. When ecclesia ‘church’ is supposed to be a community of local believers, led by a body of elders, covenanted together to serve as priests for the kingdom of God in that location, these entrepreneurs thinks ‘church’ is their own startup. Once they grow big, they diversify their businesses and invest in new ventures with their close confidants who become their board members. Unlike other regular businesses, they don’t provide much employment and skill development to people who work for them, in the name of service to God. They keep their followers in control and many times isolated from the broader culture so that they don’t leave for another charlatan, because their main competitors are ‘sound theology’ or another charlatan. Their success doesn’t come out of vacuum, there is a huge market need that is feeding this growth.

What can we say about the market? Most of their customers really like this stuff because it feeds their ego. In fact, the entrepreneur becomes their idol and leads them to a form of hedonism. Typically they don’t want to hear doctrine but new spiritual ideas, tips and motivational talks. They like to hear that God’s blessings are, affluence, luxurious lifestyles, fame, enormous possessions etc., which they pursue with all their heart. They never wanted to be told about changing their carnal ways, but wanted to be recognised for who they are. So the entrepreneurs do a great job in keeping them in high adrenal rush on Sundays with their music and enthusiastic preaching so that they are addicted to this god therapy. During the week they feed on online videos of their entrepreneur as a dope, when they are down they pick motivational and other Bible verses that sound cool, and pass it among their groups. These customers are made to go to an extent that they even think their ‘illusionary god’ obeys them when they pray. Sociologists Christian Smith and Melinda Lundquist Denton has even given a name for this market need as “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism”. Few honest brothers and sisters who come to such entrepreneurs will either leave this nonsense immediately or be deceived by their teaching and continue their superficial religion until they reach their moment of truth. There are also few who left their faith altogether.

This is not a new thing in religion. You see this corruption mentioned from Genesis to Revelation. Jesus himself said that, they have made God’s temple, a ‘den of robbers’. (Matthew 21:13) Paul names them as the ‘enemies of the cross of Christ’. (Philippians 3:18,19) All the early Church fathers wrote extensively to warn against these people. There are also other kind of robbers, though they are not as enterprising, but have made established institutions like ‘den of robbers’. That, I will leave for another discussion.

Unfortunately, these have become the face of popular Christianity today, besides a plethora of cults and other false teachings. I am not suggesting that all organisations are like this. So why am I writing this now? It is probably a waste of time to give more warnings, as there are enough warnings against these people in the Bible. Many have already written about them. It is more unlikely that any of the followers of these ‘wolves in sheep’s clothing’ will try to read or listen to anyone else. If someone questions them they can even fight to defend their rock star idol. So I am really not putting any effort to speak to them either. I am writing this to see if we can learn something from what G K Chesterton in his book What is wrong with the world said, “What is wrong is that we do not ask what is right”. Though he is not speaking about church there, but what he argues is that we need to know what is right in order to address what is wrong with ourselves. It is like, until we know what a healthy body is, we cannot find a cure to a disease. So, can we know what is right? Is it possible to truly follow Jesus? Do we really want to follow him through the narrow path?

“What is wrong is that we do not ask what is right”. — G K Chesterton

So what does it mean to truly follow Jesus? What does it mean to deny yourselves, take up your cross and follow Jesus? What does it mean to take the narrow path? What does it mean to love your enemies? What does it mean to hunger and thirst for righteousness? What does it mean to be persecuted for righteousness’ sake? What does it mean to wash the feet of your brother and sister? What does it mean to be known by our love? What does it mean to be discipled and disciple others? What does it mean to forgive your trespassers? What does it mean to depend on God for your daily bread? What does it mean to bear one another’s burdens? What does it mean to be pure in heart? What does it mean to love God with all your heart, mind and soul? What does it mean to love your neighbour as yourself? What does it mean to mature to the full measure of the stature of Christ? If we are seeking our self-interest, or continue to be self-righteous we don’t even understand these questions. “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” (Matthew 19:21)

“Christianity has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and not tried.” — G K Chesterton

Until we honestly repent and understand what is right according to the scripture and live that out in our heart before God, before our family, local community of believers and in the larger community everyday, ‘institutionalised church’ will continue to be ‘den of robbers’ with having no part in God’s temple. “On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’” (Matthew 7:22,23) “Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.” (1 John 4:8) “So put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander. Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation — if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good. As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 2:1–5)

Thanks to Mohan for the editing.

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Product designer, Systems thinker, Creative catalyst, Amateur writer, Father, Husband

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Mark Raja

Mark Raja

Product designer, Systems thinker, Creative catalyst, Amateur writer, Father, Husband

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