“…as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet
possessing all things” (2 Corinthians 6:10).
I doubt that any minister in church history has paid a higher price for his lavish lifestyle than Jim Bakker did. Not only did he end up spending nearly five years in federal prison, but he also faced widespread criticism and ridicule for his opulent lifestyle while building his PTL TV ministry at Heritage USA.
During a period of five years, Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker received $3.7 million in salaries, bonuses and benefits. What few people realize, however, is that they also gave away millions of dollars of their royalties to the ministry during that period. Although not entirely accurate, the widespread image still remains: The Bakkers were money-grubbing preachers who defrauded the people of God.
In prison Jim Bakker spent a lot of time studying the words of Jesus, and he came to some startling conclusions as to what Jesus had to say about money:
As the true impact of Jesus’ words regarding money impacted my heart and mind, I became physically nauseated. I was wrong. I was wrong! Wrong in my lifestyle, certainly, but even more fundamentally, wrong in my understanding of the Bible’s true message. Not only was I wrong, but I was teaching the very opposite of what Jesus had said (Jim Bakker in I Was Wrong, Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1996).
Few issues are as thorny as the question of a minister’s lifestyle in relation to material things. One extreme is exemplified by the deacon’s prayer, “Lord, we ask you to keep the preacher humble, and we will keep him poor!”
This view expects those in ministry to practically take a vow of poverty in order to keep from seeming greedy or materialistic. Having a nice house, car or wardrobe is seen as a sign of worldliness—unbefitting a person in ministry. Peter’s declaration of “Silver and gold have I none” (Acts 3:6 KJV) becomes a proof-text model for the financial condition of all those in ministry.
As imbalanced as this view is, there are many scriptures sometimes cited to support it. Those in ministry are repeatedly warned about the dangers of greed and of trusting in money. For example, Paul wrote that “the overseer must be above reproach…not a lover of money (1 Timothy 3:1-3 NIV). And Peter said that leaders should be “not greedy for money, but eager to serve (1 Peter 5:1-2 NIV).
Paul warned that people of “depraved mind” would “suppose that godliness is a means of gain” (1 Timothy 6:5 NAS). If you are a minister struggling just to make ends meet, this may be a scripture that is hard to imagine. How could someone seriously see the ministry as a way to get rich?! you might wonder.
However, while most of those in ministry have very modest lifestyles—whether they want to or not—some indeed have been guilty of “merchandising” the gospel. The anointing of the Spirit has literally been sold to the highest bidder.
Jim Bakker echoes these biblical warnings:
I believe one of the reasons I had to go to prison is because I was teaching people to fall in love with this present world…the gospel began to take second place. I began to write books on how to get rich, even though Jesus did not have one good thing to say about money. Take another look at what Jesus says in the Gospels. Instead of teaching people to get rich, He warned people about the deceitfulness of riches (Jim Bakker in “Loving Jesus—and Your Enemies,” The Morning Star Journal, Volume 7, Number 2).
This issue of Christians and money is one that will not go away—it will only intensify as we approach the end of this present age. If the church does not sound a clear message, people’s thinking will be shaped by the unbalanced dictates of the world.
But just as there is danger in Christians falling in love with money, the opposite side of the coin is also dangerous: Many Christians are tragically entrenched in a poverty mind-set. While they may feel “spiritual” about their lack of material goods, their poverty is actually restricting their ability to bless others and extend God’s kingdom.
Jim Bakker finally came to this conclusion about the prosperity message:
I am not against prosperity; I believe in it. I believe that if God wants to give your ministry a billion dollars or give you an entire city block in New York City, He can certainly do it. But we need to beware of falling in love with things rather than with Jesus (Jim Bakker in “Loving Jesus—and Your Enemies,” The Morning Star Journal, Volume 7, Number 2).
That’s the bottom line, isn’t it? Will we fall in love with things rather than with Jesus? However, rather than casting stones at someone else’s lifestyle, let’s examine our own hearts–making sure our priorities are truly aligned with the purposes of God.