I’m Praying You Don’t Bilk Me, Bro!
That’s a headline in the news, folks. A headline. Before you leap to any unfounded, though possibly justifiable, conclusions, let me point out that LifeWay was not a co-conspirator in this flagrant act of charlantanry!
A Seattle man was running an online prayer service, in English and Spanish, where is his global team of prayer warriors would lift up your (prepaid) requests to God. The site also provided prayer-focused, though fake, “ministers” who added a slick veneer of apparent Christian credibility for the perhaps wary online prayer shopper.
The site charged from $9 – 35 for each supplication. Need more of an ongoing prayer campaign? No problem. A subscription service was also available whereby petitioners could be assured of monthly intercessory prayer, coinciding with the monthly bilking of your credit card on file.
Benjamin Rogovy, the site’s creator, was ordered by the Washington State Attorney General’s office to stop its “unfair and deceptive business practices”. Having duped some 125,000 people of nearly $8 million, he was also ordered to repay the victims.
Hmm. 125,000 people bellied up to the prayer bar to the tune of $8 million? Really?
Anybody recall the word “naive” from Paul’s closing comments in Romans?
I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them. For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naive.
In case your discernment skills are slow while reading this, here’s the application of this verse. Rogovy, the operator of the site, is the one serving his own appetite. The 125,000 are “the naive.”
Pews are full of the naive. Small groups are replete with them. Some even occupy pulpits. They are our friends. They are our family. They are our brothers and sisters in Christ.
Paul knew the naive, loved them, and, more importantly, warned them. He warned them because of the ubiquitous presence of “those who cause divisions and create obstacles” in the church. They were prevalent in Paul’s day, and, brethren, they are abundant in ours. Those “dividers”, by the way, are the ones who are teaching contrary doctrine, not the ones, like Paul, who called them out and warned others away from them.
Paul’s command to Roman believers in his day is the same command to us today. Avoid them.
The problem isn’t identifying the naive. Often the problem isn’t even identifying the dividers, as with this pay-per-prayer charlatan. Often the problem is getting Scripture-ignorant sheep to listen to the warnings. Still, Paul commanded the church, and each believer in it, to “watch out” for them. We are commanded to be discerning.
That $8 million could be bilked out of desperate souls isn’t really a shock. Just consider the Vatican Bank’s estimated $8 BILLION in assets. Lots of bilking bounty right there folks! It’s reported that Kenneth Copeland (Ronnie Floyd’s upcoming conference co-speaker) is worth $25 million. LifeWay’s own false teacher, T.D. Jakes, is estimated to be worth a staggering $147 million. Bilking the desperate and the naive isn’t that hard.
(A list of the wealthiest “pastors” may be perused HERE.)
There’s a solution to the problem of the naive, though – Scripture. Believers must read, consume, know, teach, and share the Word of God. It is the standard of Scripture against which all things are to be measured.
There will never be a dearth of dividers, charlatans, false teachers, and heretics this side of the Lord’s return. But we could cut down on the number of the naive by truly making disciples by preaching, teaching, and abiding in the Word. (No, Southern Baptists. Put away the touchy-feely, casual, cultural gospel and, please, preach the Word!)
We should be praying for ministries that offer guidance and warnings against the many out there who are teaching contrary doctrine. We should each be praying for the Holy Spirit to further develop our own faculties of spiritual discernment.
However, if, by some circumstance of momentary naivete, you sense the need to send $35 to someone to pray for you, don’t do it! Don’t, either, go to LifeWay and buy the latest circle-making, mystical, contemplative, super-duper-secret-prayer-secrets-now-revealed book.
Instead, put it in the offering plate of your local church and offer up a prayer of thanks for the intervention of discernment on your behalf. Or, send it to a ministry like this one that seeks to guide and warn the brethren who are the constant targets of an incessant enemy.
I just wonder, if in some Ashley Madison-like fashion, the names of those 125,000 folks will be anonymously revealed. For their sake, I hope not. But, I’ve gotta say, I wonder how many Southern Baptists are among the duped. I wonder if, say, Ronnie Floyd even signed up for some online, intercessory, “Awaken America” prayers. I hope not. But then, these days in the SBC, hardly anything would be a surprise.
Don’t be naive. Be Scriptural. And don’t be bilked!
[Guest Post by Bud Ahlheim]