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Is Religion Just Another Big Business?

Have you noticed that many religions appear to be more focused on making money than on providing spiritual guidance? They market and sell services and merchandise. Many of their leaders are paid large salaries and live in luxury. Consider just a few examples:

  • An investigation revealed that one Catholic bishop over a period of 13 years used church funds to pay for nearly 150 trips on private jets and some 200 limousine rides. He also spent well over four million dollars on renovations to his church residence.

  • A preacher in one African country regularly holds religious services with tens of thousands of attendees. His large church complex sells all kinds of merchandise—from “miracle oil” to branded towels and T-shirts. While most who attend are poor, he is extremely wealthy.

  • Two of China’s four sacred Buddhist mountains are publicly-listed companies. And the famous Shaolin Temple is involved in many commercial projects—its abbot is popularly known as the “CEO monk.”

  • Divinity consultants are beginning to appear in corporate America. According to one report, they borrow from religious tradition to design sacred rituals and provide other spiritual services for their clients.

How do you feel about religions that are absorbed in business? Have you ever wondered what God thinks about people who seek to profit financially from religious activities?

What does God think about mixing religion with business?

God does not approve of mixing religion with business. The Bible shows that in the past, he was very displeased with priests who claimed to represent him while instructing “for a price.” (Micah 3:11) God condemned the greedy commercial practices that had turned his place of worship into “a cave of robbers.”—Jeremiah 7:11.

Jesus shared God’s disgust for those who used religion for financial gain. In his day, religious leaders profited from greedy merchants whom they permitted to operate inside Jerusalem’s temple. There they exploited sincere people who came to worship. Jesus courageously cleared those crooked merchants out of the temple area, saying: “Stop making the house of my Father a house of commerce!”—John 2:14-16.

Jesus also reflected God’s thinking in the way he conducted his ministry. (John 8:28, 29) He never charged people when he taught them about God. He did not request payment when he performed miracles, such as feeding the hungry, curing the sick, and raising the dead. Jesus never used his ministry to accumulate wealth—he did not even own a home.—Luke 9:58.

How did the first Christians keep worship separate from business?

Jesus told his followers never to seek financial profit from their religious activities. He said: “You received free, give free.” (Matthew 10:8) Those early followers, who became known as Christians, followed Jesus’ instructions. Consider a few examples:

  • The apostle Peter, who accompanied Jesus during his ministry, was offered money by a man named Simon, who wanted a position of power and authority. Peter immediately rejected Simon’s offer and firmly corrected him, saying: “May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could acquire the free gift of God with money.”—Acts 8:18-20.

  • The apostle Paul was a well-known traveling minister. Although he worked hard for years in many Christian congregations, he never sought financial gain for his labor. He and his fellow Christians were not “peddlers of the word of God as many men are.” (2 Corinthians 2:17) On the contrary, Paul wrote: “We were working night and day, so that we would not put an expensive burden on any one of you, when we preached the good news of God to you.”—1 Thessalonians 2:9.

Of course, those early Christians did need some resources to finance their extensive preaching campaigns and charitable works. But they never charged for their religious services. People could choose to give if they wanted to, based on the following guidelines:

  • 2 Corinthians 8:12: “For if the readiness is there first, it is especially acceptable according to what a person has, not according to what a person does not have.”

    Meaning: A person’s motive in giving is more important than the amount he gives.

  • 2 Corinthians 9:7: “Let each one do just as he has resolved in his heart, not grudgingly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.”

    Meaning: God does not want anyone to feel forced to give. He is pleased when a person chooses to give because he wants to.

What will soon happen to greedy religion?

The Bible clearly states that God does not accept all religions or forms of worship. (Matthew 7:21-23) In a striking prophecy, the Bible likens all false religious organizations to a prostitute because they form alliances with governments for money or other favors and exploit people of all nations. (Revelation 17:1-3; 18:3) That prophecy goes on to show that God will soon execute judgment on false religion.—Revelation 17:15-17; 18:7.

In the meantime, God does not want the bad actions of false religion to deceive people or to distance them from him. (Matthew 24:11, 12) He urges sincere individuals to learn how to serve him acceptably and to flee from false religion.—2 Corinthians 6:16, 17.