The French have a saying, “Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose.” The more things change, the more they remain the same. As I was recently studying the prophet Amos, I realized how much his comments on the Temple had in common with mine on the church in general, and the Independent Fundamental Baptist Movement in particular.
Amos came from Tekoah near Jerusalem and preached around 775 to 750 B.C.. It is significant that he lived during a very affluent period in Jewish history. Israel was extending its borders, retaking captured cities (II Kings 13) and taking control of important trade routes. A wealthy class soon emerged (Amos 3:15). Amos gives a sense of the affluence and decadence that developed, yet there was also an impoverished class in their midst living the life of serfs. This was the first time in Israel’s history that there was this kind of economic class division. What made Amos particularly angry was that this wealthy class of Jews was claiming that their wealth was a sign of God’s blessings upon them, and conversely, the poverty of the region was a sign of the absence of divine favor. My question is, how does this differ from today’s “Health and Wealth Gospel?”
This is where things get interesting. The priests at the Bethel Temple were tempted and attracted by the wealth surrounding them and began to be very proactive in leveraging more and more generous giving from temple goers (Amos 4:4). Amos decries the morning sacrifices, the tithes, the free-will offerings and the thanks offerings. He saw these as vehicles for the transfer of wealth to the priestly class of professional clergy of the temple. The Jewish scholar Shalom Spiegel writes of how the temple priests even came to openly preach that giving these offerings to the temple was literally more important than helping the poor, thus going against the core fiber of Jewish economic religious practice and longstanding belief: charity and benevolence.
At the Bethel Temple, Amos accuses the priests of neglecting the poor among them, and even oppressing them: “…you who devour the needy.” (Amos 8:4) He also mentions the accompanying sexual decadence (2:7). Amos also gives us an indication of the prevailing mentality of the temple officials which seemed to express an immunity from judgement because they were “God’s chosen people.” (2:6-8) How many of America’s churches today reach into the pockets of poor people to build lavish buildings at the expense of those living in rented homes?
The result of Amos’ preaching was swift and predictable. After all, this was on a practical and economic level the very same dynamic that wound up bringing a death sentence upon Jesus Christ 800 years later on the basis of his indictment of the Jerusalem temple and its corrupt officials. The High priest announced that Amos was to be expelled. History records the consequences of that decision: Amaziah, King of Judah would die in exile, his family would be destroyed, and the ten Tribes of Israel would be taken from their land (7:17).
The parallels to the modern church in America are striking and powerful. The church has been corrupted by wealth, has ignored the poor among them, and has run off and shuns those among them who have brought back to life the message and observations of Amos. Come, Lord Jesus.