Sunday, October 5, 2014

The Sale of Christian Music and Art -- A Robbers' Den?

Christ Cleansing the Temple
It's been accepted as common practice among Christian musicians and artists to sell their music and artwork, as we all know.  They charge a price for their music albums and for their concerts, as well as their paintings and even electronic images of their artwork.  In fact, they even require that you purchase a license just to display the lyrics to their copyrighted music during worship in Church! But is that right?  Is it right sometimes in certain circumstances, but not in others? What does the Bible say about it?

You will recall the passage of Scripture describing the time when Jesus went into the temple and drove out the merchants selling their merchandise and the money changers.  He told them that they had turned His Father's house into a den of robbers or into a place of business.

"And He found in the temple those who were selling oxen and sheep and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables. And He made a scourge of cords, and drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and the oxen; and He poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables; and to those who were selling the doves He said, 'Take these things away; stop making My Father's house a place of business.' His disciples remembered that it was written, 'ZEAL FOR YOUR HOUSE WILL CONSUME ME.'"  (Joh 2:14-17)

Matthew's gospel states: "And Jesus entered the temple and drove out all those who were buying and selling in the temple, and overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who were selling doves. And He *said to them, 'It is written, '"My house shall be called a house of prayer"; but you are making it a robbers' den.'" (Mat 21:12-13)

Selling Christian Music
What is the difference between those merchants selling animals to be used as offerings unto God and merchants selling Christian music for profit?  In many cases, it was the Lord who gave the songwriters or recording artists the songs of worship and praise.  He didn't give it to them for their own benefit to claim as their own or to sell for profit.  He gave it to them for His glory and for His kingdom and for His people to bring offerings of worship and praise unto Him.  In fact, many of the songs contain direct quotes from the Scriptures, such as the Psalms and the book of Revelation, which were originally inspired by the Holy Spirit, not by the modern songwriter.  

In many cases, these things are sold inside of Churches, but it makes no difference what the physical location is.  The Church is not just a building. Just because this is done in a public forum, like Christian bookstores and Internet shopping outlets, does not make it right.  The Church exists wherever two or three are assembled in Jesus' name.  So the passage I have just quoted is directly applicable to the sale of music and art.

I do believe as Keith Green did that when God has given us a gift and a ministry that we should not charge people, but rather accept offerings.  "In 1979, after negotiating a release from his contract with Sparrow, Green initiated a new policy of refusing to charge money for concerts or albums." -- Wikipedia.

Worship is not for sale!  Neither is Christian ministry! I am open to dialogue on this, but if you believe in selling Christian music, then please cite the Scriptures that you believe allow that practice.

Selling Christian Art
And the same goes for sacred Christian art, paintings or drawings of our Lord Jesus or scenes from the Bible. In some cases, this is simply putting the Bible into pictorial format, and selling it for profit. What's the difference between that and selling the Word of God or selling the Bible?  Even if there are indeed certain instances where it is appropriate to sell Christian art, it is wrong to prevent other brethren in Christ from even using an electronic image of that art for non-profit purposes, unless they pay a fee, even when proper credit is given to the artist and copyright is cited.  One godly, Christian artist friend of mine DOES allow the use of electronic images of his art with permission, as long as he is credited as the artist, copyright is cited, and a link back to his website is given.  I truly appreciate this brother’s gracious attitude, which is very generous, and I would be open to comments from my readers on this topic.

Should Christian artists charge only for their production and shipping costs, and accept only love offerings for their work as Keith Greene used to do with his music?  When would it be appropriate to charge a set price, and in what circumstances would it not be, according to God's Word?

Selling God's Word
Now that brings up another issue, which is the sale of Bibles.  I personally have no problem with publishers charging enough for Bibles to cover their costs in producing them, in terms of the printing and distribution.  But these days Bibles are exorbitantly expensive, when they should be relatively inexpensive or free.  In the front of my Bible -- and yours, too -- it says that it is copyrighted and that it may not be reproduced in any form without permission.  The Word of God is not for sale! According to the Word of God, nobody has the right to do so or to prohibit people from copying and distributing it.

Do you think it is ever appropriate for publishers to prohibit people from copying or distributing the Scriptures?  Do you think it is appropriate for them to make a profit from God's Word?  If so, based on what Scriptures?

Selling Prophecies, Sermons, Teachings, and Oil
What is the difference between selling Christian music, art, and Bibles, and selling sermons?  If the Lord gave you the sermon, you have no right to sell it for profit.  It is no different from selling your Bible teachings from the Lord. Yet how many are out there hocking their teaching sets on CD or DVD, or in books!  And what is the difference between that and selling bottles of anointing oil for a price?  How about selling pews or seats in church, as some churches once practiced?  Is it right to sell prophecies?  Absolutely not!  That's how false prophets operate, giving prophecies for a price, which is not too much different than paying a fortune teller.  So why have we accepted the worldly practice of selling God's gifts and talents like music, art, preaching and teaching?

Using Gifts and Talents to Generate Wealth
It is wrong to use the gifts and talents the Lord gave you to generate wealth for the purpose of fulfilling your heart’s desires or for your own plans and designs. It should be done in the name of Jesus, for the Lord, and for the glory of God alone. As we use our gifts and talents, we must avoid covetousness, which is “a strong desire after the possession of worldly things” (Easton's Bible Dictionary). It is “a strong or inordinate desire of obtaining and possessing some supposed good; excessive desire for riches or money; -- in a bad sense” (Webster’s). This sin is condemned in Scripture and listed among those that would exclude one from heaven (Colossians 3:5; Ephesians 5:5; Hebrews 13:5; 1 Timothy 6:9, 10; Matthew 6:20).

And you should not turn the house of God into a business or rob others, especially the poor, or take advantage of them. In fact, you need to consider that the poor may not be able to afford these things, but may benefit greatly from them. The kingdom purposes of God must be first, not greed, covetousness, or selfishness.  The Lord defines greed as having more than you need.  The Lord defines selfishness as keeping everything for yourself while others don’t have.

Jesus said, "No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.” (Mat 6:24)

“For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.” (1Ti 6:10)

"Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, 'Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.'” (Heb 13:5)

“The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.” (Gal 5:19-21, NIV)

If one is truly only charging enough to cover costs and provide a modest income for his family, that is between him and God. The Lord knows each heart, and each one will give an account to God for his own actions.

“So then each one of us will give an account of himself to God.” (Rom 14:12)

"But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” (Mat 6:33)

"Then he said to them, 'Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.'” (Lk 12:15; also see Mt 23:25)

It is wrong to charge churches and other non-profit Christian ministries for the mere use of electronic images or for the use of lyrics, or for the use of songs for non-profit ministry purposes, as long as proper credit is given and they are used for the glory of God, in Jesus name and not for generating wealth, producing new products for sale, or fulfilling one’s selfish desires.

We must be righteous and blameless in our conduct, and operate with integrity, not as the world does.  The Church is not a business!

Offering Teachings, Poems, Art, and Songs for Free
I do not charge anything for any of my blogs, and neither have I monetized my blogs (you will notice that there are no banner ads or popup ads on my websites), although we certainly would gladly accept an offering if someone chose to do so. Rather than publish them as books and sell them, I have made my writings available to the public free of charge, and you can find them at Writing for the Master. The same goes for the songs we have written, which are available free of charge to the public at Jesus Reigns. Our children's poetry is also available free of charge to the public at Verses to the King, just as their artwork is free at A Brush with Life. and their photography is free at A Shutter of Awe.  Rather than seeing these as an opportunity to make money, we see them as a gift from God meant to bless people.  There are many others who share our perspective, such as The Gideons International, who give out free Bibles, as well as Rick Meyers, who freely gives away the electronic Bible known as e-sword.  

In turn the Bible teaches that the one who is taught the Word is to share all good things with the one who teaches him. (Gal 6:6).  That means that people should give to support ministries that are blessing them spiritually.  I think it would be entirely appropriate and would please the Lord if those who read my articles gave an offering, even if it was a small one, so that our needs could be met and we could continue with our ministry. But there is no such thing as a mandatory love offering in order to receive Christian ministry.

Peddling the Word of God
I realize that the worker is worthy of his keep (Mt 10:10) and if a man preaches the gospel, he has a right to make a living from the gospel (1 Cor 9:14).  We may accept offerings and live by faith, trusting God to provide for us, as we share with others the gifts and talents He has blessed us with.  But that does not mean we have the right to charge people a set price for our music, artwork, prophecies, preaching, or teaching, unless it is simply to cover the production and shipping costs.  Charging a set price (over and above production and shipping costs) is just as ridiculous as requiring a mandatory love offering. Those who do so have made money their idol, and the practice of charging for these things is basically peddling the Word of God.  Paul said, "For we are not like many, peddling the word of God, but as from sincerity, but as from God, we speak in Christ in the sight of God." (2Co 2:17)

Buying the Gift of God with Money
Let's not forget what the apostle Peter said to Simon the sorcerer.  "Peter answered: 'May your money perish with you, because you thought you could buy the gift of God with money! You have no part or share in this ministry, because your heart is not right before God. Repent of this wickedness and pray to the Lord in the hope that he may forgive you for having such a thought in your heart. For I see that you are full of bitterness and captive to sin.'” (Ac 8:20-23).

There is a parallel between the sin of Simon the sorcerer and what some people do today to sell their talents for money.

Confirmation from South Africa
After I wrote this article, I sent it to a sister I know in South Africa, named Susan W.  She is a former Muslim, who is following Jesus as her Lord and Savior.  I did not even know anything about the talent the Lord has given her with singing, but she has a beautiful voice, and many people have remarked to her about it.  Some have advised her to record her music on albums, and write her own songs, and sell them, but she has refused to do so. After she read this article, she wrote back to me the following letter:

"Dear brother Len,

"This article is very thought provoking."

"In my early years, I was singing in church and people loved my singing in praise and worship.  Many of the Pastors of the church that I attended, would never start preaching without asking me to present a worship song.  I sang only, after coming from the prayer closet. Many people asked me to record the songs and write my own and sell.  I resented that and I said that I could never use what the Lord has given me to make money with.  I remember a certain gospel musician from the country of my ancestors, the land of Kenya, approached me and she asked me to go ahead and record.  I resented.  I was even invited to go and sign in India but could not go because I did not have any financial means to.  I have never recorded and I do not sing anymore, but I sing unto the Lord on my own...I am His workmanship and I live to bring Him Glory and Honor."

"People are singing (the so called artists) and selling their music to have material gain.  Many years ago, I listened to a radio interview of a very famous established gospel (praise and worship) musician.  She said in the interview, that nowadays people are peddling their songs.  She said that she and her group would fast and pray before they could even produce a song and record it.  Seeking the Lord’s will and what message He wanted them to pass on.  Their music cassettes were affordable."

"If you listen to prophet Dr. David Owuor during his trip to Cameroon earlier this year, you will hear clearly that he is against peddling and he says if God has sent you somewhere to take a message, you do not need any money.  The one who has called you, will provide for you, because it is His work and not you sending yourself.  However, you can ask for donations, if anybody is willing to financially support.  Look for instance at Maurice Sklar.  He operates from this principle, too, if I am not mistaken.  Have you seen the late sister Choo Thomas and how she operated?  I got in touch with her in 2008 and was in contact with her all this while until she passed on.  She sent me her DVDs for free.  She was charging for her book Heaven Is So Real but to get the money for production only."

"There is no difference in what is being done by the so-called Christian Gospel singers (artists) than doing any other business.  They are not singing or preaching with compassion for the lost, but to make money for themselves and drive big cars, own huge houses.  Brother Len, people will burn in hell!"

Warning to Those Using Talents to Make Money
I hope that this has served as a wake up call to the Church about this worldly practice. There is a difference between accepting offerings as a workman worthy of his keep versus selling things to make money.  The Lord is against greed, covetousness, selfishness, merchandising in the Church, selling the gift of God for money, and peddling the Word of God.

Three years after posting this article, I saw a prophetic message given on September 4, 2017 by brother Sadhu Sundar Salvaraj, entitled Jesus Will Whip The Churches That Do Business In The Last Days, in which he confirmed what I have said in this article. He was in a church in India where offerings had been placed on the altar in earthen jars as was their custom, but the Lord came into the church with a whip and told him to tell the church that He did not accept their offerings. The Lord then proceeded to use His big whip to break the earthen jars in the spirit, although they did not break in the natural. And the prophet had the task of delivering that difficult message to the church that Easter morning. He emphasized that God's house is a house of prayer primarily, and the Lord is against merchandising in the church. He preached that we need to cleanse the churches of business opportunists who are doing so in the house of God, or else the Lord will come to our church with a whip. For the brief, twelve-minute message, see here.

I would like to close with a warning given to Samuel Oghenetega by the Lord Jesus Christ.  This warning is to those using talents to make money.  The Lord said, "Tell those using the talents I gave them to make money and their hearts' desires to stop or else I will take it from them and give it to another. I will cast them into the lake of fire where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Mt 25:14-30."  I did not say that.  The Lord did.  Stop fulfilling your own plans and designs. Invest your talents in His service.  Give your talents to God. If you have been practicing this sin of peddling the Word of God, selling your Christian merchandise in the Church or to the Church for profit, then I repeat to you the words of our Lord: Take these things away; stop making the Father's house a place of business!

To those who thought you could sell the gift of God for money, you need to know the Bible calls it wickedness. Your hearts are not right with God. As Peter said, you had better repent of this wickedness before Jesus comes, and cry out to God for mercy, in the hope that He may forgive you for having such a thought in your heart. For you are captive to sin. You may also need to make restitution to the poor people you have robbed. He still loves you, but He will not lower His standard of heaven for anyone.

Attribution notice: Most other Scriptures taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® NIV®, unless otherwise noted. Christ Cleansing the Temple, by Carl Heinrich Bloch, 1875

Author's Note: If you disagree with this article, please pray about it and leave thoughtful, referenced comments that would be conducive to healthy dialogue. If you enjoyed this post, you may also like The Forgotten Sin of Worldliness, Visitation of Jesus to Samuel Oghenetega, Australian Pastor Raised from the Dead, Holy Living in a Perverted World, and the other posts on the home page. You may also access my complete blog directory at "Writing for the Master."

Do you want to know Him?
If you want to know Jesus, you can. It all begins when you repent and believe in Him. 

“Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.’” (Mar 1:14b-15).  He preached that we must repent and believe.

Please see my explanation of this in my post called "Do You Want to Know Jesus?"

Len Lacroix is the founder of Doulos Missions International.  He was based in Eastern Europe for four years, making disciples, as well as helping leaders to be more effective at making disciples who multiply, developing leaders who multiply, with the ultimate goal of planting churches that multiply. His ministry is now based in the United States with the same goal of helping fulfill the Great Commission.