I read Isaiah chapter 1 the other day and wondered what it might have been like to hear these words spoken about me and those in my religious circles. I attempted to contextualize some of the language for the American church and the idolatry of money. It’s harsh and disconcerting, but if you are an American Evangelical like me, this is a window on what Isaiah’s hearers may have experienced.
ISAIAH CHAPTER 1
1 The vision of Isaiah son of Amoz, which he saw concerning American Christians and the American church in the days of Billy Graham, Rick Warren, T.D. Jakes, and Brian McLaren, leaders of the Evangelicals1.
2 Hear me, you heavens! Listen, earth!
For the LORD has spoken:
“I reared children and brought them up,
but they have rebelled against me.
3 The dog knows its master,
the cat its owner,
but the American church does not know,
my people do not understand.”
4 Woe to the sinful church in the U.S.,
a people whose guilt is great,
a brood of evildoers,
children given to corruption!
They have forsaken the LORD;
they have spurned Christ
and turned their backs on him.
10 Hear the word of The LORD,
you pastors of Sodom!
Listen to the instruction of our God,
you congregations of Gomorrah!
11 The multitude of your financial offerings – what are they to me?
says the LORD;
I have had enough of your tithes
and the money from your fund raising events;
I do not delight in your capital campaigns,
or new buildings or mega ministries.
12 When you come to appear before me,
who asked this of you?
Trample my presence no more;
13 bringing your wealth to me is futile;
your prayers are an abomination to me.
Your Christmas services and leadership summits and worship conferences—
I cannot bear your worthless assemblies.
14 Your Easter cantatas and your Christian conferences
I hate with all my being;
they have become a burden to me,
I am weary of bearing them.
15 When you lift your hands in prayer and praise,
I will hide my eyes from you;
even when you offer prayers,
I am not listening.
16 Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean;
get your sin out of my sight
stop doing wrong;
17 learn to do right; seek justice,
Defend the dollar-per-day wage earner,
Take up the cause of the street kid,
plead for the single mom.
21 How the faithful church
has become a pimp!2
He that once was full of justice,
righteousness used to dwell in him—
but now murderers!
22 Your currency has lost its value,
your potency is diluted.
23 Your pastors and non-profit leaders are rebels
and partners with thieves.
they all love big donations
and chase after gifts.
They do not defend the street kid,
and the single mom’s cause does not come before them.
Therefore the Lord, God Almighty,
the Mighty One of the Church, declares:
“Ah! I will vent my wrath on you my foes
and avenge myself on my enemies.
25 I will turn my hand against American Evangelicalism.
I will thoroughly purge away your scum
and remove all your impurities.
26 I will restore your leaders as in the early church,
your shepherds as at the beginning.
Afterward you will be called
the Communities of Righteousness,
the Faithful Fellowship.”
27 My Church will be delivered with justice,
her repentant ones with righteousness.
28 But rebels and sinners will both be broken,
and those who forsake God will perish.
29 “American Evangelicals will be ashamed because of the almighty dollar
in which you have delighted;
you will be disgraced because of the investments
that you have chased.
30 You will be like worthless Monopoly money,
like an underwater mortgage.
31 The mega ministry leader will become tinder
and their ministry a spark;
both will burn together,
with no one to quench the fire.”
“For it is time for judgment to begin with God’s household;and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God?” I Peter 4:17
1 The list of kings in Isaiah fell into the “good king” and “bad king” categories, though all were mixed bags. Here, I have here simply drawn a small sample of Evangelicals from the list of Time Magazine’s 2005 list of the 25 most influential Evangelicals in America. You can decide which Evangelical leaders fall into which categories.
2 Here the text says, “prostitute.” I have changed it to pimp because so many sex workers today are coerced into the business through lies and extreme poverty. Pimps, however, are in the business by choice.