Trophy Christians: The Barry Minkow Story

Creating Trophy Christians

 

For many years now, Christianity, at least within America, has adopted a glorification program I like to call Trophy Christianity.  It works like this:

1. Find a person who has professed to have undergone a “born again” experience.  This individual must have been really bad and done things that are so wicked and evil that it is shocking to those of us who are more refined and would never stoop to doing such evil things. (You can’t see my tongue, but yeah, it’s in my cheek.)

2. Give time for this individual to display his or her “new life” to everyone in order to lend credence to  the “born again” experience. (Often, what took place was “reformation” which is about as valid as last January’s vow to lose weight and is often mistaken for “regeneration.”)

3. Begin elevating this person and magnifying them, showing the “beauty”Super Christian and the “magnificence” that was always there, but was hidden until God’s grace revealed it, uncovering the real person, showing what the love of Christ can do to a person and how a person yielded to Christ can do anything and become anything and can do awesome things in his or her life now that s/he has Christ and…on and on.

In short, we Christians love to create a “Poster Christian” for inspiration to others. Or, so the thinking goes.

Suddenly, we’ve  got our “Trophy Christian” to hang in our collective minds and on our collective tongues. It makes us feel better. We can brag on God.
We can smile as we watch the story of the life of this “great” Christian, satisfied that this will surely be a powerful sales tool for Jesus and will surely draw a crowd…uh, will surely draw wicked sinners to Jesus.

In reality, it’s all a sophisticated sales gimmick. It’s no different than the kind of “brand making” that goes on in the world and Hollywood. But, it is a deadly gimmick. Here is a perfect example of the deadliness of this kind of thinking.

Barry Minkow: A Redemption Story Gone Wrong

Barry[1] was a child criminal. As a teenager, he’d started a business in the 80’s which eventually was used as a tool for a giant fraud, scamming people from the rich and famous to the poor who merely wanted to invest their pensions in a “good deal,” out of more than $100 million dollars. Minkow was indicted and went to prison. While in prison, Minkow met a Christian prison inmate who led him to Christ. Minkow was a “new person” and immediately embraced Christianity like a lost child who’d just been found by his mother. He cooperated with federal prosecutors, assisting them in catching con artists and swindlers like himself. He was an expert and they used his expertise.

Minkow became a celebrity in the Evangelical Christian community. His story was “headlined” and he became a sought-after speaker in schools and churches. Within two years after leaving prison in 1995 he became pastor of  San Diego Community Bible Church.

In April 2014, Barry Minkow was sentenced to 5 years in federal prison for stealing millions from his church and congregants. It will not be a new thing for Barry. He can truly say, “Been there, done that.” Prosecutors claimed Minkow “used every mechanism available to steal money” from the church, beginning in 2001 to the year 2011. He stole more than $1.3 million in donation checks, forged signatures on checks and even took out unauthorized loans in the church’s name. In all, his scams totaled over $3 million dollars.

In court for his sentencing was Bruce Caulk, the director of a movie of Minkow’s life, starring, Barry Minkow. Other stars were James Caan, Ving Rhames and Talia Shire. Caulk noted that they’d have to do a new ending. He said, “It’s a redemption story gone wrong,”

The Real Problem with Poster Christians

When we hold someone up on high, we do them no service. It does not matter who you are, every human on the planet is susceptible to flattery. Every human, whether you’ve been a Christian for one year or forty years, can be lifted up with pride. All humans are flawed. Getting “born again” does not immunize one from sin. It does immunize one from the ultimate consequence of sin. The “wages,” or penalty for sin, is spiritual death (Rom. 6:23). But, those who have had what many call the John 3:5 experience (“born again”) are thereafter born spiritually. Their spirit becomes one with God. (But he that is joined unto the Lord is one spirit. 1 Cor 6:17  ). 

However, while that spirit, that new person, is perfect, the flesh is anything but perfect. Even the Apostle Paul acknowledged that when he said, “For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing.…” (Rom 7:18).

We praise men and make them think they are somehow so special, so gifted, so talented and so great that God will be eternally grateful that they “gave” their talents to be used of God. And, these men buy into it. They come to think of themselves as above the law, even above the laws of God. It’s as though they drink a magical potion that makes them believe they are invincible, above real failure and above real wickedness.

pride inflated egoThey’ve forgotten (or never read) the warning that says: “For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith” (Rom 12:3).

Paul warned of lifting men up. He rebuked the Corinthians of trying to do that very thing with himself and other men of God. He said: “Now this I say, that every one of you saith, I am of Paul; and I of Apollos; and I of Cephas; and I of Christ. Is Christ divided? was Paul crucified for you? or were ye baptized in the name of Paul?” (1 Cor 1:12-13)

He then goes on to echo Jesus words that apart from Christ, we can do nothing (John 15:4), to demonstrate  that he, Paul, is nothing. He draws their attention to an important fact by saying: “For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called: But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; And base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are: That no flesh should glory in his presence. But of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption: That, according as it is written, He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord.” (1 Cor 1:26-31)

Paul demonstrated in many places in Scripture that we are weak and it is in our weakness that we are strong. (2 Cor 12:9, 10; Heb. 11:34; 1 Cor. 2:3). He also warned Christians to pay attention to their thought-life by not making too many assumptions as to their spiritual prowess. “Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall.” (1 Cor 10:12)

There is no room for pride with the Christian. And when we, as a Christian community, praise and elevate men and women with too much accolades and praise, we hurt them.

We give ammunition to Satan, their adversary, to whisper sweet echoes of our praise into their ears so as to convince them that they are indeed, special. We convince them they are different from the rest of men. After all, their thinking goes, if  all these others were “special like me,” they’d be here and not me.

Their hearts get lifted up (see Schaap ) and they come to believe that they are one of those implied  “exceptions” mentioned by Paul  in 1 Cor. 1:26-31 when he said not many wise men, not many mighty, and not many noble men are called. He comes away agreeing that most of those called are weak and puny and dumb like sheep, but he was one of the few that were not in that group. He was not one of the “most” but one of the implied “few.”

This is not to say we ought never praise someone. There is a place for being thankful to someone, and for being grateful, and for acknowledging their contribution to your life or someone else’s life, or for pointing out that they are a good example to follow. Even Paul used himself as an example. But, your praise ought to be measured. Make it with the realization that you may be doing harm to the person instead of good. They may not need to hear any more praise

Bottom line: We’ve got to stop making Trophy Christians.

We’ve got to realize that the only one who collects such trophies is Satan.

 

Frankly, I don’t want my head on his wall. And, I don’t want to get any credit one day for helping with the kill-shot that took down a Trophy for Satan of a brother or sister in Christ.

Keep your praises and adoration of men and women low key.

If they’ve blessed you, thank God. Direct others to their messages, if you think it will help them. There’s nothing wrong with that. If you’ve a preacher or teacher in your life who has helped you, there’s nothing wrong with your promoting that person’s teachings or messages.

It doesn’t take a movie to do that.

It doesn’t take a 5 minute oration of adoration to do that.

It doesn’t take a poster.

 

Copyright 2014 Voyle A. Glover


[1] For a pretty excellent summary of the extraordinary life of Barry Minkow, see the Wikipedia piece on Barry Minkow.

Below is a short video on the Barry Minkow story


3 Responses to “Trophy Christians: The Barry Minkow Story”

  1. Rhonda Stahlman Bell says:

    Meekness of spirit is rare to find, especially in churches that make a practice of man-praise.

    • Voyle Glover says:

      Sad thing is that churches that practice the praise of men cannot recognize meekness. They interpret it as weakness.

  2. Jimmy B says:

    Thanks for the keen observation.
    I, as well as others do have the tendency to look at the “flesh of man” to make our self “aspire” to be “good” like the ones we feel are worthy to look up too.

    This truly shows the desperate “intent of the heart!”

    There is only one we need to please. Him who does all things well, Jesus. Not man!
    He (Jesus) alone is to be followed and worshiped for the wonderful gift he has given to all men.
    Thank God for the Grace bestowed on all who believe!

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