According to The Associated Press, Pastor Bernard Crabbe of the True North Community Church in Port Jefferson, New York, announced recently that an anonymous parishioner had donated a winning lottery ticket worth $3 million to the church. A state lottery official said the independent congregation of 650 members would now receive $100,000 annually through 2028.
Only a month ago, however, Robert Powell hit the Florida Lottery jackpot of more than $6 million and then dropped a tithe of around $600,000 into his church's offering. But Pastor David Tarkington of the First Baptist Church, Orange Park, politely declined and told Powell the church wouldn't accept the lottery winnings. But another pastor, Dr. Lorenzo Hall of the El-Beth-El Divine Holiness Church, was quick to say he would welcome Powell's gift to his inner city church.
The fact that churches even consider accepting gifts from lottery winnings demonstrates how the church today has weakened its opposition to gambling. It seems some of God's people have failed to realize gambling is a form of covetousness – a violation of the Tenth Commandment of God. Covetousness may be rightly called "the mother of all sins."
Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, has written eloquently on the evils of gambling:
"The Bible is clear on this issue. The entire enterprise of gambling is opposed to the moral worldview revealed in God's Word. The basic impulse behind gambling is greed – a basic sin that is the father of many other evils. Scripture repeatedly addresses greed, covetousness, and avarice as a sin against God, and often with graphic warning of the destruction that is greed's result. The burning desire for earthly riches leads to frustration and spiritual death."
In an editorial penned by Pastor John Piper of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, Minnesota, Piper eloquently explained why churches that accept lottery winnings do so in violation of some of the most fundamental truths of Christian living:
"Christ does not build his church on the backs of the poor. The engine that delivers his righteousness in the world is not driven by the desire to get rich. The gospel of Jesus Christ is not advanced by undermining civic virtue. Let the pastors take their silver and throw it back into the temple of greed....
"Is it a 'blessing' for the church of Jesus Christ to have the backing of a social sickness that destroys marriages, undermines the work ethic, increases crime, motivates suicide, destroys the financial security of families?....
"We are followers of Jesus. He had no place to lay his head and did not accept the demonic temptation to jump off the temple for the jackpot of instant recognition. The Calvary road is not paved with Powerball tickets, but with blood. The Church was bought once by One who refused the short cut of instant triumph. It will never be bought by those who dream of riches.
"Don't play the Lottery for Bethlehem Baptist Church. We will not, I pray, salve your conscience by taking one dime of your plunder, or supporting even the thought of your spiritual suicide. Let the widow give her penny and the laborer his wage. And keep your life free from the love of money."
Christians are to live by high and holy standards, rejecting the values and practices of the world. When they fail in this regard, the credibility of their lifesaving witness for Christ can be irreparably lost. Jesus said: "You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men" (Matthew 7:13).
According to Family News in Focus, Pastor Scott Thomas came to understand this principle all too well. He said he faced a very difficult situation some years ago when a deacon in his congregation offered a portion of lottery winnings for a building fund. Thomas refused the gift, arguing: "I've just always believed that God doesn't need to use chance to build his church." Moreover, he added that impoverished people largely play lotteries and the church shouldn't profit on the backs of the poor.
Despite Thomas' opposition, however, the church wanted the money and fired him. They accepted the gift and built the building. As a result, attendance dropped from 165 to fewer than 50 people a week. Thomas said that several members had called him and lamented, "The albatross around our necks is that we are now known as the lottery church."
Churches that accept gifts from lottery winnings should beware of the deal they make with the devil. They are trading power for prosperity, direction for deviation, and reputation for reproach. That's why churches should never in any fashion place their lot with games of chance, unless they're prepared to lose it all.
Rev. Mark H. Creech is executive director of the Raleigh-based Christian Action League of North Carolina Inc.