The sons of Eli, as described in the book of 2 Samuel, typify all too many Pastors in today’s church. Getting fat off the people’s tithes, committing sexual sins that cause the Lord’s name to be spoken in vain, they could have stepped directly out of many of today’s pulpits.
“Now Eli was very old, and he kept hearing all that his sons were doing to all Israel, and how they lay with the women who were serving at the entrance to the tent of meeting. And he said to them, “Why do you do such things? For I hear of your evil dealings from all these people. No, my sons; it is no good report that I hear the people of the Lord spreading abroad. If someone sins against a man, God will mediate for him, but if someone sins against the Lord, who can intercede for him?” But they would not listen to the voice of their father, for it was the will of the Lord to put them to death. 1 Samuel 2:22-25“
The Sons of Eli
Eli and his sons were part of the Levitical Priesthood in Israel, and responsible for the sacrifices and offerings in the Temple. However, Phineas and Ophne, Eli’s sons, were abusing their authority, and angering God in the process. They were sleeping with the women who kept duty at that door of the Tent of Meeting, and they were taking from the tithes and offerings that the people brought, often without giving even a portion of it to God in the sacrifice. Also, they were taking the choice parts of the meats that were brought, sometimes by force. In effect, they were getting fat off of the people’s tithes and offerings, and they were defiling their offices by taking advantage of vulnerable women who came to perform a service to God.
Scandal After Scandal
We see a similar situation in may of today’s churches. Pastors and Bishops getting fat off the congregations’ tithes and offerings, while also being caught in one sex scandal after another on the side. Many will say that this is not new, there where men are, there will be scandals. What is different today are the serial scandals that constantly being exposed in the church. Not only are they more frequent, but they are generally more serious and damaging. Whereas in the past, it was a scandal if a Pastor and his wife got a divorce. Today’s scandals often involve the molestation of groups of young girls or young men. Whereas in the past, we might hear that a church accountant had made off with a few thousand dollars. Today, we hear about Pastors building multimillion dollar mansions in secret, pressuring their congregations to contribute toward expensive private aircraft, or divorcing two, three, or four times, only to remarry someone who is three times divorced. These events unfortunately cast a shadow on every Pastor and every Bishop, even those who are serving God faithfully and love both their families and their congregations.
The Price of Silence
Unfortunately for Eli, he found out the hard way that it is not enough to simply stand by while others sin. It is not even enough to speak privately against the sin, and then go no further. God held Eli to account before he failed to step in and directly confront the sin, and to make an effort to stop it. First, God allowed his both of his sons die in battle on the same day. And then, later that same day, God took Eli’s life. All of them died under the judgement of God. Because they abused their offices, and because they held both God and the people they were serving in contempt by their actions.
It is no secret that a high percentage of Millenials have walked away from the church, and have no plans to go back. In fact, church attendance is at an all time low, but the reasons for this are a matter of debate. Many of today’s church leaders complain about the sinful atmosphere in the world today, and blame a general permissiveness for their lack of interest in church attendance. However, there have been many times in history where sin abounded much more so than in America today. During both the 1920s and the 1960s, sexual permissiveness was common, and ethical standards largely compromised. During the early 1900s, lynching was common, and it was not unusual to come home and see corpses hanging from a tree. During the 1930s through the 1940s, the mob had taken over and was running many American cities, and yet the church did not collapse. In fact, the church often thrived and grew during times of permissiveness. No, Millenials are leaving the church because there is no longer any credible correction in the church. Like Hophni and Phineas, leaders are being left to abuse their offices, with very little effective accounting.
The sad thing is that there is an ultimate accounting to be had. Like Phineas and Hophni, abusive leaders will one day face the wrath of an angry God. And that is the ultimate accounting.