In one of his letters Peter speaks of the “madness” of Balaam (2 Pet. 2:16). This foolish prophet was hot-tempered, violent, stubborn, and greedy. But why does Peter mention him?
Peter’s second letter is a warning against false teachers ready to take advantage of unsuspecting Christians. “False prophets also arose among the people,” Peter says, “just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies. […] And in their greed they will exploit you with false words” (2 Pet. 2:1, 3). Balaam is a familiar Old Testament example of a prophet more than willing to exploit people for personal gain.
But a preacher today would never exploit a congregation, would he? Yes, Virginia, he would. A priest or pastor has strong financial incentives for staying the doctrinal course. Even if his diligent Bible study unearths dangerous cracks in the foundation of his denomination’s teachings, he’ll probably decide that speaking the truth is too risky. A preacher, especially a man with extensive training, is usually ill-equipped to change professions. And immediately gaining employment with a church that honestly embraces the scriptures is almost impossible. The man who has been proclaiming a false gospel for years may need to prove himself for a time before being entrusted with another pulpit. So discovering the truth and resolving to preach it could mean the loss of salary, insurance, and housing.
The social consequences may be even more traumatic. A priest or pastor who renounces false religion may shock and disappoint his mentors, lose his church friends, or even alienate his own family. Plus, he must suffer the humiliation of admitting that he’s been wrong.
Preachers in the churches of Christ are also susceptible to the temptation to tickle ears instead of pricking hearts. Christians absolutely must study for themselves. That preacher on TV or in the pulpit may be completely sincere. And then again, he may be exploiting his audience.