Recently, I read a book that kept me awake a couple of nights. It was about “Clark Rockefeller,” and the scare quotes are important. The man was neither “Clark” nor “Rockefeller.” He was a German immigrant who crafted an identity as an heir of one of America’s wealthiest dynasties. He married, fathered a child, and was involved in fraud, theft, and maybe even murder. And no one ever knew, until the very end.
What made me squirm was the fact that the fake Rockefeller’s inroad to all his deception was churches and relationships, particularly with women. He would make the connections he needed in local congregations, and he would charm the women there.
At the same time, he would parasitically imitate the men, watching and mirroring back to them their convictions and opinions, even the inflections of their voices. But behind all of that, there was nothing real but a predatory appetite.
The New Testament warns us, of course, about spiritual impostors. Sometimes, these “wolves” are there to introduce subtly false doctrine. But just as often, it seems, these spiritual carnivores hold to true doctrine, at least on the surface. But they use this doctrine and service for predatory ends. The sons of Eli, for instance, use their priestly calling to co-opt the fat of the offering and to lay with the women at the altar (1 Sam. 2). Virtually every New Testament letter warns us about the same phenomenon (e.g., 2 Pet. 2; Jude).
But why, when there is so much opportunity for debauchery out there in the world around us, do such people choose the church?