This is not a straightforward question. JP has definitely preached about prosperity, restoration of your godly and rightful inheritance, and possessing your possessions.
He has written about asking really big from God, and he was referring specifically to greater wealth, health, career growth and promotion. He even challenged his congregation to trust God and pray believing for bigger houses, cars and balance accounts during one of his church fundraising campaigns. And he has been called many names, both derogatory and praiseworthy, and one of them is, well, “prosperity preacher”.
But, having said all that, JP is definitely not a one-dimensional pulpit charismatic phenomena.
He is known for launching the grace revolution after a Swiss Alps, transfiguration-like encounter with the divine. He is a trailblazer when it comes to looking at radical grace from the original apostolic intention. His books on grace has spawned a condemnation-free faith industry for believers all over the world. And he is the lead shepherd of the biggest and richest megachurch in Asia, save for South Korea, donning a leather jacket and sporting an impeccable coiffure and a mediagenic smile.
So, is JP a prosperity preacher?
Well, that depends on your definition. And if you take Benny Hinn’s most recent definition of it, you will be struggling not to associate JP (at least for a season) with the stable of prosperity preachers in the likes of Kenneth Copeland, Jesse Duplantis, Robert Tilton, Ceflo Dollars, and his partner-in-faith Joel Osteen. And maybe Benny Hinn, in his not-so-distant past?
If you have not heard already, on Thursday, Benny Hinn claimed to have been transformed by a road-to-Damascus experience while travelling for decades on the glittering broad road of health, wealth and prosperity.
Mind you, this is the same preacher who once proclaimed: “I’m sick and tired of hearing about streets of gold. I don’t need gold in heaven. I gotta have it now!”
So, now, he is denouncing all that. Forget about the gold and prosperity on earth. He is in a state of soulful remorse. He said he is troubled by such excesses and greed, such gimmickry and trickery.
He rubbished the self-indulgent concept of “seed money” which he said were “financial donation to support the ministry or ministry projects” and ploys employed by prosperity preachers to pull in the funds and flood the church coffers at the expense of the struggling churchgoers who is himself tethered to the elusive religious promise of making it big one day.
He said: “What was troubling is the mentioning of amounts connected to some blessing that should come back just because you gave. I think it's an offence to the Lord, it's an offence to say give $1,000. I think it's an offence to the Holy Spirit to place a price on the Gospel.”
“I'm done with it. I will never again ask you to give $1,000 or whatever amount, because I think the Holy Ghost is just fed up with it."
He admitted that his ministry successes had in the 90s distracted him and “his teachings got out of hand.”
He added: "It just got out of hand; give a thousand to get whatever, a hundredfold. I, myself, said [those things] and my heart was saying different. What if that hundredfold never came back? What does that do to their faith? What does it do to his future and her future? And then, if it doesn't come, that life is damaged.” (underlined mine)
Benny Hinn also admitted that the prosperity gospel has “damaged a lot of people” and it “needs to stop.” He said: "I've had people come to me and say, 'please, don't say it again, it's not working in my life.”
This sudden change of heart and ministry direction has led the 67-year-old mercurial preacher to declare publicly that he now wants “to focus on the message of salvation“ and point people to the Lord he loves. (Well, I wish him all the best then).
At one point, he even lamented: "How long do I have on this earth? What am I going to do in the next twenty years? That is for me to decide. I want to make sure that the next 15-20 years of my life, that my message is the cross. The real call on my life."
"I want to be known for that. I don't want to be known as the prosperity teacher.”
Mm...this brings me back to JP as I come full circle.
In 2012, in what is called Miracle Seed Sunday, JP took the stage at the Rock Auditorium and proclaimed: “As they come forth Lord to sow, release upon them Father the power to get, to create, to receive wealth in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.”
He added: “Prosperity is right. Amen. We prosper to prosper others. We prosper to prosper God's kingdom, so come believing.”
That Miracle Seed Sunday in 2012 was for the expressed purpose of raising funds for the church's half of a S$976 million (HK$6 billion) retail and entertainment complex. And the great attraction of ”believing big and receiving even bigger” invited famous guests from the music industry like musician and producer David Foster, Chaka Khan and Babyface.
Is JP then a prosperity preacher when he spearheaded the Miracle Seed Sunday with promises dished out indiscriminately to the expectant crowd? In other words, is his pulpit spiel that day what Benny Hinn would describe as “gimmickry” and “an offence to the Holy Spirit to place a price on the Gospel”?
Well, while JP is not a one-dimensional preacher, giving credit where credit is due, what I find disconcerting about the Miracle Seed Sunday (7 years ago) is that the focus then was to portray God as one-dimensional, that is, you give, and pressed down, shaken together, and pouring over, will it be returned to you, manifold, even thousandfold.
And that can only mean more wealth and health to everyone present, that is, everyone has a sure shot at striking it big provided they give big. Doesn’t that turn the house of God into a house of competitive giving, like the frenzy seen in the stockbroker's trading floor, thereby stoking the baser instinct of believers with its insatiable appetite, in the pretence of a religious celebration just to win that much coveted divine favour?
That reminds me of what one member said to Benny Hinn which the latter recounted: “I've had people come to me and say, 'please, don't say it again, it's not working in my life.”
Recall that Benny Hinn also said he had made similar promises just like JP did, and it “got out of hand” and he now has the good sense to come clean and say, “I, myself, said [those things] and my heart was saying different.“ And this is where he also came forward to admit this: “What if that hundredfold never came back? What does that do to their faith? What does it do to his future and her future? And then, if it doesn't come, that life is damaged.”
I wonder, whether JP, who is still preaching about prosperity in its varied excessive and indiscriminate forms, did a poll, interviewed lives, one family at a time, and tallied the results so as to verify, if not justify, his Miracle-Seed-Sunday-esque promises? For I believe our faith should not be based on the roll of statistical dice, but on the sure foundation of His shakeable truths.
Now, let’s be clear, I am not against prosperity, there are promises in the Bible that talks about wealth and health. There are also wealthy Christians who are exemplary gatekeepers of the conscience of society, making a deep difference in the lives of many. These are giants of faith, quietly planting seeds of change, which are aimed at prospering the soul and deepening the spirit, rather than appealing to our fleshly desires. And kudos to them all.
Yet, no Christian worth his or her salt (and light) would disagree with me that if the soul doesn’t prosper first and foremost, bearing and demonstrating the authentic fruits of the Spirit in one’s life, then, on what foundation is a life prospering? To what ends then are we heaping treasures on earth? In other words, what is one’s prosperity based on? And shouldn’t that always be the first go-to inquiry we make when we are confronting the inner recesses of our wayward heart?
Let me end on a somber note from Lee Grady, ordained minister and editor of Charisma Magazine: -
"So much of what we call ministry today has been compromised by ego, marketing and man-made agendas. Some of our own "Spirit-filled" preachers are happy to sell a healing or a financial miracle for $29.95. Others claim spiritual superiority because they have the largest following on social media or because so many lined up to attend their packed conferences. We have exchanged honesty, integrity, purity and humility for hype, fake anointing, manipulated photos, inflated attendance reports, sensuality and boastful swagger. God forgive us.”
Alas, should we finally admit that we have come to the crossroad of our faith in this post modern world where what is most urgent in our calling and service of ministry and faith is to seriously examine the intention of the heart more than to be caught up counting the money in our coffers and/or the number of seats filled in the church? Soul food for reflection?
In any event, have a blessed Sunday of rest and reflection.