Sunday, 13 March 2016

21st Century Preachers of Prosperity.

Apostle Paul wrote in Acts 20:30-31: “Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. So be on your guard! Remember that for three years I never stopped warning each one of you night and day with tears.” 

I wonder, if Apostle Paul were to be transported to our modern era and witness for himself the immeasurable wealth of mega-churches today - their emporium-like sanctuary, personal palatial mansions, and private jets - will he still continue his warning with tears and maybe travailing? He was nevertheless the one who wrote to Timothy to warn him about a particular destruction that awaits: “People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destructions.” 

Of late, prosperity preachers are all the rage. They are everywhere. They preach what most people want to hear, that is, they too can get rich with God. This is unmistakably captured (and sadly distorted) in 3 John 2: “Beloved, I wish above all things that thou mayest prosper and be in health, even as thy soul prospereth.” Riding like rodeo ranchers on this verse and many others stringed together for their sole advantage, the prosperity preachers have enriched themselves far beyond their wildest dreams. And they have become materialistic voyeurs with many imaginative ways to secure that extra dollar from their members. 

Ironically, one of the forerunners of the prosperity gospel, the late Kenneth E Hagin, actually denounced their shameless methods in his book The Midas’ Touch. He called them gimmicks and wrote, “What are some of these gimmicks? The number apparently is endless, for new ones are heard of frequently. The partial list includes such things as follows: a “blessed purse” that causes money to multiply “supernaturally”; the “gift” of prosperity; “magic pictures” in which the image reappears after the person has closed his eyes; a special “prayer carpet”; “holy oil” or “holy water” that is supposed to carry a special virtue; cloths which “supernaturally” change color; “blessed nails”; “blessed sawdust” on which an angel is supposed to have walked; a barrel of water in which an angel comes down and “troubles it”; “bottled demons,” etc. These are only a few of the long list of gimmicks which have been offered to the public.” 

The prosperity preachers also come with countless incredulous justifications to encourage their members to strive to be materially rich in the name of God. One of them, Frederick Price, once boasted, “If the Mafia can ride around in Lincoln Continental town cars, why can’t the King’s Kids?” He was also the one who proclaimed, “The Bible says that He has left us an example that we should follow His steps. That’s the reason why I drive a Rolls Royce. I’m following Jesus’ steps.” This sentiment runs parallel with the prosperity preacher extraordinaire Creflo Dollar when he said, “Don’t let them tell you, you can’t have a brand-new, a brand-new car, because if Jesus rode in on a donkey that no man had ever sat on, then you and I can ride in an automobile that no man has ever sat on.” 

Another preacher Jesse Duplantis once told a Christian off when the latter said, “I don’t give to get, Brother Jesse, I give because I just love the Lord,” and this was Duplantis’ rebuke, “That’s the spirit of stupid on you!” Others resort to lame justification of what is infamously known as the hundredfold blessings. The logic in that hundredfold tag is so perverse even a ten-year-old can do the maths. However, I will let Kenneth E Hagin lead the charge here. He wrote, “Does the hundredfold return mean that when we give an offering, we should get out a calculator and compute the monetary payback we expect to receive at the rate of one hundred to one? In other words, if we give a dollar to God’s work, are we promised that He will give us a hundred dollars back?”

Given a little reflection here, one dollar will yield one hundred, and one hundred will yield ten thousand, and ten thousand will yield a million. If there is any basis or truth in it, all Christians will be millionaires many times over and all the preachers on stage will have to retire their tithes envelopes and offering bag for good. In fact, they ought to be giving money away to strangers in the streets because their storehouses will be bursting out in all directions with running dough. 

Yet, however incredulous the claims, the money from members still crashed in like hungry wolves dying for a bite of the raw prosperity meat. Alas, go figure…

Then we have the prosperity preachers who entice their members with self-visualization, dreams and mouthing out blessings and prosperity. Joel Osteen comes to mind here when he wrote in Your Best life Now, “Conceive it on the inside. Start seeing yourself rising to a new level, doing something of significance, living in that home of your dreams.” Another preacher went straight for the jugular of the prosperity gospel by exclaiming, “Some of you better go down to that Lexus and Mercedes dealership and just sit down in one of those things with that leather all over it.” 

In line with this questionable tactic is our very own local prince of radical grace when he encouraged his members not to ask God for small things, but ask him for big things. In his book The Power of Right Believing, he wrote that “God is not offended when we ask Him for big things.” (page 270) One of his subtitle reads: “God loves it when you ask of Him.” Should I even imagine God grinning from side to side when I ask him for an extravagant upgrade on my car, house and bank account? While those discerning listeners would take it in its context and with a pinch of salt (maybe a fistful of it), the less discerning ones will gobble it down hook, line and sinker. And I can’t imagine how sorely disappointed (or worst disillusioned) many of his listeners will be in due course. 

The reality is this, we will never know whether God is offended or not when we ask Him for big things, and there is no guarantee that He will answer them (the big things that is). Similarly, the logic is again as incredulous as the hundredfold blessings. Imagine every believer asking for big things all at the same time and they all get it – without exception. Why should there be in the first place right? No one is thus left with unanswered prayer. Mm…should I ask the ten-year-old boy back to do the maths?

At this point, I can actually go on to write about the many unbelievable things that prosperity preachers do to “extort” money from eager-to-please members. You see, Benny Hinn once said this, “Every time you hold back your seed (money), my friend, heaven will charge you 20 percent whether you like it or not. In fact, if you don’t give it, God will take it away from you through tragedy…if you don’t give to God, He’ll take it from you whether you like it or not through troubles.” On the home front, we have our convicted (yet subject to appeal) pastor Kong Hee who went to great length and jumped many sham-hoops to siphon building funds from the church to bankroll the Crossover project spearheaded by his wife. But alas, I think you get the drift without me writing anymore. 

So, here is my soft landing to bring this post to a close and it comes in four different observations (with the last one being my own).

The first observation is from one of the most exquisite wordsmiths of the literary world, namely Mark Twain, who once said, “The church is always trying to get other people to reform; it might not be a bad idea to reform itself a little, by way of example.” And by example, I guess there is no better guide here against the distractions of the prosperity gospel than the proverb of Agur: “Give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread. Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you and say, “Who is the Lord?” Or I may become poor and steal, and so dishonor the name of my God.” Indeed, godliness with contentment (and balance) is great (eternal) gain.

The second observation is from a repentant televangelist Jim Bakker, a former prosperity preacher himself. Convicted in 1989 of twenty-four counts of fraud, he said, “It’s time the call from the pulpit be changed from “Who wants a life of pleasure and good things, new homes, cars, material possessions, etc? to “Who will come forward to accept Jesus Christ and the fellowship of his sufferings? I believe the heart of God is grieved when we cannot delay self-gratification for earthly things in exchange for life in eternity with Him.Mm…this doesn’t seem to gel with what our local mega-church preacher once wrote that God is not offended when we ask Him for big things.

And the third and final observation is from the ex-wife of Oral Roberts’ son Richard Roberts. In her book Ashes to Gold, Patti Roberts wrote this sobering note, “I know a lot of people were blessed and sincerely ministered to by what we sang on TV, and by what we said – but the overall picture, I’m afraid, seemed to say, “If you follow our formula, you’ll be like us,” rather than, “If you do what Jesus says, you’ll be like Him.” It was certainly more exciting to follow us, because to follow us was to identify with success, with glamour, with a theology that made everything good and clean and well-knit together. To identify with Jesus, however, meant to identify with the Cross.

I guess in the end, the Cross of our Savior is first and foremost about selfless giving, personal sacrifices for the hungry and the poor, and unconditional love that empowers us to overcome all trials. It is surely not about helping ourselves to the mindless accumulation of earthly wealth by using his name in vain. 

And this brings me to my fourth and last observation by yours truly. Here goes: "Dealing with the statistical maths of average is as accurate a reflection of individual reality as a doctor telling a patient that his average temperature is fine if he has his feet in the oven and his head in the refrigerator. Mm...this reminds me of the prosperity preachers telling their congregation that God wants them to be rich if they put their money with the church treasury and leave their brains at home." So much for the statistical averages of blind faith. Cheerz.

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