Sunday, 20 November 2016

Kong Hee's broad road to prosperity.

Kong Hee is at it again. He is collecting funds for Arise and Build 2016. He did it just two weeks ago. I recall attending a Saturday service last year 2015 with my son and his church was then collecting offering as well as his Arise and Build funds. Although I gave into the offering bag, I let the collection for the Arise and Build pass.
Now let me pause here to say that I understand that a church will ask for funds in the form of tithes, offering and pledged donation with regular GIRO deductions. They do it to finance or for the benefit of the church building, oversea missions, general administration and upkeep, pastoral remuneration, designated charities and the like.
That is all fine with me and I wholeheartedly support such causes. Mind you, pastors have families to feed too and most of them have sacrificed by giving up their more lucrative secular jobs to answer the call of full time ministry.   
So, Kong Hee's recent collection drive is understandable notwithstanding that he is currently out on bail pending his appeal of offences that have to do with financial misappropriation. And although he is in my view not the best person to ask for funds at this moment, I guess he is no doubt the only person in the church who has the track record and carries the beaming charisma to draw the most collection in a service. After all, he has been doing this since the church first started as her co-founder and the numbers and growth clearly indicate that when it comes to fundraising, no one has the so called Midas touch.
Having said that, it should be noted that it is one thing to say that the people give to God, and not to men (“1st statement”), but it is quite another thing to say that people give because Kong Hee is preaching a sermon about giving to God, and not to men (“2nd statement”).
Putting aside who has the final authority or makes the final decision as to how the funds in church are to be used, that is, it is an issue of control based on institutional rules, the 1st statement is a general observation. Of course, people are giving to God, and not to man. Isn’t that a given? But the 2nd  statement is more specific, and the difference here is the human agent soliciting funds.
You may say that this is obvious. There is a human agent in the 2nd statement that the 1st statement lacks, right? But what is often not obvious in the minds of the givers is the difference it makes when we claim we give to God, and not to men, on any nondescript Sunday service when the offering bag is passed around, and when we give because a pastor with charisma is preaching a sermon about giving to God, and not to men. And for the latter (that is, the 2nd statement), the collection is inevitably bigger because the charisma factor counts, and it counts a lot.
You see, a pastor who is adored by the congregation can take an “ambushed collection” for his wife’s birthday with a word or two added for effect and the funds can come up to tens of thousands in a single collection. And it is expectedly different with another pastor whose personality is less appealing or whose authority is less respected. I am sure even Kong Hee would not deny this.
My point?
Herein lies the rub. A pastor like Kong Hee has a lot of social gravitas with his congregation. For whatever reasons, the members would willingly give more if he is spearheading the fundraising. This is the psychological edge that Kong Hee has over his church and it’s not a bad thing. All influential leaders possess this charismatic exuberance to varying degree.
I believe the late Nelson Mandela just need to ask for funds to build a children hospital on a Facebook post and the funds will flood in. Bill Clinton once gave a tribute to Mother Teresa saying, “How do you argue with a life so well lived?” As such, people like Mandela and Mother Teresa would turn heads and empty pockets when they are at the forefront of any respectable charity drive. Although Kong Hee is of a different kettle of fish here when it comes to character and respectability, and I am sure opinions are divided on this, my point is about the responsibility of the leader when he heads the fundraising campaign knowing full well his influence on the impressionable givers.
At times, it is not the object of the fundraising that the people are most directly or indirectly influenced by, that is, giving to God and not to men, but it is the person who is asking for money that makes the huge difference. So, a leader shoulders a great responsibility to his congregation when soliciting for funds since the force of his personality, his influence and his words all come to play to persuade the people to part with their hard-earned savings. Accountability is key in all such efforts.
This brings me to the sermon Kong Hee gave two weeks ago for the Arise and Build 2016 fundraising. It is actually reported in their regular newsletter, City News.
Kong Hee cited the theme verse in Deuteronomy 8:18, which in my view ploughs the congregational mindscape for what I would call the great wealth anticipation. This is what the verse says:  “And you shall remember the Lord your God, for it is He who gives you power to get wealth, that He may establish His covenant which He swore to your fathers, as it is this day.”
Taking this verse out of context by applying it restrictively, and with a personal bias for maximal collection, Kong Hee set the stage for the most common method of religious fundraising, that is, over-promising. And this time, he over-promised by borrowing the idea of what he calls a covenantal blessing or "spiritual contract or agreement initiated by God".
This is what is reported about Kong Hee's message: "A covenant carries much greater weight than a promise. Because it is a covenant, as long as His believers do their part, God will do His part." One has to wonder, what Kong Hee had in mind when he preached this: “as long as His believers do their part?”
Wait a minute, isn’t this covenantal blessings and God’s covenant is not conditional on men’s actions or even misdeeds? Despite the Israelites’ murmurings and complaining in the wilderness, their faithlessness and waywardness, God still provided for them because of His covenant to their forefathers, right? So, what was Kong Hee saying about "believers doing their part" (even if the same is applicable to our modern generation)? Surely, in the context of Arise and Build 2016, it's about parting with their money right? At a risk of forcing the "personal agenda" elephant into the "proper context" fridge, is this the overriding intention of that verse, that is, give your money for the reward of more material blessings? Where is the call to seek His righteousness, to self-discipline or self-denial, to be set apart from the methods and excesses of the world, and to take up and carry your cross? 
I am afraid all that would only "muddle" the call that day for more money to be poured into the church’s coffer for Arise and Build 2016. Recall that you can't serve God and money at the same time, they often conflict (and Kong Hee's restrictive interpretation runs the risk of deepening that conflict). Plainly speaking, what is Arise and Build at that moment is nothing more than Arise and Give. And here is where Kong Hee has failed to put things in its proper context as that verse has got to do with reminding the Israelites about the faithfulness of God in keeping and safeguarding them, in prospering and protecting them, and not a case of expecting and thereby activating greater blessing through the one exclusive route of giving to the church.
Deuteronomy is therefore about reminding God’s people about their dependence on Him (lest they take pride in their own human effort) and it is not the way Kong Hee had put it, that is, as long as we do our (financial) part, God will do His (financial) part. 
Another part of his sermon as reported is even more disconcerting. It went further with this message:-
“Since it is not a promise, God is not moved by praying and fasting,” said Kong. “Many Christians are struggling financially because they are applying a wrong treatment to their problems. Praying and fasting is very very powerful, but its place is not in abundance and prosperity.”
Now, I will leave discerning readers to question the statement that “God is not moved by praying and fasting…(as) its place is not in abundance and prosperity.” I am skipping that altogether to talk about Kong Hee’s smug-like diagnosis of what financially struggling Christians are doing wrong. Obviously, they are doing wrong (or “applying a wrong treatment to their problems”) by praying and fasting for wealth. Recall it is a covenant and not a promise, and according to Kong Hee, the impression I get is that “as long as we do our part, God will do His part.” And here is what “doing our part” means to Kong Hee if it is not already obvious enough a few paragraphs before.
He went on to cite Genesis 8:22 and boldly interpreted it as follows:-
“God said, “While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, winter and summer, and day and night shall not cease.” All throughout the Bible, “seedtime and harvest” refers to “giving and receiving”—it means to sow financial seeds and reap financial abundance in return.”
There you have it. “Doing our part” means sowing financial seeds in order to reap financial abundance in return.
Now, the seed-of-faith message is an inextricable part of the prosperity gospel. It is the spine that supports its whole enterprise. And I believe it basically accounts for the mega-sizes in churches today with more funds than they know what to do with it. It somehow has that snowball effect where the promise (or overpromise) is one of financial transmutation from being an all-out giver to becoming an all-out receiver. The selling point here is this: “You cannot out-give God - financially.
This is in fact an insidious tease for the giver. For the most vulnerably (and desperately) expectant giver, it locks him in a self-deluded race to give more since giving more can only mean that he will be receiving much more. And as Kong Hee so subtly puts it here:  “”seedtime and harvest” refers to “giving and receiving”—it means to sow financial seeds and reap financial abundance in return.” Underscore “financial abundance”.
You can therefore see how a seed sowed can reap a harvest in abundance. This is taken to mean across the board, universal, and the impression given, unconditional – except that the giver has to give financially first. That’s the only condition, of course, for Kong Hee wouldn’t have it any other way. And that’s Kong Hee’s foolproof financial solution to a financially struggling Christian. And I guess only Christians need to apply since membership under the so-called covenantal blessings has its “abundant” privileges.
Well, Kong Hee is not finished with the “financial carrot” in his sermon about giving yet. “Kong went on to teach that God’s response to giving in three ways.” Yes, you heard it right. He is so confident that God’s response to our giving is three-fold and God can thus respond in no other way when we give. Here is a man who is telling his congregation what they can expect from God - with a self-assured level of certainty - when they give generously. And Kong Hee is not without any scriptural support when he preaches except that they are again taken out of context. 
Now, you be the judge here concerning the following extract of his sermon as reported.
“Firstly, He releases divine favor upon the giver. Exodus 3:21 says, “And I will give this people favor in the sight of the Egyptians; and it shall be, when you go, that you shall not go empty-handed…This means that you attract promotion and business, people will rush to do business with you because your giving provokes the release of divine favor.”

Wow, if this is not a carte blanche promise, then I don’t know what is. Imagine people rushing to do business with you just because your giving provokes that kind of divine favor. All this is on the condition that you first give to Kong Hee’s church of course. I don’t suppose it applies if the giver decides to keep the money, walk out of his church, and donate it all to the Salvation Army?
Again, I must stress that I am not talking about the pastoral initiative of asking for funds. As I had said before, there is nothing wrong with that. But it is the disingenuous way that is done by Kong Hee, that is, the deliberateness of him tying personal “financial” giving with personal “financial” prospering, that concerns me.
He reminded me of the saying that “when the only tool you have is a hammer, you will treat everything as if it were a nail.” So, in Kong Hee’s case, when the only goal you have is about raising funds, you will treat every scripture as if it were about raising funds and how financially blessed you will be in return.
Kong Hee also talked about the other two God’s responses when we give, namely, the release of divine ideas and divine blessings. He then ended with Haggai 2:18-19, which in a nutshell talks about seed sowing and abundance reaping. You will just have to read his sermon as reported to find how one-sided they are.
In fact, I dare say that Kong Hee is not presenting the whole of the gospel as I have come to know it, that is, the one preached at the Sermon of the Mount, and the one that is faithfully demonstrated at Calvary. But you might say in reply that Kong Hee is asking for funds, so he has to preach about money, blessings and riches right? Are they not our inheritance in the legacy of Christ? Well, preach all you want, but preach it by presenting the full gospel of Jesus. That's what your members deserve to hear and meditate upon. That is the pastor's ultimate responsibility, his sacred accountability.

For me, it all starts with Calvary and ends with it, that is, in the ultimate overcoming of our carnal desires, our old self. So, preach it without the worldly enticement, the over-promising, the one-sided-ness, the personal agenda for maximal collection, the ooh! and aah! to shock and awe with the prosperity carrot, and the appeal to a carnality that Jesus had died for to subjugate, negate and eliminate. When it comes to our carnality, you can play with fire in many ways, and one of them is to lure it out under the guise of "doing your part and God will do His."

In essence, Kong Hee's goal was to bring in the money and he did it in a way that smacks of a quid pro quo deal with his members. For less of a better description, Kong Hee's tagline is the prosperity bait that hides the scriptural-distortion hook. It is therefore all about the money, money, money.
Alas, the gospel, Christian living and overcoming, and Christian giving and generosity is so much more than that. Here I wonder, if Kong Hee had preached about the Cross or God’s love or overcoming trials and temptation or hope in crisis and faith in perseverance instead of the one-sided over-promises of the seed-of-faith sermon, will he still have garnered the same response in the collection? 
The reality is, when you first set the stage for the great wealth anticipation, you have effectively warmed the people’s appetite for an abundant financial harvest that far exceeds their financial seed planting. In other words, such message generally appeals to a human desire (greed) or expectation. And if you ask me, the great wealth anticipation is nothing more than a bait-and-switch act for the great wealth transfer from the people’s pockets to the church’s coffers.   
In the end, Kong Hee's modus operandi had that familiar Johann Tetzel's jingle to it, that is, Tetzel once chanted: "As soon as the coin in the coffer rings, the soul from purgatory springs." This is shamelessly prevalent at the time of the papal sale of indulgences. And Kong Hee is not departing far from it in his overzealous drive to collect funds. Just as a soul is released from purgatory when you give, the covenantal blessing in Kong Hee’s case is that the soul who gives is released from financial poverty to unimaginable financial blessing, abundant divine ideas and divine favor when he drops his hard-earned money into the offering bag. I call this blind-faith giving in return for a blank-cheque receiving. I guess one can be a cheerful as well as a clueless giver all in one collection. Cheerz.

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