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Originally published at pcpj.org.
Ever since rev. Campbell Morgan called Pentecostalism “the last vomit of Satan” and the Los Angeles Times warned the public about the “new sect of fanatics [that] is breaking loose” from Azusa Street, Spirit-filled Christians have had a bad rap. Other Christians as well as non-Christians oftentimes find us weird, and sometimes a bit dangerous. A lot of those perceptions are based on myths and misconceptions. Here are nine common beliefs about Pentecostals and Charismatics that are totally wrong.
1. It’s a small movement
Depending on where you’re located, the Pentecostal and Charismatic (P&C) movement might seem pretty small. But when you look at it on a global level, it turns out that 600 million people are P&Cs. 200 million are Pentecostals, 100 million are charismatic Catholics, and 300 million are charismatics in a big variety of denominations and churches. Since the number of P&Cs amounted to around zero in the beginning of the 20th century, the P&C movement is commonly described as the fastest growing religious movement in the world.
2. It’s a Cult
I’ve heard surprisingly many casually state “All of Pentecostalism is a cult”, to which I like to respond “That’s about as true as the statement ‘The moon is a tomato’.” Cult is not synonymous with “religion I don’t like”, it has an academic meaning of an isolated group with an authoritarian leader, and while there surely are several sad examples of charismatic churches that have developed into cults it is simply ridiculous to claim that we all would be part of some sort of Jonestown. At least that’s what my Leader tells me and he’s always infallible when he drinks goat blood.
Originally published at PCPJ.
The Norwegian channel Visjon Norge (Vision Norway) claimed that donations between 180 and 6,130 dollars would bring blessings from God, as a Nigerian pastor would pray different prayers depending on the amount of money people donated.
Verdens Gang reports that on October 15, David Sagen who regularly contributes to Visjon Norge explained why he two years ago started to give 2,500 kroner (430 US dollars) to the ministry of Nigerian pastor Bayo Oniwinde every month. Oniwinde had said that he would pray “Joseph’s blessing” over those who donated that amount.
– I told God, that Joseph’s blessing should come now, and really I was just happy that Joseph’s blessing was on its way. And that year, two years ago, many things happened in my business – and yeah, it went very well.
Kris Vallotton at Bethel Church recently held a sermon called “Poverty, Riches and Wealth” which is nothing less than pure, economic prosperity preaching. His conclusions are basically that all Christians with some few exceptions should be rich and that wealth isn’t a problem as long as it multiplies and grows exponentially. In this video I respond to his arguments and show why they don’t work:
As you may know, I’ve argued that Christians should not be rich in my God vs Wealth series and I recently did a Holy Hangout on prosperity theology with some friends where I criticized the “health and wealth gospel” for being unbiblical and hurtful.
Now, some people have told me that Vallotton’s position actually is “balanced” and even close to my own, that he’s not that off after all. I strongly disagree. I was surprised to hear how radical his prosperity thinking was and how deliberately he ignored or distorted relevant Bible passages.
Vallotton starts off in 1 Tim 6, arguing that love of money isn’t the root to all evil but a root to some evil (the text actually says a root to all evil). He does not mention verses 5-9 at all, probably because they crush all forms of economic prosperity theology. Verse 5 talk about “people of corrupt mind, who have been robbed of the truth and who think that godliness is a means to financial gain.” (more…)
Does a strong faith in God lead to a prosperous life filled with health and wealth? Since the 1950’s, several Pentecostal and charismatic preachers have been arguing that followers of Jesus should be rich and successful. Oftentimes, they have put their teachings into practice by possessing expensive jet planes and huge mansions.
In this Holy Hangout I talk with design student and Vineyarder Friederike Berghauer from Germany and former Vineyard pastor and blogger Joshua Hopping from the United States. We discuss what prosperity really is, the historical roots to why “Health and Wealth” teaching originated, why it’s popular in Latin America and Africa, Biblical texts that challenge traditional prosperity teaching and the role of contentment and suffering in a Christian’s life.
If you have a suggestion on a topic for a future Hangout and/or want to join, just contact me!
So it’s no secret that several American prosperity preachers are ridiculously rich. When I’m out speaking about the importance of combining signs and wonders with simplicity and community of goods, my favourite bad example is charismatic Word of Faith leader Kenneth Copeland, who owns a mansion worth six million dollars, two private jets and his own airport, the Kenneth Copeland Airport, where he keeps his jets close to his million-dollar mansion. Most of his money is from ordinary people, who donate thinking that they’re doing something good for God’s Kingdom and that God will bless them with riches as well.
In a recent video, Copeland and Jesse Duplantis give some horrible reasons for why they “need” their luxurious jet planes: they need to stand up and pray, avoid people who want them to pray for them and who are filled with demons, sleep on the plane and travel long distances across America basically every single day. Now, you can stand up and pray on a commercial airline, or sit doing it; ministering to people is obviously a good thing and if you tired just tell them; and rather than spending millions of dollars on these pieces of luxury, I think it would be healthy for these men to travel less and sleep in normal beds more often.
Not only are private jets incredibly expensive when you buy them, but as J. Lee Grady has pointed out, maintenance costs about four million dollars per year, and a flight costs about 100 times more compared to using a normal plane. Flying is very harmful to the environment, and that harm increases enormously when using a private jet instead of a plane that many people fit into; just like buses are better for God’s creation than cars.
You may have noticed that I haven’t blogged for a week; that’s because I’m spending much time nowadays finishing my first book! It’s about how signs and wonders are combined with peace and justice in the Bible, throughout church history and today. During the last week I’ve focused on the history part, researching and writing about saints like Francis and Agnes of Assisi and radical church movements like the Moravian church and the Jesus Family in China.
I am so encouraged to see these myriads of people who combine miracles and activism. Did you know that Maria Woodworth-Etter, who is often considered the grandmother of the Pentecostal movement, was baptized in the Spirit in a Quaker church and at one time ministered in a denomination founded by Mennonites? Or that the Salvation Army, famous for its evangelism and social ministry to the poor, experienced tons of signs and wonders in its early days?
I have now arrived to the part where I discuss movements that only have one half of the Biblical Holy Spirit Activism combination. Like patriotic, prosperity-preaching Pentecostalism, or miracle-doubting progressive liberalism. Interestingly, both of these streams originated roughly at the same time, the 20th century. They are not just unbiblical, but historically unique. (more…)
Jesus calls wealth “deceptive” and said that it stifles the obedience to the word of God like thorns (Matthew 13:22). Paul says that we should be content with food and clothing and says that those who want to get rich fall into temptation and snares, which throws men into destruction and perdition (1 Timothy 6: 8-9). James takes an even harsher view: “Listen, you rich, weep and howl for all miseries that shall come upon you. Your riches will rot and your clothes devoured by moths. “(James 5: 1-2) Even Jesus lamenented the rich, while he praised the poor as blessed (Luke 6: 20-24).
The more money and gadgets wealthy people keep for themselves, the less they give to the poor by definition. You can not spend a hundred on makeup while providing the same hundred to a humanitarian organization. The Apostle John writes: “If anyone has earthly possessions and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him?” (1 John 3:17). John the Baptist proclaimed: “Whoever has two tunics should share with the one that has none, and he who has food should do likewise.” (Luke 3:11)
How does the rich Christian relate to the Bible’s radical teaching on wealth control and economic equality? Many do not feel particularly comfortable with it and try to find theological justifications why they can nevertheless be rich. An example of this is the prosperity theology, “Health and Wealth” – message, which says that Christians not only can but should be rich as a result of a strong faith. My impression is that this theology is rarer today than, for example in the 1980s, and that most Christians now agree with St. Paul that prosperity preachers “have lost the truth when they say that fear of God should lead to pofitability.” (1 Timothy 6: 5). (more…)
American prosperity pastor Creflo Dollar wants 65 million dollars so that he can buy one of the most luxurious private jets there is: the Gulfstream G650. Dollar asks 200 000 people to give “at least” 300 dollars each so that he can buy this thing without wasting his own money, but thankfully this has caused a lot of criticism from other charismatics. J Lee Grady at Charisma Magazine writes:
The Bible calls us to be good stewards of God’s resources. Private aircraft cost an exorbitant amount of money compared to commercial flights because the owners must provide service and upkeep on the vehicles. If a preacher insists on renting a private jet, the cost to fly from Fort Lauderdale to New York would be in the ballpark of $59,000, compared to a $652 ticket on a commercial plane. People who own private jets spend as much as $4 million a year just on maintenance.
You know what could use the 65 million dollars instead? Vanuatu. The oceanic island state has been devastated by tropical cyclone Pam this week. By the grace of God, very few people have died due to warnings and public advice from the government, and a quick humanitarian response. However, over 65000 people are homeless, and countless crops have been destroyed leaving tens of thousands in need of food aid. Tourism, which accounts for 40% of the country’s income, will most likely also be negatively effected (rich people usually want to go to paradises where they can ignore the world’s problems, not find them).
I live in the same city as the world’s arguably most famous living Swedish Christian, namely Ulf Ekman. The founder and long-term leader of the Scandinavian Word of Faith movement (with many branches in the former Soviet Union), Ekman surprised many when he revealed last year that he and his wife would convert to Catholicism, which they also have done. Yesterday, Ulf Ekman was being interviewed on national Swedish television about his life, faith and different controversial topics like abortion, support for Jewish migration to the West Bank and prayer for healing (which apparently is controversial in a Swedish secular context).
Ekman’s conversion from being neo-Pentecostal to being Catholic wasn’t the first religious shift he has made. In his youth he was an atheist socialist in Gothenburg, protesting against capitalism and the Vietnam war, but when a Christian friend talked to him about how Jesus could give him forgiveness for his sins, he was saved. He went to Uppsala (my town) to study theology and became a Lutheran priest in the Church of Sweden. However, in the early 80’s he studied at Kenneth Hagin’s Rhema Bible college in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and when he came back he was a full-blooded prosperity preaching Pentecostal. He founded the Word of Life church in Uppsala in 1983, and the movement quickly spread to the rest of Scandinavia and to the USSR.
For Ekman, his conversion from atheism to Christianity also meant a political conversion from socialism to conservatism. He wasn’t afraid of preaching politics from the pulpit, whether it was against Sweden’s abortion laws, for the policies and military decisions of the state of Israel or simply prayers that the Social Democrats would lose the Swedish elections. (more…)
“People of corrupt mind… have been robbed of the truth and who think that godliness is a means to financial gain. But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs. But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness. – 1 Timothy 6:5-11, NIV
It’s a great passage and very prophetic, since Paul foresees a lot of crap that future Christians will teach about money. He debunks these heresies so that true disciples would have solid biblical arguments against them. First of all, he debunks the prosperity gospel, the idea that if you have a strong faith in God, you will get rich – godliness is a means to financial gain. Those who believe this are people of corrupt mind that have been robbed of the truth, according to Paul.
Another heresy Paul addresses is the idea that Christians should and could want to be rich. He says that we should be content with food and clothing (literally: nourishment and covering) while those who want to get rich fall into “many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction”. The Greek word for “get rich”, ploutein, can also mean “be rich”. We should thus not desire to be rich, but we should be content with the most necessary of things.
To read other parts of the series, go here.
The prosperity gospel is a popular teaching in many Pentecostal and neo-Pentecostal churches. Even though there are a lot of different views on prosperity, the concept is usually understood as economic blessings that God wants to give all believers. If you have a strong faith in God, you’ll get rich. Godliness is a means to financial gain.
But what does the Bible say? Well, in 1 Tim 6:5, Paul speaks about “people of corrupt mind, who have been robbed of the truth and who think that godliness is a means to financial gain.” So the prosperity gospel is simply corrupt and untrue. He goes on saying:
But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs. (vv. 6-10)
In my previous post, I wrote about how God does want to prosper the poor but not to bring them to a state of luxury and wealth but to a state of generosity and sharing so that there may be equality for all. I wrote that the dangers of the prosperity teaching is that it glorifies gluttony and despises simplicity. But I didn’t mention the, in my opinion, greatest danger of the prosperity teaching here in Africa – the theology of sowing and reaping.
I was listening to a pastor teaching other pastors about how to break poverty bonds. He talked about prosperity and giving. At first I thought it was a nice combination – sure God can prosper the poor but it’s also the responsibility of the rich to give. Then I realized that what he was saying was that it is the responsibility of the poor to give to the pastor or the ministry in order for God to prosper them, because you reap what you sow.
He was exhorting these South African pastors never to be afraid of demanding generous offerings even in very poor churches, because “no one is too poor to give”. His proof texts for these statements were 2 Cor 8:1-4 and 9:6, where Paul is telling the Corinthians about how the Macedonians, despite their “extreme poverty”, gave generously over their ability, and that if you sow generously you will reap generously.
I raised my hand and argued against him. Firstly, the Macedonians and Corinthians were giving to the poor of Jerusalem, not a pastor or a church building (the latter didn’t even exist). Secondly, 2 Cor 9:6 is not necessarily talking about a financial reward, especially in the light of Mt 19:21 and 1 Tim 6:5. Finally, while Paul seems impressed of the Macedonians giving so generously despite their poverty, he is careful in pointing out that he doesn’t want the Corinthians to do the same:
The prosperity gospel is basically saying that God will bless you with money. A lot of money. In the West (especially in the U.S.), prosperity preachers often prove how blessed they are through buying luxuries, mansions and jet planes. This grotesque gluttony has spread to the African continent, where superstar pastors are “prospering” en masse while their church members are starving.
That was what I knew about prosperity teaching. And then pastor Jerry brought me to a shack church in the South African bush, where most church members are unemployed as well as have lost family members in AIDS. And he preached prosperity. God will give you a job. God will change your situation. God will lift you out of poverty.
I even started to like the prosperity message and preach it myself. Because it’s true, God wants to prosper the poor and break the chains of poverty. The Bible was written in a developing country, and the prosperity it talks about is not about cars or suits but about getting good harvests so that you’ll survive the winter, and to have a job so that you don’t have to be a beggar. Biblical prosperity is not about bringing people to a state of luxury, but to deliver them from poverty to a state of generosity and sharing, so that it may be equal for all (2 Cor 8:13).