Last month, David Robertson, the (then) Moderator of my denomination (The Free Church of Scotland) wrote an article for the National challenging a Scottish Church network (Destiny) to withdraw their invite to controversial prosperity preacher Creflo Dollar. The article sparked a reaction, which led to further articles (here and here) which also drew the attention of other secular media outlets.
Having spent over 12 years (the majority of my Christian life) in the charismatic scene, it has been interesting to see how charismatics and Pentecostals are reacting to this. There seems to be three common responses to the Dollar, Destiny and David controversy.
It seems that a good number of Pentecostals just find the whole thing confusing. And no wonder. Many of them found God through the Pentecostal church, and have been faithful to it ever since. Many of them are first generation Christians, and know nothing of Christianity from a mainstream perspective, or if they do – it’s a negative view. The Christianity they knew outside of Christ was dead, boring and religious – now they have found the living Christ through Pentecostalism.
In my experience, there are no boundaries within Pentecostalism. When you are in that movement, you are exposed to a variety of ministries – the good, the bad and the ugly. There is a culture of ‘non-judgementalism’ within Pentecostalism. This usually takes the form of ‘touch not the Lord’s anointed’ – in other words, people are taught not to think, not to ask questions and not to be critical. Of course, this leads to the loss of discernment, and it creates a culture of power, an environment where leaders have a free pass to do and say as they please, and the people are trained not to question.
All of this makes David Robertson’s challenge to Destiny and Dollar confusing. From an insider’s point of view, here is this outsider criticising a man of God. Pentecostals are responding with bewilderment, “Who is this guy Robertson anyway?”, and “who is the Free Church?”, “are they even Christians?”, “Do they have the Spirit?” – “They sing psalms?, “They can worship without a band?” The irony is, the Free Church, is historically, more representative of historical, Scottish biblical Christianity and church life, yet, in the mind of many Pentecostal and charismatics, their churches represent the normal Christian life, and Biblical Christianity. So, people are confused by the whole thing.
People are also confused because they don’t really understand what the issues are. They think that the criticisms are just about Dollar having a few bob. Or perhaps it’s because he teaches that God wants people to be blessed. Again this causes confusion, if Robertson is challenging these things, he must be wrong – I mean c’mon, does the man not know that it’s not a sin to have some dosh, and that God wants to bless us?
An attack on God’s anointed
However, I think the greatest misunderstanding is the confusion that surrounds what David Robertson is saying. There is a tendency, in Pentecostalism, to view any challenge to leadership as demonic. In the nineties, it was common to hear the phrase ‘a Jezebel spirit’. A Jezebel spirit was a spirit that inspired people to undermine the authority of God’s anointed leadership. Again, this is just a convenient teaching that empowers leaders to control the flock. It springs from insecure leadership who, because of their lack of Biblical church government (plural eldership) have to resort to manipulation and fear mongering to keep any would-be-mavericks in line. So, for the average Christian, knowing nothing but their Pentecostal church, Robertson is a bad man who is criticising God’s man – and he really should watch out, because God might sort him out.
An attack on the gospel
If all you have known is a particular style of church, sometimes it is difficult to separate the gospel, from your church’s traditions (yes even Pentecostals have those) and errors (yes all churches have them). So, when Robertson attacks Creflo, it looks, to some, as if he is attacking the gospel. How do we respond to an attack on the gospel? We resist it. We stay faithful. We don’t listen to the devil who would seek to lead us astray.
It is for these reasons, I genuinely empathise with many of my brothers and sisters who are in Pentecostalism, and who are confused by the whole Dollar, Destiny and David controversy. It is for these folks that I’m primarily writing this blog, in the hope, that I can shed some light, not add more heat. With that in mind, let me make a few key points.
- You need to know that David Roberston is standing alongside many great Pentecostal pastors who have also rejected the Prosperity Gospel
The late David Wilkerson, founder of Teen Challenge, and author of ‘The Cross and the Switchblade’ was loved by all Pentecostals until he started to speak out about the prosperity gospel. David recognised the problem. He took a hard path. He attempted to stand for truth, discernment and Biblical Christianity by opposing the prosperity theology of Dollar and others like him. If my Pentecostal brothers and sisters won’t listen to David Robertson, then at least listen to one of your own giants in the faith. In a letter, warning about the prosperity gospel, Wilkerson once said,
Beloved, do not listen to this false gospel. It is satanic. It comes from the heart of men who are light and frivolous, jokesters, greedy for more. Isaiah the prophet has their number: “Yea, they are greedy dogs which can never have enough, and they are shepherds that cannot understand: they all look to their own way, every one for his gain, from his quarter” (Isaiah 56:11).
- The Assemblies of God officially condemn the Prosperity Gospel
The AoG (US) have got some brilliant Position Papers. These are documents, in addition to their statement of faith, that attempt to respond Biblically to contemporary issues and key teachings. Whilst I would not agree with all the AoG’s position papers, many of them are very good, and they should be utilised by Pentecostal believers. It is a tragedy that the UK AoG has not followed the US AoG’s example, in taking greater care with theology. In a paper, titled, ‘the Believer and Positive Confession’ the AoG correct the false teaching of prosperity.The prosperity gospel is technically known as the Word of Faith movement. Prosperity teaching is the fruit, not the root of the heresy. The real root is the theology of ‘positive confession’.
Again, I understand that David Robertson’s criticisms of Dollar, Destiny and Prosperity teaching might be interpreted as an attack on truth by a ‘non-pentecostal’ or a conservative who isn’t ‘filled with the Spirit’. However, let us hear the careful, thoughtful, and Biblical words of the Assemblies of God US position paper on the Word of Faith movement.
It is understandable that some people would like to accept the positive confession teaching. It promises a life free from problems, and its advocates seem to support it with passages of Scripture. Problems develop, however, when Bible statements are isolated from their context and from what the rest of Scripture has to say concerning the subject. Extremes result which distort truth and eventually hurt believers as individuals and the cause of Christ in general.
- Leading Pentecostal Scholars have written against Prosperity Theology
Elim scholar, Keith Warrington, former Principal of AoG UK’s Mattersy Hall, David Petts and internationally respected, AoG theologian Gordon Fee, have all written about the excesses and dangers of Word of Faith teaching. Again, I’m aware that Robertson’s challenge to Destiny can look like an attack from the outside. However, if Christians in the Pentecostal and charismatic want to get to the truth, I’d encourage them to read some of the challenges that have been issued from within their own camp. Granted, these voices have not always been as loud as they need to be. They don’t get the God TV time, their books are unlikely to be on the next Best Seller list, and their names are less known than Osteen, Meyer, and Dollar – but these are the men who have written carefully, Biblically and pastorally for the church. A great starting place would be Gordon Fee’s little book, ‘The disease of the health and wealth gospels’
If Pentecostals listen to the voices of discernment within their own movement, and more importantly, judge Dollar’s teaching in light of the whole of scripture, they will quickly see that David Robertson’s claims that Dollar brings a “a horrendous message” which is “not the message of the gospel at all.” is not just a negative attack, by a conservative preacher, against an anointed man of God. On the contrary, they will see that it is the Biblical warning of a true shepherd. On that front, I’d also add this. Pentecostals claim to be believe in the present day prophet. However, when you look at the use of prophecy today, it falls pitifully short of the kind of prophecy we see in the Bible. In the Bible we see prophets confronting authorities, oppressors, false teachers, and a backslidden church with a strong ‘thus sayeth the Lord.’ Let me ask this, who is closer to a Biblical prophet, the preacher who comes promising peace, that can be purchased for a few dollars, or the man who confronts falsehood on the ground of the Word of God? I too believe in the contemporary prophet, and the contemporary false prophet. The true prophet stands and declares the Word of God, whereas the false prophet preaches an ear tickling message. Can you spot the difference?
For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. (2 Tim 4:3)