Prosperity Gospel Mega-Church Pastor Creflo Dollar is in the news again. This time it’s for soliciting donations to buy a mega-jet to fly to his mega-churches all over the world. His current jet, he says, is old and has become too unsafe.
And people are donating.
While it might be a stretch to say that someone like Creflo Dollar made me a Catholic—in truth, I’ve never paid any attention to the prosperity gospel movement—it would be accurate to say that the possibility of theological interpretations like Dollar’s are, in part and parcel, what’s driven me in my search for deeper truth.
A search which has landed me on the doorstep of the Catholic Church.
Who Has the Authority?
I’ve wrestled with authority, and that’s really where it began.
I wrestled with the question of who has the right to interpret Scripture. Who has the best interpretation. Who has the market cornered.
As a Protestant I wrestled with this. Because as a Protestant there can be millions, billions, of different interpretations of the Bible. And who is right?
It was easy for me, for most of my Protestant faith life, to brush away questions of authority because they didn’t directly impact my life. I knew, as all Christians know, that there are thousands of different Protestant denominations out there. It’s easy to drive around town and see scores of different kinds of churches each with their unique theological interpretations of Scripture. That’s why the exist, after all, because they disagree.
In our post-denominational reality it’s even more difficult to pin down these differences.
And they exist on enormously important issues like when life begins, sexuality, how we obtain grace, and salvation. These are enormous things. I mean, salvation. How can we disagree on how we’re saved?
But we do.
Sola Scriptura: The Bible Alone
It’s the sola scriptura, Bible alone, approach to understanding our Christian faith that’s led to this plethora of interpretations. It’s the Bible alone approach that’s led people like Creflo Dollar to have a leg, any leg, to stand on. In his community, amongst his congregations, Dollar’s interpretation of Scripture—especially key teachings on tithing—have the weight of authority. How he understands the Bible is seen as the way of understanding the Bible.
And this is what gets me.
Before really wrestling with the question of authority and the interpretation of Scripture I understood it, as a Protestant, to be simple. With the help of the Holy Spirit I would read my Bible and come to an interpretation. In reality, however, that doesn’t work. Because my friend, or my pastor, reads the same section of Scripture and comes, ultimately, to a wildly different interpretation. And if there is objective truth to be had—and, as Christians, we must believe that there is—then there must be a right and wrong interpretation.
We can’t both be right. But we both have the Holy Spirit—so how are we being steered wrong?
As a Protestant I could find no answer, and it got worse.
Because, I realized, I can’t trust myself. Can you?
I realized that if I’m the sole interpreter of the Scriptures, if I’m going to believe in my own authority to understand what I’m reading and how it should be applied to my life, then I’m setting myself on an awfully high pedestal.
But that’s exactly what we do.
If God intended the Bible to be read like we Protestants read it then what alternative is there? I read my Bible, ask the Holy Spirit for help to interpret, and come to a conclusion. This is exactly what Creflo Dollar’s done, and he’s asking for millions of dollars for a jet.
Certainly, we can roll our eyes at theological absurdities like the obviously distorted beliefs of Creflo Dollar’s prosperity mission. It doesn’t feel right to be asking for millions of dollars in the name of Jesus—who ministered to the poor and marginalized. Who told us we must give up our worldly possessions to inherit the Kingdom of God. But, the New Testament teaches about tithing, too.
And an interpretation can be made that says Creflo is right.
Of course, I chose Creflo Dollar as a dramatic example. But the question of by whose authority we read our Bibles is a huge one, and it’s something I barely considered as a Protestant. I was happy with my interpretation, developed in a vacuum, or based on a handful of books I’d read by evangelical authors. And, at times, when my own theology collided with that of my pastor’s I held my own, and carried on. We were bound to disagree, I thought, and maybe he hadn’t read the books that I’d read.
Becoming a Biblical Scholar
In order to interpret Scripture with any meaningful authority, however, I’d have to read all the books ever written. I’d have to become an expert in the historical settings in which the books of the Bible were written; an expert in the genres of these books. I’d have to learn, most likely, the ancient languages: Greek and Hebrew. Maybe Latin for good measure, too. I’d have to become a biblical scholar, wouldn’t I, to feel like I’m on solid enough footing in my interpretation?
Or else, how do I know that I’m right?
How do I know that Creflo Dollar is wrong?
The Catholic Church Instead
Instead I found the Catholic Church which claims to have held, and continues to hold, the sole authority to interpret Scripture. Instead of a million different interpretations I found a Church that traces its lineage, mission, and authority back to Christ and the first apostles. Back to the Lord’s Supper. Back to the Upper Room. Back to Paul, and Peter.
The Catholic Church, which asserts that Jesus didn’t leave us a Bible, He left us a Church. A Church with an authority structure that we can see clearly in the New Testament— a Church that the apostles passed on.
How did Creflo Dollar make me a Catholic? Simple. I struggled with interpretations of Scripture, outlandish interpretations like those from the prosperity gospel and increasingly benign interpretations like those changing the dynamics of Christian sexuality.
My struggles shouldered me with the question of who knows what’s right? And why would God make it so tough to discern?
My struggles brought me to the rich theological traditions of the Catholic Church. A tradition which says, “We have the right answers, because Jesus promised we would.” Because Jesus did promise to protect His Church from the gates of Hell and, if you ask me, if Creflo Dollar’s really in that Church then I think the gates have swung wide open—and we’re going down.