If you haven’t seen this yet, I encourage you to watch it. It is amusing but also maddening if you are a sincere Christian, particularly if you identify as charismatic, like me.
John Oliver, this may come as a surprise to you, but I want to thank you. I am grateful that you highlighted these distortions of the gospel and the abuse of giving. We absolutely must do a much better job articulating and modeling what true, biblical prosperity actually is. As you mentioned in the beginning of this segment, many churches do wonderful work for the most helpless among us. I certainly hope that in your dismissal of tax exemptions for churches you were not referring to those organizations.
So, having already identified myself as a charismatic Christian, I want to establish from the outset that I think that mere spiritual experiences with God can never serve as the sole arbiters for theological accuracy, but I do believe they are vitally important. I feel it is also important to distinguish myself from the kind of charismatic Christianity represented here in these clips. So here’s a bit of my story.
On February 3, 2000, at the age of 14, I met the Holy Spirit in a powerful way; it was an encounter with the living God that marked me for life and inspired in me an insatiable desire to read and internalize the Word of God. Since that day I have hungrily devoured the Bible, often struggling to exegete its dense passages, but I have learned to feed myself. With a thirst for more of Him I pressed on even when I had trouble understanding Scripture, and God continues to show up in remarkable ways to demonstrate that He is there, walking beside me in the journey of faith.
At age 19 I was praying one night in my room and suddenly started speaking in tongues. At age 25 I traveled to Brazil and prayed for the sick and watched the Holy Spirit move through my hands supernaturally to minister healing to people right in front of my eyes. At age 27, after a long season of discernment, I enrolled in a charismatic School of Ministry in northern California. While there I was part of a team of students that planted a house church in a crime and drug-infested neighborhood, lived and did life among the poor, and spent hundreds of hours poring over and praying through the pages of the Bible.
Now, at age 30, you just might find me in the frozen food aisle of a Northern Virginia Safeway praying for a lady on crutches, believing with foolish-looking faith that God will heal her twisted left knee right there on the spot. If I am feeling really bold I will ask the cashier if he knows the Lord and will share with him.
I believe that the Kingdom is at hand and that the gospel is the best news in the world. I believe most fellow charismatics have similar stories and we believe, in case it is not patently obvious by now, that the gifts of the Spirit are for today, including those gifts these televangelists John Oliver exposed were misusing. As we have come to understand, being “charismatic” carries with it some baggage. Indefensible are the manipulative tactics those men were employing to convince people to give them money. Worse, they buttress their pleas with Bible verses. For what it’s worth, I was not familiar with ANY of them or their ministries.
I have no problem whatsoever with churches asking people to “sow seed.” It is an agricultural analogy found all throughout Scripture and the concept makes sense. Our monetary investments we sow in the Kingdom will produce a harvest, a spiritual one. And in my own life there have been times where I felt prompted to sacrificially give–over and above the tithe to my parish–to ministries that are out on the front lines, sharing the gospel and being the hands and feet of Christ. I have also seen God multiply those resources back to me, but it was always on HIS timing, not with with the selfish, formulaic, give-to-get motives these televangelists shamelessly promote. Nor can I abide the slimy mail-order blessing techniques and appalling attitudes of the heart on display here.
The truth is that God does desire to provide abundantly for the work he has appointed us to do. Moreover, He is a good father who gives good gifts to his children (Matthew 7:11) and richly supplies everything for our enjoyment (1 Timothy 6:17). But here is the key difference between these TV preachers and truly prosperous Christians. Prosperous Christians have a mindset of hopeful expectation, not entitlement. Entitled people believe that God owes them something because of their “faith” whereas Kingdom-minded, prosperous Christians have confidence in Father’s goodness. They know that they can ask for anything, even things they do not necessarily need, but like the apostle Paul have learned to be content in all circumstances, whether in plenty or in lack. Christ Jesus, not material riches, is our supreme joy.
Prosperity in the Kingdom is also always grounded in the context of the soul (3 John 1:2). Truly prosperous believers do not hoard money or store away in barns where moth and rust destroy, and they most definitely do not deceive to extract cash from poor people. They steward money with integrity, invest it wisely, and give generously and joyfully.
So again, with gratitude, I thank you, John Oliver. And I hope that you can somehow get back every single one of your 319 dollars.
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