A PERSONAL EXPERIENCE OF THE PROSPERITY GOSPEL

By Michael Anthony Richardson

I was a member of the LIFE CHURCH which teaches the prosperity gospel in my corner of England. I was in membership with them during the period 1994 to 1998.

I had always believed that God was out there somewhere, and it seemed at last that I had found Him. I took in everything they told me, one of these things being not under any circumstances to use my mind. They assured me that this is what the Lord expected of me, even though I have a University Education. The scripture they quoted to back up their case is found in PROV 3:5 "Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding".

Such was my desire to get closer to God that I did exactly what they said. Occasionally I would have some small doubt or other about what they were teaching me but it wasn’t until I had read quite a lot of the Bible for myself that alarm bells began to ring - and then I couldn’t stop my mind from being bombarded with "heretical" thoughts.

e.g. Why does nobody ever talk about what the Archbishop is saying.? I would have thought that someone like him would carry much more weight that the pastor of a small town church!

e.g. Why is it that for the best part of 2000 years the Established Church has been getting it wrong, and suddenly, in the latter part of the 20th Century God decides to send a Dutchman to England dressed in an expensive suit to put things right?

e.g. Why is it that anyone who disagrees with this man is automatically disagreeing with God, and consequently "Out of the Spirit"? What spirit are we talking about?

e.g. Why is it that this 'Good Shepherd' is so disinterested in his flock that his phone number is Ex-Directory whilst at the same time he is so concerned about buildings and money? Yet Jesus never even suggested these things were important!

e.g. Why is it that so many people are claiming that Jesus has already 'met their needs' when it is obvious they continue to live in emotional and material poverty?

The expression 'meet my needs' was one I had not often heard before LIFE CHURCH, but it is one which LC members hear more than any other in prayers and from the pulpit (podium - stage - platform - etc).

When I joined, I was (and still am) well able to take care of myself without relying on anybody else. But it was pointed out to me several times by people at various levels in the LC hierarchy that this was no way for a committed Christian to live.. "Jesus", they said "wants you to put your complete trust in Him. He wants you to depend on him for all your everyday requirements" They would quote from LUKE 12:22, which paraphrased says "Don't worry about tomorrow, God will sort it out". It was suggested that someone such as myself who was solvent with a few spare resources should make what they called a 'sacrificial offering' i.e. deliberately increase my dependence on God by 'sowing' into the Kingdom a sum of money (i.e. write a cheque out to the church leadership) for more than I could afford! Luckily I stopped short of doing this, but I was taken in by the assertion which was always being made that ten percent of my income belonged to God unconditionally! (Not ten percent after Tax!)

LIFE CHURCH, was eager to exploit my gullibility and lack of Bible Knowledge. Over a period of five years I regularly gave them the amount that they said God demanded believing that in some way my salvation depended on it. I think that many other members who don’t have two halfpennies to rub together are extremely confused regarding this issue, but notwithstanding many of them are over-zealous almost to the point of insanity. "The Lord Loves a Happy Giver" they are constantly reminded!

Some of these poor souls unfortunately, have had their brains completely pickled by the persuasive soft-talk of their charismatic leader. I unfortunately allowed myself to draw too close to a few and can speak from first hand experience.

It is not unusual for a LC member to give ALL his (or her) money "to God" and then wait on God to meet whatever needs have arisen through having no money! This is all well and good but I unfortunately allowed a few of these lunatics into my life. I have never seen such a bunch of parasites, leeches, scroungers and social misfits all bound together as 'Brothers in Christ'.

How was I to know that they were seeing me as nothing more than a blessing sent by God whereby their needs (probably self inflicted by giving more than they could afford) might be met. It should have occurred to me that it was the Shepherd's job to care for these needy sheep - not mine! Somebody with a less analytical mind could eventually have allowed himself to be sucked dry! - while the Leader of course carried on getting richer and richer.

I must mention here that when I discovered what the Bible actually said about Tithing I almost died of shock to think of how I had been mislead! Read DEUT 14: 22-29 and then try explaining how God intended the money to be used to build up the minister’s fancy lifestyle!

I suppose that if I had compared the poverty in which some LC members lived with the lavish lifestyle enjoyed by their leader, alarm bells would have started ringing much earlier, but it was the list of things that were not in line with what the Bible actually says which finally did it.

The list went on and on and in the end I could not close the floodgate of doubt. For the sake of my soul, I felt there was no alternative other than to leave.

The LIFE CHURCH experience was extremely painful, more so even than my divorce, because the truth is that I actually enjoyed being a member, because of the way I am made, I have to be intellectually honest especially with myself. Moreover, the experience has forced me to take a good look at my relationship with religion in general, and all the things that go with it.

I had a happy childhood, with a loving mother and father who stayed together. Like many people of my generation I got caught up in the 70's hippy thing, college - sex -drugs -music. I can truthfully say that I do not consider that I missed out on too much of the so called 'things of the world' and if I did, it was my own fault, nobody else's. When I became a disciple of the 'prosperity gospel', I was well balanced without any particular need, as already indicated I was taking care of myself very well certainly not going short on any of life's essentials.

For someone like me, who could have carried on as they were, perfectly (relatively at least) happily, it was a massive step to fall in with the teachings of a charismatic cult leader. . It would be fair comment to say that when I placed my spirit into his hands it was an act of total blind faith. It must have been rather like a naive 18 year old trusting Honest Jacks Backstreet Motors to sell him a bargain Ford Escort!

I do not know what to do about finding another church. It's not so much that I have turned my back on God, as being discouraged by the way a manipulative operator has pulled the wool over the eyes of a some local ministers to the point of being accepted into "Churches Together in .......(my town) "If these seemingly upright "Men of God" cannot use their power of discernment to see what is obvious to someone like me, what is the point of bothering?

Despite all this I have not completely given up on God, but I definitely need to improve my knowledge of both the Bible and the History of Christianity if I am to prevent myself from being taken for that sort of spiritual ride again!

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