People proclaiming the name of their God and prophets can, oftentimes, be seduced by their own aspirations, egos, and pride, with very destructive results. The weak minded, gullible, and vulnerable are particularly at risk of being manipulated by self-proclaimed spiritual leaders who have cloaked their own agendas, their desire for charismatic recognition, acknowledgement, authority, and pride, under the guise of being Holy, divinely inspired, or prophetically gifted.
Often, their victims are convinced, that by some act of obedience or submission, such as fasting, abstinence, generosity, or prostration, that they will receive spiritual gifts, manifestations and answers to their prayers, acts of faith healing, money, or other so-called “breakthroughs.” They seek power, and gifts, instead of seeking God, and are promised as much by those who would mislead them.
I have seen young women fasting, often without medical supervision, not for any health reasons, but because they believe that by doing so, they will be rewarded with intercessions, usually having to do with finances, the health of a loved one, or a broken relationship. Fasting is usually not a big deal, unless you’re on a hunger strike and have chained yourself to a tree somewhere. Eventually, if you fast long enough, you’ll pass out, and likely end up in a hospital bed; but the act of sacrifice, abstinence and obedience to what they’ve interpreted through scripture, or have been told by authors, read in religious material, or instruction, is supposed to gain God’s favour, and His intercession – at least when prayer alone isn’t enough.
Fasting might drop you down a dress size or two, but it’s motivated, in this twisted spiritual sense, by seeking gifts of power, instead of seeking or understanding God. If you already have a relationship with God, you already have the gifts that He’s given you, and you won’t need to seek them through ritualistic acts or divination. (If you intend to fast for an extended period, be sure to consult your family doctor before you do – fasting can be dangerous if you’re not already healthy, and can cause problems with your liver and kidneys, and compromise weakened immune systems.)
I’ve also seen desperate and vulnerable people brought to tears by self professed prophets who “speak” over individuals, and offer them a vision of their future that plays into their egos, or fears. Some revelations are taken so seriously, that recipients record their prophetic encounter, and listen to it daily, hoping to glean some meaning from it, or use it as a basis for making significant life choices, or avoiding them. In many cases, the revelations are nothing more than uplifting and encouraging messages of hope, affirmations, and assurances, and usually validate what the individual already has in mind, or is seeking. “Yes, your loved one will be healed this year, and you’ll get that new car you’ve been waiting for,” or, “I sense that this year God will heal that troubled relationship, and set you free from the bonds that have been holding you back,” are typical woo woo horoscope-like prophesies you’ll find in many churches these days.
Other prophets go a step further, and will actually predict your future for you. If you happen to be living in uncertain circumstances, are confused, or wishy-washy in your commitments, it’s easy to interpret the message you get in ways that validate your own desires and fears. The message has authority over the individual, because he or she believes that the prophet is speaking from a position of authority, and is backed by God. In most cases, that authority comes without accountability. When a prophetic message contradicts facts or experience, it’s you that’s failed in your interpretation, and not the prophet who spoke the words. The only difference between palm readers and prophets seems to be that one has a certificate of ordination, and the other does not.
(For an example of a prophetic message, you can listen to one that I received myself recently while attending a local church in my city: My Prophetic Message on Soundcloud .)
In today’s spiritual culture, there are many who turn to spiritual guidance, particularly in times of crisis, confusion, and uncertainty. After 9/11, the pews were full every Sunday. We turn to our spiritual leaders, for leadership and guidance, because we trust them. We trust them, because we believe they act on God’s authority. Sadly, that trust is broken, and broken often. Bogus “faith healers,” like Popoff and Hinn, are a disgrace to the faith; corrupt pastors, like Jim Bakker and his kind, splash onto the headlines with such frequency, that we’re hardly shocked or surprised anymore when they’re lead away in handcuffs, often to return soon afterwards, having been forgiven after a suitable display of tears has been proffered. Multi-millionaire pastors like Creflo Dollar, Joyce Meyer, and Joel Osteen dazzle us with their charisma, private jets, mansions, and celebrity status. Church is big business, a franchise, sanctioned by us, protected, subsidized and encouraged, with tax breaks, and almost no outside interference – at least in this country. Big business, without accountability.
Benny Hinn’s net worth alone is estimated at $52 million, while Creflo Dollar’s net worth of $27 million pales in comparison, making him seem to be the pauper prophet in comparison – check out Top 10 Richest Pastors in the World to see where your favourite celebrity preacher falls on the list of prophesy for profit. While it may not be Coca Cola, or the “real thing” for everyone, I’m impressed by these numbers – not bad for a franchise that’s selling a 3,500 year old product that nobody can see, represented by an executed Jew who told his followers to give up everything they owned – by an outfit who, in principle, only needs to open its doors once a week. That’s not even considering the spin-off value of things like Christmas, the Easter Bunny, and subsidiary interests like St. Patrick’s Day. Not that Irish beer needs the help. It’s already fine as it is.
So what about smaller congregations? Surely, living room churches, and small groups of worshipers, are less likely to be hives of corruption, deceit and manipulation, at least, on such grand scales. They’re more accountable, at least, so we would hope, or like to think. Anyone these days can slap a cross on a store front and call it a church, and a lot of people do. Grab yourself a Bible, a keyboard and a few drums, a microphone and your laptop, and you’re all set. In many cases, the Bible is optional. Of course, there are many who genuinely feel that they’re called in this way, spiritually, and most of them are good, decent, devout folk who simply want to worship with others like themselves. These groups often become substitutes for the families we wish we had. That’s not a bad thing. But it does create a problem of accountability, of a different sort, even at this scale.
You might be mesmerized by the charisma and flash of your television faith healer, and even feel moved to call that toll-free number and give them your credit card. Maybe it’ll cure aunt Gerty’s angina, I don’t know, but it couldn’t hurt, right? Smaller, intimate churches, in particular, one’s that are eager to grow from the living room to the boardroom, and emulate their mega-church brethren, have a harder time drawing in the faithful, despite their often globally inspired ambitions, reflected typically by names that usually include reference to, “world,” “global,” “international,” or even “universal,” – some with congregations that couldn’t fill a school bus, let alone a stadium.
Despite a common devotion to Jesus, this is a competitive business, and oftentimes, smaller churches will over-sell themselves, their mission, and their ambition, through some special or unique aspect in their spiritual offering. They’ll host out-of-town prophets, movie nights in the backyard, breakfast club meetings, or music events – anything to get you to socialize, and maybe even bring a friend, or two. So far, so good. The group takes on an identity, and becomes a “family.” You know the secret handshake, you speak in tongues when the music plays, sway to the beat with your arms in the air in worship, like you’re at a Jesus rock concert, and for some, it’s cathartic. And the person next to you, that you invited to your church for the first time, bolts from the room in terror. It’s become a clique, and in the worst case scenario, it develops into a cult. Some groups, do of course, go on to establish themselves, and become genuine communities of faith, and not all evolve into radical incarnations of group ego satisfaction.
Of course, if you speak up about anything that seems amiss in the faith community, you’re anti-Christian, possessed by demons, or don’t have a personal relationship with Jesus. You’re an outsider, and what would you know about prophecy anyway? Haven’t you read John Hagee?! At that point, they either ask you politely to leave, offer to pray for you (in that condescending tone that implies you’re out of your mind), or redouble their efforts to convert you. In fact, after initially publishing this article, I received a frantic phone call from a so-called Christian friend of mine who had read it, and accused me of “attacking the body of Christ,” and that I wasn’t doing myself any favours by posting the article. I wasn’t seeking any.
I don’t have an issue with anyone claiming to be a prophet, speaking in tongues, or believing that they’ve had visions from God. I DO have a problem with people who take advantage of the vulnerable, the desperate, the heartbroken, and the dying, who pander to their fears, egos, or hopes, for the sake of feeding their own need for aggrandizement, recognition, money, or followers. I DO have a problem with prophets who offer false hope, particularly where they claim that a loved one with a terminal illness will be cured if they just do as they’re told, have enough faith, and ignore or dismiss their doctor’s pleas for treatment. I DO have a problem with pastors teaching that you need to starve yourself for a “breakthrough,” or faith healers who discourage the injured and ill from seeking medical treatment in favour of prayer alone.
I DO have a problem with any prophet or pastor who is not accountable to authority and discipline, other than to God Himself, and who invokes his or her ordination as a shield to avoid it. The opportunity for corruption, manipulation, fraud, deceit, dangerous and false teaching, exploitation, and abuse of pastoral care is far too great, especially when you’re dealing with people who are seeking God in desperate circumstances. Getting people to leave their relationships, jobs, sell their homes, pull the plug on their lives in an act of faith, or wave a flag under the cloak of Jesus to support your church, its politics, and your salary, isn’t going to get you into heaven, anymore that it will your followers. If you’re really good at it, it might make you filthy rich; and if you’re not, it might get you some chrome-plated handcuffs.
I don’t care about your dogma or denomination, and I could give a rat’s ass about what you preach on your own time, but if you’re a manipulative purveyor of false hope, pandering to ego, fear and confusion, in order to make your living, feed your ego, or build your church, and you hurt someone *I* care about, I’m am NOT your friend. I will come for you, and I will confront you, and if what you’re selling is snake oil, I will expose you. I’m tired of seeing desperate families wheeling their dying children in front of faith-healers who receive the Holy Spirit through a wireless transmitter; I’m tired of seeing couples and families torn apart because you’ve planted seeds of doubt in their relationships in order to isolate and convert them to your own “family” of followers. I’m tired of the hypocrisy in our churches, the lack of true integrity and leadership, and the way that many of them now stand in the way of a genuine relationship with God, instead of leading one to it. And I’m tired of you using Jesus to justify your own distorted agenda, to fill a stadium for your next concert, or to sell more copies of your bullshit book.
My prediction? As long as there are gullible, desperate souls looking for hope and miracles, would-be prophets will always have an audience, and as long as there’s money and power in it, there will be no shortage of willing prophets ready to profit from them.
I’ll take the bread of life over your fortune cookies any day.
Do I hear an Amen?!