Dion's random ramblings

Monday, October 15, 2007

The prosperity gospel (with a small 'g') - fantasy, fallacy, or fully realisable?

I am always a little weary about pointing a finger directly at what I find wrong in another person, simply because I am so well aware of how wrong I am most of the time, about most things... However, this afternoon when I got home my 8 year old was flicking through the channels on DSTV. She stopped for a moment on TBN (Trinity Broadcast Network) and I caught a glimpse of a guy called Andre Roebert.

I have great respect for the late Ed Roebert, not necessarily because I agree with his theology (which I cannot say I have studied in any detail), but simply because God used him to do something great in South Africa during his lifetime. I remember reading the story of the 'Hatfield Baptist Church' (if I'm not mistaken) called "Church ablaze" many, many, years ago, and being impressed by the courage and faith that it took to break with convention, follow God's calling and dream, and do something great. I think John Wesley did it in his day, Nicky Gumbel will surely be remembered for doing it in our day, and possibly Ed will be remembered in South Africa (surely in Pretoria) for what he did here.

The Hatfield Christian church (now near Menlyn in Pretoria), is still doing great things I believe - a school, AIDS ministries etc. As for Ed Roebert, well, I never did hear too much more about him, or take the time to read up and scrutinize his theology - sometimes ignorance is bliss!

So, seeing the name Andre Roebert made me wonder who this guy is - I was curious. So, I did what every net savvy person does, I 'googled' him and found his ministry website - River Ministries in East London. I clicked on the link expecting to find the usual glossy, independent church web page... Instead here's what I found (located right in the centre of the web page):

For those who don't load images on in their browsers let me copy the text from the image below:

River Ministries is a non-profit organisation (incorporated in terms of Section 21 of the Companies Act of South Africa that was established as an administrative vehicle for a number of related and like minded ministries as well as some commercial business entities. The purpose of the group is to establish the Kingdom of God on the earth through the spreading of the gospel of Jesus Christ - River Ministries was established in 1995 by Pastors Andre and Jenny Roebert

The ministry's slogan seems to be 'more than a church' - I might say, that by the standards of orthodox ecclesiology this is so much LESS than a church.... But, I could be wrong.

When I looked at the 'like minded' commercial enterprises (mentioned in their statement above), I see that they have a property (probably their Church building - I think I went there for a friend's Ordination some years ago) which they sub let, and an air charter service with 3 planes!

Now here's where I need to ask for guidance and help. I am constantly sprouting forth about doing the work of God's Kingdom in new and creative ways... Yet, why do I feel so uncomfortable about this? Perhaps its because for a ministry that is 'not for profit', their primary communication to all visitors to their main website is about a company, with no statement about the content and power of the Gospel to transform individuals and society (note I use a capital 'G', whereas they used a small 'g')?

I worry about this kind of portrayal of Jesus, and of those who serve him and follow his ministry. We read in the Gospels that Jesus was one who lived on the margins of society, with a preferential option for the outcast and disregarded, those who were poor, oppressed and disenfranchised. I wonder if Jesus would have set up a property and air charter service to establish His Kingdom among us? Please forgive me if I am wrong, and if I have judged this ministry unfairly. I don't think that all wealth is wrong - in fact I know quite a few very wealthy people who are responsible and faithful stewards. But, I do worry that these people have made it the centre of their 'ministry'. You need only look at the list of CD's available (read the topics and descriptions) to see that there is an unhealthy emphasis on capital gain, not for the good of society, but for the enrichment of self!

My request is that as Christians we take care not to taint the Gospel of Christ with the gospel of mammon.

I seem to remember Jesus, when teaching on the Kingdom, saying something about it being more difficult for a rich person to get into the Kingdom than it is for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle (Luke 18:25).

Sadly, I smell a scandal brewing...

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  • Dion,

    Relevant posting my friend. In this sort of space, more information helps to limit the mis perceptions that might occur. At Northfield, we've been setting up a business initiative over the last few years, and have to contend with similar issues - especially when people have heard that we see making money for the church as a ministry.

    Without gloating, for us the goals are:
    * Create a platform for ministry and support to business
    * Encouraging Christian principles in business
    * Managing the commercial aspects of the church more effectively
    * Creating sustainable income streams for the benefit of the church and selected outreach projects
    * Creating employment opportunities
    * And giving business people or professionals the opportunity to use some of their gifts and abilities for God?s work.

    By Anonymous Aiden, at 10:26 AM  

  • Hi Dion

    When I was in PE last year, I went to a service at Walmer Methodist, and at the service there was a guy from an air charter company that spoke. Thier operation flies overseas tourists to remote holiday destinations in Mozambique, and use the profits and planes to distribute food and medical supplies to the same areas. To give 'River Ministries' the benefit of the doubt, it could be a similar setup.

    By Blogger Andre, at 2:06 PM  

  • Hi Dion
    Just for your information:
    Ed Roebert died of a heart attack in '97 or '98.
    Take care
    Amanda Gibson

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 10:50 PM  

  • Hi Dion
    I think you may find this interesting. I am attaching an article I wrote in the Daily Dispatch lst year. There are still many more articles which you could access on the Dispatch website ww.dispatch.co.za
    Eddie Botha
    Investigations Editor
    Daily Dispatch
    083 708 2721

    TV Christians hold on to disabled man?s donation
    His wife begs them to return it so she can feed her children

    AN EVANGELICAL TV network, with its own DSTV channel, has been accused by the family of a mentally ill person of refusing to repay his pension money he donated to the station.

    The family of Manjo Maphuma, a former Gauteng policeman who now lives in Mdantsane and has been diagnosed with a mental illness, said Bhisho-based Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN) has rejected their calls for the money to be repaid.

    Maphuma?s wife, Nomathemba Zita, said despite numerous attempts by her to convince the the Christian TV and radio station to return the payments, which her husband has been making to TBN over seven years ? including a R90000 cheque ? TBN?s former station manager and director Bernard Roebert has refused to do so.

    Zita said her husband, who signed a debit order with TBN, had donated almost R200000 to the church. The Daily Dispatch has seen a number of the receipts from TBN.

    Roebert is the father of Andre Roebert , the chief executive of the River Ministries Corporation, which is closely linked to TBN and various other business ventures.

    Yesterday, attorneys acting for the Roeberts vehemently denied the allegations.

    But Mdantsane Magistrate?s Court controlling officer Alfred Ntsokolo also said Roebert Sr rejected various calls by him, asking that Maphuma?s money be returned. Ntsokolo intervened after Zita approached him for assistance.

    Ntsokolo said he had made several calls to Roebert to ask for Maphuma?s donations be repaid to his wife.

    ?Unfortunately, I received a raw deal,? he said.

    ?He ( Roebert ) was very rude to me and said if the lady (Zita) wants to go to court she must do so.

    ?He told me as far as he ( Roebert ) was concerned, Maphuma was of a stable mind.?

    Ntsokolo said his advice was that Zita should approach the court for the appointment of a curator bonis.

    In a medical assessment, which Zita requested from Cecilia Makiwane?s Mental Health Unit, psychiatrist Dr Kiran Sukeri wrote that Zita has been concerned about her husband?s ?injudicious disposal of their income?.

    Zita, who lives in Mdantsane?s NU15 and often works nightshift at a Wilsonia factory, is the sole breadwinner for her husband and two teenage sons.

    Sukeri said Maphuma was diagnosed with paranoid psychosis in 1986 by CMH?s Dr Tony Pentz.

    He has been admitted to CMH on six occasions and once to Komani Hospital in Queenstown.

    He was also seen by a psychiatrist at the Soweto Clinic.

    During his last admission to CMH in 2006 his diagnosis was revised to schizo-affective disorder.

    During this consultation, the consulting psychiatrist advised that a curator bonis be appointed to manage Maphuma?s affairs due to his mental illness.

    Sukeri noted that Maphuma also had a history of poor compliance with treatment which complicated his continuous management.

    Zita also approached East London attorney Thembekile Malusi of Malusi & Co. Malusi wrote to TBN but received no response. He instructed counsel but Zita cannot afford the money to proceed.

    ?I need the money to buy food and pay for my children?s education,? she said.

    When the Daily Dispatch visited their home Maphuma was reading from five Bibles and TBN material. He felt it was all right to give all one?s money to God. ?You don?t have to be cautious when you give money to God,? he said.

    TBN is presently awaiting a ruling from the Independent Communications Authority of SA after it had applied for a renewal of its broadcasting licence.

    TBN stated that it was experiencing financial constraints and used its cash funds to operate and requested Icasa to include the Nelson Mandela Metropole in its broadcasting and advertising area.

    TBN has also informed Icasa that it could not divulge the identities of its donors as they wished to remain anonymous.

    After a question by Icasa licensing officer Victor Grootboom, it was also revealed that Roebert received a salary of almost R500000 when he was station manager of TBN. He has since been appointed as the station?s ambassador in Africa.

    See pages 3 and 7

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 11:33 AM  

  • Hey,
    I attended the Get Ready Conference, River Park Ministries, this year. What an amazing experience! A warm loving community of people with a heart to see the body of Christ develop in all spheres of life, not just finances. The favor of the lord is on their lives. Who is the judge? God and God alone.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 3:11 PM  

  • Pastor Ed Roebert died on 5 July 1997, while doing his Master's business. To us who sat under his ministry, he was a man who loved God and led us in the ways of the Lord. His death was a great shock to all, as he was a spiritual father to many.

    His three sons and wife, our dear sister Pal, are now in ministry and carrying on his work. The youngest is the pastor of Choose Life Church and the two older ones run Impact Radio FM 103, broadcasting to the greater Pretoria area. You can look at this on www.chooselifechurch.com. Be assured, the Gospel he preached was the full Gospel and many are carrying this message all over the world as pastors and missionaries.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 12:16 PM  

  • TBN channel changed me from a Christiaan to a non believer. If you listen carefully the core message is ..give us your money or the famous one sow a seed. Fark them all

    By Blogger Gert, at 8:28 PM  

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