A lot of Charismatics are upset at charges that John MacArthur has brought against their movement, especially since he has taken the actions of a minority of Charismatic leaders and applied it to the movement as a whole. The problem is, it is rather easy for people outside the Charismatic movement to find unbiblical practices within it. Though he wrongly makes sweeping generalizations and inaccurate claims, many of MacArthur’s criticisms are on the mark, perhaps nowhere more obviously than in the area of fundraising.
Many Charismatic leaders practice unbiblical fundraising tactics, and far too many gullible church-goers are all too willing to donate their money to them. Charismatic leaders need to speak out against unbiblical fundraising tactics. If they do not, then faithful, biblical Charismatics will continue to be lumped together with their careless, unbiblical comrades, and it will be partly our fault.
Some of the fundraising tactics regularly practiced among Charismatics are so devious, so manipulative, so ungodly, that even the greedy, conscience-seared world does not practice them. Where in the world of secular fund-raising do you see promises of prosperity to everyone who gives to their cause? Where is there a promise of healing, and guarantees of profits from your “investment” by thirty, sixty, or one-hundred fold? If a financial promise is made that sounds too good to be true, chances are, it is a scam. But just put the name of God next to it and quote a few Scriptures, and next thing you know, millions of dollars start pouring in, and if anyone questions what is going on, they are rebuked for lacking faith, denying the Scriptures, or persecuting the man of God.
I was first introduced to Charismatic fund-raising in the early 1980s, before I was even saved. I saw a program in my dorm room where the preacher promised to send an “anointed dime” to every person who contributed $1 to his ministry. Well, there you have it! A 100-fold return. Except this return was not the blessing of God; it was a clever scheme to get people’s money in exchange for a promise of spiritual blessing. This is about as close as one can get to selling the anointing of God. But this is just one tiny example among hundreds, even thousands of highly questionable fundraising tactics employed by Charismatic ministries across America.
In preparation for writing this article, I randomly visited the web site of a famous Charismatic preacher. I had never seen this minister’s web site before; I chose it because he was one of the most famous Charismatics in the world, and his was the first name that came into my mind. On the home page, there was a fundraising video from a fellow minister, who gave an eight or nine minute pitch on behalf of this world renowned minister.
He went to 1 Kings 17, where Elijah told a widow to give him her last meal so he could be sustained. When she did, a miraculous supply of food came to her and her son. This fundraiser then talked about the “law of sustainment,” and how anyone who gives $300 to this ministry will receive three things: a miracle, a healing, and a financial blessing. Wow! who can resist such a promise?
This man was literally promising miracles to those who gave. Problem is, there is no such thing as a law of sustainment, and there is no promise in 1 Kings 17 of healings, miracles, and financial prosperity for all who give their last dollar to the ministry of a rich Charismatic minister.
What’s worse, this pitch for money was targeted at poor people. The example from Scripture was a poor widow who was about to starve to death, and it included encouragements to not fear to “give me the $300.” It is the poor who want to give but struggle with fear because they cannot afford it. And just like a good salesman, he urged the viewers, “This has to be done right now,” stating the reason for the urgency to be “because of the presence of the Spirit of God.”
So if we wait until tomorrow to give, the Spirit will not be present? The promise of miracles and prosperity will be lost? Really? Since this was a recorded video and viewers were not watching it live, it would seem that everyone who responded to the plea failed to act “right now,” thus invalidating the promise. Of course, it is patently unbiblical to claim that a promise from God is only valid if you hurry and act without sufficient time to think through what you are doing. If God is going to bless your actions, there is no deadline. God’s promises do not expire, like coupons.
If this ministry really believes in what it teaches, then why don’t they offer a money back guarantee to anyone who does not receive a miracle for their giving? In fact, we can put a stop to all active fundraising on cable television immediately. Instead of asking poor Christian viewers for their money, these ministers should instead just give away all their money to their viewers. If their seed-faith principles are true, then they will become the richest organizations in the world without ever having to ask for a dime. Then they can stop wasting valuable air time raising money and use it to preach the gospel.
Do not misunderstand me. I am not mocking prosperity preachers. I am simply asking them to practice what they preach. If all they do is ask for money and never give it away, then they are hypocrites. If they ask widows to give away their last dollar but they themselves only give away a small percentage so they can make a deduction on their tax forms, then they are practicing duplicity. If there is anything that should be required of TV ministers asking for money, it is that they demonstrate to the public that they are the most giving people in the world. They should make their financial statements public record and show that they give away a higher percentage of their income than they are asking the people to give. If they are not givers, they should not be allowed to take from those who are.
Just to clarify, I am not accusing this unnamed minister of being a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Some leaders are deceived into thinking methods like these are acceptable and they are unwittingly deceiving the flock. whether this minister is intentionally fleecing the sheep or ignorantly leading them astray is between him and God. But the result is the same either way: the sheep are getting fleeced.
I also am not denying that there are principles of prosperity in the Bible. God blesses those who give with right motives. You cannot out-give God. Joyful giving in faith will never cause a faithful believer to go broke. I am not against receiving a blessing for giving. It is only the unbiblical practices of fundraising that I am addressing here.
Giving for wrong motives does not guarantee anything from God. Giving as a means of getting rich does not activate God’s blessing in your life. Perhaps the greatest problem with the fundraising methods of a lot of Charismatic ministers is the motive they appeal to. Seed faith giving is a biblical principle and many Scriptures can be used to teach it. But if all a leader ever says about giving is that you will reap a financial harvest if you do, then they are actually encouraging wrong motives, teaching Christians to give for the wrong reason, as if the outward actions of giving were more important to God than the inward motive that prompted it. This is one of the most grievous deceptions in the church, and it is found all over the Charismatic movement.
Not only are cessationists appalled at some of the Charismatic fundraising tactics they see, but the world is not impressed, either. When I saw the minister selling dimes for a dollar, as an unbeliever I was disgusted, knowing this was not good Christian behavior. We are leaving a bad testimony for a world that does not easily distinguish between a TV preacher and a typical church-goer. It is time to clean up our charismatic act and become genuine in our faith.
Charismatics have been too silent about flaky, unbiblical charismatic practices, allowing others to interpret our silence as implicit approval. It is time for that to stop. How can we make our voice heard? Of course, we first need to pray. Pray for the deceiving ministers who manipulate the flock to change their ways; pray for deceived Christians to see through these scams; and pray for God to bring transformation to this aspect of the Charismatic movement, which includes listening for God to tell us what we can do to become agents of change. What else can we do?
At the grass roots level, believers should make a firm decision not to give to organizations that use deceptive, manipulative, or otherwise unbiblical fundraising tactics. We should also encourage our friends to do the same. The millions of dollars generated by unsavory means speaks loudly to the world that Charismatics approve of these tactics. Stopping the money flow will not only improve our message to the world, but it will also change the tactics of these ministers. After all, the only reason they use them is because they work.
At the local church leadership level, pastors should warn their congregations about this deception. If high profile ministries are funneling money into their organizations, that is money that might otherwise have gone to the local church. Pastors have a responsibility as shepherds to protect the flock from those who enter not by the door, but sneak in and fleece the sheep.
At the national level, Charismatic leaders need to band together and form a coalition that makes a clear distinction between acceptable and improper fundraising methods. A united Charismatic and Pentecostal front will have a profound influence on a large number of people. Sometimes the only thing needed to stop deception from continuing is exposing it. Once people are told that certain practices are wrong, they will no longer succumb to them.
It is time for the Charismatic church to police itself at a deeper level.. We need to stop the embarrassing fundraising practices that mark the movement. We owe it to ourselves, to our flocks, and to a world that sometimes recognizes faster than the church does that these practices are patently unbiblical.