Examine 'prosperity gospel' critically

As a Christian, I note that City Harvest Church is not the only Christian group to preach the "prosperity gospel" ("City Harvest Church leaders' trial: Controversy over church's 'prosperity gospel'"; Wednesday).

Nor was it the first.

There have been others, especially in America, which have also been proponents of the prosperity gospel, and interestingly, quite a number of these groups have also been under the spotlight due to scandals.

Perhaps the most well documented has been the scandal involving the highly influential Praise the Lord (PTL) Christian group in America.

In 1989, Jim Bakker, leader of PTL, was imprisoned for defrauding his followers out of US$158 million.

His trial brought to light the lavish lifestyle that he and his wife enjoyed, which included six luxurious homes and even an air-conditioned dog house.

Bakker has since renounced his past teachings on the prosperity gospel, saying they were wrong.

In his 1996 autobiography entitled I Was Wrong, he admitted that the first time he actually read the Bible all the way through was while he was in prison.

In studying the Bible more carefully, he realised that he had taken certain passages out of context during his sermons - passages which he had used as "proof texts" to convince his followers of his claims.

On reflection during his imprisonment, he realised that instead of deepening his followers' faith in God, his prosperity gospel was about "teaching people to fall in love with money".

In his autobiography, Bakker also recognised that as with so many things done under his leadership at PTL, they "started out with the best of intentions and somehow got side-tracked onto a path of pride, arrogance, and indulgence" under the wrong mentality that "if a little celebration was a blessing, just think how pleasing it would be to God to have a huge party".

To such a way of thinking, Bakker concluded: "That was wrong, and I was wrong for allowing it to happen."

Given the rather tainted history associated with the prosperity gospel, it is necessary for believers to critically examine its claims.

Chan Yeow Chuan

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 13, 2015, with the headline 'Examine 'prosperity gospel' critically'. Print Edition | Subscribe