by The Rev. Dr. H. Gene Straatmeyer
Time magazine, some time back, included prosperity preachers T. D. Jakes and Joyce Meyers in the list of the 25 most influential evangelicals in America. Their selection raises the question of whether they should be models for the Christian faith since they expound the belief that personal wealth can be attained through a strong faith in God and a strict adherence to certain principles. Both Jakes and Meyers have filled their own coffers with the gifts and offerings of their followers.
The Rev. Jakes is the pastor of The Potter’s House, a 30,000 member Pentecostal church in Dallas with a television, movie and book ministry. A multimillionaire with a lavish lifestyle, he drives a Mercedes, owns a Gulfstream jet, and lives in a home assessed at $3.3 million. In response to criticism about his elegant mansion, Jakes says, “Anybody who has sold eight million books shouldn’t have to justify why they live in a nice home.” He believes his wealth is a blessing from God (Dallas Morning News). To critics who wonder how his personal wealth meshes with the Gospel, Jakes responds that the myth of the poor Jesus needs to be destroyed. I’m still waiting for him to destroy it.
The Rev. Joyce Meyers, a Pentecostal, television pastor, heads the Joyce Meyers’ Ministries in Fulton, Missouri. Meyers speaks at conferences all over the United States, in other countries and is seen and heard on hundreds of television and radio stations each week. It is estimated her organization receives at least $8 million per month. Time magazine says she “offers a gospel of prosperity that promises God rewards tithing with his blessing.”
She too lives lavishly. Besides her $1 million home, she has built four homes for her children, with a total valuation of $3 million. She owns a private jet, has a husband with a penchant for expensive cars and a second home on the Lake of the Ozarks. According to the St. Louis Dispatch, she defends her lavish living by saying that God would not expect his people to endure squalor while the ungodly enjoy wealth. She didn’t explain, at least to the St. Louis Dispatch, why millions of Christians around the world and in our own country live in poverty.
Ministry Watch, a Christian financial group (www.wallwatchers.org), believes that those who contribute to any ministry should be able to know how gift income is spent. They chastise both Jakes and Meyers for their failure to open financial records. Jakes refuses because he believes his only responsibility is to comply with the IRS while Meyers says she should not have to defend how she spends her Ministries’ funds. Recently, however, she changed her mind and opened her books. I have not read anything about the result of this new openness but I suspect nothing will change.
A second problem of prosperity preachers is their lack of education and particularly theological education. Jakes has a high school GED and some correspondence courses beyond that. Meyers only has a high school education. Dr. Gordon Fee, a Professor of Theology at the evangelical, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in Massachusetts, writes that prosperity preachers cannot “possibly come to their conclusions (about wealth) based on an accurate exegesis and historical view of the Bible.” That means their prosperity gospel is extra-biblical and an accommodation to materialistic culture. It changes Jesus’ words from “life does not consist in the abundance of possessions” to “life does consist in the abundance of possessions” (Luke 12:15).
Jakes and Meyers would be better served by modeling their lives and sermons after preachers like Billy Graham and John Stotts. Graham, still this country’s most respected pastor, has always been transparent about his finances. He receives a salary and the Billy Graham Association’s financial records have always been open for all to see. In addition, Graham lives a modest lifestyle.
John Stotts (according to Time), is an evangelical Anglican from Great Britain who “practices a pious austerity that, were he Catholic, might be called saintly. He plunges the rich royalties of his more than 40 unassumingly, brilliant books into a fund to educate pastors in the developing world. He lives in a two room flat, except for four months a year spent writing in a Welsh cottage that until 2001 was lit by gaslight.”
The influence and following of the prosperity preachers is increasing because they are blanketing television with their message. They fit the description in Scripture which says the time is coming when people will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own desires and will turn away from listening to the truth… (II Tim. 2:3-4).
It is time to de-televise these preachers who have misread and misunderstood the Gospel. It can be accomplished by turning to another channel and by withholding tithes, offerings, and gifts. We might also ask for a miracle, praying that they will hear a still, small voice asking them to sell all they have, give it to the poor, and then go and follow Jesus (Mark 10:21-22).