First, let me make it clear that the opinion I expressed in the post below does not represent the opinion of any church. I write this knowing that I will earn the enmity of many, but failing to speak out would be the equivalent of a sin of omission – i.e. failing to do what is required to alert someone to the perils before him and allow harm to come to that person. Here goes…
When the matter of financial irregularities in CHC hit the news, I was two minded about what stand to take. After some consideration, I felt that there is no reason for me to be blackmailed by the opinion that good Christians should always stand together with other Christians and pray for them. Faith should not blind us, nor should it negate our ability to reason. What exactly is the point of praying in this case unless the irregularities found are planted evidence? Kong Hee and the other five have hired some of the best lawyers in this country and are fully capable of explaining to the Courts what has been done. Whether their explanation will be to the Courts’ satisfaction that no wrongdoing has been committed is another matter entirely. While CHC’ers may consider this entire matter to be the schemes of the Devil or some form of persecution, it is hard for me to accept that considering my objection and revulsion to Kong Hee’s teachings. It is even more repulsive when some said Kong Hee will have to suffer like Jesus. The image of the anti-Christ comes immediately to mind. Therefore, if I were to pray, it will be for God to open the eyes of CHC’ers to see things objectively, and also for wisdom upon the judge presiding over the case. It wouldn’t do for the innocent to be convicted, nor for the guilty to go scot free.
I admit I know very little about CHC as I have only been there twice. Nevertheless, how well I know CHC is not a prerequisite to what I have to say as I am only speaking out against what I do know. My first impression of CHC after my both of those visits was that it is very much like a pop concert. I decided I preferred the church I was still attending then as it was the place where Christ came looking for me again after seven years or so. I had visited CHC because two fellow believers who went over from their previous church invited me. One of them actually left CHC not long after in 2003 because of the blatant use of the church as a platform to promote Sun Ho’s music albums.
I wouldn’t have given more thought about those two visits or the sermons preached in those services. Suffice to say they were forgettable. Though I often hear about how supposedly anointed a speaker Kong Hee was and how the church numbers have increased, I did not feel edified by his messages and a church’s numbers really meant very little in my personal opinion. After all, people go to church for all sorts of reasons and not necessarily there to seek God. On top of which, how much of that “growth” came from members leaving other churches is another matter entirely. Even so, I thought at that time it was a good thing people are going to church. Since salvation belongs to God, having more people exposed to the Gospel cannot be bad. In any case, I would have completely forgotten about Kong Hee, since he is but one of the many preachers. God could anoint anyone with His Holy Spirit to speak and I have often felt attachment to a pastor (or even to pop stars and soccer players) to be akin to idolatry.
I certainly had my doubts about Sun Ho’s career even though I didn’t really care at that time. When the charges about financial irregularities came about, I was totally puzzled when her secular career is now said to be part of something called a “Crossover Project”. There are two things that I find chronologically mind-bogging. If I remembered correctly, Sun Ho resigned from CHC in 2003 to pursue her secular singing career, due to the criticisms about the church being used to promote her personal career. Yet, CHC’s current propaganda gives me the impression that her departure then was the beginning of the “Crossover Project”, which is said to have began back in 2002 or perhaps even earlier since she spoke about 10 years of Crossover recently. If that is the case, why the necessity to resign at that time? Why even discard the “pastor-singer” moniker at all?
Anyway, I started paying attention to CHC again about 4 years ago because Sun Ho’s “China Wine” MTV was posted on Facebook. That MTV was as uninspiring and completely forgettable as Kong Hee’s sermons. I couldn’t fathom how anyone would think of Jesus in that MTV, not to mention that it might actually stumble a new convert. What came on the heels of that was an article by the titled “The Power of Pop Culture” by Kong Hee published in the CHC’s quarterly newsletter. I felt it was nothing more than self justification for the lifestyle Sun Ho is pursuing in the United States. All my theological disagreement with the teachings of Kong Hee thus began after reading that piece.
Thereafter, I viewed a few of Kong Hee’s sermons which happened to be shared on Facebook. Sadly, just like his piece on “The Power of Pop Culture”, verses were often quoted out of context as long as they justify whatever message being preached at that time to exhort the congregation to open their wallets and give in return for spectacular amount of returns and blessing from God, who would otherwise hold it back like some kind of mafia Don. Without any doubt, if that is the theological basis of the so-called “Prosperity Gospel”, I found that it is not only questionable – it is outright heresy.
Let me layout my reasons for my objection to whatever that is preached in CHC. For all intentions and purposes, I don’t think any message that preaches personal gain through endless giving is the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The Gospel is often offensive to people who heard it for the first time because it declares all men to be sinful and condemned. It is a message for all mankind to repent and turn from our evil ways, and to accept Jesus Christ as the only means of redemption and salvation (Romans 3:23 ~ 24). It would be irreconcilable for CHC or Kong Hee to preach the Gospel when their very own church leadership pursues a highfalutin lifestyle. As far as I am concerned, the Gospel of Jesus Christ has been dead in CHC for some time.
I have a rather simplistic view of what conversion means. It means one hears the Gospel, believes in it by accepting Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior, repents of his sins and be baptised by water in Jesus’ name. We often say we give our lives to Jesus, but we cannot give back to God what originally belonged to Him. In reality, when we believed, God gives us a new lease of life and then charge us with the task of the Great Commission – i.e. to bring the Gospel on to everyone who have yet believed and make disciples of them (Matthew 28:18~20). There is no fanciful way to bring Jesus to the masses. We seek to obey God by preaching the same message that all are sinful and condemned. In most cases, we earned nothing but the enmity of all whom we shared the message because very often we Christians have our own failings which invite criticisms, and in particular accusations of hypocrisy.
However, becoming a Christian does not and will not make someone the paragon of virtue or the ultimate arbiter in morality. The fact that we failed to live up to the standards set by God simply means we need them all the more to show how far we have fallen. To discard them simply means a further slide away from what God expects of us. It is exactly for this reason why a Savior is needed. God expects perfect righteousness which we cannot attain no matter how much “good” we do. Our good works are counted as filthy rags – or in the original Hebrew, used sanitary cloth – before God (Isaiah 64:6) and only Christ offers that perfect righteousness that He has imputed to us through faith in Him. Simply put, if a church isn’t preaching the Gospel, then its claims to be fulfilling the Great Commission is an utter sham. All the more so when it panders to the world by the means where it’s most acceptable and well received. This basically says a lot about what I think of the “Crossover Project”.
Other than preaching the Gospel, God also expects us to do good works. For faith without works is dead. Good works is not another way to earn us a way into heaven, or to obtain reconciliation with God. They are basically another outward manifestation of our faith in, and our obedience to God. It is part of our transformation into the image of Christ Jesus our Lord and Savior. Charitable deeds are one of the ways we perform good works, and being charitable is not limited to money – for e.g giving up our seat on the MRT to those in need is one of them. Also, being charitable does not mean giving money foolishly away or using money for whatever purposes imagined to be for good. The Bible specifically talks about helping the poor, the widowed, and the fatherless. That brings me to the matter of tithing.
During the Old Testament days in the Theocracy of Israel, the Israelites are commanded to tithe (Leviticus 27:30). The very essence of tithing is for charity, with only the tithe of the third year given to the Levites – the priesthood class (ref. Deuteronomy 12:19; Deuteronomy 14:27 ~ 29; Deuteronomy 26:12 ~ 13). In essence, it is what would pass for a modern day social security and taxation plan in the Theocracy of Israel back then. God has given very specific command on how the tithes should be used as well, making sure no one prospers from it. When Israel failed to do so, God rebuked them, even accusing them of robbing Him (Malachi 3:7 ~ 8).
Now, there is no equivalent of the Levites in the New Testament context, since Jesus has become the High Priest and now intercedes on our behalf. The pastors are different from the Levites and thus we are not tithing “to pay them”. That does not mean we should not tithe, we simply need to understand why; when or if we are feel compelled or led to give. Once we understand the reasons, obeying and giving to church simply becomes a matter of joy. God does love a cheerful giver (2 Corinthians 9:6 ~ 15), but in the context of that passage, the preceding paragraph talks about giving to those who were in need (e.g. the Macedonian Church at that time). It is not some kind of loophole in the Scriptures where we can use to strong-arm the Creator of the Universe into showering the believers with blessings.
In the New Testament church, believers are encouraged to give offerings as we are expected to help one another so there will be no lack among believers. All the more so for those who have given up their job to serve full time in church. Clearly, we cannot expect anyone to make sacrifices and eat all the way into their own savings to serve God full-time. But that money is not given for their prosperity. If they are getting so much money that they can afford to fly in private jets and to live in lodgings way above everyone else, while someone within the congregation is in dire need, then something is seriously wrong!
In any case, God has never failed to command us to look after the disadvantaged regardless of the Old Testament Temple period or the New Testament period. If a church has stored up huge amount of money, then my opinion is that should simply expand charitable services within the community where it got the money. If a church will not help the community in which it is founded and decided that it has other non-charitable priorities, then it should really just leave and stop being hypocritical.
It simply defies basic economic principles when one believes that giving beyond his capacity “will earn one many times more in return”. It also belittles the other Christians who gave time, and service to serve God in other capacities – turning them into nothing more but second-class citizens in God’s kingdom. It is simply common sense to ask Kong Hee how does God bless this other group many times in return. God certainly never intended the Holy Scriptures to become an excuse for leaders to make believers pour out their hard earn money into a bottomless pit. The Scriptures have examples on how God works when He truly intends something to be done. For example, when God commanded Moses to build the Tabernacle, Moses was told what to ask from the Israelites. But God’s servants do not take more than what is necessary because Moses immediately told the people to stop giving when he realised that there is more than enough (Exodus 36:6 ~ 7). In short, there wouldn’t be any issue asking the congregation to give as long as there is a target figure in the first place. (If one example is not enough, read up 1st and 2nd Chronicles on the first temple which King Solomon is instructed to built, and be truly amazed! Then read up on the second temple in the Book of Ezra chapters 1 ~ 3 as well. Pay special attention to where the material is coming from and see whether anyone actually gave until they wept.)
Kong Hee’s “theology” has really very little feet to stand on. If anyone justifies taking from the congregation by quoting Scriptures, then it is necessary for the congregation to evaluate whether it follows God’s modus operandi according to the Scriptures too. The Scriptures should be the very fail-safe to prevent anyone from asking fellow believers to sign them a blank cheque, and in specific to prevent someone from using Scriptures to their advantage and abuse certain parts to suit their own personal agenda. Believers are thus equipped to play the role of a watch dog over their own church leaders had they been reading their Bible. They can be sure to a certain extent when their leaders tell them to give, whether the instructions really came from the Almighty Himself or not.