Three Post-Prosperity Gospel Testimonies
Editor’s Note: Grant Retief, who serves as rector of Christ Church Umhlanga just outside of Durban, South Africa, sat down with three young Christians in his church who recently came out of prosperity gospel preaching churches and asked them all the same questions: “Tell me what you noticed when you started coming to our church. What was different from your prior experience? What did you hear that was new? What were some of the struggles at first?” Retief asked these three to comment on the gospel, the Bible, corporate worship, and lifestyle.
Below you'll find their answers. These are firsthand accounts of the themes that come up in Retief's accompanying article, “The Rise of a Parallel, Post-Biblical Christianity.” Rochelle and Chantal participated in a prosperity church in Durban for 15 years; Nicola spent 11 years in a prosperity-tinged seeker-sensitive church.
The first thing I noticed was that sin was spoken about a lot. In my previous church, sin was never talked about. For the first time I was told that I was a sinner.
While I was still straddling both churches, I was once rebuked by my previous pastor when I began talking about sin and judgment with people in our church. I was told to stop it, because it was too negative.
I grew up thinking that I gained salvation by my works. At our new church I heard for the first time that Christ had fulfilled all the law.
At first I was offended that my works counted for nothing and I couldn’t contribute to my salvation. The fact that I couldn’t contribute to my salvation was offensive. But after some time, it became liberating.
One of the leaders at the new church kept running after me, and I kept coming back. I realised that up to that point my whole Christian life had assumed the gospel. The cross was only ever preached at Easter. The gospel was seen as old news, and it was assumed that everyone knew it, understood it and believed it. The old church was only interested in a new word from God.
I felt so deceived. I used to cry. I felt betrayed. I realized they knew no better themselves.
My experience of the Bible was that it was often added to with “prophecies.” The norm was to read the Bible without context and with immediate application. I’ve come to realize that the Bible is first about Jesus.
Corporate worship was all about the experience and feeling one had during the singing. It was a time of inviting the Holy Spirit to come into us. It was always very emotional.
Looking back I realise that there was a deficiency of godliness in the lives of the leaders of the church. This was seen particularly in the way the finances were handled. There was corruption, and money received was sometimes hidden from the congregation. If you did not tithe, you were approached by the leadership.
There was also sexual sin. The youth leader was dating a Christian girl, and sleeping with his other, non-Christian, girlfriend. This was reported to the head pastor, but nothing was done about. Three years later, he is still youth pastor.
Coming to this church was the first time I heard about the seriousness of sin. When I first came I was offended. Later, I’d go home liberated and grieved at the same time. Grace was completely new to me, and such a comfort. I realized it was most important to understand the gospel of grace. For the first time, justification and sanctification were explained to me.
At first I wondered why each and every sermon went back to Jesus. I now realize that it takes me back to my need for a saviour all the time, and that is what I need in order to change.
When I spoke to my previous pastor about some of the things taught at my new church, he said that the gospel was good for that context but not for his context. He felt his people already knew the gospel and didn’t need to hear it all the time. He felt there were other things that God was saying and doing in the world.
Looking at the leaders of my previous church, you’d think they were living godly lives because of their works-based religion. Externally it looked impressive. Yet sexual sin was common amongst the youth, and never disciplined. One young adult sinned sexually, followed by a long fast. He was working for his forgiveness.
The idea of praise and worship was the biggest thing in my previous church: music and the ecstatic gifts, tongues and prophecy. Services were sometimes four hours long, with two hours of singing. The songs always seemed to point to the individual, with a lot of “I” and almost no “Jesus” in the songs.
There was no systematic Bible teaching. The norm was quoting scriptures completely out of context. I don’t know why I took my Bible. The Bible was seldom opened. It was just misquoted.
In my previous church, lip-service was given to the importance of the Bible, but seldom was it preached or read systematically.
There was a strong emphasis on “what God is saying now” in visions and prophetic words that often undermined the context and application of Scripture.
There was an emphasis on training leaders with people skills rather than Bible teaching
Preaching was most often topical and called for behaviour modification. Since coming here, I have realised how little good Bible teaching I had received.
Leaders are cool, trendy, usually younger, very seeker-sensitive in their language. Often services had special lighting, highly polished worship bands, and words apparently from God were brought before and after the sermon. This diminished the emphasis on the sermon by adding to it.
There was a focus on the quality and quantity of worship to the extent that sometimes there was no sermon. Demonstrative worship was always encouraged and even instructed, with frequent altar calls and responses after the preaching.
In my previous church, people became leaders very quickly. And the leaders were elevated and are popular due to their personalities. They encouraged people to make decisions according to what God is saying in your heart rather than according to his Word.
Note: For more on the prosperity gospel in South Africa, see the article "The Rise of a Parallel, Post-Biblical Christianity."