Trinity Foundation is sometimes criticized for investigating religious fraud. Some say our investigations are an attack on Christianity itself. Nothing could be further from the truth. We love the church. In fact, we continue a long biblical tradition.
We leave it to other organizations to be public watchdogs on theological heresy and deviation from orthodox faith. But we do approach our task from a definite theological point of view. In fact, our interest in televangelism and abuses by the prosperity preachers originated through complaints from members of our own church congregation who had been victimized.
Because the fraud is usually entangled with the prosperity gospel theology, we try to include a critique from scripture of the underlying theology that led to the fraudulent practice, showing the contrast between a first-century cross-based Christianity and a “me”-based modern prosperity gospel that promotes greed in the name of God.
We have received a number of questions over the years about whether our mission is beneficial to the church, is mean-spirited or uses unscriptural methods. Those questions deserve a response, and we hope the following discussion will provide answers.
No. Paul calls for us to “Prove all things; hold fast to that which is good. Abstain from all appearance of evil” (I Thes. 5:21,22). The Christian message should be able to withstand any scrutiny. Believers are called to “try the spirits, whether they are of God, because many false prophets are gone out into the world” (I John 4:1). The TV evangelists have barged into our living rooms with their broadcasts and turned the spotlight on themselves. They have demanded attention, so we’re giving it to them. And as a public religious foundation, this falls squarely within our mission. –Confrontation The Bible is full of these kinds of confrontations. Jesus denounced the Pharisees as hypocrites and expelled the moneychangers from the Temple more than once. Paul says of those who were preaching a different gospel or perverting the gospel: “Let them be accursed,” meaning anathematized, damned, everlastingly cut off from the presence of God (Gal. 1:6). Strong words. But how can you recognize a false gospel or a heresy? Paul again warns against those who are “enemies of the cross of Christ, whose end is destruction and whose god is their belly ” or their own appetites (Phil. 3:17-19). –False Prophets False prophets will preach about Christ, but be an enemy of the cross. Jesus said, “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it; and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall save it.” The cross of Christ means the death of self. You abandon control of your life to God. A “prosperity gospel” message that panders to the sensual desire for riches is the opposite of the message of the cross. The prosperity gospel is merely a modern-day version of the ancient heresy of Cerinthus, a first-century preacher who promoted a kingdom of God on earth, focusing on sensual and physical “success.” –A Pleasing Message vs Repentance The chief characteristic of false prophets given in Jeremiah 23 is that they will preach pleasing messages that people will like to hear. “Hearken not unto the words of the prophets that prophesy unto you. They make you vain; they speak a vision of their own heart, and not out of the mouth of the Lord. “They say still unto those who despise me, The Lord hath said, Ye shall have peace; and they say unto every one that walketh after the imagination of his own heart, No evil shall come unto you” (Jer. 23:17). In contrast, Jeremiah says that God’s word is ” like a fire” and “like a hammer that breaketh in pieces.” It brings us to repentance (Jer. 23:29).
Any accusations we have made have been proven with the biblical standard of “two or three witnesses.” The damning evidence of these TV evangelists’ greed and callousness comes from their own words and from the documents of their own organizations. The apostle Paul did not hesitate to single out heretics or frauds. Here are a few examples:
II Timothy 1:13– “Hold fast the form of sound words, which thou hast heard of me, in faith and love which is in Christ Jesus. That good thing which was committed unto thee keep by the Holy Ghost which dwelleth in us. This thou knowest, that all they which are in Asia be turned away from me; of whom are Phygellus and Hermogenes.”
II Timothy 2:16-18–“But shun profane and vain babblings: for they will increase unto more ungodliness. And their word will eat as doth a canker: of whom is Hymenaeus and Philetus; Who concerning the truth have erred, saying that the resurrection is past already; and overthrow the faith of some.”
II Timothy 4:14-16– (When Paul was about to face the tribunal where he was found guilty and beheaded by Nero) “Alexander the coppersmith did me much evil: the Lord reward him according to his works: Of whom be thou ware also; for he hath greatly withstood our words. At my first answer no man stood with me, but all men forsook me: I pray God that it may not be laid to their charge.”
Many people are responding to God’s Spirit under all kinds of conditions, and God is faithful to honor a response of faith. But James says “Doth a fountain send forth at the same place sweet water and bitter?” Any good being done by sincere believers in these organizations is polluted by the whole basis of the ministry, which is a gospel of greed. If they’re honest with themselves, these believers will withdraw their support.
It doesn’t make sense until you know what attracted them in the first place. First, everyone has inherent greed, and when a spiritual leader justifies that for us, it’s a powerful incentive to continue to listen. But underneath that, everyone is looking for a sense of purpose, a sense of accomplishment, a sense of community. These needs are very strong. People want to give themselves to something bigger than themselves, to have faith. The televangelists promise this, and it seems easy– just turn on the TV. But the viewers can only touch images on a screen. That doesn’t fulfill them, so they give more money, they try harder.
It used to be, but that is no longer the case. Now, it has been spread around the globe by the same televangelists we investigate. TV evangelists are what you get when you take the American dream and change its focus from community to self. The early settlers had a real community– they were forced to by circumstances, from persecution in the places they left and for survival once they arrived. America started out as a group of people who were willing to die for each other. They made covenants and compacts that spelled that out. Now we don’t even know our neighbors or co-workers. To a nation of strangers, the televangelists promise easy fellowship, and hundreds of thousands are responding.
Remember in The Wizard of Oz, how the characters were on their way to the Emerald City? They had faith in the wizard’s power, but they found out he was a charlatan, a fraud. They had hoped that their heart’s desire would be met by the wizard, but in their disillusionment they each found the answer was within themselves. Our heart’s desire is to give our lives away. But we’re afraid that we’ll be rejected, that it won’t work or that we don’t have anything inside worth giving. But Christ said the Kingdom of God is within you. Believe that. Let go of your life, abandon yourself to Him. He will bring you together with others who you can lay your life down for in a real and honest way. Maybe if people all across America do this, we can rediscover the meaning of love and community.
We always try to talk personally with any televangelist we receive a complaint about, but usually we get no response. If their operations were open to public scrutiny there would obviously be no need to go “undercover.” It is not unheard of for a believer to conceal his true intentions in order to free his people from tyranny. The Bible is full of these stories. In the Old Testament, Jael (Judges 4:21), Rahab (Joshua 2:4,5), Judith (Judith 13:6-10), Esther (Esther 5-7), Ehud (Judges 3:18 – 31), and David (I Samuel 21:10-15) all used subterfuge to accomplish their mission. In the New Testament, Jesus himself repeatedly tried to hide his true identity until the time was right according to His purpose; he issued evasive answers that flustered his enemies; and he refused to answer direct questions from those whose own motives were not honest. A few examples out of many: Mark 3:11, 5:43, 8:26, 11:33, Luke 22:67.
We know that neither the televangelists nor their followers are “the enemy.” The enemy is Satan, who would like to deceive the whole world and the church through anything that detracts from Christ and Him crucified. We’re not immune to deception ourselves, of course, and we welcome comments and exhortation from fellow believers on how we might better fulfill our mission.
The popular saying is that you can justify anything from scripture. God will be the final judge of everyone’s motives. Until then, we try to have more than two or three witnesses for everything we do in regard to these investigations.
We hope these questions and answers above have crystalized our thinking for you on these topics.