Fifteen years ago, I walked into World Changers Church International not knowing what to expect. I had heard all of the stories. There’s an ATM machine in the lobby. They ask members to swipe their credit cards during offering. They ask for your W–2 for you to become a member. I left the church somewhere between relieved and disappointed. Relieved that the rumors weren’t true. Disappointed in Christians who were confirming the rumors to be true when they hadn’t set foot in the church—passing around the legend like playing a Christian telephone game.
Changing the World
World Changers has been around for close to three decades now. The church’s current building, the World Dome is an $18 million dollar structure that sits in the middle of College Park, Georgia. As you approach it, the building reminds you of a smaller version of the Georgia Dome, the home of the Atlanta Falcons. There’s no question who the quarterback is on this team. His name is Creflo Dollar. With a name like Dollar—yes, that is his real name—there’s little doubt the magnanimous preacher in College Park, Georgia would fall under scrutiny for a lavish lifestyle. There’s the $3 million dollar mansion in the Atlanta area. There’s the $2.44 million dollar condo overlooking Central Park in New York. There’s the pricey Rolls Royce. All characterize the lifestyle of a man who built his ministry from scratch.
What started as a small Bible study group at West Georgia College has blossomed into a 30,000 member church—one of the largest churches in North America. World Changers has a number of satellite churches, global partnerships, a record label, and the church provides humanitarian relief in several countries around the globe. Because of World Changer’s far-reaching ministry efforts, Dollar started a campaign recently to raise $65 million dollars for a new private jet—citing mechanical issues with the jet he already owned. The internet exploded and the campaign was pulled.
The heart behind the $65 million dollar campaign appeared pure. The ministry noted: “Believe it or not, there are still millions of people on this planet who have never heard of Jesus Christ. ” The jet would help reach that goal. To that, I would say amen. The gospel needs to be proclaimed all over this globe. What Christian wouldn’t be on board with that? When I heard about the campaign, there was just one nagging question for me: which gospel?
Though I enjoyed the first service I attended, over the years I’ve had a hard time reconciling the repetitious message Pastor Dollar preached. Is every sermon about money? No. But the idea of prosperity so permeates every aspect of the ministry that it’s hard not to conclude that Dollar preaches what Paul calls in Galatians “another gospel.”
For the sake of time, I’m going to outline just a few things that I’ve personally heard in his sermons that lead to that conclusion. Please know that my heart and motives are clear here. I don’t have an ax to grind with Pastor Dollar or his ministry. I don’t doubt they are doing some great work around the globe—more than can be said of other churches—but I’m also convinced that the work need to be grounded in solid theology. Bad theology yields bad practice. And I hope to unpack that a little bit below.
1. Jesus was rich.
The first time I heard this from Dollar, it seemed feasible. Jesus was God. He owned the cattle on a thousand hills. He had a treasurer. He could have lavish banquets set up for him at his request. Of course he was rich. But this couldn’t be any further from the truth.
How do I know Jesus was poor? There are many instances in Scripture that highlight this fact. First, his parents dedicated him in the temple, they offered the poor family’s sacrifice (see Luke 2:24). It was a substitute for the lamb that families of means could offer. Second, Jesus was a true itinerant rabbi, depending entirely on the hospitality of others in the towns he visited with his disciples (see Matthew 10:9–10). In his own words, his living conditions were worse than those of foxes and birds (see Luke 9:58).
Jesus chose to become poor so that we might become spiritually rich. That spiritual richness comes from a saving relationship with Christ that makes us adopted sons and daughters of God the Father. The riches we experience through Christ’s salvific work aren’t grounded in—or lived out in—earthly prosperity. Rather, those riches are grounded in the newness of life that takes our sins away and gives us Christ’s imputed righteousness.
2. Believers are to be discontent with lack.
I heard this in a message on our position in Christ. It’s the “nothing missing, nothing broken, complete” teaching characteristic of Word of Faith teaching. This should lead to discontentment over any lack in the believer’s life. Having lack means you’re not experiencing the fullness of God.
Over the centuries, many faithful Christian men and women have suffered lack for the sake of the gospel. This didn’t make them incomplete in any way. They still experienced the fullness of God in their lack. I think that’s what Paul is getting at in Philippians 4:11. Teaching that causes believers to feel that they are somehow incomplete for suffering lack is indeed another gospel.
3. Tithing, for Christians, is second nature.
Using Genesis 2, Genesis 14 (Abraham and Mechelzedik), and Romans 2 (the passage on Gentiles doing instinctively what the law requires), Dollar extrapolates that the law of the tithe is written on the heart of believers. He states that Adam had the ability to distinguish right from wrong because he had a piece of God in him, giving him the instinctual quality to know right from wrong.
Dollar must have forgotten the part where God told them not to eat from the tree of the “knowledge” of good and evil. They didn’t know good from evil (or right from wrong) before eating from this tree. The Scripture just doesn’t support that view.
But that view leads Dollar to the conclusion that tithing was instinctively the right thing to do for Abram. And instinctively, it’s the right thing to do for us. There’s no way anyone can read Romans 2 and come to this conclusion. This is the bad exegesis/exposition that characterizes many of Dollar’s messages.
It’s Not About the Jet
In conclusion, it’s not about the jet. I could care less about the jet. It’s the theological baggage that boards the jet with Dollar that concerns me. And those bags don’t fly free. The cost is the integrity of the gospel message. Again, I write this out of clear concern for a ministry that does great work in this world, but whose theology could lead many to bad Christian practice. That is worth speaking up about, even at the cost of being labeled at hater.