Charismatic renewal turns 50!

Rev Dennis BennettI read Dennis Bennett’s bestseller, “Nine O’Clock in the Morning” in the late 1970’s and enjoyed the story of the Episcopalian priest and how he encountered the Holy Spirit’s power in his conservative parish and got thrown out. He was one of the few men of faith instrumental in spreading the message of the baptism of the Holy Spirit to the mainline denominations, giving impetus to the growth of the charismatic renewal.

The beginning of the charismatic movement is thus appropriately and meaningfully dated as 3rd April 1960, the date when this Episcopalian(Anglican) priest announced to his church that he had experienced a “personal Pentecost” and spoke in other tongues. It took courage to do that, and as a result he lost his job, and the message spread beyond one congregation. His story even got into the newspapers, Newsweek and Times magazine. The charismatic renewal went across America, and around the globe:

Charismatic renewal has since swept the globe, though Pentecostal scholars say its growth has slowed in the U.S. “The movement began to wane in America by the mid-1990s, but it continued to grow all over the world tremendously, especially Africa, Asia and South America,” said Pentecostal historian Vinson Synan, dean emeritus of the Regent University School of Divinity. “Today there are 640 million Pentecostals and charismatics. It’s still the fastest-growing part of Christianity.”

Stanley M. Burgess, a professor of Christian history at Regent University and editor of The Encyclopedia of Pentecostal and Charismatic Christianity, says one-third of the world’s 2 billion Christians are charismatic or Pentecostal. “The greatest explosion is now occurring in China,” Burgess said. “It’s a combination of Pentecostal and charismatic. Within 10 years, we expect that China will be the most Christian nation on Earth, and that’s just stunning.”

Richest Singapore churches

The following data of churches with annual income of over $10 million comes from the internet but was first communicated by the Commissioner of Charities (Sep 2008). I have always wondered which were the richest churches in Singapore. Now we can all have a peek and know, in order of funds collected, who they are:

NUMBER 1: NEW CREATION CHURCH

one northLocation: Worships at the Rock Auditorium in Suntec City Mall.

History: Founded in 1984 by a small group of young believers who wanted an independent, non-denominational church. From 25 members, the congregation has grown to 16,000 now.

Led by: Senior Pastor Joseph Prince, a Singaporean in his 40s.

Income: $42.8 million for its financial year ended this March.

Income source: Tithes and offerings, sales of goods, income from interest

Business arm: Rock Productions has invested about $280 million in a tie-up with property giant CapitaLand to develop a $660 million lifestyle hub in Buona Vista. In 2001, Rock Productions bought Marine Cove, a cluster of food and beverage outlets in East Coast Park, for about $10 million.

NUMBER 2: CITY HARVEST CHURCH

chcLocation: Holds worship services at S’pore Expo and Jurong West Street 91.

History: Founded in 1989 by Reverend Kong Hee.

Led by: Reverend Kong, 43, is married to pop singer Ho Yeow Sun.

Congregation size: About 23,000

Income: $30.9 million last year.

Income source: Tithes and offerings from church members.

NUMBER 3: FAITH COMMUNITY BAPTIST CHURCH

fcbcLocation: Holds its services at the Singapore Expo and Marine Parade Central.

History: Founded in 1986 by Pastor Lawrence Khong.

Led by: Senior Pastor Khong, who was awarded the Public Service medal at the National Day Awards in 1998.

Member strength: Close to 10,000.

Income: $27 million last year.

Income source: Tithes and offerings.

NUMBER 4: TRINITY CHRISTIAN CENTER

trinityLocation: Adam Road and Paya Lebar Road.

History: Founded by American missionaries Reverend Glen Stafford and his wife in 1969 with 10 people.

The church now has a congregation of about 5,500.

Led by: Reverend Dominic Yeo, 46, who chairs the centre’s eight-member board.

Income: $14.2 million last year.

Income source: Tithes and offerings by congregation.

Some observations

As I look in a cursory manner at these figures all kinds of observations and questions come to mind. Firstly, where are the Roman Catholic churches? Which is the richest church in Singapore? It has to be the Roman Catholics when it comes to assets. The properties, especially the land they own is estimated to be worth S$18 billion. Just think of the churches you know, and the location of the property and you will believe they are together worth billions.

Secondly, New Creation Church raised more funds than City Harvest Church even though the latter is bigger by 7,000 in attendance. My surmise is that this is probably due to the fact that NCC is now in the midst of a mega building project, and God’s people are willing to give to a specific desirable purpose. They have many businessmen and I think they are tired of queueing up! However, news of an impending fund-raising for a new church facility in the central south of Singapore will mean CHC will be raising the hundfreds of millions, in the next quarter.

Thirdly, what happened to the Methodist Churches -also reputed to be rich? The Wesley Methodist is much vaunted to be the dwelling place of the rich and famous. Their giving should pass the $10 million annual income category but it was not so. Some say Barker Road Methodist Church has overtaken Wesley in this respect, but I think they have more luminaries than treasury.

Fourthly, the image of the “working class” Pentecostal has been broken, by the inclusion into this category, of the highly organized Trinity Christian Centre, an Assemblies of God church, an attractive magnet for the Pentecostal who has surpassed his parent’s roots in the working class. One other reason is also they are still rasing funds for the new church campus in Paya Lebar.

Its been a year and a half since the report was published and I do not think things have changed much.

Contemporary megachurch first founded by a woman

Aimee Semple MacPhersonThe men may not like to read this but it was a woman who birthed what I believe was the precursor to the contemporary megachurch. This woman’s name was Aimee Semple McPherson (1890-1944). After a short stint as a missionary’s wife was curtailed by her husband’s death, and a period of fruitful itinerant evangelistic preaching, she decided to base herself in Los Angeles, California. There she built an enormous church with a seating capacity of 5,300. The Angelus Temple, which was completed in 1923, became a forerunner of contemporary megachurches of today.

Drama and entertainment in the service of the gospel

She incorporated Hollywood entertainment and theatrics to attract and hold the attention of the crowds. Once she had a giant whale built on stage and she dressed up as Jonah to preach. Another time she preached to the LA Police and came on stage on a motorbike in police uniform, dismounted it, blew the aimee with King Kongwhistle, and shouted:”Stop! You are breaking the law! ” That’s drama for you. According to Wikipedia, her “illustrated sermons attracted people from the entertainment industry, looking to see a “show” that rivaled what Hollywood had to offer. These famous stage productions drew people who would never have thought to enter a church, and then presented them with her interpretation of the message of salvation. McPherson believed that the Gospel was to be presented at every opportunity, and used worldly means at her disposal to present it to as many people as possible”. She preached a gospel of love and reconciliation and grace, unlike the many preaching the hell and brimstone gospel. “McPherson was famous both inside and outside of rfalling under powereligious circles. Every city where services were held usually had civic leaders in attendance, as well as pastors representing the local churches of every denomination. She made sure that Angelus Temple was represented in local parades and entered floats into the famous Rose Parade in Pasadena”.

Multi-gifted megachurch leader with a social conscience

Her messages were accompanied with signs following: people were “slain in the Spirit”, “drunk in spirit”, healed, speaking in tongues and other supernatural phenomena. The church was filled to capacity three times each day, seven days a week.

“She was also very skillful at fundraising. Collections were taken at every meeting, usually with the admonishment of “no coins, please”. When the $1.5 million Angelus Temple opened its doors, construction was already entirely paid for through private donations.”(Wikipedia)

She started a social and educational center for mid-western immigrants to California and during the Great Depression she supplied free hot meals for thousands of poor and hungry people.Angelus Temple

She started a Bible School to train pastors and missionaries and by 1944 over 4000 have graduated from its doors. She also planted many satellite churches in the pattern of the Salvation Army and they evolved into a denomination called the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel.

When it came to communications Aimee was way ahead of many: she wrote scores of books, 180 songs, 7 sacred operas. She also published the weekly Foursquare Crusader and a monthly magazine called “Bridal Call”. She also began broadcasting on radio in its infancy in the early ’20s. McPherson was the first woman in history to preach a radio sermon, and with the opening of Foursquare Gospel-owned KFSG (now KXOL) on and was also the first woman to be granted a broadcast license by the Federal Radio Commission.

But her life was marked by controversy: her divorces, a suspicious kidnap and an alleged adulterous relationship, and her death from sedatives. Read more about Aimee Semple MacPherson (Wikipedia).

The contemporary model of the megachurch is not a new idea: it’s almost a century-old!

And it was founded by a woman!

(This article was first published on the 28th Jan 2008.)

Oral Roberts: an Asian pastor reinstates his hero

Expect A MiracleOral Roberts went home to be with the Lord on Tuesday, 15th December 2009, age 91. When my wife told me, I was not surprised, because I knew he was quite old. He was one of my Pentecostal heroes in the early years of my Christian life.

He first came to my notice through his magazine, “The Abundant Life.” It was a magazine that was distributed free of charge and delivered to my home. From there I wrote in for his free books. One of them is titled “The Miracle of Seed Faith”.Oral preaching

Oral Roberts knew how to share truths powerfully. The truths he taught were  simple and practical. I was inspired and instructed by his teaching on the Holy Spirit as your helper, and the edifying use of the “prayer language.” I also accepted and practiced his teachings about miracle seed faith. Looking to God as a source; seeding for your need; and expecting a miracle everyday – these were a part of my life in those days.

Praying for the sickI read his autobiography, “Expect A Miracle” and still have the copy in my bookshelves. I never could give it away in my regular cullings when I selected books to give to friends in Bible school. He was a captivating personality, a visionary charismatic Pentecostal leader. Being Pentecostal at that time meant “Stone Age” methodology, and uncultured presentation. Oral Roberts changed that perception through his visionary, outside the box, forward thinking and methodology, like his harnessing of television for the gospel.

My interest and following waned when his TV programs became more entertainment oriented, and when he tried to raise funds with controversial tactics. In particular, when he claimed that Jesus would take him home if he does not raise $8 million within a year, and Oral Roberts Universitypleaded with the readers and audience to help prolong his life. That was too difficult to swallow and from then on, I was disappointed, and stopped following and reading his magazines. Further news about the problems with the City of Faith and other university financial misdemeanours by his son Richard sort of confirmed I was right to feel disenchanted.

Now he is dead and as I read some online articles about Oral Roberts I have to admit he is a man sent by God, a man with flaws and faults but nevertheless, like the imperfect heroes of faith in Hebrews chapter 11, he deserves to be reinstated as a  Pentecostal hero in my heart.

Here are some interesting articles from Chritianity Today.com about Oral Roberts:

Why Oral Roberts Obituaries are Wrong

Q&A: Mark Rutland on Oral Robert’s Legacy.

Fund Raising: Did Oral Roberts go too Far?

Here is an old clip of him praying for the sick in the healing crusades in the 1950’s: