Fire destroys prosperity gospel megachurch


IOL reports…

“Police and security were on scene at the Durban Christian Centre’s Jesus Dome auditorium early on Wednesday morning, maintaining a perimeter around the area after the building was gutted by a fire on Tuesday evening.

An insurance representative, police and security guards were on the scene ensuring that nobody entered the premises until a thorough police forensic investigation had been conducted.

Although it is alleged that the fire was started by an electrical fault, nobody on scene would confirm this.

Media were told not to take pictures.

The blaze, which started at about 5.30pm on Tuesday, engulfed the multimillion-rand structure, and by the time the eThekwini fire department arrived, the roof had started collapsing. The building in Mayville is a visible landmark on the N3.

National Emergency Assist Services director Regan Stander, who was on the scene on Tuesday night, said no one was injured in the blaze.

On Wednesday morning all that remains of the Dome are the flame blackened walls with the interior seemingly completely torched by the fire.

Passing motorists on the N3 slowed down causing a traffic backlog as people tried to catch a glimpse of the gutted building.

People who came to see what was going on yet were promptly sent on their way by the rigorous security encircling the premises.”

From reported in 2007…

“The aluminium dome is impressive.  By night, fluorescent lights illuminate the words ‘Jesus Dome’ in bright blue.  By day, the Durban Christian Centre (DCC) comes alive.  Today, the 5500 capacity hall is two-thirds full – it’s a large crowd.  So with due aplomb, Pastor John Torrens enters on the back of a growling Harley Davidson, a chariot that is slightly at odds with his slick designer suit.

Strange inspiration for a man of God to draw on, but the stunt, he announces when he ascends the stage, is to lure men to the upcoming men’s meeting.  He invites the faithful to money management and property seminars the following week.  And then it’s time for his sermon.  Success, the pastor says, is what God wants for His people.

‘You’ve got no option,’ he says in his Americanised accent, whipping the worshippers into a fervour.  ‘If you’re born again, you cannot but be successful – successful in your marriage, your job, the car that you drive.’

His voice fills the dome, competing with the ‘Amens’ and ‘Hallelujahs’ of the congregation.  ‘I don’t care if you come from bad socio-economic circumstances: if you’re a child of the Lord, God will force success into your life.  Say: “Come right on in, Success, I’m welcoming you right now”.’

After all, says Torrens, there’s nothing sinister or wicked about success – biblical figures like Joseph, Solomon and David were all wealthy.  And anything good enough for them can surely not be bad for ordinary believers.  Torrens and SAsathe DCC faithful – a cross-section of South African society, most of them young families, many with their arms wrapped around each other – end the service on a high, chanting the words to their own song: ‘I can have everything my eyes see by faith.’

Welcome to the prosperity gospel.  Globally, this movement is branded in various ways – ‘word of faith’, ‘name it and claim it’, among others – but its central message is that God wants you to succeed, and the more you believe, the more you will achieve materially, as well as spiritually.  In other words, God wants you to be rich.  Rooted in 1960s American evangelism and spread through televangelism since the 1980s, this movement is currently experiencing phenomenal growth in South Africa, especially in the charismatic wing of the Christian Church.

Critics say the prosperity gospel is pure materialism packaged in a religious guise.  Others say it’s merely a modern interpretation of religion that is true to our capitalistic times.

South African Council of Churches general secretary Eddie Makue is concerned about this ‘rising phenomenon’.  He says there are opportunists ‘who are using the name of God for self-enrichment.

In the process, they are making poor people feel guilty because they can’t give like the rich.  A priest driving a Bentley from money collected from poor people – that’s diabolical’.  With this particular brand of Christianity, it’s hard to negate the profit motive – both among pastors and followers, who use the church as a supreme networking platform.  ‘In some cases it’s just about the leader enriching him or herself,’ says Professor Fika Janse van Rensburg, director of Biblical Studies at the University of the NorthWest.  ‘You can see this in the number of shams being uncovered.’

Prof Van Rensburg says this philosophy can be ‘detrimental for any believer.  This gospel persuades people that what’s lacking is faith, that’s why they’re lacking prosperity.

‘The biblical stance is that God wants to give [what’s] good for His children.  This isn’t necessarily prosperity, but what’s best for them and their situation.’

Preaching the prosperity gospel seems to be a break from the conventional Christian silence on the subject of money.  Indeed, traditionalists would say that it conflicts with the image of a poor Christ sacrificing money for spiritual wealth.  It’s no wonder then that the mention of money and religion often makes people feel uncomfortable.

Pastor Torrens, a former stock-broker and pharmacist, is not so shy.

‘Nothing touches the heart of a person as much as [their] wallet,’ he says.  ‘It reflects your behaviour and what you truly believe in.’

Torrens insists that God wants His people to prosper because successful Christians can use their influence to guide more people to the church, and use their money to help the downtrodden in society: ‘Jesus said the love of money is the root of all evil, not money itself.  Money isn’t evil, money is neutral, and it’s neither good nor bad.  It’s when it comes into the hand of an individual that determines whether it’s good or evil.’

Torrens’s wife, Joy, was raised in the DCC.  Her father, the church’s founder, Dr Fred Roberts, insists that prosperity equips congregants for the pressures of the modern world.  ‘Our philosophy is that every person in our church will have a job, food and [will] own their property,’ she says.

Like many prosperity churches, DCC has the resources to implement community changes.  Feeding schemes, a social grant system and an HIV/Aids clinic are just some of the activities the church is involved in.  ‘People who are coming through there, their lives are changing, they have hope,’ says Joy.

But Prof Kallie August of the University of Stellenbosch’s Theology department says this charity can also have a hidden agenda.  Charity to the poor should aim to empower people and should be unconditional, he says.  ‘There’s a problem if you do charity in order to make members for the church.  Jesus preached the exact opposite – you should serve the world because you’re convinced Jesus loves people.  You do it because of God’s love, not to institutionalise everything.’ Althea Skei (34) fiddles with the ring on her finger: a square- cut sapphire the size of a large pea glints in its setting of white gold.  A year and a half ago, Pastor Raymond LeFleur of the World of Hope Ministries church in Lansdowne ‘revealed the Lord’s plan’ for her husband’s life.

As a gesture of thanks, Althea gave the pastor her wedding band.  ‘At the time I didn’t have any money [to give to the church], so I “sowed” my wedding band,’ she says.  The band, a diamond set in nine-carat gold, has now been replaced by the sapphire.  Ten years ago Althea’s husband, Marshall, was unemployed.  They were living ‘hand-to-mouth’ in quarters on someone else’s property.  But then they became ‘200% dedicated to the Kingdom’s message’.  Today they own property in Kuilsriver’s Zevenzicht Estate – where a 3-bedroom home costs more than R1 million.  Marshall’s real estate business is booming.

Althea, who drives a zippy Smart roadster, has a weakness for shoe shopping and even nipped off once to China to indulge it.  ‘There’s nothing wrong with [liking beautiful things],’ she says.  ‘God gave us this ability to love beautiful things – all of us want to live more comfortably.’

Althea studied educare and pre-primary education, but then managed a fast-food restaurant while Marshall started his business.  ‘We started searching; we really wanted to improve our situation.  We were then introduced to the teachings of Creflo Dollar and Kenneth Copeland.  We started titheing …  But we reached a point where we wanted someone home-based, someone who spoke the same language as Creflo Dollar.  The minute we stepped into this church, something happened in the spirit.’

Althea’s eyes shine.  ‘Prosperity touches every facet of our being.  Your existence changes when you start to listen,’ she says.  Currently they tithe 30% of their gross income.  ‘We are end-time kingdom financiers – we are here to finance the gospel,’ says Althea.  ‘Whatever the pastor needs, we finance that.  We contribute to the budget of the church.’

Central to Althea’s faith is respecting her mentors – the pastoral couple at the church.  She explains the need to have ‘faith like a child’ – to be obedient and open to the gospel.  ‘If the pastor tells us to do something, we do it.  There are no long hours of debate around should we, could we, must we – we just do it.’

Althea feels her life is beyond what she’d ever dreamed possible.  Her involvement with the church has given her a new education in money management.  She learnt about titheing, offering (giving above and beyond your tithe), giving the first fruit (giving your first pay cheque to the church) and the Passover offering.

On top of all these offerings, there is also a special day of honour for the Pastor.

‘A homeless man, if he’s hungry, you can’t just say “God bless you” – that’s not going to fill his stomach.  God’s not here, but we’re here.  We’re His representatives on earth.  One day the church wants to be able to send truckloads of food and feed people in the community, give better education and give people houses.

‘We need to speak about money because the church has been silent about it for years and years.  Especially in our communities, we need to be uplifted.  And who better to uplift us than God?’




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