Question: The last few days I watched a spectacle on Christian TV that made me ashamed to let anyone know I’m a Christian. John Avanzini claimed to “break the power of debt” for all those who pledged to support his ministry with $1 or more per day. How could anyone be gullible enough to believe he had such power—much less that God would let him sell it for money! What do you think?
Response: People are deceived by the self-serving promises of today’s false prophets for two reasons: 1) they are ignorant of Scripture, and 2) they, like the “prophets” they follow, want to use God for their own ends. No one in the Bible—not Moses, Joseph, Isaiah, Christ himself or any of His apostles—ever had or used the “power” that Avanzini claims he has but obviously lacks. What he does have is a great talent for getting money out of people by making false but appealing promises. If he didn’t have protection of “religious freedom” he would be jailed for fraud. That such scams continue to victimize millions over “Christian” radio and TV will, in my opinion, create a crescendo of complaints and, finally, laws which will suppress genuine Christianity.
Being “debt-free” is neither a promise nor obligation in Scripture. Paul’s admonition to “owe no man anything but to love one another” (Rom:13:8) has often been mistakenly interpreted to mean we should pay cash for everything. If so, then who could buy a house? No, one does not “owe” in Paul’s sense if the house or car is worth more than is borrowed on it and if payments are made on time. If you are behind on your payments, then you do “owe.” That is the sense in which we owe love to one another—we can never get caught up on the payments.
While the ideal is to be debt-free, there is nothing shameful about having a mortgage on one’s house. Borrowing and lending are legitimate for God’s people both in the Old (Dt 15:7-9) and New Testaments (Lk 6:35; 11:5). God even set regulations for creditors (Dt 15:9-11; 23:19-20; 24:10, etc.). Yes, He promised Israel that she would lend and not borrow (Dt 15:6; 28:12) if she would obey Him (she didn’t), but no such promise was made to Gentiles or to Christians. Nor could national Israel realize the promises by a prophet’s “positive confession,” but only by obedience to God.
I, too, watched the same brazen performance as John Avanzini crumpled pieces of paper, one after another, on which a donor’s name was written, and pronounced, “I break the power of debt out of X’s life in the mighty name of Jesus.” Giving money to his ministry is seemingly necessary for this magic incantation to work. It is one of the baldest money-making schemes I’ve ever seen (comparable to the Catholic Church selling indulgences and salvation). Yet Avanzini had nearly 20,000 people signed up! Peter’s warning that in the last days false prophets would “with feigned words make merchandise of you” 2 Pt 2:3) is coming true before our eyes.
Avanzini is the fund raiser Paul and Jan Crouch have found most effective and love to use on TBN. In The Wealth of the Wicked, Yours for the Taking, Avanzini “proves from the scriptures that the wealth of this world is literally reserved [for Christians . . . and shows] how, and even when this transfer of wealth will happen!” (From TBN description of the book in its offer to donors.) He claims Jesus was rich and that all Christians should be also. Here’s the formula: for every dollar given to a ministry endorsed by Avanzini, God returns to the donor $100. He and other “faith teachers” such as Oral Roberts and Kenneth Copeland milk multitudes of millions of dollars with this “hundredfoldhoax,” as Hank Hanegraaff calls it, in his new book, Christianity in Crisis.