I am glad that Benny Hinn came to Thailand in 2012. Really, I am. He is a false teacher and a false prophet who will probably end up with a millstone around his neck in the final judgment. But I am glad he came because he provided the opportunity to make the prosperity gospel into a live issue among Thai churches.
The prosperity gospel has been in Thailand for many years but prior to Hinn’s visit, it was not a topic of controversy. Various teachers, both foreign and domestic, have put on big shows, made outrageous claims and promises, and generally given people false hope while taking away their money and/or their hope. Some churches are into that kind of thing, and others aren’t. But Thai people are generally polite and don’t like to stir up controversy. The Christian community in Thailand is small, people know each other, and it seems more important to affirm each other in light of the Buddhist majority, rather than cause problems. So while prosperity preachers and self-appointed prophets came and went, barely anyone said much about this form of false teaching even as it has continued to spread and work its way into a larger number of churches through big, exciting “revival” meetings, translated books, and YouTube videos.
Why are so many people taken in by false teaching? Besides the fact that they don’t engage in serious Bible reading and study, the Thai school system teaches people to study for the test, not to think critically. Thai society teaches people to keep the peace, maintain surface harmony, be an obedient citizen, and to pretend that we are all on the same page when we are really not. Within the Thai Christian subculture, I have noticed a tendency for Thai Christians to quickly and undiscerningly accept anyone and anything that bears the label “Christian.” So when false teachers from the West come in to Thailand, and other Christians are excited about them, there is the tendency to jump on the bandwagon without much thought. And if a Thai Christian has never heard anything about Benny Hinn, for example, then they don’t have reason to doubt what other Christians are saying will be a great event. Unless they are really mature in Christ, and good at English, many Thai won’t think to google “Benny Hinn” to find out whether he is good or not. If someone says, “I believe in Jesus and the Bible says this,” they often take those statements at face value... especially if it is a preacher on a stage.
With those things in mind, one way to make people aware of false teaching is to make a stink about it, and stir up controversy. Of course, we should never pick a fight just for the sake of picking a fight, or to make ourselves look good. We must examine our own motives for addressing error. But the coming of Benny Hinn was the right time to stand up and say, “This man is not teaching according to the Bible, and you should use caution when listening to what he says.” It was time to make Thai Christians aware that the prosperity gospel is a wolf in sheep’s clothing that should be rejected.
And that is what some of us did. A missionary colleague and I wrote a report about Benny Hinn for Thai churches, detailing his background, teaching, and claimed miracles. This was circulated privately at the time. Aside from that, the two of us, together with two Thai Christian brothers, sent a letter to all the Protestant churches in Thailand, highlighting some of the concerning issues in Hinn’s teaching, life, and claims that they should be aware of.
And that made some people upset. But it also made a lot of people curious. What is there something wrong with Benny Hinn? And what is this “prosperity gospel” teaching that they are talking about?
The first step in treating a disease is diagnosing the disease and realizing that it is a problem. Raising the red flag about Benny Hinn (specifically) was the starting point for making Thai Christians more aware of the prosperity gospel (generally), so that they will increasingly be able to recognize certain teachings and practices for what they are, namely the false teaching of the prosperity gospel.
Subsequent to Benny Hinn’s visit, the Thailand Protestant Churches Coordinating Committee (TPCCC) established a theology committee to investigate and report on aberrant teaching that is affecting Thai churches. This committee did research and wrote a statement on the prosperity gospel that is now in circulation. And more recently, the Thailand Baptist Theological Seminary in Bangkok held a public seminar on the prosperity gospel. Various Thai-language articles warning people about prosperity gospel are beginning to show up online.
“Prosperity Gospel” is slowly becoming a recognized category among Thai churches, whereas previously there was less awareness that there was any problem with the specific health and wealth teachings that are recognized as aberrant teaching by the global evangelical community.
Controversy is never fun and should not be entered into lightly. Controversy should not be our bread-and-butter, and should not consume the majority of our time. The positive teaching of what the Scripture does affirm is where we should camp out in our preaching, Bible studies, prayer meetings, and personal conversations. We must feed our souls on the riches of Christ revealed in his Word.
But sometimes it can be helpful and educational to point out something false and explain how it differs from the truth. If all believers were as familiar with their Bibles as the proverbial agent at the Treasury Department is with the look and feel of real money, then maybe it wouldn’t be necessary to take a loud, public stand against the prosperity gospel. But until we have churches filled with such Bible-saturated people who can see unbiblical teaching from a mile away, then it will be necessary to point out the false in addition to teaching the true.
Since the coming of Benny Hinn to Thailand in September 2012, the prosperity gospel has begun to come onto the radar screens of Thai Christians, and the dangers are starting to be more widely recognized. There is still a lot of work to do, but I think we are off to a good start in helping Thai believers recognize the false teaching of the prosperity gospel that will hurt them and their churches in the long run.