|Sembawang God of Wealth|
|Sembawang God of Wealth Temple|
For comparison, in July 2012 City Harvest Church (CHC) increased its stake in Suntec Singapore International Convention and Exhibition Centre to 39.2 per cent, from its original 20 per cent in 2010. This represents $97.8 million of CHC's investment.
Furthermore, CHC's Jurong West church building cost $48 million.
CHC with its prosperity gospel (here) worships a God very much like the Chinese God of Wealth, guaranteeing wealth and health in return for seed money.
The larger a God of Wealth is, the more power it has to make its worshippers rich. (This is pure hogwash, of course.) As a result, more grateful worshippers donate generously to the church/temple to provide the larger God a more expensive and luxurious home to show off. Therefore, a richer church/temple equals a larger God of Wealth.
So, which has the rightful claim to be the world's largest God of Wealth? Sembawang God of Wealth or CHC God of Wealth?
Based on the (fallacious) principle that a richer church/temple equals a larger God of Wealth, methinks Sembawang has the (much) weaker claim.
Wealth is your rightful inheritance from God, if you give until your heart is broken: Kong Hee
(source: videos below)
Kong Hee preached to the CHC:
"More than ever before, the salaried people, the temp job workers are giving; the unemployed, housewives are giving; full time NS men, retirees, students, 17 years and above, 16 years. Unequal amount, but equal sacrifice.
"You give your best. You give until your heart is broken , You give until tears stream down your eyes.
"Nick and Connie sold their 5-room flat and downgraded to 3-room apartment, just so they are able to give 20,000 dollars to the Building Fund. I mean, where do you hear people like that? I mean, people that are willing to sell their house and downgrade, to build God a great house."
[While Nick and Connie downgraded their apartment, Kong Hee upgraded his from a $127,000 HDB flat to a $9.3 million Sentosa Cove penthouse (see the end of this post), to the glory of God.]
Give until your heart is broken (Part 1) (another source)
Give until your heart is broken (Part 2) (also on Youtube)
Here is Kong Hee's crass and emetic hard sell of his God of Wealth's guaranteed hundred fold return on donation, completely and shamelessly distorting Jesus' parable of the sower.
From $6/hr to $10,000/hr: CHC God of Wealth blesses Kong Hee mightily
Kong Hee, CHC's senior pastor, speaking to Christian City Church (C3) College in Sydney, Australia in Jan 2009:
Yahoo!News, June 29, 2012 (source)
Church funds grew with the rise in membership. Net assets in 2009 amounted to an estimated S$103 million.
Members who listened to Kong, 47, would open their pockets wide to contribute to the church.
The pastor would often preach what became known as the "prosperity Gospel" – one reaps what one sows, and up to a hundred-fold returns could be harvested.
In a video of one of his sermons uploaded onto YouTube in 2008, Kong stressed that one’s faith proclamation “must be backed up by our giving” and, if not, was essentially empty.
"What we give every week is the measure of the value that you place on your Lord and your saviour Jesus Christ,” he told the crowd. “We can lift up our hands to worship god, but if the tithes are still in our pockets, then due tribute has not been given. Then our praises are empty. Our words are empty. There is no value to back it up.”
CHC’s online donation page, which allows churchgoers and the public alike to give their offerings via eNets and credit cards, also states that the church believes one’s giving is “a form of worship unto the Lord”.
Not everyone, however, bought into this belief, which gradually turned into a focus of many critics. Some CHC members left as a result.
“I joined the church initially because he (Kong) preached very well and knows how to create a program that appealed to youths,” said 26-year-old Terence Lee, who was a member of the church for seven years until 2010.
Citing “a lack of transparency” in the running of the church as his reason for leaving, the assistant editor shared that he no longer agreed with the doctrine, which he now feels is based on a “shaky Bible interpretation concocted by self-styled Bible gurus”.
A former cell group leader, who declined to be named, also let on that “there was definitely pressure to donate”, especially among younger church members.
"Those who consistently gave more would be applauded; those who didn't give so much would be 'strongly encouraged' every week to 'give as much as you can',” he told Yahoo! Singapore. “We were always told that God would make rich those who donated more.”
Marketing executive Mary Lim too, felt the pressure. The 29-year-old eventually chose to leave the religious organisation three years ago when she became depressed that she couldn’t give enough.
"When we signed up, they would give us forms, GIRO forms, encouraging us to donate to CHC via GIRO to make sure our tithes were regular," she recalled.
Her friends who continue to attend CHC still donate via GIRO, she added. Three other CHC members confirmed this.
Over the years, CHC has been hounded by controversy over how it may be using members’ funds.
Nine years after its main church building – a 2,300 seater – was built in Jurong West, CHC announced in early 2010 its big plans to build a double-floor 12,000-seat auditorium in Suntec Singapore for worship services at a whopping S$310 million.
Questions over the church’s ambitious plans began to surface among the public and the press. For one, should religious organisations, registered as charities, be allowed to make investments using what are essentially donor funds?
In March 2010, the Commissioner of Charities (COC) and Commercial Affairs Department came knocking on CHC’s door after receiving complaints alleging the misuse of the church’s funds.
Even then, the megachurch managed to secure S$22.9 million last November in pledges towards a building fund that will pay for the church’s S$310 million investment in Suntec Singapore, said a 2011Straits Times report.
This, despite a falling membership amid police investigation for possible abuse of funds.
Numbers dwindled to an estimated 23,000 in 2010, down from 33,000 a year before.
A two-year investigation ended on June 27, 2012 with Kong and four other senior CHC members charged for allegedly misappropriating about S$24 million from CHC's building funds for unauthorised use, among other charges.
Despite the put-downs, many CHC members whom Yahoo! Singapore spoke to continued to show unwavering support for the church and their pastor.
“The church does preach about prosperity, but that is only one aspect of the gospel,” shared Weers, who’s been a member for six years. “Teachings are done on the full gospel.”
The 22-year-old SIM undergraduate also added that “testimonies shared are not always on financial blessings”, contrary to what many have alleged.
Mdm Lim, a 50-year-old homemaker, was another who shared the same sentiment and believed wholeheartedly in “God’s principle of Sowing and Reaping”.
“Whatever seed we sow, we will reap the harvest of its kind – when we sow love, we reap love; when we sow money, we will be blessed financially,” she said.
“But it’s more than that,” Lim was quick to add. “Pastor Kong has preached on love, sacrifice and many areas, it’s not just about money.”
But the churchgoer of two years, who contributes about S$500 to the CHC every month, shared that she understood where detractors were coming from, especially since “money’s a sensitive issue”.
“But my stand is that people give because they want to give to the Lord. And we know that the church will do good works from whatever we’ve contributed.”
While some churchgoers such as Lim acknowledged “the wrong Pastor Kong has done”, many maintained that their leaders are innocent and voiced confidence in their integrity.
Said one from the latter group, James Yeo, “I believe that no individual personally benefited from this, no one pocketed any money, and there was no embezzlement whatsoever.”
Referring to the controversial project at the heart of the probe, the 21-year-old added, “Crossover is not a project of five individuals, it is a project of the whole church. Members gave willingly and with great support as to what Sun (Kong's wife) is doing.”
City Harvest Church increased stake in Convention Centre
Yahoo!News, July 27, 2012 (source)
Speaking at its Saturday evening service, the church’s executive pastor, Aries Zulkarnain, told the delighted 6,000-strong congregation that “to put it simply, we are co-owners of this property together with Suntec REIT.”
However, he reminded he congregation, “We are not into building buildings, we are into building lives. All we have done these 23 years has been in obedience to God and his call.”
Last year, it then acquired an additional 19.2 percent for a purchase price of $54 million. To date, the church has spent $97.8 million on purchasing its current 39.2 stake in the property.
“The balance 60.8 percent effective shareholding in the Property is held by Suntec Harmony Pte Ltd, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Suntec REIT,” he said.
Pastor Zulkarnain also explained the use of the property’s budget, revealing that the purchase of the additional stake initially caused CHC to exceed its $310 million budget by $17 million.
However, their team “worked very hard” to reduce the cost of shifting, allowing them to keep to their original budget.
Through its “ownership-and-lease” model, which allows the church to use dividends from the property to fund the rental costs of its weekend services, the pastor explained that CHC “intends to eventually become self-sustaining in respect to payments of future rentals”.
“I’m very pleasantly surprised by the fact that CHC holds a 39.2 per cent stake,” 36-year-old Mario Singh, CEO of FX1 Academy told CHC’s newsletter, City News.
“To me, it means that our leadership has done everything it aimed to do, which has always been to use the building fund in an intelligent way, investing it so that it keeps growing. So it’s not just increased through the congregation’s giving, but this money is also multiplying itself,” he said.
[Zulkarnain also revealed that S$22,687,651 had been collected this year, as part of its Building Fund campaign.]
This announcement comes just a week before the church’s annual general meeting, “in accordance with the Commissioner of Charities’ suggestion” that the church reveals developments in its Suntec investments to its congregation.
It also comes about a month after City Harvest Church founder Kong Hee and four other senior CHC members were charged in court for alleged misuse of church funds.
Kong, 47, faces three charges for committing criminal breach of trust as an agent of CHC and for allegedly misappropriating about $24 million from CHC's building funds, reportedly to further his wife, Sun Ho’s singing career.
Each charge carries the maximum punishment of life imprisonment and a fine.
An American visits City Harvest Church
by David Cloud (Fundamental Baptist Information Service, Port Huron, Michigan)
Way of Life Literature, March 2, 2003 (source1, source2)
Tonight I visited City Harvest Church in Singapore, to observe their doctrine and practice. I am thankful to the three independent Baptist Singaporean friends who drove me to the church and accompanied me in my little tour.
City Harvest is the largest church in Singapore. Not surprisingly, it is charismatic, and this review is a reminder of how widespread and powerful the charismatic movement is today. Fundamentalist Bible-believing preachers and missionaries need to be informed of these things and, in turn, need to inform their people. Too many Bible-believing preachers are leaving their churches in ignorance about these contemporary issues because they don’t want to “rock the boat” or because they mistakenly think that it is not a pastor’s job to warn about such things. As has been widely stated, “No position can be maintained without continual indoctrination.” Almost no one today can entirely escape the long reach of the charismatic movement and the influence it exerts through its music, its ecumenical endeavors, its enticing promises, and its positive-only, judge not (ed. do not judge your pastors and leaders) philosophy.
THE CHURCH BUILDING
|Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao, Spain|
The massive City Harvest Church building cost S$48 million (US$26.6 million). It is the first titanium-clad building in Asia and is modeled after the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain. Special limestone for part of the building was imported from Europe. The Riviera walkway was designed by a world-famous artist. The elevators go from B4, which is where the auditorium is located, all the way up to level 5, which is the roof top area. There are more than 200 parking lots within the building itself.
Everything is elaborate and expensive. Comfortable lounge areas with expensive sofas are scattered around the first floor area, and large state-of-the-art plasma television monitors are built into the walls, featuring video recordings of past services. There are waterfalls, gardens, coffee kiosks, a children’s playground, fountains, even a putting green for enthusiasts who can’t get too far from a golf club. There is a large café on the 4th floor. The rooftop has a beautiful garden, a baptismal pool, a children’s wading pool, and a coffee kiosk. Cool Mist fans blast out moist air that can cool down the entire rooftop area to ward off the infamous Singapore heat. The bathroom facilities were created by French designer Philippe Starck. Even the toilets “exemplify the very meaning of style” (Harvest Times, July-December 2002).
The auditorium covers 1,700 square meters and is said to be the largest column-free church sanctuary in the Southeast Asia Peninsula. There are two artist make-up rooms directly beneath the stage. A large audio and video crew are required to create each elaborately-produced service. The sound is provided by a 60-channel console, the largest in the world. The stage was created by a designer who formerly worked with Christie’s Auction House in New York. It features a massive, bright LED screen.
The church charters 280 buses to ferry church members in from various parts of Singapore, making a total of 1,842 stops.
The senior pastor of City Harvest is Kong Hee, and the “First Deputy Senior Pastor” is his wife, Ho Yeow-Sun. Kong Hee travels frequently and has an influential ministry in the charismatic world. His 2003 itinerary includes stops in Taiwan, the USA, Australia, Russia, Sweden, the Netherlands, Malaysia, Hong Kong, and Indonesia.
GIVE A LOT, GET A LOT
City Harvest preaches a fairly standard charismatic prosperity message. Four pages of the Harvest Times for the second half of 2002 are devoted to the subject of “Giving that Pleases God.” The message is that “those who obediently heed the voice of God will continually experience blessing and increase in their lives.”
Many testimonies are given of how this has been fulfilled in the lives of church members. One member, for example, testified that he has been attending City harvest since January 2000. When he started supporting City Harvest, he was involved in “a struggling insurance business.” When he and his wife made their initial pledge, “For the first time in my life I literally wept because I knew we were going to give beyond our means”! Here, then, we have an actual example of giving until it hurts! Sure enough, though, he has prospered beyond his wildest dreams. His income in 2001 increased by almost S$100,000 from the previous year and the year 2002 was just as good or better. To boot, his entire family “was blessed with a seven-day vacation in Tokyo Disneyland, flying business class, staying at a six-star hotel...”
To make contributing to the church coffers simple, there are six automated donation machines resembling ATMs scattered around the church facility, where church members can pay their tithes and offerings.
HIGH ON MUSIC
On Saturdays, City Harvest has two services, one at 4:30 p.m. and one at 7:30. I attended the 7:30 session. The music was pull-out-the-stops rock & roll and was the loudest I have ever heard in a charismatic church or conference, even though I have attended many of them. The music featured TWO drummers, electric guitars, a keyboard, and a powerful brass section. Several worship leaders, both male and female, swayed and pranced on the front of the stage.
The several-thousand-seat auditorium was almost full and the people were very, very exuberant. As best as I could tell from my vantage point, almost every person joined in enthusiastically during the worship time, singing, clapping, jumping, swaying to the potent music.
When I walked out of the auditorium and got away from the sound of the music, I actually felt light headed from not being accustomed to such loud music. It has been more than three decades since I last heard music that loud in an enclosed building, and that was at a rock concert before I was saved. It was such a relief to get away from the relentless pounding.
I am convinced that if you took away the rock music, the church would lose its large crowds almost instantly. Rock music is a drug in itself. Timothy Leary, the ‘60s LSD guru, knew a lot about rock music and he testified: “Don’t listen to the words, it’s the music that has its own message. ... I’ve been stoned on the music many times.” He was right. Charismatic worshippers who think they are high on God might very well, in reality, be high on music.
City Harvest Church, like almost all charismatic and new evangelical congregations today, talks about the danger of worldliness in vague generalities on one hand but undermines that warning by speaking even louder and more often about the supposed danger of “legalism.”
One article in the Harvest Times for July-December 2002 is titled “Mind Over Media” and contains warnings about the danger of television and movies today. (The article was reprinted from Focus on the Family). The author rightly observes that there is little difference “between an R-rated film and a PG-13” one and that “obscene music CDs that would have been lucky to turn a profit 20 years ago are debuting at No. 1 and selling millions of copies.” The article warns that no one “is peddling hollow and deceptive philosophy to our kids” more than the entertainment industry and that “when worldly philosophies masquerade as recreation, they can seep into hearts and minds virtually unchallenged.” The article makes some good statements and contains some good advice, but when it comes to parents setting strict limits for kids, that message is weakened by the article’s warning to “resist extremes” and to avoid “legalism.” Under these guidelines, in practice the parent is allowed to say no to some rock music but not to all of it, to some immodesty but not to all of it, to petting but not to dating itself.
City Harvest co-pastor Ho Yeow-Sun says, “If I’m a mother, I wouldn’t mind my daughter dyeing her hair and being hip. And I’ll let her date. I don’t want her to be square!” She said its “not being realistic” for parents to say to their daughters “no mini-skirts, no this, no that” (Her World, p. 199). Pastor Sun is no hypocrite, because she dresses sensually and very, very hip. With a pastor like Ho Yeow-Sun, no church could speak very plainly about immodesty and worldliness!
The “judge not” philosophy of contemporary Christianity largely negates its attempts to warn against worldliness in most practical senses.
City Harvest Church is attended by large numbers of young Singaporeans and they dress pretty much as they would at the university campuses and the malls, which is to say that large numbers of them dress immodestly. Singapore is in love with the things of the West and has taken the immodesty of western fashions to even higher levels of sensuality, if that is possible, than one finds in America. And City Harvest Church members reflect the Singapore culture. Though there is doubtless some mention of the sin of immodesty in theory and in general somewhere within City Harvest’s ministry, in practice there is almost no separation from the world in the matter of dress and fashion.
The same is true for entertainment. One of modern Asia’s idols is professional soccer, and City Harvest Church has nothing to say against it, with all of its attendant evils. In fact, City Harvest had a World Cup Finals night in 2002, showing the game on the screen in the main auditorium. On that night the pastors showed “their wild side,” with one pastor even ”doing a Brazilian samba number in the middle of the game.” The night was described like this in the church’s magazine: “A sea of excited faces ... crowds arrayed in yellow and white ... waving hands lifted above many heads ... rousing soccer cheers of ‘Ole-Ole-Ole-Ole’ ... the ‘Mexican wave’ making exhilarating rounds across the auditorium ... snack sellers doing brisk business ... pounding music reverberating through the loudspeakers before the ‘kick-off’ ... a giant LED screen flashing Brazil and Germany flags.”
I don’t think the Apostle Paul would have enjoyed such an unholy ruckus in the house of God.
Did he not pen Romans 12:1-2, under inspiration of the Holy Spirit? “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, HOLY, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And BE NOT CONFORMED TO THIS WORLD: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.”
THE PASTOR POP STAR
Speaking of worldliness, co-pastor Ho Yeow-Sun is not at City Harvest very much these days, because she is a pop star with top-selling hits and appearances on MTV Asia. She is often away on long trips to Taiwan with her concerts and recording business. Husband and fellow pastor Kong Hee flies to Taiwan from time to time to see her.
She describes herself as a “radical and hip female pastor.” In another interview, she said: “I’ve always been hip. I’m the first pastor to dye my hair and the first to wear hip pants. I know people have a problem with that, but I really couldn’t care less” (Her World, p. 199).
She dresses immodestly and prances around in a sexual fashion even while claiming to glorify the Lord. She calls it “free expression.”
Though she is a pastor, she doesn’t like to preach. “I don’t look upon myself as a pastor, because people usually think you’ll be preaching on stage. It never felt exciting to do that. I get more excited signing and talking to people.”
Of course, she holds the unscriptural philosophy that music is neutral: “To me, music comes from heaven. It’s not bad--it’s just music.” The musical style on her second album, Sun-day, is described as “ballad to acid jazz to R&B to trip-hop” (8Days, Dec. 26, 2002, p. 30).
The City Harvest Church magazine for July-December 2002 features 10 pages focusing on Pastor Sun as a pop star. Two pages are about the “Sun Fan Club.”
With this move, another home base would be established in CHC. Now, the church would operate in two locations—Singapore Expo and Jurong West.
From $127k HDB flat to $9.3m Sentosa Cove penthouse: CHC God of Wealth at work
How did the Kongs get from a $127,000 HDB flat to a $9.3 million Sentosa Cove penthouse?
Pastor Kong Hee and his family started with a five-room HDB flat in Tampines, which they bought for $127,000.
They later sold it for $420,000, The New Paper reported in 2010.