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"But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies ..." 2 Peter 2:1a
A reader of MinistryWatch.com was concerned for his brother's welfare after he sold everything he owned, including his wedding ring, to move closer to Rodney Howard-Browne's ministry based in Tampa, FL. He asked us to look into this ministry and we are happy to assist.
First, since this ministry is legally organized as a church, it does not have to provide financial statements to the public. Churches have a special exemption from having to file public IRS form 990's. Nor are they required to have their financial statements audited. Now, many churches do provide the public with audited financial statements as an indication of their financial integrity. Sadly, many churches do not do this. Notably, "churches" that are not really churches will use the legal church organizational structure to avoid any financial oversight. Well known Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN) personalities such as Benny Hinn organized their ministry as a church even when no church building may exist, no regular church services are scheduled, no marriages are performed, no baptisms are done and no funerals take place. Another example is Joyce Meyer Ministries which once was forced to pay property taxes on her "church" building since the local taxing authority claimed there no evidence of it being anything more than an office building and warehouse for her ministry. To show just how easy it is to claim to be a church in order to avoid any financial oversight, anyone reading this could decide tomorrow to establish the First Church of Greed, go collect money from donors who would receive a tax exemption for their gifts to this Church of Greed and then use that money to take an exotic vacation to a beautiful island in the Pacific ocean. All of that would be legal and all of the church's financial activities could be hidden from the public. Since Rodney Howard-Browne has organized as a church and does not voluntarily disclose the church's financial statements, MinistryWatch.com, nor anyone else, can know how the church spends its money.
Unlike some of the ministries noted above, Rodney Howard Brown's church is a functioning church. From what we can gather from our research, it is a large charismatic church and Pastor Howard- Browne's ministry has gained acclaim and criticism for his focus on what is described as "holy laughter". Dr. Howard-Browne describes himself as the "Holy Ghost bartender" who encourages people to "drink" of the Holy Spirit. From eyewitness reports of meetings of his ministry, there is an element of the prosperity gospel present as well. Still, "holy laughter" is the defining attribute of Howard-Browne's ministry. While there is no reference in scripture to such "holy laughter", some (certainly not all) in the charismatic end of the Christian spectrum view it as a true manifestation of the spiritual gifts. Most Christians, however, see it as unusual, to say the least. Given the absence of scriptural support, many believe it to be a dangerous, man-made diversion away from true worship. "Holy laughter" attracted attention some years back as a result of it becoming an integral part of worship services in churches in Toronto, Canada and Brownsville, Florida. In both cases, however, problems ultimately arose, including financial mismanagement, and the fervor surrounding these churches subsided. Based on our work at MinistryWatch.com since 1998, one thing we can state straightforwardly is that charismatic churches seem to be much more prone to financial and other problems than non-charismatic churches. We certainly do not want, however, readers to think that every charismatic church is suspect. That is certainly not true. But, the environment found in many such churches more often includes lax governance and financial oversight, thereby placing these churches at greater risk of abuses being carried out by church leadership. As a result, charismatic churches, such as Howard-Browne's, more frequently stumble into all kinds of error.
While the prosperity gospel message appears to be a part of Howard-Browne's teaching, it does not appear to be as prominent as seen with other pastors. Still, our reader's brother could well be at risk in this situation of both personal financial problems, if the church is encouraging him to give more than he has the capacity to do so, and doctrinally, given the focus of Howard-Browne's ministry on "holy laughter". While Howard-Browne's church is a legitimate church - not one set up simply to avoid IRS and other financial oversight - it is highly unconventional and likely does pose a risk to our reader's brother's financial and spiritual well-being.
Of course, many Christians have loved ones attending similar churches around the country and around the world as well. More often than not, such churches present a very distorted view of Christianity and what one's relationship with their Savior, Jesus Christ should be. And more often than not, people engaged in these churches have become emotionally tied to the leadership and are incapable of seeing the church's errors that are staring them in the face. Those who love these unfortunate people need to gently point out the obvious failings of such churches in love. Highlighting the lack of financial transparency that is almost always present is a good way to help bring these people back to reality. Doctrinal arguments are more easily deflected, but there is no legitimate answer to why a church would not provide those who give to it with a proper accounting of how the money is spent. Once a degree of doubt can be raised on the motives of such churches in obscuring financial information, there may be an opening for further discussion of doctrinal topics as well.
MinistryWatch.com has addressed these subjects in past articles. Here are links to three such articles which may be helpful: