According to published reports, David Yonngi Cho, 78, pastor of the world’s largest Pentecostal/Charismatic church, Yoido Full Gospel Church in South Korea, was convicted last week of embezzlement and tax-evasion, and sentenced to three years in prison, though that part of his punishment was suspended. Cho founded the church that now boasts more than 1 million members, in 1958, and a short time afterward affiliated the church with the Assemblies of God Pentecostal denomination.
Reportedly, the crux of the case was a 2002 purchase of 250,000 shares of publicly traded stock in the name of his oldest son, Cho Hee-jun, at an inflated price of four times their market value. The elder Cho, who many years ago changed his name to Paul Yonggi and then years after that to David, according to the charges of which he was convicted, authorized the purchase using church funds, though defense attorneys claimed and apparently persuaded the judge that he was unaware of what he was signing when the large stack of paperwork for the purchase was presented to him in 2002 by Hee-Jun accompanied by a small number of then church elders allied with him in the illegal scheme.(1)
Yonhap News Agency reported that in the sentencing phase, the judge expressed his conviction that in view of his status in society, Cho’s punishment for his breach of the public trust should be severe, but that his positive contributions to society of service as pastor of the mega-church for so many decades warranted mitigation with respect to punishment, and based on that view was levying a lighter sentence for the tax evasion offense than what could have been levied under South Korean law. Cho was also ordered by the judge to pay approximately $4.6 million in fines as part of the adjudication of the case. Cho Hee-jun was also sentenced to three years in prison for his part in the illegal scheme.
In 1996 I authored and published a book titled, CHARISMATIC CAPTIVATION—Authoritarian Abuse & Psychological Enslavement In Neo-Pentecostal Churches, in which I describe a “church growth seminar” I attended in the late 1970s, the featured speaker of which was a then 40-something pastor of the world’s largest Pentecostal/Charismatic church, named (then) Paul Yonngi Cho. I did not name him in the book when it was written, but described him as being “the prominent and highly‑regarded pastor of the world’s largest Charismatic church,” and described the psychological enslavement methodologies and governmental structure system he was touting as, “designed to ensnare members and make it very difficult for them to ever leave the local church.”
Out of deference to Karl Strader, who I then and now regarded as an honorable man, who, in terms of his pastoral ministry, highly values and expounds Biblical truth, I also did not name him in the book as being the senior pastor of the church that hosted these seminars, First Assembly of God in Lakeland, Florida, which some years later purchased and occupied the 10,000-seat Carpenter’s Home facility, which the church, after several church-splits, was subsequently forced to sell. Carpenter’s Home Church was also the host of another controversial occurrence a decade and a half later—the so-called “Laughing Revival” spearheaded by the highly controversial South African evangelist, who with his blatant condescension of other church leaders coupled with his acutely narcissistic personality managed in a few years to alienate thousands of American pastors, Rodney Howard-Browne, which “revival” spawned (albeit through other principals) the subsequent “Brownsville Revival” and the “Toronto Airport Revival,” to name the best known, along with some other alleged “fire outbreaks” in various parts of this nation and others.
Incredibly, another decade and a half or so later, Karl Strader’s son’s (Stephen Strader) church, was the host of what is arguably the most controversial and damaging so-called “revival” in Pentecostal/Charismatic history, i.e., “The Lakeland Outpouring“(2) as it was hubristically originally called by its organizers, or what it was later called, “The Lakeland Revival,” the principal preacher of which was the tattooed head-to-foot former child molester and mental-illness sufferer weirdo, Todd Bentley, who during the course of the “revival” was carrying on an adulterous affair with a ministry worker that had begun years before, and who also reportedly was inebriated on drugs and alcohol as he ministered in many of the meetings. When the revival abruptly ended as a result of exposure of these and other revelations regarding Bentley, he forged ahead to divorce his wife, leaving their three children without a father, and marry his illicit paramour. Moreover, some of the most mystifying and troublesome controversy swirling around the revival had to do with the very public endorsement (though they denied that’s what it was) of an expansive number of supposed top Charismatic leaders who had been supporters and endorsers of Bentley’s highly controversial, unconventional, and bizarre ministry antics, obvious psychological problems, strange manic-depressive personality quirks, unChrist-like lifestyle, confirmed sexual deviancy (including pedophilia and bisexuality), history of drug, marijuana, and alcohol abuse, and his extreme obsession with physical self-defilement in the form of tattoo-mania that compelled him to cover nearly every inch of his body with weird-looking tattoos, which he often bragged about and showed off to the world in front of cameras at revival meetings; not to mention his illegal physical assaults of people who he kicked and punched as part of what he considered ministry effects, and his constant outright blasphemy of the Holy Spirit in which he attributed his obviously demonic ministry antics and tactics and extremely unbiblical and heretical teachings to the Holy Spirit.
Without any doubt, the Lakeland Revival was one of the saddest, thoroughly humiliating, and egregiously damaging chapters in Charismatic history. It, coupled with the other demonically-inspired controversial occurrences that have emerged out of Lakeland and its environs (eg., the conviction and long-term imprisonment of another of Karl Strader’s sons for illegal business dealings, the aforementioned rancorous splits of First AG of Lakeland, aka, Carpenter’s Home Church, the many wars and rumors of wars associated with the Peninsular Florida District of the Assemblies of God whose headquarters is in Lakeland, the seemingly never-ending Randy and Paula White saga, etc. etc.) and it makes people begin to wonder what is in the water in Lakeland that is causing so much church controversy to rise up out of the small, sleepy Central Florida town.
But, I digress. Returning to the original topic of David Yonngi Cho’s conviction and imprisonment, and what I wrote about him and his fallacious and unbiblical teaching predicated on spiritual abuse he was peddling and proliferating in the United States back in the late 70s during the waning years of the Shepherding Movement, the following is the excerpt about the seminar and book he was promulgating all over this nation and many other nations of the world. I present it here, because I believe now and believed then that while the result of the largest mega-church in the world may appear on the surface to be an unchallengeable and highly meritorious and monumental achievement for those who measure church-building success with the yardstick of size, that standard of measure is often very deceiving, and does not take into account many other factors by which the Head of the Church, the Lord Jesus Christ, measures success. God’s word warns to be sure that your sins will (eventually) find you out. The main underlying fault and flaw with authoritarian abuse, as I’ve done everything I possibly could to tell and warn people, both in the pew and the pulpit, about over nearly four decades of ministry, is the subtle sin of self-aggrandizement and self-centeredness. Spiritual abuse is rooted in the sin of self-love, what the Apostle Paul warned about more than two-thousand years ago, would be one of the prime causes of end-times apostasy and “perilous times”:
But realize this, that in the last days difficult (“perilous,” KJV) times will come. For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self-control, brutal, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power; Avoid such men as these. For among them are those who enter into households and captivate weak women weighed down with sins, led on by various impulses, always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth. Just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so these men also oppose the truth, men of depraved mind, rejected in regard to the faith. But they will not make further progress; for their folly will be obvious to all, just as Jannes’s and Jambres’s folly was also. (2Ti 3:1-9)
Self-aggrandizement, self-love, arrogance, pride, haughtiness, narcissism, causes people to do things and take actions that they are thoroughly convinced God would want them to do—because after all they are very special—that not only are biblically invalid and improper, but oftentimes, eventually, illegal, and the laws of society or the legal system becomes their judge, when, driven by their self-love and forms thereof, they cross the line, and engage in illegal acts. My personal opinion is that the seeds of self-aggrandizement, pride, and arrogance have always been lurking beneath the surface in the heart of (Paul) David Yonggi Cho, and that those seeds ultimately produced a crop in the form of embezzlement and tax-evasion, for which ostensibly he will now be punished. And I further believe that his sad and unfortunate story is a warning to others in the ministry who have not yet dealt with their own hidden sin of self-aggrandizement and avarice, and that to paraphrase Abraham Lincoln, you can fool some of the people all of the time, all of the people some of the time, but you cannot fool all the people all of the time, AND be sure that you cannot fool God ANY of the time! God always knows all! If you have larceny in your heart, and you are stealing from people, and doing either unlawful, immoral, or ungodly acts, be sure that your sins WILL find you out! You will not always get away with what you’ve been getting away with; God knows, and some day, so will everyone else!
When pride comes, then comes dishonor, But with the humble is wisdom. (Pro. 11:2)
Pride goes before destruction, And a haughty spirit before stumbling. (Pro. 16:18)
There are six things which the LORD hates, Yes, seven which are an abomination to Him: Haughty eyes, a lying tongue, And hands that shed innocent blood, A heart that devises wicked plans, Feet that run rapidly to evil, A false witness who utters lies, And one who spreads strife among brothers. (Pro. 6:16-19)
In fact, I will go on the record here and say that someone who will read this article is being strongly warned by God to come clean, and to do it NOW! You may be a VIP in the arena and circles you function in, but that means nothing to God, and you need to come clean, “confess your faults” to someone who you can trust will do what the rest of that verse says, “pray for (you),” that you will stop what you’ve been doing and hiding it, and do the right thing to end the charade. If you do it on your own that is a form of humbling yourself, and God will forgive you and eventually even exalt you; but if you continue on with the deception, God will arrange circumstances that will reveal your sin and humiliate you. You choose: honor or dishonor. Confide in your best friend, Jesus; then confide in someone you trust. Do it today, before the sun goes down; or if it is already gone down, before it rises again.
It is not my desire or intent with this article to in any way pillory or add to the shame and humiliation Pastor Cho no doubt is already experiencing. This one act, as illegal and punishable under law as it is, should not define or diminish his obviously outstanding and meritorious achievements over six decades of pastoral service, particularly in building a church with over one-million members, and his work with Prayer Mountain, which has been a source of spiritual encouragement and edification to millions, including thousands of ministers who have retreated there for refreshment and refiring over the years. The Lord Himself promises in His Word that Pastor Cho’s labors shall not be forgotten by Him, but that there is an eternal record of them in Heaven. Rather, the purpose of this article is to sound the alarm to others who are right now thinking, erroneously, that their transgressions and betrayals of the trust of those they are supposed to be serving as under-shepherds can be forever hidden. It will, one dark day, be uncovered. Mark it down. God Himself is the Chairman of the Ways and Means Committee of Heaven, and He has a way of devising ways and means for such malfeasance and immoral behavior to be eventually uncovered. You can hang your hat on it. Nevertheless, God is always gracious and merciful, in that, as He states He did with Jezebel (Rev. 2:21), He always gives us “time to repent.” Dr. Cho had twelve years to repent, but didn’t.
The quote from Charismatic Captivation, published in 1996, follows.
This, I believe, is not coincidence, but corroboration that the governmental structure prescribed by the Discipleship/Shepherding teaching, besides being totally incongruous with God’s Word, is patently erroneous. It is a demonic system of enslavement, domination, and misuse of authority that, as it has been proliferated by its proponents over the years, has wreaked untold havoc and harm over the width and breadth of the Body of Christ that to this day remains largely unabated and unredressed. The chief consequence of this unscriptural and subversive false teaching is that genuine God‑anointed, God‑appointed governmental authority has been supplanted, and thousands have been spiritually duped and injured. The record shows that this wave of deception, because of the usurpation and contravention of true authority it promotes, has caused the demise of untold numbers of fraternal relationships, marriages, families, and churches. (Indeed, after I had been working on this book for several months, more revelations of abuse and injury in churches practicing Shepherding teachings began surfacing in books and magazine articles, which to me was further confirmation both of the extensiveness of these effects as well as the need for such a work as this one.) For this cause, unrepentant proponents and participants of these heretical doctrines and practices will, in the Day of Judgment, be required to give account to a holy and wrathful God for such misuse and abuse of authority.
Notwithstanding, there are multitudes of believers and vast numbers of groups and churches who continue to subscribe (some overtly, some covertly) to the basic tenets of this devilish deception, which ascribes free‑license to self‑aggrandizing, dominion‑seeking religious dictators to engage in Biblically‑condemned religious hegemony in which they lord themselves over the unaware and unassuming sheep of God’s flock. The pervasive results and impact of this horrendous spiritual travesty, which continues to be perpetrated upon so much of the Body of Christ under the direction of Satan through his human cooperatives, is no less outrageous and should engender no less of a sense of outrage by aware believers than the most egregious and offensive societal blights against which Christians today are so eager to publicly protest and demonstrate their outrage.
The Discipleship/Shepherding chain‑of‑command schematic is an enslaving structure, and make no mistake about it—it is deliberately designed to be enslaving. I will never forget the shock and outrage I experienced while attending a so‑called “Church Growth Seminar” held in a large church in a central Florida city in either 1977 or 1978 (I cannot recall precisely). The keynote speaker was the prominent and highly‑regarded pastor of the world’s largest Charismatic church, and the organization he had formed was the primary sponsor of the seminar. Ostensibly, the thrust of these seminars, which were conducted in various venues in the U.S. and other countries as well, was to share with the attending pastors so‑called “secrets of church growth.”
In the seminars, the pastor would expound upon the “chain‑of‑command” structure he had devised and instituted in his own church (located in an Asian country), plus some of the organizational methods he employed in his church to combat the common and ever‑present problem that occurs in many churches, that of people entering through the front door, only to exit through the back door; that is to say: “attrition.” These supposedly invaluable administrative and structural “revelations and insights” the pastor was touting, attendees were told, were explained more explicitly in a new book he had written and which, fortunately for us all, had just come off the presses in time for this particular seminar. The title of the book blatantly proclaimed the essence of and attitude behind the structure and methods he was proliferating: “Caught In A Web.” The premise of the book and the seminar was that attrition would be virtually eliminated, or at the very minimum, drastically reduced, in the church in which these “secrets” for “church growth” were employed, in that once a person had become a member, it would be virtually impossible to thereafter leave the church. In the vein of the metaphor, once the prey was “caught in the web” it could never get out alive. This was the corrupt and perverted mentality being expressed at these “church growth seminars,” which, to my astonishment and incredulity, was enthusiastically received by the majority of pastors (primarily, independent Charismatic and Pentecostal denominational pastors) who attended that seminar.
Moreover, those seminars continued to be very popular for a decade or so. But the most disturbing thing about the principles purveyed in those seminars and in that book, which essentially were Discipleship/Shepherding doctrines, in my view, is that they became the paradigm or model for literally hundreds of churches and para-church organizations around the world. The influence of this pastor and these seminars, I believe, gave global credibility to, and were the greatest single vehicle responsible for the proliferation of, these fallacious and demonic teachings and practices.
How illustrative are the concepts comprising the pastor’s presentation regarding the psychological enslavement upon which the Discipleship/Shepherding doctrines and methodologies are founded. As the book title intimates, the Discipleship governmental structure is designed to ensnare members and make it very difficult for them to ever leave the local church. To accomplish this dubious goal, hyper-authoritarian leaders employ, wittingly or unwittingly, a number of psychological techniques commonly used by cult leaders to accomplish essentially the same goals of proliferation and preservation of their and the virtual elimination of attrition. We will address some of those techniques and how to recognize them in chapter Eleven. Here, however, we want to continue examining the perverted concepts of authority inherent within these hyper-authoritarian doctrines and practices.###
[Read Post-Facto article by a pastor disputing some of the details reported by the media referenced in this article.]
(1) Portions of this article was modified subsequent to the original posting to more accurately reflect the actual facts in the case that were inaccurately reported in some media accounts.
(2) The following links are to articles related to the Lakeland Revival and Todd Bentley posted on Spirit Life Magazine:
Dr. Steven Lambert was ordained in 1977 and holds several earned graduate/post-graduate degrees. Over more than four decades in ministry, he has served as a pastor, radio/TV host, adjunct-professor, Board Certified Doctoral Diplomate Christian Therapist/Counselor, and a speaker/commentator on a range of social, political, and theological issues, particularly as a recognized authority on the matter of ecclesiastical authoritarian abuse. He is the founder/Overseer of Ephesians Four Network (ephesiansfour.net) and its subsidiary, Ephesians Four Network of Deliverance Counselors (efndc.ephesiansfour.net). Dr. Lambert authored several books (catalog at realtruthpublications.com), many published articles, and is the founder/editor of Spirit Life Magazine (spiritlifemag.com). His bio, extensive blog, and scheduling information are available on his ministry website at: http://www.slm.org. You can follow him on Twitter and Facebook.
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