- What: Describes itself as a “non-denominational Pentecostal movement” 
- Founded: 1998, then called City Church Auckland
- Leader: Brian Tamaki (born Feb. 2, 1958), ordained as ‘bishop’ by his own church on in Feb. 2005.
- Headquarters: Auckland, New Zealand
- Other locations: At one point Destiny reportedly had 18 churches throughout New Zealand; and 1 location in Brisbane, Australia. At the time of this writing (Feb. 27, 2011) 10 churches –including the one in Brisbane — are listed on its website.
- Membership: 9000 (self-reported). The church’s website also claims that Destiny “enjoys an ‘online’ membership from remote locations and communities.”
- Media: Television program and Internet presence
- Other: Runs a primary school; provides social services, including debt resolution, housing assistance, health services and more
- Concerns: (including, but not limited to the following)
- Teaches prosperity theology
- Brian Tamaki demands cult-like devotion. He has proclaimed himself the church’s “spiritual father” and designated the male members of the church as “spiritual sons”. In October, 2009 about 700 male members of the church swore a “covenant oath” of loyalty and obedience to Mr Tamaki and were given a “covenant ring” to wear on their right hands. 
- Brian Tamaki calls himself the “tangible expression of God” 
- Tamaki teaches heresy
- Media has reported that Destiny Church is planning to create a holy city for its followers in the heart of South Auckland.
First make sure you know how the Prosperity Scam works.
The church advocates strict adherence to biblical morality, and is notable for its position against homosexuality, its patriarchal  views and for its calls for a return to biblical conservative family values and morals.
On its website Destiny Church used to state that it considers itself under the ‘spiritual authority’ of bishop Eddie Long, of the New Birth Missionary Baptist Church, Atlanta, USA. That claim was removed after allegations were made after controversy developed regarding Long. Brian Tamaki has referred to Eddie Long as his mentor and “spiritual father.”
Sociologically: Cult-like Elements
Sociologically Destiny Church has a number of cult-like elements.
Destiny Church has repeatedly come under scrutiny by the media, often for its emphasis on money (your money donated to them, that is). But there have been other concerns as well.
Political Aspirations and False Prophecy
In 2003 Richard Lewis — a member of Destiny Church Auckland, manager of Destiny Church and portrayed in the media as Tamaki’s right-hand man — formed the political party ‘Destiny New Zealand.’
Tamaki — who once claimed the “fatherless generation” was the reason New Zealand had so many female political leaders — has said that he does not want to be a politician. However:
In October 2003 at a Destiny Church conference, Mr Tamaki received cheers and a standing ovation when he told the gathering: “I predict, in the next five years by the time we hit our tenth anniversary, and I don’t say this lightly, but we will be ruling the nation.”
He went on: “… I feel very strongly in my heart that the word of the Lord came to me very strong … that this will actually be the first nation historically in the world to be under the governance of God.”
– Source: Garth George, Destiny must be treated as a cult New Zealand Herald, Feb. 17, 2011
As George point out, “All that needs to be said is that the Destiny Party received a handful of votes in the 2008 election.” That makes Brian Tamaki a false prophet, because he claimed that his prediction was prophetic:
[Eddie] Long blessed Destiny’s vision that it will be ruling New Zealand before its 10th anniversary.
“He made a declaration that in five years you shall be ruling and reigning in this nation,” Long told the Destiny Church.
“That means you control the wealth, that means you control the riches, that means you control the politics, that means you control the social order, that means that you are in charge.”
Tamaki says his prediction is no slip of the tongue but a prophetic utterance.
– Source: Is Destiny destined to rule? TV New Zealand, Oct. 3, 2004
While Destiny’s political aspirations have been frustrated, the movement is also criticized for its virulent fight against homosexuality. Christians have a range of opinions on the issue, but it is safe to say that — based on their reading of the Bible — most Christians consider homosexuality to be a sin. But New Zealanders have roundly rejected Destiny’s approach to expressing it views:
The Destiny Church rally at Parliament against the Civil Union Bill this week conjured up deeply uncomfortable memories and implications for some spectators, writes The Press in an editorial.
Most of the participants were clad in uniform black T-shirts or suits, they marched in highly disciplined ranks, they chanted slogans and punched the air with their fists. The whole performance had the air of an intimidatory ritual. To some onlookers it all had a horrible resemblance to Nazi rallies in pre-war Germany.
A more relevant and more modern possible model is the radical Black Muslim movement in the United States, which has many of the same attributes, down to the stony-faced, ear-piece-wearing “bodyguards” in heavy sunglasses. Either way, the posturing and symbolism are distasteful to most New Zealanders. […]
The smart young leader of the church has managed to raise its profile by latching on to the Civil Union Bill, a measure that causes deep unease among many more than just social conservatives.
The rally on Monday fell short of the 20,000 the church had hoped to attract, but it was still a respectable 7500, to make it one of the largest seen in Parliament’s grounds in recent years. The imagery the black-clad crowd evoked, which one way or another was surely not unintentional, has prompted some critics to suggest that the march should have been banned.
– Source: No time for distraction, The Press, Aug. 26, 2004
Religious freedom gives people the freedom to hold certain beliefs. In the case of Destiny Church that means its followers are free to adhere to the doctrines of Christian fundamentalism. But that freedom should not be misused as a license for intolerance. The behavior of Destiny Church in opposing what it considers to be sinful has raised eyebrows — and cause for concern — both inside and outside the Christian community.
In 2008 alarm bells went off when Tamaki said he planned to create a holy city for its followers in the heart of South Auckland.
The church’s leader, Bishop Brian Tamaki has told supporters the plans are well advanced, and that donations for the project have topped $2.4 million.
He is urging church members to sell up their homes around the country and move to his promised land – a suggestion that is not being welcomed by everyone.
Tamaki told his parishioners the city will hold a church to seat 5000, maraes, medical centres and schools, so his parishioners never have to leave.
“Every child of every member of this church will never go to a state school again,” says Tamaki.
Mark Vrankovich from Cultwatch says Tamaki’s plans are dangerous, because his followers will be isolated from society.
“There is a danger there that the people will focus on Brian as their only source of reality,” he says, “and then if Brian becomes deranged or goes extremely strange we could end up with a Waco.”
– Source: Destiny Church plans to create a ‘holy city’ his followers never have to leave, 3 New, Oct. 29, 2008
A year later New Zealand Herals columnist Garth George wrote:
The leader of Destiny Church, Brian Tamaki, who not long ago anointed himself bishop of the church he founded, has now proclaimed himself the church’s “spiritual father” and designated the male members of the church as “spiritual sons”.
At a special service during the church’s annual conference in Auckland at the weekend, about 700 male members of the church swore a “covenant oath” of loyalty and obedience to Mr Tamaki and were given a “covenant ring” to wear on their right hands.
A church document describes the covenant as “a solemn oath of commitment that is binding, enduring and unbreakable. You are bound to covenant … Covenant is an irrevocable, undissolvable oath of commitment”.
The document, entitled Protocols and Requirements Between Spiritual Father & His Spiritual Sons, contains the text of the “covenant oath”, the guts of which is that “Above all, we stand here today in the presence of God to enter into this sacred covenant with our man of God, Bishop Brian Tamaki”.
It says: “To you Bishop we pledge our allegiance, our faithfulness and loyalty. We pledge to serve the cause that is in your heart and to finish that work. Success to you and success to those who help you – for God is with you.”
– Source: Garth George, Tamaki’s 700 ‘sons’ swear oath of loyalty, New Zealand Herald, Oct. 29, 2009
In a related opinion piece — titled “Tamaki’s church becoming a cult” — George says “In requiring its men to swear an oath of loyalty and obedience to Brian Tamaki, the Destiny Church – having glorified the messenger above the message – has begun to transform itself into a cult.”
The editor of the Bay of Plenty Times wrote in an editorial:
Brian Tamaki’s self-proclaimed elevation to the rank of Bishop, or even King, is disturbing – not because of any judgment as to whether his form of religion is more “right” than anybody else’s, but because the doctrine and rulebook being espoused by the Destiny Church so totally discourage independent thought.
When followers are forbidden to question their leaders – and especially when that fealty is combined with the emotional buy-in to a promise of “salvation” – they are vulnerable to being led astray or taken advantage of.
Mr Tamaki’s canon, issued to those 700 men who have taken his “covenant oath” and now wear his ring, includes edicts calling for the faithful to always speak well of “Bishop”, never to question him or point out his faults, always to back any cause or opinion he supports, always to appear happy and positive around him, to applaud and shout in affirmation when he preaches, and to take notes of his words.
Some instructions – to stand when he enters the room, never speak while he is speaking, never eat before he does – can be seen as ordinary, if relatively extreme, expressions of esteem.
But other requirements of the oath – to surprise Mr Tamaki with gifts as a sign of love and respect, for example – might stir alarm bells, especially since his Pentecostal organisation embraces the religious belief of “prosperity theology”.
– Source: Laura Franklin, ‘Charisma’ out of control? Bay of Plenty Times, Oct. 31, 2009
Incidentally, the oath was penned by Richard Lewis.
The introduction of the Covenant opened many people’s eyes. In the Brisbane branch of the church more than half the congregation – including the pastor – walked out.
Those who walked out say they believe the church is no longer following the Gospel.
Since then former members have supported the walkout and say the church is a money-making cult.
– Source: Former members: Destiny Church a cult, NZPA, Mar. 3, 2010
According to a former member who talked with the New Zealand Herald,
the covenant told members to “give it heaps” as they worked towards a $3 million project which included building a $1.3 million budget to go towards putting Bishop Tamaki on TVNZ every morning, from Monday to Friday.
The covenant also encouraged members to go without coffee, takeaways and Sky TV for up to seven months to help give more in their church tithes. […]
“It was a money-making scheme. All the people who make covenant with Bishop Tamaki have to buy a $300 ring.
“You might think I’m stupid for going into the church in the first place. But I [only] found out it was a cult after I went in.”
– Source: Destiny split triggers exodus, Vaimoana Tapaleao, New Zealand Herald, Mar. 2, 2010
A day later Tapaleao added:
Former Destiny church-goer Agnes Granada said she left Auckland’s Mt Wellington branch because “I started getting uncomfortable”.
Ms Granada, who attended services for five years, said moves such as making the $300 signet ring a compulsory purchase for each member led her to believe Destiny was not a church, but a money-making cult.
“It doesn’t reconcile with what Jesus preached – it’s going out of context. I myself was uncomfortable with buying a ring for $300,” she said.
“God is spiritual and [Bishop Tamaki] seems to be doing things materialistically – $300 is two weeks groceries for the average family.”
Another member said she had to “walk away from it all and repent” after realising she was attending a cult and not a church.
“Tamaki is moving away from the true faith and is setting up his business empire,” she said.
“Where does it say in the Bible that only members wear rings?”
– Source: It’s a cash cult, say Destiny’s walk-outs, New Zealand Herald, Mar. 3, 2010
Responding to media reports Tamaki denied that Destiny was a cult, saying “We’re an open book”.
However, Mark Vrankovich, spokesman for Cultwatch, an organisation that monitors cults, said the covenant was about making Mr Tamaki look like “a big man”.
“Within this document we see here the very mechanism by which cults go askew,” he said.
Christians were sick of being identified with Mr Tamaki and the Destiny Church, he said.
Mr Vrankovich also told TV3′s Campbell Live said Mr Tamaki was “taking a kingship position”.
“I mean here you have a man who thinks he is a biblical character, in this case King David, and he’s building himself an army of mighty men who will do want he wants. I have grave concerns for that, grave concerns.”
– Source: Destiny’s Brian Tamaki answers ‘cult’ accusations, NZPA (New Zealand) via Stuff.co.nz, Oct. 29, 2009
Theologically: Cult of Christianity
It will be helpful to understand the differences between the sociological vs. theological definitions of the term ‘cult.’
Wikipedia says that “contrary to his claim to Orthodoxy Tamaki preached these following statements in May 2010 in a series entitled Activating Christ within You:”
- Paul (the apostle) had to believe by faith that he (Paul) was Christ. If he didn’t then the Church could not be established.
- The Church are many Christs of the one Christ.
- If I went to any church and said “you are all Christ and you are all Son’s of God”, I’d probably get kicked out…Theologians would have great difficulty with me; a lot of reverends, pastors, vicars, bishops, and Pentecostal pastors would all curl right now because they would have difficulty with this…they would say “you cannot say that”, but I have not said it…Christ has said it, so has the Father.
- Christ is Spirit, you must get out of your mind that Christ is still Jesus of Nazareth…Jesus of Nazareth did not come out of the tomb, the flesh Jesus died in the tomb.
- It is a fallacy, a false mentality; it is very bad teaching, to get believers to believe that they are anything less than the actual same Divinity and substance-of-Spirit as God… What I’m trying to tell you is that there is no difference between what is in you and what is God.
- You had divine origins…Christ has always been in you…it’s the (this) revelation that activates Christ in you.
- I am Christ.
- I cannot sin.
Destiny Church‘s self-styled bishop Brian Tamaki has appalled the Christian community by denying the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ, an essential fundamental tenet of Christian faith, writes opinion columnist Garth George in the New Zealand Herald.
A comprehensive dossier compiled by Mark Vrankovich, founding director of the Auckland-based international organisation Cultwatch, reveals that Mr Tamaki dropped this inexplicable heresy on his congregation in sermons beginning in May last year.
Cultwatch in 2004 designated Destiny Church as an ’emerging mind-control cult’. It has now, as a result of Mr Tamaki’s rejection of an absolute of Christianity, “reluctantly” classified Destiny Church as a cult.
And Cultwatch has recommended that no Destiny Church leader or member be permitted any leadership role in any orthodox Christian organisations or programmes outside its own sphere.
So, in my opinion, it is natural that after a failed prophesy of political power, and within a few months of chaining his followers to him, Mr Tamaki would feel the need to announce an astounding revelation in order to prove all that he has claimed for himself – and keep the money flowing in.
Yet, according to the Cultwatch dossier, he obviously knew that he was breaking with orthodox Christianity when he admitted he had been softening up his congregation for a year. The sermon was part of a series called “Activating Christ Within You”. “In this sermon he dropped the two doctrinal bombshells, blasting Destiny Church off its orthodox foundations and landing it firmly in the realm of the cults,” says Cultwatch.
He taught that God had revealed to him that Jesus did not have a bodily resurrection, and that all Christians are actually Jesus.
He said: “This is, this is something that you have to get by revelation because you will never be convinced enough by your natural understanding.”
“You will doubt it. So revelation has to hold this. Hence, I’ve been for the last year preparing you so that you could be a people who could receive revelation, so you could get and understand what the Bible is really saying.”
– Source: Garth George, Destiny must be treated as a cult, New Zealand Herald, Feb. 17, 2011
But Cultwatch — in an article titled “Brian Tamaki’s Destiny Church is Now a Cult” — documents Tamaki’s teachings with audio clips.
Destiny church is in essence a multi-million dollar business — a venture kept afloat by the movement’s promotion of the prosperity gospel — in our view a scam in which preachers one way or another encourage people to donate money, teaching that God cannot or will not bless them until they first ‘sow seeds of faith’ (seeds = money, always sown in the field of whomever teaches this particular ‘gospel’).
“The Destiny Church has become a multimillion-dollar business, making founder Brian Tamaki and his wife Hannah rich,” The Sunday Star Times wrote in 2004:
He collects a six-figure salary and lives in a million-dollar clifftop home. He has a new boat worth more than $100,000, drives an $80,000 Ford Explorer and got a $35,000 Harley Davidson for his birthday.
Televangelist Brian Tamaki is enjoying an affluent lifestyle while members of his Destiny Church — some of whom are struggling to make ends meet — give 10 per cent of their gross incomes to the church he founded six years ago.
Destiny, which has 20 branches nationwide, has become a multimillion-dollar business and Tamaki and his wife Hannah have got rich off its success.
The Auckland church alone, with a membership of 2000, is estimated to bring in $7 million a year in members’ tithes, an Old Testament expression for donating 10 per cent of income to honour God.
But Tamaki is accused by former members and those who have attended his services of putting pressure on people to hand over their 10 per cent. They allege Tamaki preaches that people will go to hell if they don’t tithe, and say Destiny staff phone members if they do not give regularly.
There is also concern that people on low incomes have been getting into financial strife by giving more than they can afford, and that there are constant calls for donations above the 10 per cent.
The Sunday Star-Times has obtained a “contract” which new Destiny members are asked to sign. It contains several pages explaining the need for tithes, including the statement: “Holding back our tithes is robbing God, actually stealing.”
When this reporter attended a Destiny service this month there was a strong emphasis on money, with Brian and Hannah Tamaki repeatedly asking for cash for a building fund and 21 church officials going through the crowd collecting offerings.
– Source: Destiny Church raises up founders’ bank balances, Sunday Star Times, June 20, 2004
Nearly six years later:
Destiny Church leader Brian Tamaki says his $1 million-plus home and $75,000 car are “not much” of a reward for decades of clean and righteous living and taking his message to the masses.
In an interview with broadcaster Willie Jackson on Radio Live yesterday, Bishop Tamaki, who was accompanied by church spokesman Richard Lewis, said his expensive car and $1.25 million home at Maraetai in Manukau City were just reward for living right and working hard.
But a former high-ranking Destiny member told the Weekend Herald he and others left because people were hearing less about Jesus Christ and hearing more about the church’s leader.
The man, who has since joined another church in Auckland, had a close association with Bishop Tamaki but left after the two clashed over their theological differences.
“You want people to focus on the content of what you’re saying, so when the finance, the glitz and the lifestyle take precedence over what you are saying, all people are seeing is the bling,” he said.
– Source: Tamaki defends high life, New Zealand Herald, Mar. 6, 2010
“A former employee of Destiny Church said Bishop Tamaki was given up to $500,000 every year in donations from Destiny Church members, on top of a six-figure salary,” the New Zealand Herald reported that same month.
As Tamaki’s right-hand man Richard Lewis says: “The gospel that Destiny brings, and that our bishop has a gift to bring, is one that uplifts people and moves you forward as opposed to living in a condition that’s seen as lack and poverty-stricken.”
It ought to be said, of course, that other churches have transformed lives too. They are boring, mainstream churches with long traditions of helping society’s neediest, funded by their faithful, and staffed by people who tend not to demand superstar salaries and lavish lifestyles.
Tamaki may have some special abilities as a pastor – though clearly not as a prophet, given his failed prediction that Destiny would be “ruling the nation” by its 10th birthday – but his appeal is more likely because of the kind of theology he preaches.
He calls it a theology of life, but it more closely resembles the American-inspired prosperity theology, also known as the Name It and Claim It or Health and Wealth Gospel.
It combines an unashamed materialism with New Age positivism. Give your money to God, it promises, and God will bless you with even more money. God wants his followers to be rich.
It’s not hard to see why it would be more appealing to the poor and desperate than the theology of suffering preached by mainstream churches. Who wouldn’t want God to give them a bigger house, or a better car?
Critics charge that it contradicts Christ’s teaching on money, and makes God seem like a kind of celestial ATM, but most prosperity preachers have been too busy counting the money to notice.
Fallen 1980s televangelist Jimmy Bakker, jailed for fraud and conspiracy for stealing US$3.7 million from his flock to fund his extravagant lifestyle – which included six mansions, a theme park, a Rolls-Royce and salary of nearly US$2 million – was one of prosperity’s most faithful adherents.
In his book I Was Wrong, Bakker recalls how fervently he’d embraced the prosperity gospel.
“Look at all the rich saints in the Old Testament,” he’d point out. “And the New Testament clearly says that above all, God wants us to prosper even as our souls prosper. If your soul is prospering, you should be prospering materially as well.”
But forced to study the Bible more closely in jail, he came to the conclusion that Jesus “did not have one good thing to say about money. Most of Jesus’ statements about riches, wealth and material gain were in a negative context.
“Not only was I wrong, but I was teaching the opposite of what Jesus had said. That is what broke my heart; when I came to the awareness that I had actually been contradicting Christ, I was horrified.”
– Source: Tapu Misa, Life of Brian means user-pays salvation, New Zealand Herald, Mar. 8, 2010
Regarding tithing, note the following:
The New Testament nowhere designates a percentage of income a person should set aside, but only says it is to be “in keeping with income” (1 Corinthians 16:2). Some in the Christian church have taken the 10 percent figure from the Old Testament tithe and applied it as a “recommended minimum” for Christians in their giving. The New Testament talks about the importance and benefits of giving. We are to give as we are able. Sometimes that means giving more than 10 percent; sometimes that may mean giving less. It all depends on the ability of the Christian and the needs of the church.
– Source: What does the Bible say about Christian tithing? GotQuestions.org
- Draft National Statement On Religious Diversity, Destiny Church. Last accessed Sunday, February 27, 2011 – 2:05 PM CET
- Leader of cult-like Destiny Church has 700 ‘sons’ swear oath of loyalty, Religion News Blog, Oct. 29, 2009
- Patriarchy is a social system in which the role of the male as the primary authority figure is central to social organization, and where fathers hold authority over women, children, and property. It implies the institutions of male rule and privilege, and is dependent on female subordination.
- Brian Tamaki, Wikipedia entry. Last accessed Sunday, February 27, 2011 – 2:58 PM CET
- Protocols & Requirements Between Spiritual Father & His Spiritual Sons, page 7.