It’s not common to find a well resourced and organised, well presented, enthusiastically socially proactive, theologically conservative (for the most part) and outspoken Christian church in New Zealand. The combination of all four is a rare commodity. So in recent history when Brian Tamaki’s Destiny Church showed up, it naturally attracted a lot of attention, both good and bad. It was all of those things – plus a few other things. But in part because of those four things all together, it was like a lighthouse for a number of disenfranchised Christians who felt that other churches really weren’t going to make the kind of difference they wanted to see.
Added to this package, however, were a few other things – things often seen as the darker side of some Pentecostal churches. There had always been an intense focus on the church’s leadership, in this case just one man, Brian Tamaki, who took the title “bishop” in spite of the church not having an episcopal leadership model. All of the church’s publicity, including its own television broadcasts, were centred on one individual. Mr Tamaki was at the centre not because of any qualifications that made him knowledgeable or especially skilled at anything in particular, but rather because of the belief that he is God’s chosen man. A very strong emphasis in Mr Tamaki’s teaching on submission to church leadership (I’ll never forget – “If you don’t have a pastor, you’re heading for disaster”) was also a concern for many, as it raised the spectre of unquestionable authority, or at very least the sustained focus on such submission suggested an unhealthy imbalance towards human authority. It’s also a common feature in charismatic movements like this – and Destiny is no exception – that a great deal of authority to teach the Christian faith is vested in those who at times almost seem to flaunt the fact that they have no theological training. Such, we might be told sometimes, is the stuff of old stuffy religious people in ivory towers, all we really need is a strong leadership above us, a leadership that is in touch with God. In the eyes of many, it’s like a 16 year old boy with no licence being given the fastest car in town. A respect for one’s teaching that has not been earned, but which is taken very seriously by the flock.