By Robin Sam
An upcoming Christian meeting, dubbed as ‘Supernatural Healing & Prophetic Service’, has caused consternation among church leaders in the country and kicked up an unlikely controversy.
The meeting scheduled to happen on May 2 and 3 in Tamil Nadu’s Trichy at the Zion Faith Tabernacle Church pastored by V Victor Gnanaraj, has triggered a debate in Christian circles over the propriety of allowing a cultist preacher to address a gathering in a Pentecostal church ostensibly for dispensing prophecies and supernatural healing.
The speaker at the meeting, Kirby De Lanerolle, is the founder of Works of Wonder Life ministries and calls himself ‘a prophet’. A Sri Lankan, Kirby is a follower of the teachings of Kobus Van Rensberg of South Africa.
Incidentally, Kobus Van Rensberg himself was a controversial preacher and televangelist who claimed he will resurrect after his death. Kobus, the self-proclaimed prophet and faith-healer, who led millions of people away from the gospel of Jesus Christ through his false teachings, died on December 21, 2013. During his lifetime, Kobus claimed he was immortal and would never taste death. Even if he died, he would resurrect because of his powers, he had claimed.
Kirby, the self-described prophet and disciple of Kobus Van Rensberg, also preaches the longevity of life. His meetings, he claims, are a platform for ‘wonders’ such as ‘supernatural body weight loss’ and financial release.
He claims he is a ‘breatharian’ who gets his nourishment from light, wind and the “vibrations of God”. He also claims he has survived without eating food for the past five years. While medical experts believe the average human being can go for as long as two months without food, Kirby claims he has only eaten seven times in the last 10 months. When he eats, Kirby says usually he only consumes his daily communion – a small morsel of bread and red wine.
The Christian Messenger spoke to pastor Victor Gnanaraj, the man at the centre of the controversy. His church, the Zion Faith Tabernacle (ZFT) Church, plays host to Kirby and his team from Sri Lanka.
When asked how he could allow a cultist preacher with dubious claims to preach in his church, Gnanaraj said: “I am only giving him space at my church. We’re renting out our church for the event and not associated with the event. They’ve paid an advance of Rs.10,000. Kirby’s Chennai representative, Mr. Tony Fernandes, has promised to pay the balance amount of Rs.10,000 soon.”
However, advertisements released by him in Bangalore-based Forerunner magazine in its March and April issues clearly seem to indicate that ZFT Church is organizing the event. A visit to Kirby’s website also confirmed it. A promotional running on Kirby’s website wowlife.in says ‘Pastor V. Victor Gnanaraj is the host of this event.’ Similarly, a pop-up advertisement of Kirby’s meeting in Trichy greets visitors to ZFT Church (zftchurch.com)
Quizzed about the advertisements that state online registrations and web streaming of the event are taken care of by his church, he said: “Well, since they are here we’ve offered to help them out.”
When asked if he would rent out his church building to anybody irrespective of one’s doctrinal beliefs and leanings, he retorted: “Look, everybody keeps saying Kirby is a cultist, but nobody wants to engage him in a debate. Who has proved Kirby to be a cultist so far? By giving him a forum, I am setting stage for people to confront him and prove him wrong. My church also needs money to function. My TV programme, Jeeva Kural, comes on 16 channels. Due to lack of funds, I have cut down as many as three channels. I need money to pay the channels. Everybody talks but nobody wants to give anything to church (sic).”
If that were the real intention, he was asked, why didn’t he label the meeting as an apologist’s conference where opposing doctrinal beliefs could be thrashed out? To which he replied: “Who’d want to come for such a meeting? People come only for supernatural healing meetings.”
The advertisement says the registration fee for the two-day event is Rs.1,000. The church offers tea and lunch for the amount. Victor Gnanaraj’s phone number and his CEO, Mr. Jayan’s phone number besides two other mobile numbers, a landline number and an email ID are listed in the advertisement. All phone numbers and the email ID belong to ZFT Church and its office bearers.
Gnanaraj says the programme is meant to raise funds for his church. “I recently hired a CEO for our Rhema media centre. He was earlier working in an airlines company. We offered to match his salary, but now we don’t have funds to pay him. I need to do something to generate money and pay my staff.”
Asked if he did not know Kirby is a questionable preacher with cultist leanings and wrong doctrinal theories, Gnanaraj said: “No, I know him well. In fact, I travelled to Sri Lanka to invite him for the meeting. I have heard his messages. I am 77 years old. I have been in the ministry for 50 years. Gnanaraj is not a fool that he will bring just anybody to his church.”
“If what I am doing is wrong, let the Lord strike me. Let God Himself strike me,” he thundered when asked if he thought it was too late to cancel the meeting.
So, was it a desperate attempt to make money despite knowing that allowing a cultist preacher to speak in his church goes against the grain of the Bible’s doctrines and would generate negative publicity for his ministry?
He evaded a direct reply to that question but promised to revert to us after the event is over. “My priority now is to hold the meeting. I am getting so many calls about Kirby and the meeting. Frankly, I think the media and Christian leaders should give me some space. I am getting another call on my phone. We’ll talk later,” he told The Christian Messenger.
Before disconnecting the call, Gnanaraj said that by web streaming he was giving a chance to believers all over the world to find out for themselves if there were any wrong teachings dished out by Kirby at the meeting. He said he had told Kirby’s team that he holds the right to interrupt the meeting and question them if they made any wrong doctrinal expositions.