All that glitters is not gold


RECENTLY much excitement was generated in some churches in different parts of the world by two phenomena that have to do with gold – gold teeth-fillings and gold dust.

The first phenomenon was recently reported to have occurred at the Toronto Airport Christian Fellowship, Sacramento, where some members of the congregation were miraculously given gold teeth-fillings in answer to their prayers. In its March 1999 Intercession Conference, John Arnott showed pictures of people from South Africa with new miraculous gold dental fillings, and prayed that the same would happen in Toronto. The Christian Week reported in its March 30, 1999 issue that “instantaneously many people said ‘my teeth are turning gold”‘.

The change was reportedly captured on video. On film, “you could see the colour change from dark metallic to gold or silver”, reported a participant. Since then several instances of similar dental “miracles” were reported in churches in America, Canada, the UK and elsewhere. Proponents claim that God has given them gold teeth, or changed their amalgam fillings into gold fillings.

In the UK it was reported that some have received silver fillings. In their search for a biblical warrant for this “miracle”, proponents have often alluded to Psalm 81:10, which reads “Open thy mouth, and I will fill it.” When asked why God does not simply provide new teeth, some argue that giving gold fillings is more difficult and therefore a “greater miracle”.

The second phenomenon has to do with gold dust or gold flecks that have purportedly rained on the members of some churches as they worshipped. This phenomenon is associated with the Brazilian evangelist, Silvania Machado, who had gold flecks cascading from her head during services. Soon the phenomenon spread to many charismatic churches in the United States, Canada and Europe. Proponents insist that the gold dust signify God’s purification of the Church, since “gold” in the New Testament symbolises purity.

Ruth Heflin, an American revivalist, who constantly sees the gold dust manifestations in her meetings, insists that the dust is a sign of God’s glory. She is reported to have said, “The Lord loves for us to show off the gold dust because of his relationship with us.” Even when the flecks, after analysis, turned out to be nothing more than plastic glitter with no gold content, proponents still insist on their significance. In some cases, the flecks were not gold in colour, but blue, silver or red.

What are we to make of these phenomena? Are they really special blessings from God, or are they hoaxes or worse, satanic deceptions? The answer to these questions must take into consideration the complex nature of such manifestations and their theological implications.

Some of these claims have been shown to be either exaggerated or simply false. For example, the Los Angeles Times (Jan 25, 2000), in an article headlined Struck by “Golden Miracles”, exposes the claims of pastor Rich Oliver from the Family Christian Centre of having experienced the gold teeth-filling miracle to be false. Pastor Oliver claims that God gave him the glittering crowns in March 1999, but his dental records showed that his previous dentist had put them in on April 29, 1991. When confronted with this, he is reported to have said, “I’d have to say I was absolutely wrong … [but] none of it distracts from the fact that I know God is a healer.” While he may not have the intention to deceive his congregation (he may have simply forgotten that he had the crown put in 10 years earlier), others are found to have told blatant lies about their “miracles”. The National Post reported that TV evangelist Willard Thiessen, who hosts a daily programme on Winnipeg television, has recanted his statement that God had miraculously given him a gold tooth. He in fact had the crown implanted by his brother, a dentist in British Columbia.

Is there a biblical basis for these phenomena? The short answer is there isn’t any! The appeal to Psalm 81:10 by the proponents of the gold teeth-filling “miracles” was obviously a desperate attempt to find some scriptural warrant, however remote. But such use of the Bible is baseless and betrays an absence of concern for the responsible exegesis and application of scriptural texts. The same may be said of the proponents of the gold dust “miracle”, who often use Isaiah 43:19, “Behold, I will do a new thing,” to argue that the cascading dust is of God.

Again, there is no concern whatsoever for proper exegesis. And without the latter, Isaiah 43:19 indeed can be used to justify many a bizarre practice in the church! The claim that gold is a symbol of purity, of course, has biblical warrant. But the problem is not all the dental fillings and not all the falling dust are made of gold. Some fillings are silver, and the dust, which is a sort of plastic film, has no gold or platinum properties, and comes in various colours.

Walker writes:

“Questions are raised in our minds about God’s goodness and open-handedness when, on the one hand, he seems unwilling or unable to prevent Auschwitz or the contemporary tragedy of Kosovo, but seems both willing and able to adopt the role of a modern dentist and provide not only cosmetic wonders, but phenomena more in keeping with the Fortean Times than the Bible.”

The caution in the familiar proverb becomes profoundly relevant: “All that glitters is not gold.” Not everything that appears to be “miraculous” is of God.

Christians who are preoccupied with “signs” must remind themselves of the point made by Jesus in an encounter with the Pharisees recorded in Matthew 12. In reply to their request for a sign, Jesus said, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, and no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah the prophet.” (12:39). The “three days and three nights” that Jonah spent in the belly of the fish is an allusion to the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. In response to the Pharisee’s request for a sign, Jesus pointed to His imminent death and resurrection. In response to His 21st century disciples’ fascination with “signs and wonders”, Jesus would point to His resurrection that took place two millennia ago.

Theologians like Pannenberg (Protestant), Ratzinger (Catholic) and Staniloae (Orthodox) have rightly regarded the resurrection of Christ as the “Sign of signs”. All other signs point to and culminate in this Sign. All other miracles point to and are based on this Miracle.

The resurrection of Christ is all we need for our lives now, and it is the unshakeable basis of our hope. Without this Sign, we are nothing and have nothing (1 Cor 15:17). But by this Sign we know that we are sinners redeemed by the blood of the Lamb. Because of Christ’s resurrection, we know that nothing, not even death, can separate us from God. We are joint-heirs with Christ, and are blessed with every spiritual blessing in Him.

Dr Roland Chia, Director of the Centre for the Development of Christian Ministry at Trinity Theological College, worships at Fairfield Preaching Point in Woodlands.