OUTREACH FOR CHRIST INTERNATIONAL (ROFC)
OUTREACH FOR CHRIST INTERNATIONAL (ROFC) TIMELINE
1937: Steve Ryder was born.
1969: Steve Ryder’s conversion experience occurred.
1970s (Early): Ryder trained at Kenneth Hagin’s Bible School.
1979: Ryder established ROFC.
1980s (Early): ROFC established three local churches on Australian Gold Coast.
1980s (Mid-late): Ryder commenced international evangelizing campaigns.
1989: ROFC began evangelizing campaigns in Eastern Europe.
2008-2010: ROFC commenced sponsorship of orphans in Malawi and Haiti.
Steve Ryder was born in 1937, but there are few details known about his early life. He is described as having been rebellious after his family moved to Australia from England in 1960, when he was twenty-three years old ( Antioch Networks International n.d.). Itis known that he was convicted for armed bank robbery and sentenced to a twenty-year prison term. During his incarceration he was reputedly a member of the infamous “toe cutter” gang. He also became the first prisoner in Australia to complete a Doctrine of Theology by a correspondence course while completing his prison term. It was while he was on parole in 1969 that Ryder was converted at a Billy Graham Crusade where he “gave his life to Christ.” In the mid 1970’s, Ryder attended a small Assemblies of God church in Melbourne and trained at Kenneth Hagin’s Bible School in the U.S. (world renowned for its teaching of the health and wealth gospel) before founding Reach Out For Christ Ministries in 1979. In 1992, he received a Doctorate of Ministry Degree from the School of Bible Theology in Los Angeles (“Steve Ryder” n.d.).
Reach Out for Christ International Ministries (or ROFC, its own preferred acronym), is located on the Gold Coast in Queensland, Australia. It was founded by perhaps the currently most renowned healing evangelist to have emerged from Australia, Dr. Steve Ryder, who still retains leadership of the church. ROFC describes itself as a “Bible-based Christian Church” (ROFC Facebook). While this might suggest its Christian fundamentalist credentials, the church’s evangelical teachings and ministry locates it loosely within the so-called health and wealth (prosperity) “gospel” strand of neo-Pentecostalism. Thus its strong emphasis on the charismata (or “gifts of the Spirit”) including healing, speaking in tongues, prophecy and words of knowledge, to which is added the dogma that prosperity and health is the divine right of each believer.
A s an itinerant healing evangelist, Ryder has “planted” dozens of churches of various sizes in Australia and across the world including Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Hong Kong, Hungary, India, Greece, Macedonia, Nigeria, Pakistan, the Philippines, Portugal, the U.S. and the U.K. Ryder has also led large evangelizing campaigns in diverse countries including the Communist nations of China and Cuba where evangelizing forms of religion are habitually proscribed. A number of itinerant ministries subsequently operate out from several of these countries as a result of ROFC church “planting,” establishing churches of their own and organizing evangelizing outreaches (which may or not come under the spiritual guidance of the ROFC).
Ryder’s own mission, and those ministries derived from ROFC plant churches, hold crusades on what is perceived to be the pattern established by Jesus Christ and the early Church of the New Testament (Mark 16:15-18) and as a result, in the words of ROFC, “…we have conservatively seen hundreds of thousands of people make decisions for salvation” (ROFC Facebook). Ryder himself is frequently a guest evangelist healer at churches across the denomination divide. These include Roman Catholic churches where his ministry has even received commendation from leading Catholic figures including the Benedictine healer Dominic Heron (n.d.).
In his world-wide ministry Ryder emphasizes the call to preach the “Full Gospel” or the “uncompromised Word of God with signs and wonders following,” particularly in the realm of “Divine Healing.” The ROFC claims that under his ministry “the blind have seen, the lame have walked and the dead have been raised!” (ROFC Facebook). This is deemed to be part of the “Great Commission” of Jesus Christ (Matthew 28:16-20) and perceived as the precedent established by Jesus himself. Furthermore, according to the web-side of ROFC:
Our goal is to help nurture and equip all who make the decision to follow the model of His life and teachings. By God’s grace, we view the following to be part of God’s call on our particular congregation:
Regular and enthusiastic worship of God,
Proclaiming the Word of God found in the Bible,
Ministering God’s love and healing power through the leading of the Holy Spirit,
Serving our neighbors and community in the name of Jesus wherever possible.
Besides his international ministry, Ryder also continues to pastor his local Church (Gold Coast Reach Out Church), while heading up the Reach Out For Christ organization’s headquarters on the Gold Coast. He preaches and teaches the doctrines for which he is known, maintaining that, while he has a special anointing from God, the Signs and Wonders (miracles) claimed for his ministry can also be acquired by ordinary members the Body of Christ.
The strap-line of the ROFC church proclaims: “Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,” says the Lord (Zech 4:6). This biblicalquote underscore’s the organization’s core beliefs and doctrines, especially those related to healing and prosperity. An important element of healing is the belief that every “born-again” believer has a right to “Divine Healing” through the Atonement of Christ. This is a central doctrine of the Assemblies of God church, the largest Pentecostal organization in the world ( World Assemblies of God Statement of Faith n.d.) , the tradition from which Steve Ryder and his ministry originated after his conversion. This teaching is based on various scriptural verses including Isaiah 55:11. In one of his publications Ryder declares that:
…. the Greek word Sozo…. means to save, deliver, protect. To heal, preserve, make whole. It means to be delivered from the full penalty of sin, or we could say, original sin’s consequences, covering each dimension of Spirit….Soul….and Body. This means we can actually begin to declare the Word of God by faith, and put into motion the healing of our bodies, by speaking the Word in the Name of Jesus… (Ryder 1991)
Underscoring this belief is the conviction that sick believers do not have to remain physically ill (based on James 5:14): that God wishes them to be physically healthy and can be healed by “Calling on the name of God in the Old Testament: ‘Jehovah-Rapha’ (‘The Lord who heals you’) – part of God’s very nature” (Ryder 1991).
In relation to healing (and prosperity), as with other Faith ministries, Ryder teaches the core doctrine of “Positive Confession” associated with the health and wealth gospel’s leading exponents such as Kenneth Copeland (for example, The Power of the Tongue 1980) and his predecessor, the late Kenneth Hagin (for example, Right and Wrong Thinking 1966 ). Put succinctly, Positive Confession is based upon the teaching that what is audibly spoken by the believer in faith operates the spiritual law of faith itself and brings what is confessed into material reality including health and wealth. Such faith teaching and practices are underpinned by the assertion that there is a physical and spiritual law, each governing the different spheres of existence. The superior spiritual laws operate with the “force of faith,” which draws upon the “positive power of God” and is based upon an interpretation of New Testament scripture: “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1).
Ryder insists that “When Christians speak with authority something happens in the spiritual world and often in the physical world” (Ryder “The Power of the Tongue,” n.d.). And that “We can actually begin to declare the Word of God by faith, and put into motion the healing of our bodies, by speaking the name of Jesus” (Ryder 1991:27) . Conversely, there is “Negative Confession,” that is, if an individual’s oral statements are negative then there will be negative effects in this world including on people’s physical and financial well-being. This echoes the original teachings of Kenneth Hagin that w rong confession is an admission of defeat and failure, and acknowledges the supremacy of Satan in a person’s life (Hagin 1966). Ryder in the undated tract Healing is Important , concurring that Satan is the enemy who takes away the right of the believer’s health and prosperity, states:
The origin of sickness was Satan, he had robbed the Church and made it sick and by making the Church sick it is weakened in its job of spreading the gospel….Divine health is something that you already possess….And something the Devil is trying to take away from us.
The subject of Divine Healing in Ryder’s teachings, and material to be found on such web-site blogs as “ Healing by the Laying on of Hands,” also relate to “Signs and Wonders,” which state that healing and other miracles should be an integral part of evangelizing rallies and the “proof” of the Gospel for unbelievers:
…. instructions to lay hands on the sick, were the last words spoken by Jesus on this Earth, according to the Book of Mark. Therefore, they reveal His great love and compassion for the sick; and they also emphasize the importance of signs and wonders as His method of reaching the lost of the world with the Gospel.
Ryder, like Hagin and Copeland, teaches that a s born-again Christian believers are redeemed from the curse of the Judaic laws of the Old Testament they are heirs to Abraham’s blessing and God’s promises of prosperity. This is guaranteed by faith and, like healing, stems from Christ’s atonement (based on such scriptures as Galatians 3:13 , 14 , 29 ) and is seen as a priority and an interpretation of the Apostle John’s words that “Beloved, I wish above all things that thou mayest prosper and be in health, even as thy soul prospereth” (3 John 1:2).
Connecting Positive Confession of health and prosperity is an emphasis on positive thinking which can be speculatively traced to the teachings of Norman Vincent Peal (1996). This is expressed in Ryder’s words:
When Christians speak with authority something happens in the spiritual world, and often the physical world. Think positively – you will not get ill. By the words that we speak Satan can have hold over us. We can actually begin to declare the Word of God by faith and put into motion the healing of our bodies… ( Ryder, Power of God’s Word , n.d).
I am going to live out my seventy years with freedom from sickness and poverty. What is more, I am confessing my right to live well beyond that. Some might call it presumption, some might call it heresy. I call it mine by right (Ryder, Why Divine Why Divine Health is Important, n.d.).
The teaching of divine health and prosperity are evident in the rituals and practices of ROFC and the ministry of Ryder. An important element of Positive Confession is the notion of “binding and loosing.” “Bind” refers to allowing the spoken power of God to become active in a particular situation. “Loosing” refers to authoritatively releasing that power especially in the area of healing. This is evident in the tract Why Healing is Important penned by Ryder.
Consider a hypothetical case. You have been asked to pray for somebody who has cancer, and in much pain. You have sought the Lord, and have now been given a (spiritual) discernment that there is a spirit of cancer, and pain afflicting the person;
The Lord has told you to ‘Bind and Loose’. Here is what you do audibly with your voice.
Thank the Father for having made you His representative.
Thank Him for giving you authority over devils.
Submit yourself to Him.
Speak to the devil, quoting scriptures you are going to use against Him.
Take authority over the enemy using the scriptures.
Pray for healing.
Thanks to the Father for having done all you have commanded.
The same kind of formula can also be applied to financial situations, according to the same ROFC source:
I bind you (Satan) in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ over my personal finances and business. You are now absolutely bound in this area, and I loose in the name of God’s power on my behalf to get my personal finances and business into a healthy and wealthy position.
The home church of ROFC, Gold Coast Reach Out Church, besides holding two Sunday services, has special healing services every Wednesday where Ryder ministers to the sick. A common way of undertaking this is to use a “prayer handkerchief” that is “prayed over” by Ryder or other leaders of the church. Individuals can send their handkerchiefs to the meeting to be prayed over for the cost of four dollars (Australian). This is said to emulate the miracles reported performed in this way by the Apostle Paul (Acts 19: 11-12). Prayer clothes: personal clothing are also used in evangelizing campaigns and, as evident in the Czech Republic and Hungary, may mount up in huge piles. The clothing may be taken away and placed on a family member or friend for healing (“Healing Meetings” n.d.).
Two other practices/rituals are worth mentioning in relation to healing. Firstly, the practice of “Slaying in the Spirit.” This is a common feature of Pentecostalism and the Charismatic movement and involves “gifted” healers and evangelists laying hands on members of a congregation who fall to the floor, putatively under the power of the Holy Spirit (“Healings and Miracles Steve Ryder” n.d.), A frequently observable phenomenon at the large rallies organized by Ryder is for rows of people to be “slain” (as he lays hands on them, and some without him doing so) like rows of dominoes (observable in the ROFC video cassette Czechoslovakian Revival). Secondly, detecting the type of illness from which people suffer. Ryder claims to received Words of Knowledge “in the Spirit” that tell him of a particular infliction. Relatedly, Ryder claims to be able to supernaturally see “patches” over a particular part of the body where a physical illness is present. On occasions he might “speak into” that area of the body, commanding the sickness to go, especially if it seen to have demonic causes, or ask the inflicted to visualize a healing taking place.
ROFC is a worldwide Christian organization established by Steve Ryder in 1979. It started solely as an evangelical ministry, with headquarters based in Carrara on Australia’s Gold Coast. Whilst keeping its evangelical emphasis, ROFC established three local churches in the early 1980’s on the Australian Gold Coast, but these were only part of a wider global vision.
Ryder’s organization was one of the first to take a Pentecostal style ministry into Eastern Europe when the walls of Communism fell in 1989. Ryder is now possibly the most famous current Australian healing evangelist and who also acts as ROFC’s President. Ryder is a charismatic figure not unlike most healing evangelist. On occasions he has shared a platform with other well-known evangelists such as Rhinhard Bonnke (Christ For All Nations) in Tanzania . Ryder expresses a dislike for church organization and committees, seeing these as detrimental to spreading the gospel, and he remains the significant figure in his ministry and churches. The International Director and Associate Minister is Andrew Jacovides, a close friend of Ryder, who may speculatively be his ultimate successor. However, Ryder is no authoritarian personality. Most of the churches that he has “planted” across the world remain autonomous, although Ryder may pay them an occasional visit for teaching and to lift morale.
Other activities undertaken by the ROFC have included organizing a “Biblical Tour” of Israel, Greece, Turkey and Italy (“Biblical Tours” n.d.) and (along with a similar evangelist Martin Phelps of the Logos Church, originating in South Africa) a Mediterranean cruise exclusively for Christians, which included seminars for the healing ministry and prosperity gospel. Reach Out For Christ began to sponsor orphans in Malawi in 2008 and in Haiti in 2010. And, more recently, “Sharing Christ-centered arts and educational programs with the larger community;” the c onstruction of church facilities internationally; international television networking; food, clothing and welfare distribution; rehabilitation centres; retirement villages for the elderly; and Bible Colleges (“Our Vision” n.d.).
Like many evangelizing healing ministries that of Ryder have been criticized, including those of charitable bodies concerned with health issue (“Curved Spine Healed by God… Really?”2012) for the claims he makes in healing people of such maladies as polio, crippling conditions, and blindness (“Crusades, Healings, and Miracles” n.d.). Ryder is, however, keen to prove the medical validity of his claimed miraculous healing with X-rays provided by the medical profession, which he uses as a prop during healing campaigns. Even more controversial are his claims to raise the dead in India, Africa and Burma, Pakistan and elsewhere. In the case of Burma the healings took place at a rally in front of 25,000 people (“Crusades, Healings, and Miracles” n.d.).
While there are no clear, informed, published criticisms of Ryder’s adherence to the health and wealth gospel, his inspirations, Kenneth Hagin and Kenneth Copeland, have been heavily criticized, especially by other Christians for their unorthodox even heterodox teachings related to health and prosperity (Hanegraff 1992; McConnell 1995 ). Similarly, teachings of positive thinking and visualization techniques have been critiqued as being outside of the historical mainstream of Christianity (Smail et al. 1993). In turn, Ryder has been quick to deny that his teachings and practices are “cultist” and have parallels in those of the New Age movement. Academic accounts have, however, suggested that the practices advanced by Ryder border on metaphysics and magical rituals (Hunt 1998).
By the mid 1980s, Ryder’s growing ministry had attracted media attention. In one report, it was noted that he was given to praying for the downfall of the Labour Government in Australia, which he saw as immoral in its social policies and too interventionist in economic matters (Picardie and Wade 1986:14-16). Such interventionism was criticized for advancing the virtues of the free market that often accompanies the gospel of prosperity and for a failure to recognize the complex nature of social problems.
In 2010, Alan Davenport, a former pastor with the Reach Out for Christ and an ex-bankrupt, was arrested at his luxury waterfront home on the Australian Gold Cost after a lengthy police investigation, according to a report in the newspaper (“Ex-Pastor offered WTS Investment” 2012). The arrests came eleven months after detectives raided the offices of Davenport’s WTS (World Trade Systems), and the homes of several employees. Police said the investigation followed complaints that “large numbers” of WTS investors from around Australia had lost more than ten million dollars in the sports arbitrage scheme, in which customers were offered “guaranteed” wins by spreading their bets on all possible outcomes with different bookmakers. After the raids, Steve Ryder publicly denied the scheme had any connections with the church.
Antioch Networks International. 1997. “14 th National Convention.” Accessed from http://www.antioch.com.sg/events/livingbyfaith/ on 18 February 2014.
“Biblical Tours.” n.d. Accessed from http://www.drsteveryder.com/rofc-biblical-tours-israel on 18 February 2014.
Copeland, Kenneth. 1980. The Power of the Tongue. Forth Worth, TX: Kenneth Copeland Ministries.
“Crusades, Healings, and Miracles.” n.d. Accessed from http://www.drsteveryder.com/crusades-healing-miracles on 18 February 2014.
“Curved Spine Healed by God… Really?” 2012. Accessed from http://scoliosiswatch.co.uk/curved-spine-healed/ on 18 February 2014.
“Ex-Pastor Offered WTS Investment ‘Guaranteed Wins’.” 2012. Courier Mail , January 12. Accessed from http://www.couriermail.com.au/news/breaking-news/ex-pastor-offered-wts-investors-guaranteed-wins/story-e6freonf-1225818279214 on 2 February 2014 .
Hagin, Kenneth. 1966. Right and Wrong Thinking. Tulsa, OK: Kenneth Hagin Ministries.
Hanegraaff, Hank. 1992. Christianity in Crisis. Eugene, OR: Harvest House.
“Healing by the Laying on of Hands.” n.d. Reach Out for Christ . Accessed from http://www.rofc.com.au/car-reviews/laying-on-of-hands.htm on 26 January 2014 .
“ Healing Meetings.” n.d. “ Reach Out for Christ.” Accessed from http://www.rofc.com.au/car-reviews/healing-meetings.htm on 25 January 2014.
“Healings and Miracles Steve Ryder” n.d. Accessed from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WEA2aLUTgLc ) on 18 February 2014.
Heron, Dominic. n.d. “Gifts of Healing and Healing Teams.” In Dominic Heron, Praying for Healing: The Challenge. Accessed from http://www.christendom-awake.org/pages/dombenedict/book-healing/healing-5.htm on 23 January, 2014.
Hunt, Stephen. 1998. “Magical Moments: An Intellectualist Approach to the Neo-Pentecostal Faith Ministries.” Religion (special issue on the Charismatic Movement) 28:271-80.
McConnell, D. R. 1995. A Different Gospel , Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishing.
“ Our Vision.” n.d. “ Reach Out for Christ.” Accessed from http://www.rofc.com.au/main.htm on 20 January 2014.
Peal, Norman Vincent. 1996. The Power of Positive Thinking. New York: Ballantine Books.
Picardie, J. and Wade, D. 1986. “New-Born Christianity.” New Society (January):14-16.
Reach Out for Christ. n.d. “General Information.” Reach Out For Christ Facebook. Accessed from https://www.facebook.com/reachoutforchrist/info on 20 January 2014.
Reach Out for Christ. n.d. Czechoslovakian Revival, Video One: Miracles of Healing. Undated video cassette .
Ryder, Steve. n.d. “The Power of the Tongue.” Undated audio cassette, ROFC.
Ryder, Steve. n.d. “Why Divine Health is Important.” Undated audio cassette, ROFC .
Ryder, Steve, 1991. The Healing Ways of God . Reachout Publishing.
Smail, Tom; Walker, Andrew; and Nigel Wright. 1993. “‘Revelationary Knowledge’ and Knowledge of Revelation: The Faith Movement and the Question of Heresy.” Pp. 133-51 in Charismatic Renewal: The Search for a Theology, edited by Tom Smail, Andrew Walker and Nigel Wright. London: SPCK.
“Steve Ryder.” n.d. Zoominfo. Accessed from http://www.zoominfo.com/s/#!search/profile/company?companyId=346420545&targetid=profile on 18 February 2014.
“Vision.” n.d. Reach Out for Christ. Accessed from http://www.rofc.org/vision.html on 18 January 2014.
“World Assemblies of God Statement of Faith, 4.” Accessed from http://www.247ag.com/WAGF/wp-content/uploads/2009/11/Application-Statement-of-Faith.pdf on 20 January, 2014 .
20 February 2014