Destiny Church supporters parted with tens of thousands of dollars for the privilege of watching 700 worshippers swear an oath of allegiance to leader Bishop Brian Tamaki.
Church officials have confirmed "several thousand" people paid $30 each to attend the ceremony, with a $60 concession for family groups.
About 700 male members of the church last weekend swore a "covenant oath" of loyalty and obedience to Bishop Tamaki at the ceremony, 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".
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Though the church could not give exact numbers yesterday, some who watched the oath ceremony estimated that about 3000 people were present - an audience which alone would have raised at least $90,000.
The church said there was a subsidy for "those who couldn't afford it", but it is not clear what the amount was.
But costs didn't stop at the door. Oath takers paid $295 - plus a $5 administration fee - for the ring symbolising their loyalty to Bishop Tamaki. Some were given the option of paying the ring off over time.
Members were also asked for $10 to fund the Destiny School building extension, and a gold-coin donation to Destiny Television Ministries.
Those costs were separate from ordinary tithes, named "first fruit" and "harvest" offerings.
In a statement, the church said its buildings had large operational costs and its social programmes were funded out of the goodwill of its members.
"An individual's decision to give towards the vision and ministries of the church is purely based on their own free will."
Peter Lineham, associate professor of religious history at Massey University, said that with a congregation drawn largely from the Pacific and Maori working class, Destiny would have very few "big earners". Most would struggle with the costs.
"There would be a very strong pressure to pay. This is the maintenance of your membership."
The oath document gave Bishop Tamaki greater status than the Pope, Professor Lineham said. However, the "unhealthy over-deference" to a religious leader wasn't something new to New Zealand churches.
The founder of the Ratana Church was considered a mouthpiece of God, and many Pacific congregations treated their clergy with great respect.
"There's huge amounts of social control going on. The oath creates a community where you don't have to think for yourself. At its heart it makes it difficult for anyone to raise concerns about the direction the movement's taking. There's no room to hold him [Bishop Tamaki] accountable, and that's the scariest thing."
The oath document refers to Bishop Tamaki as a king, but he told Close Up last night he did not consider himself to be one. "It's difficult enough being a bishop, let alone a king."
He likened the covenant's provisions of non-disagreement with the way Prime Minister John Key would view party members espousing different views from the party line.
If they did, "you can imagine that [Mr Key] would be saying something about it. You don't have your team going out and saying something different from what the team have decided to do."
Destiny Church levies:
* Conference fees: $30 a head ($60 family)
* Oath rings: $295 (plus $5 admin fee)
* Destiny School extension $10
* Destiny Television Ministry gold coin
Destiny Church supporters last night flooded an nzherald.co.nz poll which asked: How would you describe Brian Tamaki's Destiny Church? Of 10,579 readers who voted by 7.50pm, 49 per cent said it was a "valid church", while 51 per cent said Destiny Church was "a cult". Those results reflected a remarkable change from three hours earlier, when just 4 per cent of 4733 readers had voted for the "valid church" option.