By Muyiwa Adetiba
If you were fed on a diet of James Hardly Chase, Sydney Sheldon and Harold Robbins as some of us were in the seventies or thereabout, you probably would have come across ‘The Spellbinder’, one of Harold Robbins latter novels.
It was a novel that came out at the advent of the tele evangelism in the US, and it tried to capture this growing phenomenon.
It had different sections including ‘Jesus for love’, and ‘Jesus for money’ which is the title for this week’s column. It was, briefly, a story of a young man who was consumed by his zeal and love for Christ.
He was also, a charismatic and fiery preacher. But to get the kind of audience that his talent required, he needed to be on TV. Unfortunately, TV slots in the US, have never come cheap. (Ask Obama and Romney) .
Then a group of men who saw beyond this man’s love for Jesus came up. They saw a potential. They saw a young, charismatic orator who could bring in top dollars, and were willing to invest in that potential.
Inevitably, the man became a willing captive, and Jesus for love became Jesus for money. After all, bills have to be paid. And like one famous man of God once said, ‘you can’t serve God on Halleluyah alone’.
Once tele evangelism took root in the US, it was inevitable that it would come down to Nigeria where the people needed its message of hope, faith, positive thinking and prosperity.
The messengers themselves, felt obliged to become symbols of their prosperity messages by looking like successful Hollywood stars all the time.
The more successive governments impoverished the people, the more the people came to rely on prosperity message.
All you needed to do, according to the message, was sow your seeds in tithes, first fruits, harvests, and church donations then watch the seeds germinate and grow into mighty oak trees.
The more the hospitals became consulting clinics and mortuaries, the more Nigerians keyed into miracles of healing and fertility. The more people lost hope in the system, the more churches sprouted and grew.
Warehouses that should generate employment, were converted into churches. Smaller churches were pulled down to make way for bigger ones.
More like the man in the Bible who, on realising that his farm had yielded more produce, decided to pull down his barn so as to build a bigger one. But Jesus told him, just as he is telling us, that his treasure should be in heaven.
We forget that the hood does not make a monk, and bigger churches do not automatically translate into the temple of God; just as a house does not become a home because it has a roof and some furniture.
We forget also, that the lifestyle of the early apostles is there to serve as a model, and the lives of the departed saints should instruct us on austere and disciplined living. These were people, like Mother Theresa, who identified with the poorest of the poor.
Of course, when you become more focused on financial growth than spiritual growth, when you move from feeding the flock to fleecing the flock, when this year’s harvest must be more than last year’s harvest, when you translate from Jesus for love to Jesus for money, then no matter how well intentioned you started out with, your spiritual standard is bound to be lowered.
Money launderers and conscience launderers will infiltrate your church; and the church will become like the Asian churches in the book of Revelations which the Lord promised to spew out.
The spirit says ‘ you think you are rich with your big church, fine apparel and private jet. But you are wretchedly poor, naked and blind.’
There are places of worship in every corner these days, yet corruption and crime are growing unabated. If these places of worship are not correcting the ills of the society, then what are they there for? After all, if salt loses its saltiness then we should throw it into the sea.
These places of worship have the power to arrest the moral decline in the country because they control such a large captive audience. Its not for nought that a general overseer was named one of the top 50 most influential people in the world.
But they finance their many projects by taking money from the corrupt rich. They flaunt wealth and materialism. They befriend the rich and tolerate the poor thus losing their moral influence.
The effect is that a young man grows up to see poverty as the ultimate sin and wealth as the reward of God’s favour. Nobody is deemed to be successful unless he is rich.
When Pastor Tunde Bakare raised the alarm that a revolution might start with the house of the Lord, some people started calling for his head. What he is decrying goes beyond the acquisition of private jets.
It goes directly to the mindset of those ‘men of god’ who are living lavishly in the midst of poverty; those who emphasize materialism instead of deemphasizing it.Those who think Pastor Bakare is an alarmist should read 1Peter 4; 17 on God’s promise of judgement on men of God.