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Nigeria’s Pastors : Man-made gods (2)

By Dr. Ugoji Egbujo

It is true traditional rulers have with  the time and  the wind, started abandoning bitter kolas and alligator peppers and falling for ice creams and chocolates while steadily keeping up with the Kardashians. No one foresaw what time had in store for our Pentecostal churches. Patience , contentment and abstemiousness have been excommunicated.  Bliss is coveted and  pastors now  envy the life of  Hugh  Hefner. Their predilection for  frivolity and controversy , their allergy to rigour, painstakingness and scholarship and their love for money and life  have  birthed a counterfeit Christianity. Monks must  see our pastors now  as   self-indulgent ,self-absorbed ,  bottle fed infants, lacking in toilet training.   And they won’t be too wrong.

The authenticity of the 70s and 80s has been replaced by pervasive  shallowness. Many nominal Christians and ‘unbelievers’ have grown  a   disdain for    Pentecostals because of what they perceive as  hollow, irritating , sanctimoniousness.  Conspicuous character deficits leave latter-day Pentecostals looking like modern day  Pharisees. It is annoying to be put down  or indicted by the obtrusive hypocrisy of  another whose willingness accommodates the normality of duplicity—an otherwise roguish attempt to straddle both‘kingdoms’ with equanimity.

Only seared consciences should possess the effrontery or manipulativeness for such falseness. For many who have resisted the attraction, to identify themselves as born-again, are reluctant because they think they cannot cope with what they consider to be  the moral and spiritual demands of such a declaration. So the charlatanism of those who eagerly brandish that identification but pay not the dues in any determination to be changed persons,  and bear the moral costs, must  therefore offend many. But such indignant nominal Christians  can now relax, heave a sigh of  temporary relief.  Today’s Pentecostals, once supposed standard-bearers,  are now too lax  to even pretend to be different. The fire is gone. Tragically though,  it’s misfortune for all. The absence of positive peer pressure and chastisement only quickens spiritual  indolence and death.

Many churches are now  literally social clubs, existing  more for religious frivolities and social gathering than spiritual quickening.Once the churches began to care more about  here than hereafter, they talked more about riches than salvation.  And the flesh now enthroned had the spirit as its  footstool. ‘Repent or you perish’ became  sadistic barbarism and ‘you are blessed and highly favoured’  with all its permissiveness took centre stage and  signaled a watering down of standards. Churches filled up and pastors became richer and more influential.

The fatter the  ego of  the pastor the more spiritually anaemic the congregation because the pursuit of mammon and God are mutually exclusive endeavours.How  did Luther  ,the father of the reformation, once a monk and great scholar,  come by so many offsprings  possessed  by materialism and superficiality  like the bulk of our present day   pentecostal pastors?

Pentecostal pastors, particularly those who own churches,  now parade themselves more like Obas than missionaries—they have paid staff  and  volunteers servicing  their needs, whims and fantasies. Their sense of entitlement is baffling .Their insufferable  imperiousness and self conceitedness  make 1984  Eyadema  a meek man. Wherever they go they leave a trail of lavish spending and obscene displays of wealth. Vacuous pronouncements termed prophesies will promise so much to so many without requiring true repentance and righteous living in Christ.  And they will  always yield nothing but dashed hopes. Those who  insisted on righteousness  were relegated to the back waters of pentecostalism. Tragically ,even for Pentecostal pastors,  holiness is now an impossible, cumbersome ideal. The tug of war  has become decidedly too one sided , the church has fallen to the world.

It was not long before church practices and doctrines suffered fundamental   corrosion and adulteration. Every practice that sought to promote moderation, lowliness and conservatism became a cog in the wheel of  egocentric  pastors and naïve congregations high on exhibitionism. Manifestations of a circumcised heart are now derided as rigorous faithless religiosity— unproductive old time religion.  What would account for the  now dominant culture of paying lip service to holiness by pastors even in the face of  pervasive sinfulness in the church?

Jesus talked about the narrow way. But pastors who have been acting like they can forgive sins have been struggling to widen that narrow way. With these professors of ‘grace’,  salvation need not be worked out with fear and trembling.  They say only hearts matter, so masquerades come into church— girls come like hookers  and mothers come like they have been too long on the shelf waiting for takers.  Men come  swollen, to  flaunt and to hunt.  The poor come to hope and envy. The congregation in return is infatuated with the illusion of spiritual gifts in an empty pastor who  flaunts familiarity with God.  And they lionize him.

Things that were abominations in 1980 pentecostal churches  have been sanctified by  modern pastors who are chasing numbers and  money. Church services are filled with people making frantic efforts at sex appeal.And why not? Pastors who should be demure now dictate fashion trends and come to the altar like Michael Jackson. Nothing is spared, trivia like attendance figures are cooked the way companies cook market shares. Pastors don’t tell the congregation that those who concoct and embellish testimonies of miracles  belittle God.  Vultures are despised but pastors who milk the glory of  the works of the Almighty are venerated. Winks are exchanged, deals are struck, the flesh is fed. Sacredness left when the reality of hell portrayed by the Bible  was undermined. Many come to please their pastor.

But the real damage , I insist, is not in what  the  congregation that would often leave spiritually and financially  poorer has become.  The damage lies in  what the pastors have  done to the  doctrines, the DNA of the gospel. That is why those  scammers   who move around as pastors  to sell  prayers are not the real threat to the gospel. And neither is that pastor I met 22 years ago in my cousins’ house.  I had stayed the weekend in the house of cousins whom greed had driven into advance fee fraud. The pastor would  come 5 am prompt to hold morning devotions.

He knew why they wanted the prayers; they actually  wanted a kind of ‘babalawo’. He prayed  with some verses of the Psalms;he  knew they wanted ‘plenty money’, wanted people to fall into their traps.  That pastor was keen on the tithe so didn’t mind a ‘mugu’ or two  falling. Such contractor pastors,magicians with Bibles,won’t do much damage to the gospel; they never tamper with the truth. The legitimation of  evils by  the heretical interpretations given to doctrines  by prominent  pastors who actively seek  souls  while desperately seeking money and fame is Christianity’s biggest challenge.They contaminate the truth.

Prosperity is good but it’s not the essence of good Christian living. We sing the blessings of Abraham but forget that  Steven and most of the apostles died wretched and violently. Jesus sent an important message to John the Baptist before he was beheaded by revelers.  Those who work for God should not be desperate for earthly rewards because in the larger scheme of things they mean nothing. When they say  “sow dollars and reap dollars” , they allow carnal commercial instincts  misinterpret  Biblical “what you sow you shall reap”. Pastors never cite ‘prosperity’ examples using apostles and disciples of Christ. Why? Jesus made none of his men a billionaire! If dollars were such  apriority why did Jesus convert Peter from a fisherman to a fisher of men?  He told the rich  man to sell his belongings and distribute to the poor and follow Him! Pastors are now too preoccupied with earthly living.  Heaven is  now  too vague , too distant and hell is a bit unreal.

Christians should give to God out of  love not because of rewards. And in any case, the only certain promised reward is salvation.  The Holy Spirit  leads us into the place of cheerful giving and not old testament regimentation. The churches are now corporate entities so tithing is good because bills must be met, but the right reasons for giving and tithing should be explained. This mercantilist mentality must be discarded. Christians should live by faith, but that faith is faith in Christ . Christ didn’t promise rosy lives; he promised eternal life.

Christians should be heavenly minded and if so should work to stack up heavenly rewards. The preoccupation with self negates the mission to destroy the works of the devil. The poor are around us;we cannot live in luxury while our brothers die of hunger. If the mission of Christianity were well understood, many  who claimed they were called to set up churches would have resisted those covetous urges. But since we now  have so many churches exuding rancour and acrimony, painting Christianity in bad light,  what can be done to set things straight? We will pray for a revival but we won’t fold our hands.

There is nothing in the Bible that closely resembles the corporate bodies we have as churches today but that is not to suggest that the work of evangelism in  today’s world would not have needed such corporate organizing. If the church is the light of the world then these churches must exhibit ethical and moral standards far and above the minimums of good corporate governance. Transparency, probity , equity and fairness  must be enthroned. The story of Ananias  speaks about transparency and accountability as spiritual standards in the church. Pastors cannot own churches. Properties and assets cannot be  held in personal names. Pastors must make public on continuing basis the composition of the boards of trustees to the congregations. Appointments  to  the board of trustees must be fairly distributed to avoid  concentration of trustee powers  in a family or group of friends.

Church accounts should  be published regularly and should have clarity and detail to inform and educate. And the congregation should be encouraged to ask questions. As much as possible, parish priests should not control church finances. Every parish should have a  functional and  resourceful church committee whose composition and activities should  be publicized. Curbing of arbitrariness will not inhibit the spontaneity of the Holy Spirit. God loves order and transparency. The remunerations of pastors and paid workers should be published.

Every spirit-led pastor must know that gifts received in his capacity as pastor should go to the church and God’s work. To privatize such gifts , even personal gifts , is to promote a conflict of interest. God hasn’t stopped being jealous. Churches should avoid  over ambitious projects that make them vulnerable to financial  pressures. Concentration must be on practical evangelism, building minds and perfecting saints while catering for the poor.

Jesus is coming soon.


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