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The authenticity of the 70s and 80s has been replaced by pervasive shallowness.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.