By CHIOMA GABRIEL, EDITOR,SPECIAL FEATURES
The face of Christianity appears to be changing since prosperity preachers mounted the centre stage, preaching wealthy and prosperous life, jettisoning righteousness and holiness.
The call for holy and righteous living appears to have taken the back seat. There are all kinds of fine-faced, fashion-conscious prosperity preachers who appear to know next to nothing about genuine Christianity.
It is these same preachers that often defraud their congregation by way of compelling them to sow what they do not have. And in a bid to remain relevant in the ‘House of God ‘, many pentecostal Christians under the influence of prosperity preachers ended up getting involved in financial crimes. Some are known to have stolen from the organisations they work for.
Different ministries have different approaches to presenting the gospel. There are churches that meet the physical needs of the destitute while giving the credit to Christ. Some could interpret that approach as preaching prosperity, because many impoverished people equate Christianity with prosperity.
There are also Christians who respond to the gospel message while their real motivation is to be prosperous. For some prosperity pastors, meeting physical needs is merely a part of ministering to the whole person. In prosperity preaching, Jesus is presented as a ticket to perfect health and financial wealth. The true gospel is stripped of its focus on eternity and reduced to a means by which everyone can experience his best life.
In the mundane world, prosperity preachers are perceived to encourage laziness among Christians who tend to believe that when they sow and are asked to receive in faith, a miracle of sort would lay prosperity on their laps without having to work.
Prosperity sure does not go that way. From many passages in the Bible, God has often asked the person he intends to bless,”what do you have in your hand?” This translates to what work are you doing. God prospers people through the work of their hands. Apostle Paul talks about faith with works, not faith without works.
Critics of prosperity teachers are mostly members of conventional churches who think that the prosperity pastors are deceiving the congregation into thinking that all they need to do is receive in faith and a miracle would bring prosperity to their doorstep without having to work for it.
“ Most prosperity pastors are fraudsters themselves. I cannot imagine a man expecting a miracle when he is doing nothing. Will God then rob those who are working to give to idle hands? It is fraud as far as I’m concerned ,” says Edward, a catholic. “It is only a fool that would believe that crap of receiving without having to work for it. If you are working and sowing, God can prosper what you have in your hand. Agreed, God speaks a lot about blessing His servants with earthly health, wealth, and honor .
Material blessings were part of the Mosaic and Palestinian Covenants for Israel. However, the New Testament focus is on eternal, not earthly, rewards. God does promise blessing to those who serve Him faithfully and follow His statutes. But a preacher who presents God as a means by which we can obtain earthly wealth is a prosperity preacher and a false teacher. This teaching portrays Almighty God as a type of jolly Santa Claus whose primary purpose is to prosper human beings and make their dreams come true. In prosperity preaching, man, not God, is the real star.”
Agreeing with Edwards opinion, David Offor, also a Catholic said the way some pentecostal pastors go about prosperity teaching is disheartening.
“The congregation is often deceived. Such preachers will entice listeners to “sow seeds into this ministry, promising abundant returns on this investment. The gospel becomes little more than a repackaged get-rich-quick scheme, with the ministers becoming richer than the listeners. Often, an invitation to accept Christ is given at the conclusion of a service that has been based solely around blessing and positivity. Despite the overwhelming responses to the invitation, one has to wonder: are the responders surrendering to the Jesus of the Bible or to new-and-improved version of themselves?
“It is no longer news that the front seat of churches are reserved for the rich and the prosperous who carry on as gods in their various churches. This makes it easy for the poor to drool over their condition and hope on every word that gives him hope”.
Interestingly, some Catholic priests now try to emulate their pentecostal counterparts in preaching about prosperity especially during Harvest periods. Harvest is when they generally raise money for the building of the church. But it never ends because when they finish with one project, another begins and the faithful are continually asked to sow and reap mightily.
But nobody prospers without hardwork. ‘Yet a little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to sleep: so shall your poverty come like a robber; and your want like an armed man’. This verse of Proverbs 24:33-34 simply makes it clear that a man who sleeps, who does not work ends up poor because a workman deserves his wages.
The fact remains that luring people to Christ simply to get rich is both deceitful and deadly. The desire to be rich without having to work plunges people into ruin and destruction.
The philosophy of prosperity makes it harder for people to get into heaven.
Jesus said, “How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!”
His disciples were astonished, as many in the “prosperity” movement should be. So Jesus went on to raise their astonishment even higher by saying, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.”
They responded in disbelief: “Then who can be saved?”
Paul said, “There is great gain in godliness with contentment, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these, we will be content.” But then he warned against the desire to be rich. And by implication, he warned against preachers who stir up the desire to be rich instead of helping people get rid of it. He warned, “Those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils.”
The Apostle Paul said Christians should not steal. The alternative was hard work with our own hands. But the main purpose was not merely to hoard or even to have. The purpose was “to have to give.”
“Let him labor, working with his hands, that he may have to give to him who is in need”
The tragedy of prosperity-preaching is that a person does not have to be spiritually awakened in order to embrace it; one needs only to be greedy.
Do Christians give in order to gain material compensation from God?
One of the most striking characteristics of the prosperity theologians is their seeming fixation on the act of giving. We are urged to give generously and are confronted with pious statements like, “We have been called to finance the gospel to the world.”
While such a statement may appear praiseworthy, this emphasis on giving is built on motives that are anything but philanthropic. The driving force behind this teaching on giving is what prosperity teacher Robert Tilton referred to as the “Law of Compensation.”
According to this law, Christians should give generously to others because when they do, God gives back more in return. This, in turn, leads to a cycle of ever-increasing prosperity.
Gloria Copeland in her 2012 book, God’s Will is Prosperity, wrote “Give $10 and receive $1,000; give $1,000 and receive $100,000. . . .
From all indications, the prosperity gospel’s doctrine of giving is built on faulty motives. Whereas Jesus taught his disciples to “give, hoping for nothing in return”, prosperity theologians teach their disciples to give because they will get a great return.
Whereas orthodox Christianity understands faith to be trust in the person of Jesus Christ, prosperity teachers espouse something quite different. “Faith is a spiritual force, a spiritual energy, a spiritual power. It is this force of faith which makes the laws of the spirit world function”.
According to prosperity theology, faith is not a God-granted, God-centered act of the will. Rather, it is a humanly wrought spiritual force, directed at God. Indeed, any theology that views faith chiefly as a means to material gain rather than justification before God must be judged inadequate at best.
Prayers for personal blessing aren’t inherently wrong, of course, but the prosperity gospel’s overemphasis on man turns prayer into a tool that believers can use to force God to grant their desires. Within prosperity theology, man—not God—becomes the focal point of prayer. Curiously, prosperity preachers often ignore the second half of James’s teaching on prayer: “You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions”.
God does not answer selfish requests that do not honor his name.
Of Breakthrough and miracles
On popular demand we represent the homily of Reverend Father Boniface Ezeoke in his homily recently in Anambra. It says it all about prosperity preaching.
But unfortunately, human beings, especially Nigerians, are very gullible in matters of religious and they easily fall to the prosperity preachers.
Our pulpit must stop talking about miracles and breakthroughs because our youths want to hear that through miracles and breakthroughs, people can get something out of nothing. I repeat that you can never get something out of nothing. What they are being told is that it is possible to reap what they did not sow. It is impossible. It was Saint Paul, who admonished his admirers in the church at Thessalonika that he who doesn’t work shouldn’t eat.
The national psyche of Nigerians today is more like “if it is ripe pluck it if it is unripe do the same thing.” Man must labour before he is able to eat. Today, the shout of “I claim it’’ is renting the air from our exalted pulpits. What are you claiming? Whose labour are you claiming? Let the truth be told from the pulpit to our teaming youths going out of our churches. My dear pastors and priests, our churches have largely contributed to the rot in the society. Our messages of instant gratification have created a generation of people, who only want to see instant results, immediate relief, and a painless profit.
This is not the natural course of nature or a normal way of doing things. For our youths to change, our messages must also change. For our nation to change, the messages from our pulpit must also change. We must begin to deliver relevant homilies which are relevant and capable of uplifting souls. Instead of messages that only promise blessings, miracles, breakthroughs, and wonders, we should replace these messages with preaching on virtues such as hard work, creativity, dedication, commitment, perseverance, diligence and responsibility.
The Scripture says that by the labour of your hand you shall eat, happiness and prosperity will be yours. Prosperity and breakthroughs will never emanate from idleness and laziness. This gullibility must change and it must stem from our pulpits.We must show our hearers the proper way to wealth. Let us start this immediately by using correct words of encouragement.
We must stop glorifying people, who became wealthy from questionable sources. The brother who became a millionaire because he simply sowed a seed, either to a pastor or to a church should no longer be among those testifying in our churches. We should be giving opportunities to those, who work hard through a lifetime of perseverance, diligence, and dignity of labour. Unless we are able to do this, our churches and Nigeria will keep on celebrating symbols of instant success like the Yahoo boys Bet9ja players, the scammers, Banke robbers, pen robbers, embezzlers of government funds and MMM members.
If these remain the only messages of success stories we are capable of producing, our society will keep going down the hill. If we are to produce quality youths and future leaders, we must begin to invite to our pulpits, people, who attained success through biblical principles of hard work, faithfulness and diligence. We have to downplay the roles of sowing and reaping for prosperity. It is time to begin to emphasise on principles of production of goods and services. We must begin to encourage hard work among our youths.
Instead of teaching in our churches every Sunday, the art of giving and taking such as givers never lack, our messages must change to teaching principles like planning, critical thinking, system building, market and customer analysis, and production of goods and services. This is how noble people are created and produced in a society not.
With the messages we have today in our churches and society at large, it is not surprising that young people now act as if God rewards laziness and mediocrity. I want to use this medium to appeal to my fellow pastors and priests in the ministry to stop preaching a false gospel. They should begin to preach the real gospel of the kingdom. Let us continue to offer the sign projected by Our lord Jesus Christ.
Our youths must know that Christianity is not magic. Just because somebody is making pronunciations doesn’t mean that those pronunciations are from the Bible. We must let them know that they only need God’s blessing to make it in life. We must let our young people know that the shouts of “ I claim it, I receive it” alone are not enough for someone to be blessed. We must open their eyes and ears to realize that the shouts of “Amen, Amen, Amen” no matter how loud the vibration is, doesn’t make God fulfill all their wishes. Our youths and Nigeria needs to be delivered from religious superstitions, half-baked life, laziness and real Christianity must be that preached to the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well.