Nigerian Religious Junk!
“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits... So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit…Thus you will recognize them by their fruits” (Matthew 7:15-20).
I begin this blog by apologising to all my Nigerian brothers and sisters for its title. At first sight it is rather offensive, but I hope that as you read on you will see why I elected to still use it as a title. As nations or tribes or social groupings we take on a certain characteristic that is not true about each person in the group but which we come to be identified with. Hence, Paul could write, “One of the Cretans, a prophet of their own, said, ‘Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.’ This testimony is true. Therefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith” (Titus 1:12-13). In the same way, we tend to (rightly or wrongly) identify Americans with arrogance, Kenyans with marathon running prowess, West Africans with fraudulent activities, Afrikaners with racism, etc.
I have just returned from a consultative meeting in South Africa where the first day was spent surveying the spiritual state of the countries in the southern African sub-region. Central to all this was the state of evangelicalism in all these countries. Nation after nation reported on the arrival of “Nigerian religious junk” that was changing the landscape of what there once was of evangelicalism. One or two of the countries were blessed exceptions. Evidently, this junk originated from mega-churches in the USA and then found ready soil in West Africa, and especially in Nigeria. Having given it an African flavour, it is now being exported across Africa at a phenomenal rate.
I feel very sad to write about this, but by “Nigerian religious junk” I mean the phenomenon of churches that are personal-to-holder. They exalt the personality of their founding father, who is still alive somewhere in Nigeria (or elsewhere) and is treated with the aura of a state president or paramount chief. It does not matter which country you go to, the bill boards of these churches do not have the faces of the local pastors of the congregations in those towns but of the founding father in Nigeria—or wherever he has since relocated. It is all about image and power. This “man of God” claims to hear the voice of God and proceeds to minister to you accordingly. If you do not obey him you are resisting the ministry of God into your life. So, the churches are often called “ministries” rather than churches. And to make them even more impressive, the term “international” is often added to their name.
The Africanisation of this religious junk is primarily in the way it has been made to appeal to African spirituality. The pastor is the modern witchdoctor calling all and sundry to come to him for “deliverance”. Just as the witchdoctor appealed to us by inviting us to see him for spiritual protection or when we were struggling with bad luck, childlessness, joblessness, illness, failure to attract a suitor for marriage or to rise in a job or get a contract, etc., these pastors do precisely the same thing. So-called prophetic utterances are made which explain why all this is happening, holy water or oil is prayed over and dispensed, and some money is extracted from the persons seeking help. Thus their churches attract thousands of people who are there for purely selfish reasons. The motivating factor is not reconciliation with God through Christ but rather “deliverance” from perceived evil and to be blessed through the supernatural powers that “the man of God” possesses. Let’s face it: this is our African traditional religions coming into the church through the back door.
The self-centredness of all this is seen in the worship. Churches are being turned into entertainment centres instead of edification centres. People come to church to be entertained, healed and blessed. The fact that professionals, who engage their brains when working with their hands five to six days a week, stop thinking and just dance and laugh in worship is extremely sad, in the light of the demand of God that we are to love him with all our hearts, minds, souls and strength. It has been the failure of Christians to think through the implications of their Christian faith on the whole of life that has left Africa filled with Christian churches and lack of development at the same time. Surely, if these professionals were thinking they would have added up one-plus-one by now and seen why their pastors have become stinking rich. It is not their faith but the money of their congregants, whom they cheat with promises, that makes them buy expensive cars and clothes and put up mansions. If one thousand individuals are “sowing the seed” every week to be blessed by the man of God, of course the man of God will get very rich while they will get poorer. That is simple common sense.
Yet another characteristic of this phenomenon which is particularly African is the craze for titles. We Africans love titles! Once upon a time, evangelical pastors were content to simply be called pastors. Terms like “bishop” were left to those who had an Episcopalian system of church government, which was a formal structure that rose to national and global level. Alas, that has now changed! With the advent of this Nigerian religious junk, it is titles galore! You now have bishops, arch-bishops, prophets, apostles, chief apostles, etc. Some are not even content with that and so have combinations like, “chief apostle prophet doctor so-and-so.” This is certainly very different from the teaching and personal lifestyle of the Lord Jesus Christ whom they claim to serve.
Many of these churches have since been discovered to be nothing more than fund-raising outfits, with sole proprietorship maintained by the pastor and his wife. The pattern seems to be: start a church and then milk the congregation. The pastors basically prey on the vulnerable and gullible. They are crooks and conmen. In a number of the southern African countries represented at the consultation, governments have sent these pastors packing upon finding undeniable proof that large stashes of money were being milked out of their citizens and being shipped to West Africa. This has made these governments very suspicious of anyone coming from any other African country as a missionary into their country. They now think that all African missionaries are just mercenaries.
Yet, the saddest part of all this has been the loss of the gospel. Once upon a time, you could go to any church that purported to be evangelical and once you survived what was called worship, you would hear a sermon that finally pointed you to Christ and him crucified for pardon from sin. That is now largely an exception, and is as rare as my great grandfather’s teeth. What you hear now are calls for “deliverance”, and you experience this by coming forward to be prayed for. Inevitably, once you lose the gospel, you lose true spirituality and morality. Christianity becomes a thin veneer of respectability but inside there is total corruption and decay. The church becomes a wardrobe full of skeletons. Or, to borrow a more biblical expression, the church is filled with white-washed tombs.
This explains why, although Nigeria is packed with such mega-churches (and is now exporting them across the continent), it is still the most corrupt nation on the continent. If church leaders are milking the people like this, what hope is there to correct things among the politicians and the civil servants? It is impossible! You cannot grow true spirituality where the cross of Christ and the Christ of the cross is absent. We must insist that the Spirit of God is the Holy Spirit. Where holiness is conspicuous by its absence, we should never attribute what is happening there to God’s Spirit because he is a spirit of holiness. Crowds and people falling backwards upon being touched prove nothing if holiness of life is missing. Jesus said, “You will recognise them by their fruits.”
In this blog I have avoided naming names. This is because the consultation I have just come from did not name names. However, all I can say is, “If the hat fits you, put it on!” Anyone who has eyes to see and ears to hear knows what I am talking about. Let me end by once again apologising to any genuine and sincere Nigerian pastors who distance themselves from all this junk. Just as I know a number of sweet American folks who are very humble, Kenyans who cannot run halfway around a football ground, and Afrikaners who are colour blind, I am sure there must be many West African pastors—and Nigerians for that matter—who will have nothing to do with this spiritual corruption. I only wish they were more vocal in condemning this religious junk being exported from their country!
Our Criminal Evangelical Silence
We all know that the dark ages are upon us again here in Africa. It is almost like a dark blanket that is slowly surrounding the land. People who know absolutely nothing of the core values of evangelical Christianity—the new birth, repentance and saving faith, justification and holiness, etc.—have hijacked evangelical Christianity in Africa. Even the term "born again" is being peddled without an iota of the meaning that Jesus had in mind when he used the phrase in his talk with Nicodemus. These are dark days indeed.
Once upon a time in Zambia, in the 1970s and early 1980s, you could go to very much any English-speaking evangelical church on Sunday and expect to attend a Bible study and hear faithful preaching of God's word. You may have been a little uncomfortable with some aspects of their worship. You may have also disagreed with some doctrinal assumptions during the preaching. However, you could not miss the fact that here was a sincere effort at arriving at the meaning of the text of Scripture and applying it to the hearers—both in the Bible studies and the sermons. You also heard an appeal for repentance towards God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. They may not have dotted your "i"s and crossed your "t"s as you do, but you still went home edified.
|George Whitefield preached "You must be born again"|
during the Great Evangelical Awakening of the 18th Century
I liken this delusion to the days prior to the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century. People flooded the churches but it was all for the wrong reasons. They were deceived and spellbound by a priest craft that claimed abilities they did not have but which the people craved after. Superstition reigned supreme in the church. The people were poor but they were promised various blessings if they could only give their remaining money to the church. Out of these funds majestic church edifices were built and the church's top leadership lived like kings and princes. Is this not what is happening in the name of evangelical Christianity today? Or am I the only one who is seeing these things?
|Such "dancing queens" are now the height of "worship" in churches|
Come on; let us be honest. We all know that the so-called prosperity gospel, which is in vogue in evangelicalism today, is heresy. We all know that the only guys becoming stinking rich are the preachers to whom the blind followers are giving their money. The followers themselves are still in abject poverty. It is nothing but religious fraud. We also all know that 99% of the claims to physical healing by our faith healers are false. We all have relatives who would be alive today if they had not been told they were cured and so should not take medication for their sickness. These men are murderers. This is not Conrad Mbewe being malicious and making up stories. These are all well-known facts.
|Zambian "bishop" (of Restoration Deliverance Church) with Nigerian accent|
recently accused of impregnating 10 women in his church
The problem with this current silence is that the younger generation who are coming into evangelical circles now think that what they are seeing is a viable and alternative form of evangelical Christianity when it is not. They have no clue that only recently believers got together in church for serious Bible study, that worship had dignity and awe, and that sermons were Bible-based, Christ-centred, and aimed at spiritual conversion. Due to our silence, our upcoming preachers are seeing filling your church membership roll with goats rather than sheep and driving expensive cars at the expense of poor parishioners as the sign of pastoral success. They have no clue that it was only recently when pastors stood out in society for their true godly servanthood. Today’s evangelical leaders are misleading a whole generation of innocent souls by their silence.
|Martin Luther who said, "Enough is enough" in the 16th Century|
Once upon a time, a generation of God's people saw spiritual decay and said, "Enough is enough!" and out of this protest was born the Protestant Reformation. In yet another generation, when liberalism had invaded the Protestant church and was killing its very life, a generation of God's people again said, "Enough is enough!" and out of that protest was born the Evangelical movement of the 18th century. In the light of the darkness that is once again upon us, with churches becoming no more than witchdoctors' dens, is it not time for today's evangelicals to say, "Enough is enough"? How can we be silent in the light of this engulfing darkness? Surely, our evangelical silence must be criminal.
The Nonsense Of Spiritual Husbands And Wives
My wife and I were driving from visiting a home in the evening when I turned on the car radio and tuned to a local radio station. There was a preacher speaking on a live radio programme. He was evidently campaigning for an overnight prayer meeting that was scheduled to take place at his church the next day.
What I found absurd was that his panacea for everyone who called in was, “Come to the overnight prayer meeting tomorrow and receive your deliverance.” However, as absurd as this was, it was not the most shocking. It was when he began to tell all the women who were calling in to share their marital problems that they had spiritual husbands who were behind their domestic woes. I had never heard of this and thought the guy was just crazy.
Well, I am the one who was in for a shock. The following day, while talking to some theological students from our densely populated townships in Lusaka, they were surprised that I had never heard about this phenomenon. It was common talk where they lived and ministered. So, they took time to explain it to me.
The belief is that when your marriage is breaking up due to a husband who seems to have lost interest in you, or you have serious gynaecological problems, or you are having miscarriages, then it is because you have a spirit called a spiritual husband causing all this in the spiritual realm. It is also the case if you are getting on in years and no man is seriously approaching you for marriage. It means you have a spiritual husband blocking other men. You need deliverance in order to have a wholesome marriage or for your body to function normally.
Usually, the diagnosis involves being asked about your dreams. If you have either seen yourself swimming (for the most stubborn ones are marine spirits), or missing your menstrual period, or becoming pregnant, or breastfeeding, or vomiting, or going shopping or having sex with a man who is not your husband, or having a miscarriage, or getting married, or about to get killed in a dream, then this is sure evidence that a spiritual husband has entered into your life. You need deliverance. If the “man of God” tells you that you are having dreams in which you are having sex with someone and you deny it, he then tells you that your spiritual husband wipes it off your memory through demonic manipulation.
As usual, there are many benighted souls who are ready to testify that they went for such deliverance meetings where the “man of God” prayed for them to be delivered from their spiritual husbands and since then their dreams have returned to normal and their marriages are supposedly back on track. For those who were not being proposed, after the deliverance sessions they have found spouses and are now married and are living happily ever after! Sadly, there are many, many more whose marriages would have been salvaged if they had gone through proper Christian marriage counselling. These are the ones who suffer quietly and are told that they lacked faith or they did not have a breakthrough.
Of course, this teaching is gender neutral. Men having marital problems are also being taught about spiritual wives who are affecting their marriages. The only difference is that often it is women who fall prey to such nonsense—as was the case that evening when so many of them called during that live radio programme that my wife and I listened to as we drove home.
What shall I call this teaching about spiritual husbands (and wives), which is in vogue today here in Africa? It is nonsense! Here are at least four reasons why:
1. All this is not in the Bible. We have gone right back to the dark ages where we believe everything that “priests” say without checking it with what the Bible says. As in the dark ages, stories doing their rounds are becoming larger than life. Spiritual husbands are changing shape and showing up in all kinds of places at night. Even when these false teachers use the Bible, they wrest it out of its context. One such teacher used Matthew 13:25, which says, “But while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away,” to teach that spiritual husbands come at night to sleep with women!
2. There is a superstitious view of dreams that is totally unhealthy. If I am lusting after someone I am likely to dream romantically about him or her. If I am having problems to conceive, I am likely to dream that one day I am pregnant. If I am longing for a job, I am likely to dream that one day I land myself the job of my dreams. If I have longed to meet President Obama, I am likely to dream that I am having a meal with him and his wife, Michelle, at the White House. It is sheer common sense. Dreams simply live out the wishes and fears of our lives.
3. There is a failure to handle moral issues the way the Bible handles them. Those involved in sexual sin are being told that the blame is on spiritual husbands or wives and all they need is deliverance. Responsibility is shifted from them to some powerful forces. The Bible calls people guilty of sin to repentance, urging them to find forgiveness from God through faith in Christ. Many of these women (and the men!) being counselled to be delivered from spiritual husbands (and wives) are unregenerate. They need to be saved by the power of the gospel. Yet, there is no effort to show them that it is sin in their lives that is destroying their marriages. If the Lord were to save them, he would give them a new power to enable them to joyfully live in honour of their marriage vows and obligations.
4. There is a failure to counsel people with biblical principles of marriage. Women who were calling in to that radio programme, talking about constant fights with their husbands, were not being asked whether they were observing the biblical blueprint for healthy marriage relationships. Husbands ought to love their wives as Christ loved the church. Wives ought to submit to their husbands as the church submits to Christ. No, the “man of God” would go straight into telling the women that they had spiritual husbands and needed deliverance.
Let me say it again, this teaching about spiritual husbands and wives is sheer nonsense! It is yet another lie of the devil that is being peddled by deluded souls masquerading as spiritual teachers and preachers. They are blind and they are leading others who are blind into spiritual and moral ditches. Any teaching that is not based squarely on the Bible is not worth listening to. It is nonsense!
The Curse Of Motivational Speaking
I asked him whether he was a Christian. His answer was, “Do I really need to be a Christian in order to be successful? Are you telling me that all those successful people out there are Christians? Aren’t there general principles that I can apply to my life—whether I am a Christian or not—that can catapult me to success?” I challenged him to answer that question himself. After all, I was sure he had done enough rounds among motivational speakers to have the answer.
“That is the problem,” he said, “I have been told that such principles exist and I have tried them. They seem to work for a while and then I am back to my old self again. I want you to help me find that formula that will help me go forward and never slide back to the place where I do not believe in myself.” To cut the long story short, I finally persuaded him of the need for reconciliation with God before anyone can break free from the frustrating rut that God locks unreconciled sinners in.
I gave him a booklet to read, entitled, What is a Biblical Christian? When we met the following day, he was honest enough to tell me that he was disappointed with what he read because it was not telling him what he wanted to hear. “What I want to know is how I can be successful. This booklet did not say anything about that.” I repeated what I told him earlier. What he needed was not belief in himself but belief in a Saviour sent from heaven. He needed forgiveness as a foundation for his life.
Yesterday, a church member told me that he met the young man in the local market. He had two booklets in his hands. The first was the one I had given him and the second one was by Joel Osteen. He told our member, “Pastor Mbewe gave me this book but I don’t like it because it makes me feel guilty. I prefer this one by Joel Osteen because it lifts me up. It motivates me.” I am very concerned about this and so I decided to put some thoughts together about the curse of motivational speaking.
Sadly, motivational speaking has become the staple diet of many evangelical pulpits. The message being heard is, “God has put the potential in you and all you need to do is believe in yourself to unlock that potential. Have a grand vision and live out that vision. You must be a man or woman of destiny and the sky will be the limit for you. Don’t let your past failures get in your way of success. Look beyond them, as Jesus looked beyond the cross and thus overcame it. You are the head and not the tail. ”
In the light of the plethora of motivational speaking, it begs the question, “Is this how Old Testament and New Testament preachers preached?” If I summarise the preaching of Noah, Moses, Elijah, Isaiah, Jonah, Paul, Peter, etc., in the Bible, is this the kind of message that I will find there? I do not think so. Granted, motivational speakers borrow words from these men, but borrowing someone’s words is not the same thing as saying what he is saying. “A text without a context is a pretext.”
My chief quarrel with motivational speaking is that it reduces God to a means rather than an end. Men and women are not made to see that the nature of SIN lies in the letter “I” in the middle of the word. Instead, motivational speaking feeds that same ego and points to God as the one who can spoil it to the point of intoxication. That is a lie! It is God alone who must be at the centre of our lives. Christianity demands a dying to self, a taking up of one’s cross, and a following after a suffering Saviour.
Whenever I listen to motivational speaking, I seem to hear the message, “Peace, peace,” where there is no peace. It sounds to me like a doctor assuring a patient who has terminal cancer in its final stages that he should not worry because all will be okay if he only believes in himself. The guy is dying, man, for crying out loud! It is the height of insincerity if a preacher knows that the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23) and instead makes those heading for the slaughterhouse feel nice.
Motivational speaking makes people feel good, whereas the gospel first makes people feel bad—until they find their all in Christ. True preaching must make people face the fact that they are living in rebellion against God and that they need to repent or they will perish. It is only as people recognise this and cry out, “What shall we do to be saved?” (Acts 2:37, 16:30) that true preaching gives them the good news, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Romans 10:13).
Motivational speaking is an attempt at trying to kill a charging lion with a pea-gun, using freshly cooked peas, spiced with the most aromatic seasonings. The aroma may be tantalizing to the taste buds, but it is totally useless in bringing down that ferocious beast. Men and women outside Christ are DEAD in trespasses and sins. Exciting their senses with nice-sounding platitudes will not give them life. They need the law to kill their fallen egos and the gospel of Jesus Christ to give them life.
I know that motivational speaking is filling up our church buildings until they look like football stadiums. In this world of misery and gloom, we can all do with some encouragement. But is that all that we were called to do as preachers? What good is it if men feel inspired and motivated, and then go back home to live a life of sin and selfishness? Sadly this is the norm in so many evangelical churches. The churches are filled to capacity with people determined to drink sin like water the whole week.