Origin of Health and Wealth Gospel in Nigeria
One of the earliest preachers of Health and Wealth gospel in Nigeria was Bishop Benson Andrew Idahosa. In fact, it would not be out-of-place to refer to Benson Idahosa as the father of Faith Movement in Nigeria. Like every other part of the world, the ‘Faith Movement’ group has gained enormous influence in Nigeria even after the death of Benson Idahosa. This is so because Idahosa was succeeded (directly or indirectly) in mentoring some of the exponents of Faith Movement that we have around now in Nigeria.
The Health and Wealth preachers have capitalized on the poverty stricken nature of our nation to propagate their gospel. Nigeria’s case is not any different from the common characteristics of the third world nations. What do you think of the continent with vast resources both natural and human, yet in dire poverty? It is the continent where war is common, hunger pervades, where poverty prevails, where sicknesses and disease (including HIV/AIDS) are vastly conquering. It is a general recognition that our politicians, greedy and selfish, fight for power, perpetuate themselves in power; amass the property, resources and wealth of the people to themselves1. They struggle for power in a Machiavellian2 way, eliminate the opponents, and embezzled the nation’s resources insatiably. That is the peculiar characteristics of the Third World nations and Nigeria is inclusive.
Serious emphases have been laid on prosperity gospel in Nigeria as a result of the aforementioned factors. Most preachers in Nigeria now have taught their parishioners that Christians cannot be poor. The exponents promised each believer financial prosperity and perfect health. Anything less, they argue, is not God’s will.3 It is however unfortunate to see how their meetings are loaded with people wanting to be rich at all cost. Colson Pearcey called this gospel “The most poisonous gospel of our time.”4
The teachings of health and wealth preachers have also been greatly influenced by belief in destiny, predestination as taught in African Traditional Religion.5 God has destined everyone to be rich, but in order to realize this, one must follow certain principles and above all obey God’s injunction by paying tithes. The basic message of prosperity gospel is that it is God’s will and plans to free all believers from sickness and material poverty. This ideal can be attained by exercising the right kind of faith and following certain prescribed confessional formula, and which they sometimes call “divine principles” in order to agree with God and decree his will. God is all possessing, all powerful and all benevolent. If he liberated us from the curse of sin at a very dear prize of his only begotten Son, what else can he not do for us? Why should he deny us the good things of life and allow those who are not his children as we are, to have them in abundance.6 The above is the thrust of the Health and Wealth Gospel in Nigeria. The researcher takes time to evaluate this teaching much later in this work.
Problems of Health and Wealth Gospel in Nigeria
Our cities in Nigeria are flourishing with the new era churches. They are founded in their tens and scores on a single street, depending on the location and length of a particular popular street. Sometimes, two or three churches do occupy different floors of the same building, each with its loud speakers disturbing not only each other, but the general public, especially at night. The astronomical increase in the number of church founders began about thirty years ago in Nigeria, especially in the 1980, when things went wrong with the management of our economy. Young graduates of universities and polytechnics who could not find job, started to float churches. Since the middle of the 1960s, the writings of Kenneth Hagin floated Nigeria and by the 1980s, he had had thousands of followers. Although Hagins were declared a heretic by the church in the 1960s, it appears that the church both in America and in Africa underrated Hagins influence and therefore failed to react strongly in writing and teaching to correct several of his wrong doctrines.7 Most of those who floated churches in Nigeria and elsewhere became Hagins disciples, adopting his methodology and doctrines. One cannot imagine the damages that these “make money quick” and “anyhow” doctrine have done to the church and our nation as a whole. The dignity of labor is gradually fading out. Even the pastoral dignity has been generally disrespected as a result of the ways most of these money preaching pastors comport themselves in the society.
It was in a reaction to this trait that one our dailies comments: “Right Now, Pentecostalism, which is a reaction to the perceived lethargy as the orthodox churches in Nigeria; is also experiencing its own antithesis. There is a drift from preaching of salvation to whole-scale mercantilism or prosperity preaching. Besides, these preachers themselves have become accomplished businessmen.”8 This has brought several of those pastors to public scandals and yet they would not change for the better. The News Magazine says, “despite being a regular subject of scandals, the followers of a very popular prosperity preacher, continue to increase. The preacher’s teaching of “sowing the seed” draws strict adherence.”9 The teaching enjoins followers to give part of their offerings and tithes as requirements for divine blessings. With a church brimming of young company executives and businessmen, every programme yields mega-earnings. Followers without money are implored to “sow seeds” with jewelry, wristwatches and other ornaments in lieu of offering or tithes. Some have been said to give cars, generators, musical equipment and chairs to the church.”
The Magazine explains further that, “Six years ago, Lawrence Agada, an assistant pastor and former cashier with Lagos Sheraton Hotels and Towers, donated cash and gifts worth N39 million to the church. He bought a 250 KVA generator valued at N4.4 million and another 27KVA generator for N1.5 and turned them over to a satellite arm of the church. Earlier, he had provided N6 million for the refurbishment of the branch, N1 million for the purchase of plastic seats for the headquarters and contributed another N1 million to the ‘Man of God’s’ crusade. Agada also gave N400, 000 to his pastor, who needed money for a trip to Australia. Chuffed that Agada had obeyed the teaching on seed sowing, Oyakhilome wrote to commend the cheerful giver.” May God, who gives seed to the Sewer and bread for eater, multiply your seeds in Jesus name,” wrote the preacher.10
But Jesus did not multiply Agada’s seeds. Instead, the giver became a guest to the police when his employers discovered that he had stolen from them to give to the church. Agada’s employers demanded a refund of the stolen sum. However, the church issued astatement admitting that Agada made donations, but refused to make the desired refund.11 One year later, another Gbenga Kehinde, donated to the church in similar fashion. Then an assistant manager with the defunct Eko International Bank, Kehinde stole about N40 million from his employers and donated N10 million to he church. Meanwhile, according to the Magazine, information on the preacher’s background are notoriously sketchy, something that seems to add to his mystique.12
A week after the publication of the aforementioned article on “the man ……” many comments began to roll in. let us look at some of the comments:
Funsho Okugbe from Benin City commented:
Pastor Chris Oyakhilome has finally confirmed his status as a showman and money Mayer. Who says, men of God cannot be men of ways and means? After all, man must not live by the Bible alone.13
Everest Chaeto’s comments:
I don’t understand why men of God should pre-occupy themselves with the construction of earthly mansions. Have they forgotten the biblical admonition that, of what profit is it for a man to gain the whole world and lose his soul? I just wonder!14
Ismail Sule also commented from Osogbo:
The church has been turned into a big business. Pastor Chris Oyakhilome is one of the greatest apostles of prosperity. I just hope all his flocks are rich.15
Let us see Ibrahim Madoki’s comment from Onitsha:
The churches, including Christ Embassy, should be heavily taxed because they make more money than banks. Sadly, too, the General Overseers convert church assets into their personal belongings. The earlier members protest the better.16
Efi Omonude also commented from Benin City:
The materialistic life of Pastor Chris Oyakhilome shows that, indeed, the so-called shepherds feed fat on the flock, while the rich get richer in the church, the poor get poorer.17
Finally, let us see Chizoba Christopher Ogbunugator’s comment. His, though very true has a denominational bias:
In most churches, the emphasis is on worldly wealth, prosperity, miracles, signs and wonders etc, hence, the constant promotion of tithes, seed – sowing etc. Hardly does one hear about ‘spirituality’ and saving of one’s soul by living holy on earth. This is a veritable sign that the end times are nigh. But in Christ-inspired establishments like the Catholic Church, the members are usually warned that God does not accept or bless ill-gotten offering and tithes, no matter how huge the amount! Anybody who donates stolen wealth to the alter of God in the Catholic Church does so at his or her own spiritual peril.18
The above comments show the type of eyes with which people look at the church in Nigeria today especially the so-called servants of God. Servants of God are supposed exemplary in the way they lead their lives but the reverse is gradually becoming the case in Nigeria.
The unfortunate thing about the matter with the so called servants of God is that, most of them usually start well but they gradually get polluted and contaminated later in their ministries. For instance, the saying magazine said about Pastor Chris Oyakhilome as someone who was brought up in a strict Christian home and started his ministry in his undergraduate days.19
Abogunrin also spoke in similar direction when he said, “at first, the set of people who started their own churches in Nigeria, were preaching holiness of life, commitment to Christ, with emphasis in the teaching of the word of God. However, one after the other, most of them abandoned the original vision and goal, and gradually became prosperity preachers.”20 In a few years, most of them became strikingly rich. Floating a church today has become the biggest business enterprise in Nigeria, and one can become a multimillionaire in one year, once the person has a sweat mouth and arms himself with prosperity message. Quite often, many of them are completely ignorant of the major teachings of the Bible and Christian doctrines.
Abogunrin went further to say:
Many charismatic prosperity leaders are involved in occultic practices, involving sacrifice and the use of juju and talisman. The way many of them raise money is quite dubious. You can go to a church with a car and good shoes, but return home barefooted, and with nothing. After donating all the money a person has on himself, he is encouraged to sow seed by parting with his car, shoes, bag and jewelries. Many of them are palace prophets, dancing around the corridors of power and houses of rich men and women. The same pastor could prophesy, promising victory to political opponents competing for the same office, and shamelessly collecting money from all of them. Church properties are registered in the name of the founder and his family. Most of them ordain their wives and some of their children, with a view of their taking over from them in the event of death. The church is viewed as the major family business enterprise. Many of them also set up other business empires in addition to church business. They are the alpha and omega of their church affairs and finances. They are not accountable to church members who more or less literally worship them. Their pronouncements are final on any issue.21
The tragedy of the matter is that when members donate their millions, they do not border about the sources of such heavy donations. The effect of this is the “get-rich quick” syndromes that have overwhelmed our youths. The legacy of faithfulness, contentment and integrity has no place in our nation again. Corruption is now the other of the day everywhere today including churches. Prosperity churches are usually the ones patronized by drug barons, smugglers, armed robbers and women of easy virtue. Most of the messages preached quite often in those churches are the type that will not trouble conscience of listeners. What they hear always is that the more they give to the church, the bigger the blessings. They ride the latest cars and live in mansions. They go out in company of several armed security guards and in a convoy of cars, with pilot cars blowing the siren in the lead. There are also those who carry whips to scare away other legitimate road users. Now, instead of the church to be the solution to the problem of corruption in Nigeria, she is not only a major player of the sin but also a compounder of the problem. This has become an attitudinal problem in Nigeria today. The statement of John Onaiyekan is very proper here: “Part of the problems and obstacles that prevent Nigeria from reaching where it should be, has to do with the attitudes of the people” especially toward health and wealth.22
1 Babatomiwa M. Owojaiye, “Theological Emphasis in 2/3 World Countries” (A Term Paper presented at ECWA Theological Seminary Igbaja, M.A., 2006), 4.
2 Machiavellianism is the Seizure, Maintenance, and extension of absolute power by the nicely graduated use of guile, fraud, force and terror (“Machiavellianism” in The New International Webster’s Comprehensive Dictionary of English Language edited by Allen Walker Read, et al., Naples Florida: Trident Press International, 2004), 762.
3 MacArthur, 325.
4 Colson Percey, How Now Shall We Live? (Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 1999), 27.
5 Abogunrin 271.
6 Abogunrin, 276.
7 Abogunrin, 276.
8 The New Magazine, 18 February, 2008 vol. 30 No. 06, 19.
9 Michael Mukwizi & Blessing Ogunli, A Pulpit Tycoon” (The New Magazine, 18 February, 2008, Vol. 30, No. 06), 24.
10 Michael Mukwuzi and Blessing Ognuli, 24.
13 The News Magazine, “Pastor Oyekhilome’s Business Empire” (Feedback, Vol. 30 No 08, 03 March, 2008), 7-9.
17 “Oyakhilome’s Business Empire – Feedback,” 7-9.
19 Michael Mukwuzi and Blessing Ogwuli, 24.
20 Abogunrin, 275.
21 Ibid 275-276.
22 John Onaiyekan, “Christian Values and Social Development in Nigeria,” in Attitude Matters: The Role of Attitude in Nigeria’s Development (Ibadan: Spectrum Books Limited, 2006), 129.