Prospects of Health and Wealth Gospel in Nigeria
The Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary defines prospects as “the chance or hope that something will happen is an idea of what may or will happen, and the chances of being successful.”23 The faith movement or the health and wealth gospel has a very great prospect in Nigeria should they preach the whole counsel of God to the people. It is true that one can do theology in Africa with the mind of ignoring a major issue like poverty. Poverty is an important characteristic of the Third World nations. Like in the world of R.S. Sugirtharajah, “One of the significant contributions of Third World Theologies has been to put poverty at the center of theological discussions. Given the disparate conditions in which these theologies arise, their articulation of poverty, too differs from context to context.”24
In Africa, people face socio-economic poverty as well as another kind of poverty that late Engelbert Mveng, a Cameroonian theologian, called anthropological poverty. This is not about exterior circumstances or about not having material possessions. It is about the interior of African selfhood that has been affected as centuries of colonialism robbed Africans of their own ways of living and their cultural heritage. Sadly, the resulting low self-esteem has caused them to internalize the values and models of their oppressors.25
How then can one lead the church in Africa and Nigeria especially without teaching on this major subject? What we are however, advocating is to teach exactly what the Bible teaches. The Bible, according to Robert E. Coleman, “is its own best interpreter.”26
The Faith Movement teachers are quite correct in pointing believers to God and the wonderful promises made in his word in order to get their needs met. The Bible clearly states that under normal circumstances God is aware of the needs of his children and will meet every legitimate need of theirs (Matt. 6:8, 25-32). According to Jesus, man’s basic needs are food, drink and clothing. St. Paul similarly says that man’s basic needs are: food and covering, and with these we should be content (I Tim. 6:8). But in defining basic needs, faith teachers have gone beyond Jesus and Paul.
The Greek word for need,creia, literally means something without which we shall die, or no longer be able to function. But for faith teachers, need means: new houses, fancy cars (and you can actually decree what brand and color you want), expensive clothing, and enough cash in order to live like kings, since we are royal sons and daughters, kings and queens in the real sense.27
The doctrine fails to make any distinction between need and want. Under normal circumstances, God has promised to meet every legitimate need of his children. However, nowhere has God promised that he will give what we need to satisfy our lust and desires. Instead Christians are urged to crucify their lust.28 So, when based on true biblical teaching the faith-movement has a great potential in Winning Souls to the Kingdom of God and giving them proper discipleship.
According to Neval Coyle,
We live in a fractured world. Nation is pitted against nation. Ethnic group against ethnic group. Race against race. Employees against employers. Government against private enterprise. Women against men. The “right” against the “left.” We even face church splits and fragmented families. In this climate of differences that divide people from each other, in this world of sin that separates people from God, we Christians are given the ministry of reconciliation.29 That is why we must turn to our relationship with God as a foundation as we move into this much – needed ministry.30
The above stressed the need for us to reconcile the world to God and thus preparing them to reign with Christ. No other ministry of the church is greater than this.
Effects of Health and Wealth on Christian and National Development
A lot of evil has been done on the values of Christianity in Nigeria in the last three decades, as a result of the “different gospel” preached by the health and wealth exponents. This has by extension affected the moral value of people in our society, especially the Christians. This has reflected itself in many ways. It includes: spiritual, social, psychological, physical effects. Let us look at these one after the other.
By spiritual effects, the researcher implies, the damage the health and wealth gospel has caused the church in Nigeria spiritually and how it has affected our national development. As earlier highlighted, the life-style of a genuine child of God should be a great catalyst for positive change anywhere he finds himself. But the content of the sort of gospel preached by the “Faith” preachers has played down the importance of holy living in the life of believers.
The best way to attract unbelievers to Jesus is through our behavior. That is, the way we live among the unbelievers. As George E. Sweazy, puts it, quoting Henry Drummond, “the best argument for Christianity is a Christian.”31 Believers are supposed to reproduce themselves and this can only be attained through good conduct wherever they find themselves.
Our lives are our credentials as a child of God. Our influence on others depends most on what we are. Lawrence Howman said, “A saint is one who makes goodness attractive.”32 If we do that, if people sense in us a genuine kindness and devotion to Christ, then they will be receptive to what we have to say about the genuine Christian faith.
It is however unfortunate that most Christians today are living below the biblical standard thereby hindering people from listening to us whenever we want to show Jesus to them. Our faith is shallow and staggering. It is a faith that is based on prosperity alone. According to Tozer:
Evangelical Christianity is now tragically below the New Testament Standard. Worldliness is an acceptable part of our way of live. Our religious mood is social instead of spiritual. We have lost the art of worship. We are not practicing saints. Our models are successful businessmen, celebrated athletes and the worldly personalities. We carry out religious activities after the model of the modern advertiser. Our literatures are shallow and scarcely anyone appears to care.33
The above is the case of most churches today. We have been perverted by the teachings of the faith movement. Christian successes are now being judged by the type of car one rides and the numbers of cars one possesses, the type of house one stays and the kinds of clothing we wear. Being poor is now seen as an effect of sin. Most Christians today are lacking spiritually today in Nigeria. They have a wrong concept of God and that of themselves. The warning of Tozer is appropriate to conclude this section:
We must have a better kind of Christianity soon or within another half century we may have no true Christianity at all. Increased number of Demi-Christians is not enough. We must have reformation.34
The unquenchable want of money by most of our political leaders cannot be divorced from this. The truth is, if all those who claim to be Christians are genuinely one, our Nation would be better for it. But the reverse is the case in Nigeria. The spiritual leaders who are supposed to show the road are themselves guilty of the same sin.
Sociology is the study of history, development, organization, and problems of people living together as a social group.35 It is a social science.36 Sociology is therefore the way we relate with other human beings and the given society we found ourselves. To divorce sociology from Religion is an impossible task.
In fact, basic religious concept is important in the maintenance of all aspect of social machinery.37 Religions define sacred values and prescribe behavioral codes consistent with these values. There is, in short, a direct line of dependence between powerful sentiments of reverence, awe, and fear that religious beliefs generate and the rules that religions prescribe for leading a life that will assure divine approval. These rules in turn become important aspects of societal organization.38 But in what way has the Health and Wealth gospel helped in the realization of the aforementioned truth. To be precise, in what way has the prosperity message assisted to make Christianity a relevant religion to our society?
In terms of social developments, one must commend the health and wealth gospel exponents. Because of the kind of money they have and the human resources they also possess, establishing business is not in anyway a problem to them. Several universities, primary and post-primary levels of education have been provided today by these churches. This has gone along way to assist the government and the citizens alike in the provision of Education to the people. It is however good to mention that, while it is true that only relatively rich individual can afford that for their children; we still have to appreciate them for the foresight. The health and wealth gospel exponents or founders have not contributed in education sector of our social life but also in other areas of the economy. These include: creation of jobs, infrastructural development such as real estates among several others.
As good as these social contributions are, it is a curse if it had no spiritual values to the people and the nation. This of course is what health and wealth is guilty of. Perhaps that is why the health and wealth gospel has been referred to as the “Social gospel.”39 Social gospel came within liberalism of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, a tendency to replace the gospel of regeneration with an emphasis upon transformation of society through alteration of its structures.40 The aim of the health and wealth gospel preachers is to improve the society, but it cannot be achieved when the Christian values of good conduct, behaviors, good relationship with others are not encouraged. This perhaps may account for the crimes and other social problems we have in Nigeria today.41 The Nigerian situation is that, the rich are becoming richer, while the poor growing poorer by the day. The complete and genuine gospel teaches help our poor neighbors.
Jesus teaches that anyone in need is our neighbor (Luke 10:25-37). With this definition of neighbor, Jesus challenges Christians of unconcern for the needy with the reality of poverty in the world. Regrettably, the fact remains that the concern for the poor, a major biblical theme, has not received adequate attention by the churches.42 Health and Wealth encourages prosperity but there is little or no emphasis on helping the poor. This may be particularly so because the way they view the poor – “sinners”.
The basic reason for this, according to Nebechukwu is that, “Poverty has so far lacked the material as distinct from the spiritual interpretation in Christian faith and piety.”43 That is why we have many “Solo”44 Christians today. The Christian value of fellowshipping with one another and sharing wealth with others as practiced in the early church45 is almost becoming a history in the church today. All these and more are the effects of Health and Wealth gospel on Christian and Nigeria as a nation today.
Erickson J. Millard defines psychology as “the study of the thoughts, emotions, and behavior of human beings.46 In other words, it is the study that provides self-awareness for the human and their reaction to what happens around them. The questions of Millard Sall make the definition more explicit: What kind of person are you? What do you think of yourself? Are you a good or bad person?47 Psychology provides the tools to give one insight about these questions.48 Many people don’t know how to look at themselves or realistically know how they feel about themselves.49 In a brief sense, psychology is the study of the way people’s mind work. It is the way that a particular kind of person thinks and behaves.50
With the above background, the researcher under this heading discusses the effects of Health and Wealth gospel on Christians and National development in Nigeria. The first effect of the health and wealth gospel as aforementioned is the way people think. Most Nigerians now, especially young people believe they have to be rich by all means. According to Folarin, the very problem of message as advocated by David Oyedepo and others is that “it is the gospel that defines poverty as sin.”51 According to him, two points sum up this definition: It is exclusively financial, and it neglects the spiritual well-being of the people.52 This conception has greatly affected the church on the sort of Christian she now produces.
Besides, another way the health and wealth gospel has affected people’s psychology is the way members run from their original denomination to theirs. Folarin, for instance gave the effect of this on the evangelical churches in Nigeria, with specific interest in the Nigerian Baptist Convention (NBC) and Evangelical Church of West Africa (ECWA). According to him, an interview was recently conducted in the Nigerian Baptist Convention and ECWA and 63.27% and 75% respondents respectively agreed to loosing some members to the Faith Movement Denominations in Nigeria.53 One reason for this drift could be the similarity in the concerns expressed in the prosperity gospel and in the African worldview. From time immemorial, Africans have been longing for freedom from sickness, demon oppression, and poverty. Although, the faith movement preachers have tried to address these challenges, it has little or no provision for the salvation of it adherents.
Any gospel that fails to address the Soteriology of man is not a true and complete gospel. That perhaps accounts for the reason why many of the Christians we have today are not only disappointment to the church but also to the nation. Our mind has been corrupted to pursue the things of the world at the expense of the things of God which of course have eternal value.
23 A. S. Hornsby, “Prospects,” in Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary, ed. Jonathan Crowther (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995), 931.
24 R.S. Sugirtharajah, “Poverty,” in Dictionary of the Third World Theologies, ed. Virginia Fabella, MM. et
al. (New York: Orbis Books, 20000, 170-171.
25 R.S. Sugirtharajah, “Poverty,” in Dictionary of the Third World Theologies, ed. Virginia Fabella, MM. et al. (New York: Orbits Books, 20000, 170-171.
26 Robert E. Coleman, The Master Plan of Discipleship (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House Company, 1998), 14.
27 Abogunrin, 272.
28 Romans 6:1-14, 12:1-3; Galatians 5:16-24; Colossians 3:1-7.
29 Neva Coyle, Learning to Know God (Minneapolis: Bethany House Publishers, 1993), 83.
31 George E. Sweazy, The Church as Evangelist: Making Evangelism a Priority of Local Congregation (New York: Harper and Row Publishers, 1978), 32.
32 Ibid., 33.
33 A.W. Tozer, “The First Obligation of the Church,” Herald of His Coming January 2002, 4.
35 M. Webster, “Sociology,” in Webster’s New Twentieth Century Dictionary (Mexico: William Collins World Publishing Company, 1979), 1723.
37 Melvin L. Defleur, Sociology: Human Society (Dallas: Foresman and Company, 1976), 489.
38 Defleur, 489-491.
39 Social Gospel is a liberal movement in American Protestantism, Prominent in the late 19th century, which sought to apply Christian principles to a variety of social problems engendered by industrialization. Its founders and leaders included the clergymen Washington Gladden and Walter Reuchenbusch, who tried to counteract the effects of expounded capitalism by teaching religion and human dignity to the working class. Proponents of the Social Gospel also opposed the tacit support given by organized religion to unrestricted capitalism.
The Social Gospel’s movement’s views were formerly expressed in 1908 when the Federal Council of the churches of Christ in America (a forerunner of the National Council of Churches) adopted a “Social creed of the churches.” This creed called for the abolition of child labor, improved working conditions for women, a day off each week, and the right of all workers to a living wage. Many of the aims of the Social Gospel movement were espoused by organized labor in the early years of the century, and some were later incorporated in the New Deal programs of the 1930s (Microsoft Encarta Premium “Social Gospel” in).
40 Millard, 155.
41 __________, “Sociology,” in World Book Encyclopedia (Chicago: World Book-Child craft International Inc., Volume 8, 1981), 458.
42 Augustine U. Nebechukwu, “Solidarity with the Poor: Christian Response to Poverty” (African Theological Journal Vol. 19, No. 2, 1990), 98.
43 Nebechukwu, 96.
44 Solo Christians are Christians concerned with their own individual interest. The interests of others have no place in the minds.
45 Acts 4:32-37.
46 Millard, 136.
47 Millard J. Sall, The, Psychology and Christian Maturity (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1975), 12.
49 Millard J. Sall, The, Psychology and Christian Maturity (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1975), 12.
50 Stephen Bullon, et al., “Psychology,” in Longman Active Study Dictionary (Edinburgh: Pearson Education Limited, 2004), 592.
51 G.O. Folarin, “The Prosperity Gospel in Nigeria: A Re-Examination of the Concept, Its Impacts and Evaluation” www://http:cybesource.org., 1