Over the past 20 years Christianity in Africa has grown. But there are grave concerns over what is happening in the name of Christianity on the continent.
Conrad Mbewe, pastor of Kabwata Baptist Church in Lusaka, Zambia, and who has been called “the African Spurgeon,” said prosperity teaching is an unwelcome guest that has taken up permanent residence in Africa. A Reformed Baptist, he hopes to see a revival of the true gospel in Africa. In a 2015 article for the Gospel Coalition he wrote:
“We need to address prosperity theology here in Africa because it has replaced the true gospel of salvation with a kind of “gospel” that is no gospel at all. This is happening in what once were mainstream evangelical circles. Everywhere, especially on radio and television, almost all you hear is this message about how God in Christ wants us to be physically healthy and materially prosperous. You hardly ever hear sermons about sin and repentance.”
A case in point is Bishop Daniel “Angel” Obinim, the founder of International Godsway church in Ghana.
Impeccably dressed while sitting on an oversized chair that resembles a throne, his followers approach him throwing banknotes at his feet. He claims that Jesus Christ has granted him the right to more than 20 houses, eight Range Rovers, five SUVs and three Chryslers.
News reports claim his churches are filled. “These churches are experiencing a boom because they answer the material desires of people,” explains Akosua Adomako Ampofo, a professor of the African Studies Institute of the University of Ghana, in Accra. “The people, especially from the poorer areas of the city, look for answers for daily needs, therefore the promise of wealth—along with the miraculous healing—attracts people.”
In addition to offerings from his filled churches, Obinim is also a master marketer. His latest scheme is the #ObinimStickerChallenge that is trending on social media. The hashtag sticker comes on the back of audios that were making rounds in the country where some members of his church were giving testimonies about how miraculously the sticker, which has the Obinim’s face on it, has helped them in some way.
The ‘Obinim challenge’ has also garnered its share of ridicule. UK ambassador to Ghana Jon Benjamin tweeted, “Yes, I stuck an #Obinim sticker on my head last night and when I woke up this morning I had two heads…but no brain”.
The rest of his “theology” is also suspect. Obinim claims he can turn into anything, including animals and trees. He says he can retrieve passports from the spiritual world. He claims that he can change body parts. Obinim’s members now refer to him as Angel Obinim. He told them he was made an angel by his father, Jesus. He insists he can enter people’s dreams. And he recently told his church members that he went to Heaven, had a conversation with God and drew the jealousy of Satan.
While the stories are amusing, the impact is not. Pastor Mbewe wrote:
“It’s like giving children sweets before a meal; you spoil their appetite for that which is truly nutritious. The Bible is primarily about salvation from sin and being sanctified into the image of Christ. We ought to be admiring those among us whose godliness shines like the sun in its noonday strength, but we are fast losing that view. Christians are instead admiring the few individuals with big houses, and flashy cars and clothes, even when such individuals are living in sin. Invariably this emphasis is resulting in churches being rocked with scandals once rare in evangelical circles. Also, prosperity theology makes people think health and wealth are products of a man of God’s prayers (which he performs for you when you plant a financial “seed”), despite the fact that health and wealth are products of good hygiene, nutritious meals, regular exercise, medical treatment, integrity, innovativeness and hard work. This teaching has become a religious pyramid scam, with the so-called “men of God” reaping a fortune while their blind followers are getting poorer. Every day we have to deal with disillusioned individuals who have woken up when it’s too late. This teaching is wreaking havoc in the lives of many Christians.”
And not just in Ghana.
Beth Moore argues something similar is happening in America but in subtler shades. This week, as part of a panel discussion on “Evangelicals and the Future of Racial Unity” at the MLK50 Conference, Moore said while many evangelicals in America are proud they don’t subscribe to a “prosperity gospel,” many are guilty of subscribing to a “pampered gospel.”
“What I think has happened here is that in our discipleship, we are not teaching what is normative in the believing life. When we carry our cross and we follow Jesus, we are walking into a storm… But what we have subscribed to is a pampered gospel where we are so afraid of suffering and we are so afraid someone is going to criticize us and hurt our feelings,” Moore asserted. “This is the Gospel work of Jesus Christ and we are going with Him. Whatever it takes, no matter how unpopular it is. He was hated. We have to have thicker skin than that.”
Whether the allure is a pampered gospel or prosperity theology, pastor Mbewe said those caught up have not rejected the true gospel but have no idea what it is. He prays that the Holy Spirit will open their eyes to the lies they’ve accepted.