The prosperity gospel in Africa
Religion | The cultic activity promises worldly power in place of the power of the cross
by Feumba Samen
Posted 11/15/14, 12:09 pm
In five trips to Africa I’ve been impressed and even thrilled by the spread of Christianity in country after country south of the Sahara. At the same time, many more experienced travelers caution that Christianity in Africa is sometimes thousands of miles wide but only an inch deep.
Feumba Samen, an economics and statistics graduate of Université Marien N’Goubi in the Republic of Congo, last year became a doctor of missiology via Grace Theological Seminary in Indiana. He is also a multilingual and multi-continental journalist with articles in Congo Magazine, The Intruder, La Rue-Meurt, La Come Enchantee, and other publications.
Samen will be a student in the World Journalism Institute’s mid-career training course in Austin, Texas, next week. The following article is derived from a book he is writing. —Marvin Olasky
Africans are especially attached to supernatural values. For this reason African Christianity is characterized by an intense spiritual hunger. Nevertheless, faith on the continent is threatened by several factors, one of the most serious being the prosperity gospel.
Where it all started
In the early 1970s the Charismatic Renewal movement appeared in traditional African churches. The followers of this movement launched by Pentecostal teachings walked away from Catholicism, Protestantism, and evangelical churches to launch so-called revivalist churches. In these churches the pastor occupied a prominent place in the life of the followers. This trend expanded through the 1990s after the failure of structural adjustment policies imposed by the Bretton Woods institutions. People lost confidence in economic mechanisms, social recovery plans, and the ability of governments to bail them out and turned to the churches.
The revivalist churches are originally from New (Neo) American Pentecostalism, preaching the gospel of prosperity and miracles. These churches, with their earthly founders called apostles, prophets, or visionaries, promised earthly happiness, refusing any open dialogue with other churches. According to the Acts of the Seventeenth Scientific Seminar held in Kinshasa in 2013, “They receive financial support and legal status of the various governments of the country in addition to the support of churches in the USA.”
These churches preach prosperity, offering utopian hopes through the gospel of prosperity and miracles. The prosperity gospel was received in Africa for two main reasons: First, these churches were born and grew because this gospel integrated with an African belief that human events are controlled by spiritual powers, bad luck, and good luck. Pastors substituted for fetishists and traditional practitioners. Second, the prosperity gospel found fertile ground in Africa because of the real sufferings facing these Christians, burdened by material and spiritual poverty, who needed immediate relief and thought they could find happiness trusting in anyone making such promises.
The explosion of the cult of democracy and globalization has created in Africa new messiahs, besieging large cities in particular, by selling the prosperity gospel. The profusion of churches teaching the prosperity gospel number in the thousands. In Kinshasa, one source counts about 10,000! In some countries there are seven churches in an area of 300 square meters (3,229 square feet). The great number of these churches in many African cities raises some questions.
Actually, these churches are often the result of dissent where their main characteristics do not meet the criteria of apostolicity, unity, holiness, ethical responsibility, and universality, and put little emphasis on the authority of the revelation of God’s Word. In addition, these churches, which have a closed leadership and lax administration of the sacraments, indeed show that they meet almost all the criteria that define cults. Therefore, these churches are not created from God’s vision to seek lost souls for extending the kingdom of God.
Statistically, it is difficult to quantify the number of followers praying in these churches because of the multiplicity of “informal” chapels, migration of followers who go from one church to another or experience various places of worship at the same time, the strategic and political manipulation of data that depend on the leaders of these churches, or, finally, the lack in their culture of statistics or surveys in these churches.
For decades, Pentecostals and evangelicals considered the practice of politics like “the Devil” and located outside God’s scope. Cults offering messages of prosperity opted in favor of the relationship of “church” and politics.
According to the Rev. Francis Michel Mbadinga—founder in 1985 of the Center for Evangelization Bethany (CEB), one of the most recognized and powerful prosperity gospel churches in Gabon—the primary purpose for his vision of the church supposedly received from God is: “The proclamation of the Gospel of Christ and His Word to create a new awakening that must affect and transform all areas of life in society: spiritual, political, economic, social, cultural, and educational.” This bridge between Church and nation would appear to be excellent, but it is the shameless exploitation of this “vision” that is outrageous and questionable.
In Gabon, members of prosperity gospel churches represent more than one-fifth of the voters. Some politicians, although without declaring publicly to be Pentecostals or evangelicals, use these churches to become popular in order to benefit politically. These churches encourage their followers to vote for these politicians, which are also for them a reliable source of funding. Thus, certain politicians, while providing visibility and credibility to their pastors, saw their political standing grow. Some were elected to political office; others, such as D. Divungi Di Ndinge, who was appointed to minister, were rewarded with high government positions. In this arrangement of giving and receiving, followers believed they could also come into contact with these political authorities through the church for certain opportunities, while churches improved their recognition and spread their religious message, thus, being a version of “I’ll scratch your back, and you’ll scratch mine”!
These pastors often have unlimited influence. In 2003, Francis Michel Mbadinga managed to sack Gen. Nguétsara Lendoye, head of the General Commission for Documentation and Immigration (CGDI), for refusing entry to the Gabonese territory and for lack of visas to the Rev. David Fletcher, who had been invited by the CEB for “Christian” events. Following this incident, the CGDI was dissolved under pressure from influential CEB members.
Gabon is not the only case where the tentacles of this spiritual anomaly have crept into the spheres of state administration. Joseph and Elisabeth Olangi lead a cult called the Spiritual Warfare Ministry. It spread its tentacles from its headquarters in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo, to the Republic of Congo, where the Olangis expropriated state land. Members of the government, businessmen, and wealthy people, especially women, attend such cults to submit their requests to remain “forever” in the government and “continually keep” their high status or increase their business.
Because of their acquaintance with political powers, prosperity gospel churches reject democracy, although it has allowed them to emerge from the shadows to spread their extravagance in broad daylight. In their understanding, this political system is not the will of God. Their reasons: The democratic political system is that of “struggles and fights.” Placed in the African context and to a certain extent, that is not entirely false. Among other reasons they believe this system of government is not from God is, “If man had not failed in his duty, we would be living in a theocratic regime.” Their messages support the regime or political authorities in power. Their sermons emphasize the sacredness of the authorities and the fact that we should vote for them because God Himself established them.
These maneuvers are analyzed by observers of the religious scene as a means for these churches to exist on the economic and social scene, to be recognized, to be able to access some functions, or to avoid too deep a financial control from the government.
Prosperity gospel strategy
The sermons of prosperity gospel churches follow this pattern: predestination of members of their cults to reign (political and social power), prosperity (economic power), and the overcoming of disease and occult forces (mystical power). In a sermon titled “Chosen for the Summit” by Nigerian David Oyedepo, founder in 1983 of the Winner’s Chapel, he teaches how to reach the peaks. Excerpts:
“‘But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His wonderful light’ (1 Peter 2:9). God had a purpose in creating you. The ultimate objective of this goal is to make you walk on the hills here on earth to make you an outstanding success. Successful means stand out, be distinguished among others. … To walk on the heights, your will must be strong. It is your will that makes you go through and over the opposition of life. With this established will, no opposition can stop you. Exercise your will to succeed, and it will lead you through the obstacles to your palace.”
In his 1987 book titled The Fourth Dimension, South Korean Paul Yonggi Cho, founder of the Full Gospel Central Church and another guru of the prosperity gospel favored by Africans, gives guidelines that followers of prosperity gospel churches must follow to live a happy life:
“You have to enter into your mind the idea of victory and abundance. God never fails. So if you get thoughts that come from God, you will always know success. God never loses the battle, because He is the eternal winner. You should always be aware of the victory. God never lacks anything. Get used to thinking also in terms of abundance.”
In his theory of positive confession, which is the “incubation, the law of faith to see our prayers answered,” he outlines four steps that govern: the representation of objectives clearly defined, a burning desire to achieve, prayer to be assured, and expression of the language of faith.
“Church” without a theological foundation
Prophets, pastors, and gurus take the place of God. They do not preach according to the vision of Christ whose sole mission for the church is to seek the lost and make disciples, according to the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18–20). They do not preach Christ crucified—instead they proclaim healing, miracles, and support for the tired and overworked as a priority of the church. These so-called men of God divert the theological foundations of the church, using all the means of propaganda for manipulating their followers looking for social rank, honor, and money by means of miracles and healings. They also aim to attract members of independent churches, as well as other churches: Catholics, Protestants, Orthodox, and even Muslims.
According to Ngolo Gibau in Congo Vision:
“The proliferation of churches in Congo is a deadly vapor. I expressed my anxiety about the scourge in this mess that clogs the channels of awareness with all sorts of aberrations, deception, songs worthy of a Luciferian spirit, and rapacious merchantry, which Congolese ‘pastors’ demonstrate. Becoming a pastor requires a long and arduous journey that is defined by sanctity … humility, discretion, the refusal of any form of ostentation, to be immune to the allure of money. As in other areas in the Congo where these churches prevail, the devil, vanity, and quackery are the first ministers.”
This disorder is not specific to the Congo but extends to this type of church in other countries of the continent. It is explained by the epistemological, biblical, philosophical, and logical errors within these churches due in part to the lack of training of their founders, who claim to have received their vision directly from God and yet reject the mission of Christ for His church.
These churches, which lack a theological foundation, set aside the mystery of the cross of Jesus Christ. Thus, they reject the invitation of Christ to those who love Him to take His cross and follow Him (Matthew 10:38, 16:24), the profession of faith of the Apostle Paul to which the cross of Christ is the only source of pride (Galatians 6:14), and the exhortation from the writer of Hebrews of “fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before Him, He endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:2).
According to the theologians of prosperity, sin is the “high treason” of Adam by which he transmitted to Satan the dominion that God had given him over creation. Thus, Satan has dominion over the creation by a “legal right,” not only because of the rebellion of man. This approach shifts the problem of responsibility in the act of the commission of sin. Satan becomes the instigator of all wrongdoing in the world as the author of sin. The aim of the “theologians” of prosperity is disassociating man from sin. He does not deal with his own sin but that of Satan. By denying original sin the fundamental core in the sin problem becomes the lack of self-esteem. The most serious sin is the one that causes a person to declare that he is unworthy.
Intellectuals’ attraction to the prosperity gospel
African intellectuals are increasingly exposed to and victims of these magico-religious cults. These people, who could instead be reflecting on the concepts and techniques of development of the continent, spend part of their time in these cults chasing demons. In their approach they seek to achieve prosperity or promotion in their professional lives by shortcuts.
Pride, envy, excess, and the search for physical, material, and spiritual security make them spiritual prisoners of these cults. Examining political, economic, social, and legal issues to find solutions is outside their field of thought and reflection. Basic scientific and technical research is placed on the back burner. Their truncated Bible study remains the only search tool to achieve the desired security. Their fear of self and of others is a result of profound disorientation experienced when suddenly put in contact with a sectarian environment. Its features are unknown, incomprehensible, and threatening, which causes African intellectuals to have an internal imbalance resulting in the erosion of moral values, the loss of cultural identity, and the degradation of positive competitive values. These cults, by capturing African intellectual potential, have placed in hibernation most African academics and researchers. They have become puppets in the hands of gurus.
The philosophy taught in these cults manufactures uprooted and alienated individuals. The good seed—that is, the African intelligence that should be the pride of Africa—is not, for the reason that they are victims of spiritual alienation caused by looking up to the gurus who eventually lull their consciences.