by J. Lee Grady

Iīm not an African, but in 2008 some Nigerian friends gave me a Yoruba name
("Akinwale") because I have been to that country so often. My visits there,
along with trips to Uganda, Kenya, Malawi, South Africa and Egypt, planted a
deep love for Africa in my heart. My first grandsonīs arrival this year from
Ethiopia made the connection even stronger.

Iīm often asked to describe how God is moving in Africa today.
Since Iīm an optimist, I usually tell of the large churches, the passionate
praise and the intense spiritual hunger that characterizes African
Christianity. But there is also a dark side, and I think itīs time we
addressed one of the most serious threats to faith on the continent.

Iīm talking about the prosperity gospel. Of course, I know a slick version
of this message is preached in the United States-and I know we are the ones
who exported it overseas. I am not minimiz- ing the damage that prosperity
preaching has done in my own country. But I have witnessed how some African
Christians are taking this money-focused message to new and even more
dangerous extremes.

Here are five reasons the prosperity message is damaging the continent of
Africa today:

1. It is mixed with occultism. Before Christianity came to Nigeria, people
visited witch doctors and sacrificed goats or cows to get prosperity. They
poured libations on the ground so the gods would hear their prayers. Today
similar practices continue, only the juju priest has been replaced by a
pastor who drives a Mercedes-Benz.
I am aware of a pastor who buried a live animal under the floor of his
church to win Godīs favor. Another pastor asked his congregants to bring
bottles of sand to church so he could anoint them; he then told the people
to sprinkle the sand in their houses to bring blessings. The people who
follow these charlatans are reminded that their promised windfall wonīt
materialize unless they give large donations.

2. It fuels greed. Any person who knows Christ will learn the joy of giving
to others. But the prosperity gospel teaches people to focus on getting, not
giving. At its core it is a selfish and materialistic faith with a thin
Christian veneer. Church members are continually urged to sow financial
seeds to reap bigger and bigger rewards. In Africa, entire conferences are
dedicated to collecting offerings in order to achieve wealth. Preachers
boast about how much they paid for suits, shoes, necklaces and watches. They
tell their followers that spirituality is measured by whether they have a
big house or a first-class ticket. When greed is preached from the pulpit,
it spreads like a cancer in Godīs house.

3. It feeds pride. This greedy atmosphere in prosperity churches has
produced a warped style of leadership. My Kenyan friend Gideon Thuranira,
editor of Christian Professional magazine, calls these men "churchpreneurs."
They plant churches not because they have a burden to reach lost souls but
because they see dollar signs when they fill an auditorium with chairs. A
selfish message produces bigheaded opportunists who need position, applause
and plenty of perks to keep them happy. The most successful prosperity
preacher is the most dangerous because he can convince a crowd that Jesus
died to give you and me a Lexus.

4. It works against the formation of Christian character. The prosperity
message is a poor imitation of the gospel because it leaves no room for
brokenness, suffering, humility or delay. It offers an illegal shortcut.
Prosperity preachers promise instant results and overnight success; if you
donīt get your breakthrough, itīs because you didnīt give enough money in
the offering. Jesus calls us to deny ourselves and follow Him; prosperity
preaching calls us to deny Jesus and follow our materialistic lusts. There
is a leadership crisis in the African church because many pastors are so set
on getting rich, they canīt go through the process of discipleship that
requires self-denial.

5. It actually keeps people in poverty. The government of Malawi is
currently under international scrutiny because of fraud carried out by top
leaders. The saddest thing about the so-called "Cashgate" scandal is that
professing Christians in the administ- ration of President Joyce Banda have
been implicated. One of these people stole millions of kwacha from the
government and hid the cash in a teddy bear! Most people today in Malawi
live on less than $1 a day, yet their leaders have been known to buy fleets
of cars and huge plots of land with money that was not theirs. Sadly, the
prosperity gospel preached in Malawi has encouraged pastors and leaders to
follow the same corrupt pattern.
As a result, Godīs people have been financially exploited.

When Jesus described false prophets as wolves in sheepīs clothing, He warned
us to examine their fruit. Matthew 7:17 says, "So every good tree bears good
fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit" (NASB). What is the fruit of
prosperity preaching?

Churches have been growing rapidly in many parts of Africa today, yet
sub-Saharan Africa is the only region in the world where poverty has
increased in the past 25 years. So according to the statistics, the
prosperity gospel is not bringing prosperity! It is a flawed message, but I
believe God will use selfless, broken African leaders to correct it.

-Lee Grady is the former Editor of Charisma Magazine.



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