The Herald (Harare)

13 February 2013

Zimbabwe's Crisis of Faith

opinion

Zimbabwe has recently been experiencing some of the most bizarre and outrageous happenings rooted in the people's deep seated beliefs in either the Christian faith or African Traditional Religion.

From superstitious people reportedly fatally tempering with an anti-tank mine hoping to extract chemicals worth millions of dollars from within the lethal weapon to outrageous miracle claims by boy-faced preachers seemingly failing to outgrow childhood fantasies.

We have also seen the media surprisingly elevating some of these primitive shenanigans to matters of national prominence.

We live in today's intellectual climate of non-judgmentalism and tolerance, and as such we must be careful what we condemn and how we do so. In the name of adopting secularism we have all of a sudden become a nation of heretics, if some of what is happening in the Christian community is anything to go by.

Apart from the egregious deception and treachery by the people we call politicians, the other real corrosive force of our day is the unbiblical and self-serving influence coming from within the Christian community itself, or is it precisely from within the highly commercialised church movement?

We have prosperity gospel preachers, self-anointed prophets, and self-styled miracle workers, Christological revisionists both in the professoriate and in the media, anodyne spiritualists and other religious charlatans who wrongly appropriate Christianity for self-aggrandisement, or for selfish political ends.

The result of this is a Zimbabwe fast departing from the orthodox Christian search for spiritual transcendence, getting more inclined towards a search for materialistic gratification.

There is an implicit rejection of the divinity of Jesus Christ, and we have this generation of accommodationist prosperity gospel preachers who continually empty Christianity of almost anything that has the potential to offend the sensibilities of a sinning world.

Today we have mushrooming churches that are breeding multitudes of believers with a blasé attitude towards sin and wickedness -- an abominable lot with a dismissive attitude towards ordinary moral obligations. This is precisely why it is no longer news that a pastor rapes a 15 year old girl, or that a pastor swindles the public of hard earned cash, and this also explains why divorce rates, single parentage and counselling services are as high in the churches as they are in the outer world, if not higher.

Prosperity preachers of today are largely charlatans who convince their followers that God is primarily a source of material comfort, and that the measure of His blessing is in material possessions.

A prosperity preacher is one who claims to be a Christian, to be called by God, but whose teaching mainly focuses on man's happiness and material accumulation.

There is a humanist approach to the Christian faith that these preachers adore, and they pay very little attention to afterlife matters and eternity.

Is it not revealing that the only scripturally recorded instance where Jesus got furious was when people used God's temple to make money?

These were greedy profit seekers who had become so daring and audacious as to set up shop right inside God's house of prayer. Has the church not become so commercialised right in our day? One would be forgiven for thinking that they are at a market place after a visit to some of these modern churches today. It is merchandise all over the place right inside the church building. This writer's wife sometimes comes from church with more stuff than she usually brings from the nearby shopping plaza.

We have countless prosperity preachers who brazenly brag about their material possessions from their golden pulpits, all the time clad in velvety designer clothing. They demand money from their flocks in return for promises of healing, deliverance, or all sorts of miracles as can be imagined.

That this trading of God's miracles is done in the name of Christ must cause holy anger in God's children. It is the duty of God's children to protect the immature believers from the deception of false teachers and false prophets.

The Mormon worshippers styling themselves as God's prophets while spreading a false prosperity gospel are like deadly poison advertised as medicine. It is the duty of every responsible child of God to warn the public against such poison, as would do any responsible medical doctor.

It does not need supernatural discernment powers or rocket science to distinguish a false prophet from a true one, or to draw a line between God's blessing and prosperity preaching. The simple and straightforward guide is to look to Jesus Christ Himself.

If they preach like Christ did then they are of Christ. If they sound like Christ sounded then they are of Christ. If they talk about what Jesus talked about then they are of Christ. If they live the way Jesus lived then they indeed are of Christ.

Every Christian whose desire is to secure eternity with God must of necessity flee from any church or any pastor that does the following:

If the church leader lives or fancies living a lavish lifestyle with fancy cars, huge mansions, expensive designer clothes and so on. There is nothing inherently sinful about any of this, but the simple truth is that Jesus Christ never lived like this.

In fact His attitude towards Mammon and wealth was such that Jesus did not even carry a single cent in His pocket, (Matthew 22 v 19). His attitude towards shelter and housing was such that He had nowhere to lay His head. The Bible says there was nothing in Jesus' appearance to attract people to Him, and that was God's plan from the beginning. Isaiah 53 v 2 partly reads "He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to Him. . . "

Thomas Sankara of Burkina Faso tried to emulate Jesus Christ's example, albeit as a political messiah to a down trodden people. Those obsessed with the gluttonous spirit of greed killed him at the tender age of 36, just three years older than the age at which Jesus Christ was crucified 2000 years ago. The good die young for their uprightness in this world of iniquity.

Sankara kept his salary of an army captain even after ascending to the presidency of his country, drove in a common Peugeot 404 Sedan, wore cheap garments made by traditional weavers in his country, and mingled always with the poorest of the poor in Burkina Faso.

Those around Sankara whose hearts were full of materialistic desires plotted to destroy him, and he was betrayed and killed by his own best confidante and friend Blaise Compaore -- the man still at the helm of Burkina Faso to this day.

Prosperity preachers are neither like Sankara nor like Jesus Christ. As a prosperity preacher gains wealth, his lifestyle will also become more excessive.

Meanwhile prosperity preachers constantly attempt to make their hearers feel good. In Zimbabwe there are two prominent ones who do so by prophesying endless sweet nothings, to much raucous applauding from the pleased followers. They also draw a lot of support for pretending to be healing sicknesses, for stage managing many false miracles, and for making outrageous claims through baseless testimonies meant to portray themselves as "mightily used of God."

We hear one of them claiming that he recently made gold to rain from the heavens right into the palms of expectant followers, after which he says he made fat people suddenly lose weight to look like models, after which he commanded bald heads to be instantly covered by hair, after which he commanded gaps on people's gums to be suddenly filled with fresh sets of plain white teeth, and after which he commanded a woman on the pill to conceive a baby and to deliver it all mature after only three days in the mother's womb. This makes Jesus Christ Himself look like a poor disciple of this Zimbabwean prophet does it not?

Meanwhile his fellow prophet and friend brags loudly that he can create bank notes straight from thin air. He has since rescinded on this and now says he only restores lost money for his followers, whatever that means.

It is quite curious that Zimbabwe's Central Bank Governor somehow found the logic in dignifying these imbecilic claims by facilitating a joint Press conference with these fantasising gentlemen. And the Press obliged by reporting the proceedings as matters of pure logic.

The only reason prosperity preachers want their followers to feel good is that these preachers only care about the number of people in their churches, not necessarily about the spiritual maturity of the congregation.

Jesus Christ was a decisive preacher who uncompromisingly stuck to the principle of His doctrine. He was no man pleaser. His word was a cutting sword dividing sharply between those for Him and those against Him. He knew well how to please the Pharisees and the Sadducees, but He chose instead to condemn them.

Prosperity preachers want to keep everybody in one group, or at least they try to. Even an atheist can listen to today's prosperity gospel and feel uplifted. Thieves, prostitutes, and all manner of criminals flock to these churches not to depart from their sinful ways but to enjoy the feel good factor that comes with the preaching of prosperity gospel.

The focus of prosperity preaching is happiness regardless of God's honour. There is this vociferous teaching to pray for and to pursue prosperity, and there is just no teaching on the value of contentment.

The spiritual well-being of a Christian has been sidelined as the material well-being has been elevated to levels of righteousness.

Prosperity preachers are not in favour of rebuking, and they preach more about God's love and mercy, but not about the fear of God. Surely God's love and mercies are for those who fear His name, not for those who have no fear in the despising His throne.

Prosperity preachers rarely preach against sin, more for their concern about the body, and far less for the concern over the soul. To them the present life is more important than eternity.

But Jesus hated sin so much that He declared that we rather pluck out our eyes than sin. When somebody expresses himself like this you are sure he is not kidding about the matter.

A pastor who rarely talks about sin or speaks against it is a very dangerous piece of work. He is like a politician who has nothing against corruption. That pastor's own walk with God is concerningly questionable.

God desires that His people prosper, but only for those mature enough to handle the temptation that comes with wealth.

The prosperity preacher who claims to have powers to stuff the pockets and purses of his hearers with miracle cash is as foolish as anyone that thinks it is a brilliant idea to give every five year old a $100 bill. Certainly God does not think like this.

The centrality of the gospel that Jesus preached is not in the happiness of man but in the glory of God. It is a gospel that does not only talk of God's perfect love, but also of His power, justice and His wrath.

It is heretic to teach people that faith will get you whatever you want.

Faith is guided by God's will. Surely God intends to make man happy, but not as the primary product of man's faith, but as a by-product of the instruction to seek first God's Kingdom.

It is no sin to have money, nice cars, leisure time and so on. However the focus of the gospel is what one can give to God more than it is about what one can get from Him.

Much as we vote against politicians who promise us what they cannot deliver, we must flee from the churches of preachers who preach a false gospel that is fulfilled nowhere else beyond their pulpits.

Zimbabwe we are one and together we will overcome.

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