By Rev. Fr. Augustine Ikenna Awuchie
The place of the prophetic ministry has become a mainstay of Nigerian Christianity if not the determinant factor with which many Nigerian Christians rate the veracity, authenticity and legitimacy of a particular church. Charismatic preachers and men of God who are believed to foresee, predict and foretell the future have become priced assets believed by their numerous followers to be infallible and whose “anointing” have made them unquestionable, in as much as their prophecy guarantees social, political and financial security.
It is not uncommon in Nigeria for men of God to become jack of all trade and masters of none; such that the power of the prophet is so omnipotent that he can predict elections victory, stock markets result, football matches, the next Nigerian billionaire, the latest person to get a juicy employment, impending or imminent death often in favor of his followers.
Sometimes the power of this prophet goes into the past so that he can see the hidden course why there is backwardness and poverty in a family. Some of the prophets even mix evangelism with entertainment, casting out demons in the fashion of rock and roll music or using the famous combative Wrestle Mania style often depicted as a combat between the prophet exorcists and the possessed.
The dream of these prophets is not only to be rich but also to attain celebrity status hence the power of some of the prophets have gone far that they can prophesy on international issues like the US politics and when the coronavirus pandemic will come to an end. This omniscient attitude of Nigerian prophets is not only alarming but claims expertise and authority in the field of stock market and football punditry, politics, health and every other aspects of life. Unfortunately, Nigerians have more confidence on them than they should have on experts versed in these fields.
The consequences of this is that Nigerian Christianity has been turned into a commercial Christianity where many men of God compete to sell their prophetic goods to Christians who are hungry for financial break through, protection, cure from various diseases, the right marriage partners and the list goes. Just like Nigerian politicians jostle for a share of the “national cake”, so does these Christians shop from one miracle churches to another for their own “spiritual or divine cake.” slogans like “divine intervention” ,”divine breakthrough”, “it-is-not-my-portion” and “I claim it in Jesus name” have become explosives catch phrases: even when those saying it does not understand the full spiritual implication and even when what they are claiming are what can easily be overcome through our God given efforts. This phenomenon has also led to the confusion on the Christian traditional meaning of a prophet, the difference between prophecy and prediction and whether it is right according to the Christian tradition to use the prophetic ministry as a means of acquiring wealth.
In the scriptures, a prophet is one called to proclaim and interpret the word of God to humanity. In performing this function, the prophet is expected to give this message as he is instructed without allowing his emotion or feelings to color it or tailoring this message to please the feeling of the people. In the scriptures, the Israelites prophets were raised by God in the time of national crises or in times of moral decay to warn and call rulers to political and moral reform and in the second instance to call people to repentance. A prophet is therefore not essentially a miracle worker or a healer, it was not all the prophets who healed or performed miracles and when some of them did this, the end point of this grace was to call people to repentance and bring them closer to God. In other words, the mission and message of the prophet is more important than the miracle he performs. This means that the miracle the prophet performs is relevant only when it serves the purpose of driving this message of proclamation to the people. A perfect example can be seen in the prophetic ministry and miracles of Elijah. The purpose of Elijah’s miracles and victory over the prophets of Baal was to reform the house of Ahab and call Israel to repentance.
Thus, the Old Testament prophets were men dedicated to moral and spiritual reform not telling people that they will be materially successful or performing miracles for the purpose of demonstrating how powerful or anointed a man of God is, as the Nigerian prophets do. For instance, Elijah was raised when Israel under Ahab witnessed a political, moral and spiritual decay, Samuel prophetic ministry saw a timeline that spanned from Saul to the reign of David. Amos another great prophet was a shepherded and a keeper of sycamore tree who called the northern kingdom to repentance. Amos did not perform any miracle; he rather spoke on the theme of justice, especially on the disparity between the rich and the poor and divine judgment that awaits them for negligence against God’s law.
We can see clearly that to prophesy doesn’t mean presenting something novel, performing miracle, or making one popular but proclaiming and interpreting the word of God for the moral and spiritual transformation of mankind. This bring us to the difference between prophecy and prediction, while prediction is based on logical analysis of event and data to predict a result, prophecy is based on spiritual inspiration and inner intuition to give divine interpretation to event. Hence, a pundit can weigh on political event in the country or the fitness of players and preparedness of the team to predict the result of election and football. Prediction looks at the possible and logical consequence of an unfolding event while prophecy looks at the human events with an eye to the spiritual and divine implication and outcome of that event with the mission of calling people to repentance.
While both prophecy and prediction have the same attribute of foretelling the future, another factor that distinguishes prophecy from prediction is “time.” While prediction happens and is bound in time, prophecy although occurs in time but not bound by time, meaning that most at times we do not know the particular time a prophecy will be realized even though it may come to pass. Sometimes a prophecy will come to pass but we may not know that it has been fulfilled except we are given the grace by the Holy Spirit to understand it.
While prophecy is a sign that warns us to prepare for unknown and unexpected eventualities, prediction is a logical and human attempt at a possible outcome of an event. For instance, one can weigh in through a thorough evaluation to figure out if president Trump will win or lose next year election but when Jesus prophesied that the temple of Jerusalem will be destroyed, he did not specify how and when but was warning the Jews about the possible consequences of their sinful actions(Mark 13). Again, when he talked about the end of the world, he did not specifically mention when, he even said that he and the angels do not known when this will happen as this is known only to God the father (Math 24:42). Hence, we can see that he was laying emphasizes that Christians should always be prepared for this day and we can see that the watchword is preparedness by living our lives in accordance to the Word of God. This is shown in the parable where he said that on the last day two people will be lying down and one will be taken to heaven and the other left behind (Luke 17:34). Yet today many Nigeria men of God have raised many false alarms of a possible apocalypse and end of the world. We know about the recent 5G controversy and the dubbing of the Pope as an anti – Christ by some Nigerian pastors who wanted to spur controversies so that they will remain relevant during the coronavirus crisis.
The last ingredient tied to the Nigerian prophetic ministry is the insatiable quest for profit. Most men of God who run these prophetic ministries value acquisition of wealth over the spiritual need of their people. The proclamation of word is tailored into sowing of seed, tithing and donation. Most times the recipient of their prophecies are corrupt politicians and shady business moguls who donate millions in exchange for favorable prophecies. But in the bible when Jesus dined with Matthew and Zacchaeus the two famous tax collectors who exploited the people, he made sure that they repented (Mark 2:13-17/ Luke 19:10). This is not surprising since their prophetic utterance is tied to prosperity gospel which is founded on the slogan of the more “you sow, the more you reap”. Or “God loves a cheerful giver” this is also the mentality behind the teaching on tithe, family deliverance and sowing of seeds which have birthed multimillion new generational churches and sometimes flashy and flamboyant men of god found in orthodox churches. Again, they do not interpret the will of God but the will of the people.
How right is it to teach Christians that one has solution to every of their problem and God must answer every one of their wishes even when they have not worked to deserve those wishes or that they are not meant to encounter tribulation and temptation in life, yet Jesus told his disciples that to be Christians entails to take one cross and follow him. The growing trend of this type of Christianity doesn’t sound well for the future of Christianity in Nigeria. It could be said that these men of God has helped Nigeria Christians troubled by the uncertainty of our social economic and political situation to create their own God just like the Israelites troubled with the uncertainty of their journey in the wilderness commissioned Aaron to mould a golden calf for them in the absence of Moses.
Secondly there is no place in the scripture where God said that tithe and sowing of seed are criteria for material wellbeing and salvation to heaven as some so called men of God teach neither is there any place where God stated that a minister should prophecy for money or commit acts of simony. For instance, Gehazi was cursed and became leprous by Prophet Elisha because he went behind his master to extort money from Neman who was healed of his leprosy (2 kings 5:27), Peter also condemned this in his encounter with Simon Magnus (Acts 8:9-24). Jesus also warned his disciples against this attitude when he told them to give without charge since they received from him without charge.
Although charity can cancel multitude of sins when accompanied with repentance like the case of Mathew and Zacchaeus who gave their wealth to the poor, salvation is founded on faith and commitment to the will of God and not the payment of tithes and sowing of seed as some pastors teach. We should recall that Jesus himself praised not the quantity but the quality of the offering when he spoke about the widow who gave with her heart; even though his offering materially was small it was spiritually rich. The tragedy of the modern Nigeria prophetic and prosperity ministries is that while it may be rich in material wealth it is spiritually poor. This is realized in the fact that these ministries portray the role of the gospel as a means for material breakthrough. Recently we saw the height of this tragedy when a woman, Bose Olu Olasukanmi, was tracked shuttling from one church to another and being paid and used by these prosperity preachers to perform fake miracles.
Thirdly, Christianity does not exist primarily to provide material salvation even though a good Christian life and principle can lead to the later. Yet we should remember that this was one of the first battle Jesus fought with Satan when he refused to turn bread into stone, to worship him or perform the miracle of jumping from the pinnacle of the temple. (Matthew 4). In the gospel of John 6, Jesus refused to demonstrate his miraculous powers to entertain the people but told them that the bread they are looking for doesn’t give life but rather that it is his blood and body that gives life.
Like Jesus who obeyed the will of the father and later everything was placed beneath his feet so our Christian journey should be so that when we put God first everything other things follows but for Nigeria prosperity preachers material wellbeing comes first while God follows so that God becomes an instrument, a means to end not an end itself.
Finally, there are two questions that Nigeria Christians have to answer, the first is who is God? The second is who am I? The second cannot be answered when we fail to get the first right. To the first question, God is omnipotent being who exists on his own. He is the “I am” who has no beginning and end, yet he is our father who created us to know him, love him and worship him in this world so that we will live with him in eternity in heaven. To the second question, we are the sons and daughters of God because we are created in his image and likeness if we are, we should mirror him.
This is why he called us to be holy because he is. In the Lord’s Prayer the phrase “thy kingdom come” is followed by “your will be done on earth” (Mathew 6). It is imperative that for God to reign among us we should be ready to do his will. In 1 Corinthians 12 Paul recognized the various gifts including the gift of prophecy yet he warned that we should not think that any gift is greater than another and in 1 Corinthians 13:13 Paul warned that the greatest of this gift is love. Again, we should note that performing or receiving of miracle and sign is not a passport to heaven. This is why Jesus said that many will come on the last day to lay claim that they prophesied and performed miracle by his name but he will tell them that he doesn’t know them (Matthew 7:22). Again, when Jesus met a man he had healed, he told him that he should stop sinning or something worse will happen to him (John 5:14).
It is unfortunate to say that the modern Nigerian prophetic ministers have turned proclamation of the word of God into a bazaars and arena for material progress and miracle galore. One wonders why Nigerian prophetic ministries have become a niche for superstitions and fake miracles. Hence, it is high time our so-called prophets speak on political, moral, social and spiritual reform. For without this, Nigeria will continue to become captives to social, political and religious demagogues. Nigeria needs more of bold courageous selfless preachers and reformers than thousands of miracle workers. As St Paul would say, faith comes from hearing and if this brand of Christianity is allowed to represent the face of Christianity in Nigeria as it is gradually doing the situation of Nigeria Christianity will continue to be called into question.