The â€œgospelâ€ is now a product marketed with razzmatazz by mega-pastors and televangelists.
I was having lunch at â€œSweet Sensation,â€ a fast-food restaurant in Lagos, when someone tapped me on the shoulder. I looked back to see a gentleman grinning at me from ear to ear. â€œDr. Aribisala, how are you doing?â€ he asked expansively. It was one of my former pastors.
As a young believer, I was so hungry for God I juggled several church-memberships simultaneously. I grew up in the Anglican Communion. But when I finally had an encounter with Christ, I switched to the Baptist Church and then to Pentecostal Assembly. Even then, I also attended mid-week services at Zoe Ministries, before ditching both for several branches of the Redeemed Christian Church of God.
When the Lord formally called me to a healing ministry, I decided to establish a Christian fellowship of my own with a handful of people in Lagos. Within five years, it metamorphosed into a full-fledged church.
A repentant pastor
My former Zoe pastor was genuinely glad to see me and I readily changed tables to sit with him. He told me he was no longer with his old church but was now coordinating a small prayer-group. He wanted to know what I was doing. When I told him my office was just five minutes away, he insisted on seeing it. So after finishing my lunch, I took him back to my office complex and showed him the different features of the building.
When we came to my office, I sat down behind my desk and he sat in front of me. He looked at me with a curious intensity. Then he said: â€œSo you are now a pastor?â€ It was a question and yet not a question. I had shown him the church-hall, the Christian video and book libraries, the prayer-room, television room and the counselling cubicles. I had also come clean and acknowledged I was then a pastor. Nevertheless, he felt it necessary to ask the question again, as if he was trying to confirm it to himself.
He suddenly became very quiet. He seemed to crouch a little bit in his seat. He stared for an embarrassingly long time at his finger nails. Then, out of nowhere, he started to apologise to me. His apologies were all the more intriguing because we never had any noticeable differences in the past. But there in my office that afternoon, he just felt the need to apologise and I understood exactly why. In a rambling manner, he told me how sorry he was for â€œall the rubbish we were doing in those days.â€ Somehow, he just knew that by now I would have come to know they were rubbish, even if I might not have realised it at the time.
I remember one occasion when Zoe president, Patrick Anwuzia, was visiting the church, we were required to raise a â€œlove offeringâ€ for him. But then the pastor insisted it had to be in either dollars or pounds sterling. He asked for public pledges but when nobody responded, he called people up at random and dictated pledges for them. He told them what they had to contribute irrespective of whether they were so disposed or not.
In those days, he often came up with imaginative ploys to extract money from us. No less than three offerings were collected every service; one for the Father, another for the Son and a third for the Holy Spirit.
When Jesus was only twelve years old, he went with his adoptive-parents to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover. But on returning back home, they discovered he was missing. They spent an agonising three days searching for him and finally found him in the temple, engaged in discussion with the teachers of the law.
His mother chided him for his insensitivity. She said: â€œSon, why have you done this to us? Look, your father and I have sought you anxiously.â€ (Luke 2:48). But Jesus was unapologetic. He said to them: â€œWhy did you seek me? Did you not know that I must be about my Fatherâ€™s business?â€ (Luke 2:49).
A similar anomaly applies to pastors. Precisely what is the Fatherâ€™s business and to what extent are pastors engaged in it? The Fatherâ€™s business is supposed to be the preaching of the gospel in order to usher men into the kingdom of God. But make no mistake about it; todayâ€™s churches are far more interested in your money than in your soul. The single, most important, objective of todayâ€™s pastorate is the collection of money from church-goers.
House of merchandise
Folusho Aribisala told me about a banker colleague of his whose church applied for a loan from his bank. He was dismayed to find in the application projections about anticipated increases in the amount of tithes and offerings that would be collected over the next few years. The man was disgusted that his church was not only targeting his current income, it was already making plans about his future earnings.
Jesusâ€™ gospel is addressed to the poor. (Luke 4:18). James insists it is the poor that God has chosen for his kingdom. (James 2:5). But the primary focus of todayâ€™s gospel is the rich. Pastors are ever reaching out to those better able to pay fat tithes and give big offerings. Some even give commissions to church-members who invite them to church. In some cases, special seats up-front are reserved for them.
Pastors have become get-rich-quick tipsters who offer keys, not of the kingdom, but of financial prosperity. We organise special programs for businessmen, promising to give them the power to get more wealth. Like Joel Osteen, pastor of Lakewood Church in Houston, Texas (U.S.A.), we offer our parishioners â€œyour best life now;â€ an infinitely more appealing proposition than Jesusâ€™ â€œtake up your cross and follow me.â€
No wonder, many now see church-going in economic terms; deeming it invaluable for making business connections. Bankers come to church in search of depositors. Traders come to church in search of customers. That nice gentleman shouting â€œhallelujahâ€ across the aisle from you is likely to button-hole you after the service, give you his complimentary card, and inform you that he services generators; just in case you are interested.
The â€œgospelâ€ is now a product marketed with razzmatazz by mega-pastors and televangelists. Bishop T.D. Jakes of Potters House, Dallas, Texas organises a lavish annual religious jamboree called â€œMegaFest.â€ The 2005 edition in Atlanta, Georgia was sponsored by Coca-Cola; GlaxoSmithKline; American Airlines and Ford Motor Company, among others.
But how can the gospel of a kingdom not of this world be obligated, at the same time, to corporate America? Inevitably, there is conflict, as the message is punctuated by the obligatory â€œword from our sponsors.â€ It is not a surprise therefore that, according to Annette John-Hall of the Philadelphia Inquirer, during the kick-off of the 2005 MegaFest, T.D. Jakes mentioned his corporate sponsors more times than he mentioned God.
In effect, pastors are no longer engaged in the Fatherâ€™s business. Mary and Joseph have been looking for us in all the right places, but to no avail. Someone needs to tell them we can be found in the supermarkets and flea-markets, putting Jesus up for sale. (Continued).