The Bible made us to understand that, “the earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it; the world, and all who live in it” Psalms 24:1. By implication, it goes to state that all who live on the face of the earth belongs to God. And if our God is the creator of Heaven and earth and He commanded man to be fruitful and multiply, then it goes on to say that whatever man is able to gather here on earth belongs to the Lord because He made it possible.
Early Christians right from the day of the Pentecost, had focused their messages on salvation and evangelism. We are made to understand that on the day of Pentecost, not only were the disciples able to preach salvation to multitudes, in Acts 2:14-36, three thousand souls were won for Christ in just one preaching that was led by Apostle Peter. From then on, the sermon of salvation has been the basis of Christianity even up to the 20th century.
In Nigeria, salvation was the basis of most sermons by early church leaders. This not only made Christians to be deep rooted in their relationship with God, it sprouted and ignited the fire of revival all over the country. From the beginning of the 20th century to latter years of the century, Christianity spread like wildfire across the country with different denominations springing up in every nook and cranny of the country, even in the Muslim dominated northern part of the country.
However, with the spread of Christianity and its attendant revival, there was little awareness on prosperity and empowerment for Christians. Leaders were more focused on preaching salvation and holiness while sermons about prosperity were seen as less important. Due to this, most Christians lived in penury with little knowledge on how to make prosperity the Kingdom way. Even church leaders were less aware about prosperity as contained in the Bible. That was why taking up vocation as a pastor back then was seen as being sentenced to a life of penury.
All this changed when the late Archbishop Benson Idahosa, the founder of Church of God Mission, changed the face of preaching in the country with sermons that focused on prosperity. With a congregation full of un-empowered Christians and poor pastors, late Idahosa changed the narrative with the gospel of prosperity through open air crusades, pamphlets and televised programmes.
He was able to raise an army of young preachers who agreed with his biblical preaching that prosperity is the legitimate inheritance of God’s children here on earth. The likes of Ayo Oritsejafor, Enoch Adeboye, David Oyedepo, Mike Okonkwo, are some of the young preachers in the 1970s who followed the footstep of Idahosa to liberate Christians from the shackles of poverty through sermons that focused on prosperity. While they informed their congregation that prosperity divinely gifted to any Christian is no sin, they reiterated that there is a condition to access this promise of God which is to “seek first His Kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:33).
With the spread of prosperity preaching in the country came a new generation of pastors who profess prosperity on the pulpit and downplay salvation as the key prerequisite to access divine prosperity. In today’s churches in Nigeria and even across the world, preachers in flamboyant dresses and churches now boast of how God has blessed them via sowing of seeds, which they encourage or coax their congregation to do, thereby making themselves richer while their congregations continue to wallow in poverty.
The focus on prosperity sermon at the detriment of salvation has led to more financial criminality in the country. In 2009, Okoro Osagie Victor, a university dropout was nabbed by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) for allegedly defrauding foreigners to the tune of over $90,000. When grilled by EFCC operatives, it was revealed that Victor who goes by the fake name, Jerry Finger, gave over 80 per cent of his fraudulent income as tithe and offering to his church, a new generation church in the country that emphasizes on prosperity.
Concerned about the trend in preaching of prosperity and its social implication on Christianity and the global society, the Lausanne Theology Working Group, Africa chapter, in 2008 released a statement on prosperity teaching. According to the statement, “… The teachings of those who most vigorously promote the ‘prosperity gospel’ are false and gravely distorting of the Bible; their practice is often unethical and un-Christlike, and the impact on many churches is pastorally damaging, spiritually unhealthy, and not only offers no lasting hope, but may even deflect people from the message and means of eternal salvation.” The group called for further reflection on the matter within the Christian Church, and stated that excesses of prosperity teaching is incompatible with evangelical biblical Christianity.
The spiritual wellbeing of Christianity and Christians in Nigeria has corresponding effect on the general social wellbeing of all Nigerians and the country. When church leaders continue to hammer on prosperity gospel at the detriment of salvation and factors that guarantee prosperity for man, the society would be threatened by desperate individuals who would be ready to do all it takes to make money by whatever means.
It therefore behoves on church leaders in Nigeria to retrace their steps and revert to the old teaching of holiness and salvation.