By Gbenga Osinaike
The book wields the stick and dangles the carrot at the same time. It is a biting exegesis of the Nigerian Church and also a panacea for the ailments bedeviling it.
Indeed, Gary Maxey and Peter Ozodo in their new book, titled, The seduction of the Nigerian Church have not only ex-rayed the Church in Nigeria but stirred the hornets’ nest. For a long time those who read the book will have to go back to it again, and again to ponder the issues viz-a-viz the practices in our churches.
From the introduction written by Gbile Akanni to the very last line of the book, the reader is confronted with an audacious presentation of the state of the Nigerian Church. It is indeed a direct mirror of the church. Those who are hungry for the truth and who perhaps are ready to turn on the searchlight will no doubt acquiesce with the issues raised and embrace the necessary change.
Akanni sets the pace as he observes in the introduction that, “diagnosing a sickness to trace the causes has become the veritable way of medical practice now and it is cheaper than just swallowing all-purpose drugs. The book seeks such a diagnosis. It may appear as if it is an attack on our beloved church and the cherished idols of several presidents and founders, but this surgical knife is for our good and it is to take away the cancerous cell before they overwhelm the entire body.”
What then are the outcomes of this diagnosis by the authors? First the authors observe that the apparent numerical growth of the church in Nigeria is not only deceptive but also an ingenious way of diverting attention from its core reason for its very existence.
In doing justice to the issues the writers celebrate the positives in Chapter 1 of the book. They note that there is everything to cheer about the Nigerian church judging by the increasing evangelical and Pentecostal fervor across various denominations. They examine the emergence of huge cathedrals and the ever burgeoning places of worship across the land.
But as the book progresses to chapter two, the authors begin their surgical work; itemizing the issues and placing them in perspective. First they note that the health and wealth gospel have quietly unseat the need for spiritual transformation of members in many of the churches in the country. They observe that anyone preoccupied with self-focus is fundamentally incapable of truly loving and essentially incapable of being a Bible Christian. The authors insist that the church lost the primary reason for its existence when it became difficult for the average Christian in Nigeria to display Jesus’ ability to transform people unto holiness.
Beyond this is the fact as expunged by the authors; the subtle penetration of elements of African Traditional Religion in the day to today experience of the average Christian. They observe that Satan has quietly seeped through the penchant of the average African for signs and wonders and have used that to seduce them making them promote values that are not in tandem with the gospel of Jesus Christ.
The burden of the authors seems to rest on the preponderance of churches in the country without a corresponding upgrade in the people’s integrity quotient, the loss of Christian vitality and the general failure of the Nigerian church to provide strong light for this present generation.
Chapter three of the book dwells on understanding satanic schemes. Here the authors warn against making a doctrine out of personal spiritual experience, a practice that is common in the Nigerian Church landscape. Quoting C.S. Lewis, the book notes that it is important the church avoids the extremes of either ignoring the work of the devil on one hand or giving it undue attention on the other. They then note that the “unbalanced drive for financial prosperity within our churches is an open sign of the secret and undetected work of Satan.”
One other aching observation by the authors is the place of the oil in the church. They note, “When our people become overly focused on pouring anointing oil on their houses and cars and bodies for protection, prosperity or when they become obsessed with praying prayers of vengeance or destruction against other human beings they are normally unaware that they are treading on dangerous ground which Satan claims as his own”
The trouble with undue craze for material wealth is further pursued in chapter four under the title, deadly allure of prosperity. Here they note that the seduction of the Nigerian church is not a simple matter adding that the wealth and health gospel in Nigeria is due largely to influence from foreign authors. They traced the influx of the teachings to the books of Essek Kenyon and that of Kenneth E. Hagin. While noting that the teachings of the Word of Faith is not entirely wrong they observe that their “error is that they present a dangerous unbalanced perspective” While agreeing with the scripture that life and death are in the power of the tongue they reason that such words must be inspired by the Holy Spirit and to turn “words into a force that can be operated even for a personal purpose and that can be equated to God’s creative power is going much too far”
Explaining the Bible perspective of prosperity they point out that “Jesus teaches us not to worry, or unduly concerned about material things. The reason is simple: God is our father. Just as God provides for plants and birds, He will surely provide for us, His children. Therefore worrying about material things demonstrate our lack of faith”
They stress further that coming to God primarily to meet our material need demonstrate how little we trust God and that such mindset demonstrates we are not Christians at all.
They also link the genesis of the undue emphasis on prosperity to the lopsided gospel of ascetic lifestyle during the post- civil war years in Nigeria and the conviction that Jesus was coming soon which made many not to embrace material wealth but later found that he was not coming as envisaged.
They pointed out in the chapter under focus that Charles Farah, a professor at the Oral Roberts University had spoken against the errors of Word of Faith teaching 40 years ago ‘stating that what was proclaimed faith was in fact presumption.” They posit that the kind of faith being preached is not faith in God but self-generated faith. One of the examples of Hagin’s teaching that Mark 11v22 means have the faith of God rather than its original meaning which is Have faith in God.
They lamented that what Word of Faith call positive confession is the same technique that the occult world calls creative visualization. They write, “The keys is that in both cases the focus is shifted away from God to man. It is not only based on a false understanding of the nature of Biblical faith but it also veers dangerously into the realm of sorcery.
One interesting dimension to the error is the popularly quoted Job 22v28 which many cite. Eliphaz in that scripture says, “You will decree a thing, and it will be established for you” However it is to be noted that God declares that what Eliphaz had spoken was not right.
The chapter goes further to examine the difference between magic and religion. They stated that “Bible Christianity says thy will be done while magic on the other hand says my will be done”
They also puncture the common perspective on giving stating that “giving should be motivated by thanksgiving for what God has given us. We do not give in order to receive….we are not to turn giving to a kind of investment strategy as preached by Word of Faith preachers.
The authors reason in the chapter that it is erroneous to teach that we are gods in the sense that we have the same creative ability like God. They explain the words god as used by Jesus in John 10v34 is used 245 times in the Bible to describe the gods of the heathen, or angels, or men of superior rank…”they are people who have authority over other human beings.”
They also point out that the lie of Satan to Eve was that she and her husband would be like God knowing good and evil..but that was only half-truth…Human beings are not God neither are they little gods. We are not God. God alone is God and those who are in Christ are God’s children”
The chapter goes on and on to puncture several erroneous teachings on wealth and health gospel. The book then points out that Kenneth Hagin who popularized the faith teaching wrote a book entitled The Midas where he “pointed out that financial prosperity is not a sign of God’s blessings and that we should never give in order to get and that it is not biblical to name your seed in an offering…He was unhappy to note that his followers had manipulated the Bible to support what he saw as greed and selfish indulgence.
In chapter five the authors deal extensively with church practices that have occult elements. This they explain, stem from the African Traditional Religion which believes so much in the world of forces and rituals. They note that human calamity is often responded to not with the-what question, but with the- he who question. They also note that the deification of church leaders is reaching an alarming crescendo coupled with the use of certain mantras as Holy Ghost fire
It is instructive to note that the chapter itemizes many other scriptures that have been abused by church leaders and their followers in Nigeria.
Chapter six provides the balance. Here the authors attempt a precise explanation of what being filled with the spirit means. According to them it simply means somebody who is Christlike both in private and public life. This definition is however in contrast with the definition of many of the churches in Nigeria which the authors noted is defined more in terms of the outward manifestation of the Holy Spirit rather than the inward working of the Holy Spirit. While noting that there is a scarcity of messages that talk about personal holiness they reasoned that what is most important is for the Holy Spirit to be allowed to operate fully in the lives of believers.
Perhaps the most exciting yet thought provoking chapter is chapter 7. Here the authors pin down the hyper grace movement lamenting the sudden burst of their teachings and the unprecedented acceptance in the church. They trace the movement to the Bible days noting that the hyper grace movement “is a modern form of antinomianism, which the book of Jude talks about in its verse 4 where it states, “perverting the grace of our God into a license of immorality” They observe that the hypergrace movement is an example of mixing the truth with error. While puncturing all the tissues of error of the hyper grace movement, the author noted that much of the teachings of the hyper grace is valid warning however that the hyper grace movement is a combination of “Marcionism, Word of Faith and once saved always saved Calvinism. People like Joseph Prince and Joel Osteen put it all in a big theological pot, stir it up, and dish it out”
They warn that “when we do not preach the whole counsel of God it is like feeding our children with a strict diet of sugar and honey. It will not end well.”
Chapter 8 which is the last chapter provides a ray of hope. The authors express great hope that the church in Nigeria is not doomed afterall. They however reason that the expected revival in the church will not come if there is apathy on the part of those who know the truth. They offered that the greatest antidote to false teaching is a strong focus on God’s word. They give instances of warnings from Paul and Peter in their epistles charging believers to be wary of false teachers.
The authors appeal to well-meaning believers to denounce teachings that place undue emphasis on material prosperity, on teachings that deifies church leaders and teachings that are garnished with African traditional beliefs.
The immediate reaction of an impetuous reader may perhaps be to express shock at the volume of heresies the authors took time to unravel in the 247-page volume. But a careful reader will come off with some sober reflection. The language is lucid enough and carries with it the burden of the authors. Going through the pages leaves you with the spirit and pain that informed the thesis. It is hoped the work will spark off a revival in the church.