I heard a sermon the other day – on Joshua 1:1-4 – which contained the following lines.
“Somebody’s business shall increase!” “Somebody’s property shall increase!” “Today heaven is laying a hand on you to do wonders in your life and family!” “As from today, anywhere you put the sole of your feet, he will give it to you!”
Each of these statements was followed by lots of “Amens” and “Hallelujahs.” The people were clearly excited at the prospect of – in the preacher’s words – being “little Joshuas.”
But I was thinking about how this sermon shows the influence of the prosperity gospel on the Anglican church in Nigeria. One bishop here told me that many of the independent pentecostal churches preach an “American-style gospel of prosperity.” I asked him if it had spread to the Anglican Church as well. “It’s a virus that is taking us over,” he replied.
The prosperity gospel basically emphasizes that by believing in God, good things will come your way. Often – in one stereotyped view – it is tied to donations to the church. If you give greatly to the pastor, God will greatly bless you (while he rides off in his new car…).
It’s not surprising that the prosperity gospel should be prevalent. Lots of people here watch Christian television stations like TBN that preach what I think is not exactly the most robust or accurate theology.
But the Anglican church is working against this. Last week, I attended an expository preaching conference put on by the Langham Institute of Nigeria. (Langham Place is the location of a famous evangelical Anglican church in London that John Stott once pastored. Its influence has spread far and wide.) It was a four-day conference for 120 clergy from Owerri and surrounding dioceses. I was very impressed. The presenters – all Nigerians – focused on helping clergy understand the context of a passage before preaching on it. The repeated line was, “You must know what it meant to them then before you can understand what it means to us now.”
Emeka, the leader of the conference, told me that “the root of the prosperity gospel is to say the Bible is all about me, me, me. We want to say the Bible is about God, God, God.” Later, he mocked (very effectively) a prosperity gospel-style sermon and had everybody laughing. But, he said, “we have turned the Bible into entertainment and that is why we have so many Christians who are not deep in the faith.”
Christian, another staff member, told me, “It is not that we are against prosperity. But I don’t think the reason Jesus Christ came to earth was to bring prosperity. He came to save mankind from sin.” The secret, Christian thought, was to preach “the way of the cross.” This is not very popular, of course, and the prosperity gospel has an inherent appeal: everyone wants to think that God will increase our territory. The Gospel will always be “foolishness to those who are perishing but to us who are being saved it is eternal life” (I Cor. 1:18).
I should say about that sermon I heard in church that the Joshua part was only one-third of the sermon. He also talked about the importance of forgiveness and unity. Two out of three ain’t bad, I guess.