He was rather too conservative and his brand of Christianity held no fascination for me. Extremely simple, devoid of a celebrity lifestyle and a departure from values for expensive clothes, jewellery, cars and display of pomp and pageantry. Brother Paul, General Overseer of a Pentecostal denomination to whom I was introduced as a potential mentee over 25 years ago cut a picture of simplicity to a fault. It held no allurements for me and did not inspire much hope for me in my poverty. With characteristic reservation, I withdrew into my shell and disappeared from his radar.
After all these years, I have been reflecting in recent times about my encounter with the man in the light of certain observations I have been making and how they impact on the image of Pentecostal Christianity in Nigeria and around the world. I remember my excitement and fascination at observing an evangelistic crusade clip posted by a fantastic minister on INSTAGRAM. I am also called to the evangelist office apart from other things and therefore excited to see mass evangelism endeavours. But then, there was a part of the video recording of the arrival of the man of God in the crusade in a limousine within a convoy of flashy cars at a crusade full of thousands of poor and wretched masses. I felt sick in my stomach at the sight and wondered of what value the display of wealth and opulence would be in an attempt to win the lost to Christ. I wondered if it did not look like a 1 Corinthians 11 situation where Paul derided the Corinthians for the demonstration of inequity at their love feasts and what we would call Communion services today. Being an offshoot of Jewish Passover feasts, they were celebrated in the Corinthian church with the rich bringing sumptuous meals to church while the poor were disgraced openly as they brought their little leftovers and ate them with shame and pity. I am no better than this evangelist however because I would have done the same 20 years ago if I had the opportunity. It was the brand of Christianity sold to us, modeled before us and that tickled our fancy, coming from abject poverty ourselves.
Today, I cannot but enter into the shoes of the poor and wonder how they feel in the face of the display of opulence by ministers of the gospel. Brother Paul had told me over 25 years ago that such lifestyle was not after the model of Christ who dressed like his twelve disciples and had to be identified by the cold kiss of Judas Iscariot. He believed such displays of opulence were misrepresentations of the gospel and only held allurements for the poor who were covetous also. Brother Paul had been born with a silver spoon and raised in wealth. As the only son of a rich business tycoon, he was the only heir to his mothers vast estate. After giving his life to Christ however, he saw no value in the display of opulence and learnt not to allow his prosperity become a hindrance to the gospel of Christ. At the time he spoke to me, he was still
Wealthy and still is today but not one to display it with pride and use it as a testament to answered prayer. As a matter of fact, his mum was not a believer when she acquired the wealth. Today, the Pentecostal church is derided for her excessive emphasis on prosperity. Every Pastor is labeled a thief and the sharp contrast between the wealthy lifestyle of pastors against the poverty of the average parishioner is loathed and condemned. Unfortunately, our responses range from indifference to resentment towards a development that is capable of leading to the loss of a whole generation of young people as they see no good in the glorious gospel of Christ because it is shrouded in glitz and glamour of our celebrity lifestyles.
I am sure my article will be the subject of ridicule by some and dismissed with a wave of the hand as the ranting of a poor minister, but it is my hope as always that those within my circle of influence will read and reflect on my writing with minds renewed by the word of God. The Apostle Paul talked about giving up personal privileges in order not to hinder the preaching of the gospel(1 Corinthians 9.12). He also made a case for moderation in all dressing and appearance (1 Timothy 2).
While prosperity is of God, there is simply no place for being flashy and flamboyant with it in God’s Word. At the end of the day that only leads to it becoming a deterrent to the gospel. The times are changing and increased awareness among young people calls for a greater sense of accountability on the part of today’s ministers.
Another interesting observation I have made has to do with gospel music videos. Many producers cannot decipher between the purpose of Bling Bling in secular music and how the concept of gospel music videos should differ. The messages in the two are not the same. Secular music might be promoting the ephemerals of wealth and sex at times while gospel music is focused on the praise of almighty God. A Bentley, Rolex watch and glittering dress does not match up with the message. Again, just as it is for preachers, this might send a wrong signal or message except it’s a grass to grace story in the message of the music. Unknowingly, with our lifestyles and messages, we are exalting material things to pedestals that they don’t belong in the church of God. The world should not be determining the values we uphold, promote and demonstrate. We must challenge the status quo with critical and creative thinking and do things differently. I look forward to the emergence of a “Pacesetting church” not following the standards of the world dogmatically.
I pray as we reflect on this article, that the Holy Spirit will grant us the discernment I lacked over 25 years ago as Brother Paul shared his heart with me about the direction of the charismatic church. I pray that the flesh will not dominate our thinking but the Word will. May our light shine brighter and better than ever in Jesus name.