Triggered by the recent tragedy under the ministry of Prophet TB Joshua of Nigeria, we explained the immediate context of our question ‘So What Makes A Prophet?’ and then went on to outline, very briefly, the answer of Scripture to our question.
In the 3rd place, we examine the popular ‘prophet mindset’ in Africa (one could give examples from the West also)…
- There is in Africa what we may call ‘the man of God’ syndrome. This term is applied to an outstanding, charismatic Christian leader or personality, or even to the garden variety of ‘pastor’ (I have been called such among the poor to whom I largely minister). More often than not, it carries the thought of a revered ‘man of God’ who has unusual access to God and his presence. Such are usually called ‘apostle’ or ‘prophet,’ as in the case of TB Joshua. In Joshua’s case, to underscore his authority, claims are made that he was carried in his mother’s womb for 14 months. He is widely recognised as a worker of outstanding miracles, he is prosperous materially, he can discern the future, etc. There are of course many leaders across our continent (and world) who aspire after such a position, some insincerely, others very sincerely – here I recommend Cheryl McGrath’s excellent post ‘When Jesus Isn’t Enough,’ which she wrote out of an experience in E. Africa with a young Kenyan pastor (Cheryl blogs under ‘Bread for the Bride’). Often there is an obsessive pursuit of ‘anointing,’ signs, wonders, healings and giftings, often at the expense of a knowledge of Jesus himself as our all-sufficiency in every way.
- There is also often a conviction that ‘the man of God’ is beyond criticism and that to say something negative about him/her is asking for trouble. Many times believers have said to me about some of these celebrity leaders, ‘You know, we must be careful as to what we say about this person’ (true enough in itself), and then they go on to scare us with the words of Ps. 105:15 (KJV), ‘Touch not mine anointed!’ As if ‘anointing’ guarantees a faultlessness beyond the critique of the body of Christ (in any case, in Ps. 105 God is addressing kings who would do damage to the small remnant of God’s faithful). Does God use broken, ordinary people? Of course he does, think of King David. Does he condone the sins of such people? Certainly not. I have before me a letter to the Editor of the Sunday Times of 12/10/14 in which Margaret Ferguson of Cape Town, writing as a Christian, raises the point (in Joshua’s case) of the use of money easily becoming a form of manipulation to counter negative publicity of the prophet’s ministry. She also has a problem with the term ‘followers of Joshua,’ as any true follower of Jesus can well understand. cf. 1 Cor. 1:10ff.
- Christianity in Africa is exploding, but as many have pointed out it is often a mile wide and an inch deep. There is little biblical literacy. Tokunboh Adeyemo, the renowned Nigerian theologian, on one occasion suggested that if as an African you want to hide your money, put it in a Bible, because no-one will look for it there! As a humble counter to this, my co-workers and I are encouraging the simple discipline, among all our house churches members, including our children and teens, of having their Bible handy so that they may learn how to ‘correctly handle the word of truth’ (2 Tim. 2:14ff) and ‘test the spirits’ ‘because false prophets have gone out into the world’ (1 Jn. 4:1ff).
- In many African nations, churches/megachurches have charity status, i.o.w. they don’t have to declare their income in any way or complete any tax returns. In SA, most denominational churches are registered with our Revenue Service and are bound to declare their monthly income at least. Therefore it is easier for ‘independent churches’ to hide and abuse their income, which in some cases can be enormous. Of course, denominational churches have their own challenges!
Fourthly, we consider the issue before us as those living in a post-Christian era, even in Africa. It was interesting listening to a recent radio talk show on the Lagos disaster, with two guest theologians from UNISA giving input. I give a brief summary of their points, in my own words:
- People generally are impressed by one who has ‘directly’ heard from God, directly experienced him and now brings a direct message from him to the ‘laity.’
- People in need want to be with ‘the man of God,’ hence the many pilgrims to Lagos.
- Many of these charismatic mega-churches are attempting to address people’s personal hurts and needs, e.g. a physical ailment, guidance re some major issue in their life, etc. One S.A. couple visited the Prophet to find out the whereabouts of their young adult son who disappeared some years ago: they didn’t get an answer and sadly the wife was killed in the collapsing visitors’ quarters. The husband continues his allegiance to Joshua.
- Most Nigerians, as most Africans, are desperately poor, and long for some word of hope and/or economic outcome.
- People today want immediate answers to their problems.
- People today are, by and large, pragmatists – it if works, it must be real and even true.
- Many church leaders in Africa are self-appointed, rather than appointed by a stable congregation or faith community.
- There is no doubt that, in many cases, genuine miracles/healings take place. I myself have been the recipient of healing when present at a large gathering of church leaders, addressed by a reputable Cell Church leader from Kenya, without me even asking for that healing!
- Many of the more charismatic churches in Africa have provided a more experiential and practical faith than that found in many orthodox, Calvinistic churches.
- The kind of phenomenon observed in Nigeria is going to spread, according to the two theologians. We are seeing it in my own country and the countries immediately north of SA. In many places I believe huge damage is being done to the cause of Christ in our continent.
- In so many ways, in terms of the Kingdom, ‘this is Africa’s time.’
So, you can evaluate TB Joshua and his Synagogue Church in Lagos for yourself… For myself I think he and his ilk are still operating under an OT ‘prophet’ paradigm, and their ministries militate against a healthy NT ‘prophetic’ paradigm in which every believer is a potential prophet (see Pt. 1) and every faith community a potential prophetic community. Furthermore, there is also too often in these mega-ministries a disconnect between ministry and biblical ethics/morality. Much more could be said and other points raised, but let me leave it at that…
Finally, may I humbly make the following pleas…
- Let us at all times and in all situations remain humble, teachable and generous in love. Let us also remain prayerful at all times.
- Let us move away from ‘celebrity leadership’ (including ‘celebrity pastors’ and pastor-ruled churches), tear down our inherited clergy-laity divide, and restore the biblical priesthood of all believers, with Christ alone as functional head: cf.1 Pet. 2:4ff; 1 Cor. 12 & 14; Acts 2:42ff; etc. To me, the exaltation of the Spirit’s giftings in Eph. 4:11 to hierarchical offices (since 250 AD) has strangulated NT body life and worked against the discipleship of all nations. Here I highly recommend an article by Jon Zens on ‘Celebrity Pastors: Getting to the ROOT of the Problem’ (you can check it out under GodsLeader.com).
- Let us ‘re-centre’ life and ministry in Christ and re-fashion our communities according to Christ alone. Too often we look for supplements and substitutes, when in reality nothing can be added to Christ. David Bolton (blogging under ‘Christ-Centred Christianity’) has defined ‘apostasy’ as ‘moving away from the centre,’ which is Christ alone.
- Let Jesus be enough for us, whether we prosper or not, whether we bear much fruit or relatively little fruit. And so may the Lord alone receive the glory!