The U.S. Prosperity Controversy Travels Overseas
Christianity is evident everywhere on the streets of Lagos, Nigeria's largest city. Messages of faith are emblazoned on store marquees and on the sides of houses, buses and cars. Almost every block of the city has at least one church, and each one announces service times in bold block letters.
While Nigeria's churches are growing, many of them are preaching an imported message that focuses on money. They borrowed it from the United States. The glamour and the glitz of the American church was imported here. The shallow gospel was commercialized.
On the road to Victoria Island, a downtown business district, billboards feature looming portraits of celebrity evangelists. The signs read: "Apostle of Deliverance and Breakthrough," "Victory Holy Ghost Ministries" or "Bible Survival Strategies Conference!" On any given week, churches sponsor some kind of camp meeting, conference or special "miracle service."
Lagos actually resembles one big Pentecostal gathering. The majority of Christians here-even many Roman Catholics and Anglicans-have embraced a theology that leaves room for miracles, speaking in tongues and noisy worship. Christianity is loud and colorful here, perhaps because the demonstrative style of Pentecostalism matches the inherent aggressiveness of Nigerian culture.
But there are critics within the Nigerian church who are making a different kind of noise today. They complain that while faith may be a mile wide in their country, it is only an inch deep.
"There are a lot of big, weak churches here," says Anselm Madubuko, 42, pastor of 12,000-member Revival Assembly in Lagos. Known as a maverick, Madubuko and his wife Constance, started their church in 1990 by teaching the importance of character and the need for deliverance from demons. This is crucial, he says, in a culture that is steeped in corruption, poverty and pagan occult practices.
Madubuko has no tolerance for what he calls a "shallow gospel" that has become popular in southern Nigeria. He partly blames Christians in the United States for exporting this prosperity message in his country.
"Fifteen years ago, church here was serious business," Madubuko says. "But there has been a lot of American influence. We learned from the Americans that we do not have to tarry, that we don't have to fast and pray, that you don't need deliverance and that you can do things in a hurry.
The faith movement told us that we don't have to fast," Madubuko adds. "It tells us that we can just speak the Word' instead of praying for three hours. So many Christians think it is easy now. And we have a church on every corner."
There is no question that Nigeria has been fertile ground for the American faith message. Kenneth Hagin Sr.'s teachings on healing and prosperity have enjoyed wide circulation in Nigeria since the 1970s, partly through the influence of Nigerian megachurch leader Benson Idahosa. Kenneth Copeland, Jerry Savelle, John Avanzini and many other preachers who specialize in the prosperity message have huge followings in the African country.
"There was a place for the faith message." says Tony Rapu, 44, pastor of a growing charismatic church in Lagos called This Present House. "But the glamour and the glitz of the American church was imported here. The gospel was commercialized. Sometimes it is really disgusting."
"Some churches take the prosperity message too far," adds Enoch Adeboye, 60, general overseer of the nation's fastest-growing denomination, the Redeemed Christian Church of God. "Some Christians think that if you are prospering financially-no matter how you are living-that it is a sign of God's favor. So wealthy people can actually buy their way into the leadership of the church."
One prominent pastor who has helped spread the American faith message is David Oyedepo 47, founder of the largest church in the country, Winners Chapel in Ota, 30 miles west of Lagos. An eloquent preacher who carries himself like a diplomat, he built the world's largest church building in 1999 on a 638-acre campus. The cavernous building has 50,000 seats and room for a 1,000-voice choir.
When he visited a conference in Oklahoma several years ago, Oyedepo says God gave him a mandate: "Make My people rich." Since then he has worked to raise Nigerians from poverty by teaching them to give out of their lack. Today, presidents of corporations and hospitals attend his church, along with three state governors. And his church members paid for their huge sanctuary with cash.
There is no doubt that Oyedepo is a faith preacher, but he says he does not preach a get-rich-quick gospel-and he is critical of those who think faith is just a means to personal gain.
"I tell people to quit looking for cheap money because it will cheapen your destiny," Oyedepo told Charisma. "I tell my congregation that they must learn to live for others. We have been anointed as change agents for Africa. This anointing is not given to you just so you can feed your family-it is to make you a blessing to the world."
Reprinted with permission from Charisma, (May 2002). ? Strang Communications Co., USA. All rights reserved. www.charismamag.com