Thuso Kewana, an ordained pastor and ministry leader living in impoverished South Africa, says he can be silent no longer about the damaging effects of the prosperity gospel, an American export he believes is unbiblical and used by wolves in sheep's clothing to prey on mostly charismatic and Pentecostal Christians not only in his country, but around the world.
Kewana, speaking recently via phone from his home in Polokwane in the Limpopo province, bordered by Botswana, Zimbabwe and Mozambique, told The Christian Post he has witnessed how the prosperity gospel can warp people's understanding of God — leaving the impression that He requires worshippers to give money, to ministers, churches or their favorite television network, before they can be blessed with financial, physical and spiritual well-being.
"People are leaving churches. Some practice fellowship in their homes, but some leave the church and go back to their old lifestyles. Some leave to stay at home and do nothing," Thuso writes in Where Are We Heading To? The book critiques the "obsession" of some pastors for material things and large congregations.
"This is because of the disappointments people experience with churches and church leadership. This is more prevalent with so-called spirit-filled or charismatic churches," Kewana adds in his book. "The greed for worldly wealth, huge church membership numbers, and fame form the cornerstone of such dissatisfaction engulfing the congregants and encouraging them to leave the church of God. Pastors are involved in all sorts of ungodly behaviors."
The prosperity gospel appears to most find its home in the "word of faith," or name-it-and-claim-it movement, which positions some charismatic preachers as special carriers of God's favor and power. These particular ministers are then often looked to by hopeful Christians as their key or source to divine healing and blessings.
A recent example unfolded in a deadly way in May, when a stampede broke out at Temitope Balogun (T.B.) Joshua's Synagogue Church of All Nations in Ghana. At least four people were killed and 30 others injured when a throng of 1,000 people made a frantic rush to get a hold of free holy water, which usually costs $39.36 and was presumably blessed by Joshua, a popular self-declared Nigerian prophet who has churches around the globe.
"The worshippers were hoping to obtain holy 'new anointing water,' which (Joshua's) Emmanuel TV had announced would be distributed for free," the Guardian newspaper reported.
"The anointing water usually costs 80 cedis, but we learned that on Sunday it would be given out for free," Joseph Adanvor, a 52-year-old witness, told the British publication. "I have never seen anything like it before. People had come from Togo, Benin, even from Kenya. They tried to close the church but people were climbing over the walls and breaking in. The police and army were there but they couldn't control the crowds."
Adanvor went on to vouch for the anointing water, saying, "I have seen the miracles it performs." He related how spraying the water on his father's leg, coupled with prayer, had put an end to the man's pain.
T.B. Joshua, who has promised to pay medical expenses for those injured during the Sunday stampede, has been criticized by other charismatic Christians for his teachings, but at least one minister also found fault with worshippers themselves.
"The problem we have in this country is the type of Christianity people are practicing whereby, instead of seeking to know God through his work and a relationship with the holy spirit which is assured to every Christian, are running after signs of miracles," Apostle Samuel Yaw Antwi, General Secretary of the Ghana Charismatic and Pentecostal Council, told the Guardian.
"People want instant solutions to their problems, just like they want instant coffee. If anybody comes along offering instant answers to financial or health challenges, people want to go for it. But the Bible warns Christians about that."
It is this same mindset, along with Biblical ignorance, that Kewana believes allows the prosperity movement to thrive in his own country of South Africa.
"You know right now, everybody listens to the TV and watches TV and (to) look at what is happening with the churches, to be honest with you know I don't know if I'm feeling more despondent on a daily basis," Kewana said of his observations. "And I wish, like one guy said to me, people should know that the route to God is not a short cut and the root to God is not a nice paved way with flowers and blah blah blah. It's a narrow road that's full of tribulations, and we've got to face them."
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South Africa, considered a "rainbow nation" due to its rich diversity, is home to 51.8 million people with nearly 80 percent of them espousing some form of Christianity, according to the government. Latest census figures show that Pentecostal/Charismatic Christians are among the top five religious groups in the democratic nation.
According to Kewana, the spread of Christianity in his country is due to its ugly government-enforced era of apartheid.
"... It was an unfair system, but most people were subjected into the Western kind of worshipping, and as a result most South Africans, even in rural areas, became Christians through the distribution of the Bible right across the country," he explained. "We have basically all sorts of denominations in South Africa, you name the Lutherans, the Catholics, the Methodist Church – all of them are all over, were all over in South Africa in all areas. Because of that, most South Africans became Christians, and we still hold our culture in most parts of South Africa."
As pervasive as Christianity may be, Kewana believes some professing faith in Jesus Christ are simply pew warmers and have no interest in reading their Bibles – the same having been said about their U.S. brethren.