‘We will never change the world by going to church. We will only change the world by being the church’—Anonymous.
“A person’s character is shown through their actions in life, not where they sit on Sunday’—Navonne Johns.
He spoke into time many years before those of us in the dotcom generation were born, but the truism in his pithy quotes rings truer today: “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.” Powerful, isn’t it? You know who said it, don’t you? Okay, let’s not get it twisted. His name is John F. Kennedy, one of America’s greatest Presidents. The wisdom in the statement is never lost on us, but we may not remember that it was also a good figure of speech–Chiasmus or Antimetabole.
#I stand with Mensa Otabil
Last week, my Facebook friend, Nana Efua Wilson, produced another fine example of chiasmus on her Facebook page, which I am pleased to reproduce verbatim as the title of my column this week. In the thick of the heated discussion on whether Ghana needs a national cathedral, Nana Efua admonished Christians and church-going freethinkers to change their church if their church is not impacting anything positive on them.
We have had a lot to talk about the church over the past month following Dr. Mensa Otabil’s saga with the collapse of Capital Bank, where he served as Board Chairman. In solidarity, the global body of International Central Gospel Church (ICGC) stood with their visionary preacher. The hashtag #I stand with Mensa Otabil made the rounds on social media. None of his members wanted to change their church but a few questioned the business of the church in secular matters. We also wondered whether we had the moral right to distinguish between the secular and the religious when the dividing lines are so blurred.
We took the liberty to ask critical questions about the role of religion and the impact of the church on our lives. People worried about the deification of church leaders in our social and national lives. Some questioned why a preacher could chair a bank. As an incurably religious people, men of God have a special place in our hearts. We give them special privileges, undue advantages and preferences. I enjoyed some of these privileges when growing up as the son of a clergyman. I also received colossal criticism from church members and neighbours who expected me to live above reproach.
Church these days is run like an aggressive sole proprietorship or a fortune 500 conglomerate. It is not business as usual; it is business actually, and men of God have made a profitable business of it, investing in money-making enterprises and selling items we got for free in the days of old. Anointed water sells for GH500 or GH1,000 depending on your problem. That is for starters. You would count yourself blessed for the opportunity to pay any amount they call because others with smaller problems paid more.
To see the prophet, you would have paid consultation fees and also bought an anointed handkerchief. Your right to bargain or refuse to buy anything is taken away when you enter the car park of the church. The junior pastors would have spotted you by the car you drive. That information would be useful when you eventually meet the man of God.
They urge you to empty the contents of your purse or wallet to receive a cure to that protracted disease. Patrons have suffered the indignity of walking home because they gave away their trotro fare as offering. Where does the money go? It is ploughed back into church management, which includes buying a new Jeep for the prophet and sponsoring his holiday abroad with his dear wife. Who pays for the electricity bills? Who pays for the air-conditioner you enjoyed? Who pays for the painting? Church is money.
Big money, big blessings
The missionaries of yesteryears would be shocked to find the price we have put on the gospel, selling the good news of Christ to the highest bidder for bigger blessings. In their time, they were happy to win souls with the simple message of salvation while preaching Christ for free to a broken humanity. These days, homiletics (the art of preaching) has a big price. It costs a fortune to invite a good preacher to your church. Their titles determine their value; a bishop or an international evangelist would not settle for a 4-star hotel. They are received at airports like elected presidents of democratic countries.
If you have noticed, preachers don’t give sermons anymore; they deliver motivational messages, empowerment teachings, power summits, and prophetic seminars. The other day, I was invited to a strategic spiritual warfare. A few years ago, we called them crusades or conventions. You wouldn’t see the picture of Jesus Christ on a church advertising board or in event brochures. The son of God has been replaced with the giant photos of the founder and General Overseer, and his beautiful wife.
No good church here
If the protocols and style of worship have changed, so have the messages from the pulpit. The ‘salvation sermons’ of the earlier apostles have been suppressed by the tithe-powered prosperity gospel. Years ago, we went to church as sinners who needed the saving grace of God. We came back feeling ‘convicted’ and guilty of our sins, and cried for salvation. Today, we are ushered into expensive auditoriums by ladies whose make-up makes the devil look down. We are not reminded of our sins; instead, we are asked to give as much as we want to be blessed. We come back from church broke and angry.
Where do we turn when all the roads look the same? Do we turn to the comic verbigeration of Angel Obinim and Bishop Opambour, or the fantastic English and brilliant analysis of the fine people who make the Board of the National Cathedral? Despite their human shortcomings, we will stand with the man whose international vision has been Central to our Gospel. You will never find a good church if you keep looking. Make it good where you are and make a contribution to its growth. Or join Nana Efua in her catering business. You would have saved a few bellies when you find your church did not change you. Don’t go to hell hungry. You need energy while you burn.