If the latest Church growth updates are anything to go by then Africa is surely having surplus of growth. The growth has been described by many colourful words like “explosive”, “spectacular” and of recent “fast food-ish”. There seems to be an easy believism called prosperity gospel that is spawning a multiplex of believers. In this form of Christianity, a believer is supposed to be successful; if not, something is very wrong. This emphasis can be seen in the names of the flourishing churches: Winners Chapel, Victory Bible Church, Jesus Breakthrough Assembly, Triumphant Christian Centre. The titles and themes of conventions, crusades and conferences repeat this emphasis: “Gathering of Champions” “Living a Life of Abundance,” “Taking Your Territories,” “Stepping into Greatness.” For all these churches, size and expansion are tangible signs of success—which is why the terms Global, World or International appear in so many of their titles.
South Africa recently hosted the World cup. From this land that gave football fans the much loved and equally hated “vuvuzela” has emerged Rhema Church. Rhema has established itself as one of Africa’s Best Churches. A place where the big shots, celebrities and politicians come to embrace at the table of a “rock and roll” religion. Even the President, Jacob Zuma comes regularly to Rhema to tuck into two of South Africa’s said pastimes, conspicuous consumption and Christianity.
Set in an estate of it own in the comfortable Johannesburg suburb of Randburg, Rhema has a vast car park that is made to resemble the forecourt of a luxury vehicle dealership every Sunday. The charismatic Christian evangelical organisation goes out of its way to make the well-heeled feel comfortable, and so the pastor, who is dressed in a shiny black shirt with contrasting white stitching, is happy to boast of Rhema’s status.
“We are not an ordinary church. The president comes to us to ask for advice,” he says proudly. “We are very influential and very active on social issues.”
Those issues include abortion, the death penalty and gay marriages, he explains in a diplomatically roundabout fashion. The extent of Rhema’s influence is worrying an increasing number of South African liberals, who are concerned that the evangelical outfit is intent on overturning some of the more progressive aspects of the country’s constitution
Rhema’s prosperity gospel, which preaches that “successful lives” are achieved through materialism, networking and faith, and characterised by conspicuous consumption and celebrity, is proving a powerful draw. It offers members the chance to network with insiders in the worlds of business, sport and politics. -The Independent
This reminds me of the 2006 survey, Pew asked participants if God would “grant material prosperity to all believers who have enough faith.” Eighty-five percent of Kenyan Pentecostals, 90 percent of South African Pentecostals, and 95 percent of Nigerian Pentecostals said yes.
The prosperity pastors view their theology as one of liberation: God wants to heal you. God wants you to prosper. You don’t have to wait. You don’t have be tied down by your circumstances. This pansy theology is the weakest link, with a selective literalism and emphasis on prosperity without moral responsibility. For genuine Christians who have focused for centuries on the suffering Christ and the faithful perseverance in trials, to have that focus turned toward a prosperous Christ is troubling.
One story reported by The Telegraph news paper highlighted another extra ordinary prosperity church service : “As ‘Pastor Sunday’ prepared to make a grand entrance, the choirgirls shook their pompoms, the disco lights started to flash and a fanfare sounded. The lights cut out, and the pastor emerged from a shroud of dry ice. Children holding flags of the world wafted round him and the choir bellowed ‘Sanctus!’”
With this rank easy believism scheme there always seems to be an initial surge of over night mushroom converts and seekers. But these fickle fans of prosperity gospel do not seem to endure the deeper Christian disciplines of righteous living and perseverance in the faith. If they did then Jeremy Gordin, President Jacob Zuma’s biographer, would not be lamenting about his client’s double standards after attending one of Africa’s Best Churches.
According to Jeremy Gordin, President’s the interest in evangelical Christianity is about political expedience, and not really about faith. “As far as I know he still goes into the forest at Nkandla to commune with his [Zulu] ancestors,” he says.