The Blessings of Sickness

screen-shot-2016-10-15-at-9-45-13-pmWhile waiting in the doctor’s office last week, I sat next to a full-blown Prosperity campaigner. If Joseph Prince or Kenneth Copeland were Don Quixote, this man would have been Sancho Panza. “It’s never God’s will for Christians to be sick, “ he said, only to follow with the saddest line of all. “That’s why I just can’t understand why my wife is here.” A few minutes later, they rolled her out in a wheel chair.

There are many answers to the question of why. Why do Christians suffer? On several occasions we’ve taught our people in the village 30 reasons-it-is-good-for-christians-to-suffer. Most of these come from St. Paul, himself no stranger to affliction but just as anxious to share in Jesus’ suffering (Phil. 3:10).

A good place to start is the story of Jesus healing the nobleman’s son (Jn. 4:46-54). This man and his whole household came to Christ because of the boy’s sickness. The implication is that had the boy not been sick, the father would never have had a reason to believe. This should rectify our qualms with affliction, as so much good comes from it.

Suffering is the oft-used tonic in God’s medical bag. Indeed, strength and vitality bring special blessings, but broken bodies are even better if they draw us to Christ. As David said, “It is good for me that I was afflicted” (Ps. 119:71).

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Africa’s Flashy Titles

Ministers carrying their Bible in one hand and braggadocio in the other is nothing new. Modern titles of doctor, pastor of pastors, apostle, and prophet are really not modern at all. Jesus described the false teachers of his day as those who “loved…being called rabbi” (Mt. 23:7). If the Pharisees lived in today’s South African church, they would have their faces crested on the bright t-shirts of their congregation. At the least, a portrait of he and his wife on a bumper sticker.

Which leads us to our third question: does “touch not the Lord’s anointed” mean the pastor is above rebuke? Is the PG’s love affair with tawdry titles biblical?

In 1 Corinthians 4, Paul gives nearly 20 descriptions of a gospel minister. Here are a few: servant, last of all, fool, weak, homeless, reviled, persecuted, scum, refuse. If an “apostle” wants all the fanfare that comes with that label, he should begin by attaching these descriptions to himself.

Never in Scripture is the pastor referred to as God’s anointed. While Jesus is called God’s “Anointed” (Acts 4:26) pastors generally have less winsome titles. A common strategy false teachers use to defend themselves from criticism is the OT passage that says “touch not mine anointed, and do my prophets no harm” (1Chr. 16:22; Ps. 105:15). They interpret “mine anointed” as the pastor and the command as being given to those who point out his poor preaching or white silk suit.

Suppose Bishop Baloyi has a girlfriend on the side or offers empty promises or has rebellious children or loves money. In the Prosperity world, none of this is up for rebuke because First Chronicles is clear.

Scripture says otherwise. St. Paul specifically tells the church to rebuke sinning pastors. In fact, the admonition should be public (1Tm. 5:20). Open censure of unrepentant clergy brings fear to the people.

Moreover, the context of 1 Chron. 16 is a plea for Israel to be encouraged. “Remember the covenant!” Even though you were few and homeless, the LORD placed his protecting hand upon you, not allowing pagan nations to “touch” his “anointed ones” (v. 22). These words actually come from David’s song of thanksgiving. If “touch not mine anointed” means no rebuke for God’s people, we would expect to see this in David’s life. But who received more open criticism based on immoral behavior than David (2Sm. 12)?

In the African church these days, about the lowest title one can take is pastor. It seems everyone is a mufundzisi. James disagrees (Jms. 3:1). If God has called a man to this office, he should be quick to follow Paul’s example of renouncing flashy titles.

Keeping Joyce Meyer Under Your Feet

In answering our second question from the Prosperity quiz, let us start with a story.

One evening I sat down with a villager who had been a lifelong member of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church. He nodded throughout my presentation of the gospel and church doctrine. As I got up to leave, he told me I would be successful as a pastor because “words have power, and we must speak them.”

Harmless perhaps, but after ministering for years among African prosperity churches, I knew exactly what he meant. I questioned him about that statement and just as I expected, the popular teaching of Positive Confession had even seeped into the worldview of an old member of a historically conservative church. “Say the words,” he told me, moving his hand from his lips to the sky. “It will happen.”

Verily, the tongue does have the power to do evil and good. Proverbs 18:20-21 is talking about the incredible power of speech. Solomon uses three body members to describe communication: mouth, lips, and tongue. Each member is made small but with lots of muscle. “Death and life are in the power of the tongue” (v. 21). The tongue can do great evil, such as leading others into immorality. The evil woman is “loud” (Pr. 7:11). If the man cannot see her, then he certainly will hear her. Contrast this with the godly woman who learns “quietly” (1 Tm. 2:11) and has a spirit that is “quiet” (1 Pt. 3:4). The tongue grieves the Holy Spirit (Eph. 4:30). To avoid this, Paul lists five things to rid ourselves of, at least two of them dealing with the tongue (clamor and slander). The tongue can bring violence. “A fool’s lips walk into a fight, and his mouth invites a beating” (Pr. 18:6). On the positive side, the tongue has the power to heal a broken soul (Pr. 12:18), to educate (Pr. 15:7), and to bring joy (Pr. 16:24). The NT version of this is James 3:8-10. “No human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil…from the same mouth come blessing and cursing.”

The clerics of cornucopia love to take small phrases from the OT and twist them to line their pockets. For them, this verse teaches Positive Confession, meaning our words have the power to create reality. For example, listen to Joyce Meyer in Eight Ways to Keep the Devil Under Your Feet.

Words are containers for power. They carry creative or destructive power, positive or negative power. And so we need to be speaking right things over our lives and about our futures if we expect to have good things happen (30).

Nigerian pastor D. K. Olukoya is more graphic in Prayer Rain. 

I vomit every satanic deposit in my life, in the mighty name of Jesus. (You may prime the expulsion of these things by coughing slightly. Refuse to swallow any saliva coming out from the mouth.) . . . You can prime the expulsion of the following things by heaving deeply and applying little force [sic] upon the lower part of the abdomen. I deliver and pass out any satanic deposit in my intestine, in the name of Jesus. Speak to your womb to retain and maintain the pregnancy till birth. I command my money being caged by the enemy to be completely released, in the name of Jesus (18).

All across Africa, church people are being promised jobs, twins, sports cars, and spouses if they will but speak the words. Why? “Death and life are in the power of the tongue.” If you want your sickness to end, say it, speak it, and it will happen.

Proverbs 18:21 actually teaches the opposite of the Prosperity message. Solomon is not telling us to talk more but to talk less. The second half says “and those who love it will eat its fruits.” That is, words have consequences, powerful words have powerful consequences, and voluminous words have voluminous consequences. “Those who love it”, that is, those who love to talk, will reap what they sowed.

This verse is pointing its gun at the forehead of TBN. It says, beware of telling that sick child her positive words have the power to heal. These words actually have the power to cause her death, and you will eat deadly fruit as the consequence. Beware of telling Mrs. Credulous her last coin to the pastor will buy her a new house, for the meal of God’s wrath is spread before you.

Only the Word has the power to create with words (Jn. 1:3). He is the creator. We are the creatures. But our words can do great good and evil. All of us must give account of them one day (Mt. 12:37).

All WHAT Things?

Question 1 from the Prosperity quiz: Does “I can do all things through Christ” mean there is no limit to what I can do, or, “I can do all things through Christ” means it is possible to be content in all circumstances.

Before we melt down the golden calf text of the Prosperity message, allow me to give a little background to Philippians 4:13. Prisons in St. Paul’s day were nothing like modern jailhouses. They were small, dirty, and often carved into the side of a mountain. Because Paul is writing the Philippians epistle while in such a prison, we would expect complaints, grumbling, and formal requests for an early release. Verse ten ought to shock us. “I rejoiced in the Lord greatly.” Rejoicing? Greatly?

The Prosperity Screechers say: “If you are suffering, you can’t be happy until God gives you health.” Paul says: “Though I suffer, I am happy.” Paul is in prison and thriving. He’s not jaded but joyful. It has probably been years between gifts from the church in Philippi, yet he is still faring well. Continue reading

A Survey: Do You Believe in the Prosperity Gospel?

The Prosperity Gospel is ubiquitous. No religion, denomination, or culture is exempt. Here are twenty questions to test how much the Health and Wealth message has affected you

The answers are at the end of the article. I will elaborate on each question in forthcoming posts.

1a. “I can do all things through Christ” means there is no limit to what I can do.

1b. “I can do all things through Christ” means it is possible to be content in all circumstances.

 

2a. “Death and life are in the power of the tongue” means our tongue has the power to destroy or build up others.

2b. “Death and life are in the power of the tongue” means our words have the power to speak into existence that which I desire.

 

3a. In Scripture, the pastor is described as God’s anointed.

3b. In Scripture, the pastor is described as a servant, a slave, and a prisoner.

 

4a. Suffering is a tool God uses to bring greater blessing.

4b. Faith, not suffering, is a tool God uses to bring greater blessing.

 

5a. Becoming a Christian means you keep all the desires you had as an unbeliever only you get them from a new source, Jesus.

5b. Becoming a Christian means the desires of your old life change.

 

6a. It is often God’s will not to heal.

6b. It is always God’s will to heal.

 

7a. All suffering and sickness is the work of Satan.

7b. All suffering and sickness comes indirectly from the hand of God and often times directly.

Continue reading

Nebuchadnezzar in the African Church

image001One of the characteristics of false teachers is that they “entice unsteady souls” (2 Pt. 2:14). As the angler baits the hook, so do false teachers adorn their promises to fool the unsuspecting crowd.

Pastor Lesego recently grabbed headlines in South Africa when he convinced his people that eating grass would help them get closer to God. We have at least one example in Scripture of a human grass-eater, but this was a sign of God’s judgment (Dan. 4:25). The only hope God gives for the King Nebuchadnezzars and Pastor Lesegos of this world is deeply felt repentance.

Not to be outdone, pictures have come out of Pastor Alex jumping on people. The Rabonni Centre Ministries Facebook page said: “Pastor Alex showed great faith when he paced towards the congregants, who were earlier called to sleep by the Man of God, and stepping and jumping upon them. He was handed a microphone and thereafter the sleeping congregants began to wake up and sleep as he commanded them.”

Some observations from the picture tell us much of what the Prosperity Gospel is all about.

  1. image002The audience is full of women and children. Paul warned us long ago that false teachers would worm their way into the households of women who lack spiritual insight and moral substance (2 Tim. 3:6). The men in this culture are certainly not a paragon of virtue, but even they don’t fall for this level of cretinism.
  2. There are no Bibles. Prosperity preachers may open with a verse, but only as an aid to launch into an appeal for money. Paul praised the Berean church when they checked and double-checked everything Paul said (Acts 17:17).
  3. There is lots of laughter. I can assure you that a common text among prosperity preachers is not the words of Jesus in Matthew 5:4. “Blessed are those who mourn [over their sin].” They do not teach about hell, judgment, repentance, and sin. Rather, they are like “irrational animals” (2 Pt. 2:12) that follow their fleshly desires by promising health and wealth.

“Sickness is Illegal” and Other Prosperity Sound Bites

IMG_0224Here are some gems from a recent prosperity crusade in a nearby village:

  1. “This DVD is anointed. Buy it for R150.”
  2. “Tonight is our night to receive our healing. In the name of Jesus, no one will die.”
  3. “For you to receive your healing, you must establish in your heart that God is not your enemy. For you to receive your healing, accept yourself. Love yourself. Forgive yourself.”
  4. “I have good news for you. You are healed.” [Spoken to the entire crowd of hundreds]
  5. “I am angry at sickness. You have the right to live in divine health.”
  6. “Sickness is illegal in your body.”
  7. “It is very possible to live life with no sickness in your body. I am an example. When pain comes, I command that pain to leave my body. God wants you to live without sickness.”
  8.  “I’m not trying to boast. The last time I had a headache was in the 80’s. I protect myself with my words. The Bible says: ‘Death and life are in the power of the tongue.’ I command my body in the name of Jesus.”
  9. “I want you to bring your R100, I will touch it, and when you take it to the bank, it will become a million Rand.”
  10. “Say bye-bye poverty. Say bye-bye sickness.”