The following is an abbreviated version of the article, Pastor Hinn in Nigerian money row, written for the BBC Focus on Africa Magazine by Sola Odunfa:
In late April, scores of giant billboards and thousands of wall posters all over Lagos proclaimed the first of three days of divine miracles and healing for at least six million Nigerians – but at the end of the third day there was more bickering over money than praise to God for mercy received.
The vehicle of the expected wonders of the Holy Spirit was the United States-based evangelist Benny Hinn, who flew into Nigeria in a Gulfstream private jet with a large retinue that included his bodyguards. He was received at the Lagos airport in a motorcade of Hummer Jeeps and other expensive cars.
The deaf would hear, the blind would see, the lame would jump and walk, barren women would conceive, the jobless would gain employment, and the enemy – both seen and unseen – would be vanquished. Mention any problem – physical, spiritual, economic – Hinn had come with the instant solution. But things did not go well.
About 300 000 people attended the event each night – a modest congregation by Nigerian crusade standards. It is estimated that about one million worshippers attend the monthly Holy Ghost Congress service organised by the Redeemed Christian Church of God at the same venue.
Whatever disappointment he felt on the first and second days of the miracle crusade, Hinn kept to himself – but he opened up with anger on the final day: “Four million dollars down the drain,” he shouted into the microphone from the huge rostrum. He said that he had been assured by the local organising committee that at least six million people would attend the crusade, but the total turnout was only about one million.
As a result, he realised that all the mega public address equipment he had flown in from the US was not needed. He also complained about some claimed expenditures… He then announced publicly that he would not provide any more funds, and that the local organisers should pay all outstanding bills from the collections they made on the first two days. Hinn’s complaints instantly overshadowed the spiritual content of the event…
The Pentecostal faith in Nigeria is a veritable goldmine, judging by the opulence of most of its pastors. In an economic environment in which the majority of Nigeria’s 130 million population has been impoverished by unemployment and the lack of basic social infrastructure, the church has become the last refuge for many people.
The favoured churches are the new-generation Pentecostal assemblies that are owned and managed solely by fast-talking American-style pastors. Rich and powerful Nigerians run after the pastors for spiritual protection from imaginary enemies who, they are convinced, are lurking around the corner to pull them down. These are the big spenders in the churches. The attraction lies in the often-quoted biblical injunction that “givers never lack” and the fact that most pastors don’t ask the donors how they make the money they give.
A cashier at a five-star hotel was arrested for stealing nearly 40 million naira (about US$ 400 000) from his employer. His colleagues were shocked because there was nothing to suggest that he was living above his means. He had no car and he lived in a rented flat in a non-fashionable part of Lagos. The man confessed that he gave all the money to his Pentecostal church.
In another case a bank clerk stole 40 million naira from his employer and gave 10 million to his church as “seed money” in the belief that the seed would germinate and yield several fold as promised by his pastor (end of article).
There is ample evidence that the prosperity teachings and signs and wonders gospel which have been prompted by kingdom-now theology, are wreaking havoc in the spiritual lives of millions of people. The expectation is instilled in believers that material blessings – lots of money, a lucrative job, an expensive car, instant healing, and deliverance from all other afflictions – are the main benefits of the Christian faith. Every problem and obstacle can allegedly be conquered through faith as we must now receive all the benefits of the kingdom of God. Even spiritual blessings such as the anointing of the Holy Spirit are drawn into the sphere of the mundane and equated with experiences such as falling down on the floor, screaming, the making of animal noises, and other bizarre manifestations.
God wants us to know that in the last days there will be false prophets and false christs (preachers who pretend to be specially “anointed” by the Lord) who will deceive their audiences in a cunning way. Jesus warned that they will come in His name and deceive many (Matt. 24:4-5). He repeated this warning: “Many false prophets will rise up and deceive many” (Matt. 24:11). Which methods will they use? They will “show great signs and wonders” (Matt. 24:24). These wonders take the form of healing, prosperity and instant riches.
What does the Bible say about material wealth without repentance from all your sins and worldliness, and without a true commitment to the Lord Jesus to lead a humble life in anticipation of our eternal reward in heaven? It describes such a lifestyle as utter foolishness and a grave form of self-deception. The Lord Jesus asks the following very important question: “What will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul?” (Mark 8:36). In order to avoid this possibility we should have quite different, spiritual values: “Take heed and beware of covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses” (Luke 12:15).
Paul earnestly warned Timothy against people who suppose that godliness is a means of gain: “For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain that we can carry nothing out. And having food and clothing, with these we shall be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and harmful lusts which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows. But you, o man of God, flee these things and pursue righteousness…” (1 Tim. 6:7-11).
Most of the early Christians ignored these warnings about materialism and worldliness at their own peril. The end-time church, Laodicea, is rejected on this account. Christ says: “I will spew you out of My mouth. Because you say, I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing – and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked” (Rev. 3:16-17). Self-justification, self-enrichment and self-esteem based on the achievements of man in this world will not stand when they are tested by the fire of God’s judgement (1 Cor. 3:13), as these things are sure signs of spiritual bankruptcy.