One of The Scourges of the African Churches

This was my final day of teaching at the seminary here in Douala, Cameroon.  We finished up both Hermeneutics and Biblical Theology with a bit of time to spare so I thought we could spend a good amount of time dealing with the application of what was learned.  I posed one question to the class, “What is the goal of preaching?”  The answers were varied, but also most were a bit discouraging.  Even the good answers lacked scriptural backing; rather they simply had the right words present without the meaning or convictions.

One man in my class has consistently shown a reluctance to actually submit himself to the curriculum or me.  There was a lot of push back and I noticed that he had a couple of other students who looked to him for leadership and affirmation.  Great.  His answer to the question was one of the better ones though and that was a bit surprising to me.  It was essentially: “To proclaim God’s Word with the goal of forming Christ more fully in the person.”  Not bad and certainly better than most of the answers.

I decided to use his answer as our point of discussion so I asked him what passages were driving his statement about preaching.  In other words, what was the biblical framework that he used to come up with this answer.  His answer was puzzling, he said it was Joshua 1:8.  I just stared blankly at him for a second.  Men around him were nodding sagely like that was a great answer  All my brain would come up with for an answer was, “Huh?”  What does any part of Joshua 1:8 have in connection to his stated reason for preaching?

This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it; for then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have success. (Joshua 1:8)

His answer was very telling when I asked him to explain the connection between the statement and the passage. He said Christ became poor that we might become rich.  Therefore, Christ is really rich and wants us to be rich too.  So the more fully formed Christ is in us the more rich and successful we shall become.  God said that if the Word does not leave my mouth that I will be prosperous and successful.  So, I preach that people, including me, might be rich and successful by having Jesus more fully formed in us.

Oh, that makes sense now.  A third of the class was nodding and I was dumbfounded.  Here is a classroom filled with men and women, none of whom is remotely rich, except, perhaps that one man (and only comfortable by Cameroonian standards) thinking that this is the purpose of preaching.  But this is what affects many of the churches today in Cameroon, and in much of the rest of Africa.  A pursuit of prosperity through Jesus.

Never mind that the promise in Joshua 1:8 speaks only to Joshua himself.  And don’t bother your mind to recognize that the context shows that the prosperity and success was not in money but in success in taking the Promised Land from the Canaanites.  Hey, those little things are not what is important.  It is also too much to expect that the promise itself is firmly rooted in the promise of the Old Covenant and the blessing of God to those who are faithful to the covenant.  Nope, just details that cause us to miss the glorious point that God wants us to be rich.

For the next hour I took the class through the principles taught them over the last several days and made them work through the validity of this man’s claim.  The problems are many but the core issue is a common one.  The failure to grasp that we are aliens and strangers in this age.  We are a people who are part of the new creation and we await the fulfillment of that day, this is the essence of 2 Corinthians 4-5.  Our riches is the grace given to us through Christ.  Our inheritance is Jesus and the blessings that come with being in Christ.  But as long as there is still “Today” there shall be men who shall dangle to empty baubles of gold and silver before the eyes of the unsuspecting all with the singular goal to draw their eyes away from the glory of God  in the gospel.

Another reminder given to me in the hard land of Africa.


About Matt Henry

Middle-aged pastor trying to figure out how to be missional in his world. Loves his wife, his children, and his dog Bear. I have a love of woodworking even though woodworking doesn't always love me. The name is xagete but is pronounced exegete.

Posted on August 16, 2012, in Theology and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. A few years ago, I read a feature article in Time or Newsweek that addressed the mighty growth of the the Evangelical Church in Africa, Turns out, it was all about the money. Prosperity Gospel preachers abound and it’s about the money. I was saddened.

  2. Perhaps the verse would be different but we know we find the same kind of thing here with the prosperity preachers. Ugh. I heard an American pastor once say that you could only get away with a prosperity gospel in N. America. Not true.

  3. if you hadn’t pressed him…this error would not have been revealed. Many have the belief that it is not loving to press and ask questions as to why they believe a certain truth(or error in this case) about biblical passages re: their context. It’s like an old friend of mine always says in Bible class, “statements harden the heart, …questions reveal it’….How dare you bring in hermanuetics:) Am looking forward to your recounting the many other challenges you & Philemone faced re: teaching these pastors.

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