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Arguably, Pentecostalism is a relatively modern branch of Christianity. Most people consider the father of Pentecostalism to be Charles Parham, a Holiness preacher and head of the Bethel Bible College in Topeka, Kansas, United States. He was influenced by a fresh desire within his denominational circle to experience divine healing and speaking in tongues. Over and above this, the period also saw a tremendous upswing in religious ardor as people speculated about the second coming of Jesus Christ and the end of history as they knew it. During that time, Charles Parham conducted a revival meeting in that city. This happened on January 1, 1900. This event is often regarded as the founding of Pentecostalism.
Later on, one of Charles Parham’s students, an African-American named William Seymour began a home church in Los Angeles. He spearheaded a revival at what would be called the Azusa Street Mission. It was here that a Times reporter claimed that “colored people and a sprinkling of whites practice the most fanatical rites, preach the wildest theories, and work themselves into a state of mad excitement in their peculiar zeal”. Attendance to the church increased precipitously. This was enough spur that pleaded adequate attention. It thus became crucial for the church to search for new and bigger quarters in which to hold their meetings. They rented an empty warehouse on Azusa Street in Los Angeles and founded the Apostolic Faith Mission.
Within the formative years of Pentecostalism, and in 1918, the celebrated and controversial Aimee Semple McPherson founded the Foursquare Gospel church. There are other Pentecostal churches that have sprung up, and are sporadically springing up here and there. Pentecostals, at the inception of their movement, believed that it represented a reaction against the ‘rigid theology and formal worship of the traditional churches.’
Pentecostal teachers maintain that individuals need to make a personal commitment to faith and through this the presence of the Holy Spirit will become manifest in them. The Holy Spirit will most often be present through speaking in tongues, but other supernatural phenomena are also possible. The Pentecostal method of worship is emotional, marked by clapping, chorusing, contemporary music and dynamic preaching. Many Pentecostals believe that God rewards materially, as well as spiritually. An overemphasis is heaped on material prosperity. This underscores an emphasis on positive or victorious living. Living well in turn supports a culture of tithing, of giving back to the church, or I dare say, to the preacher.
As Pentecostalism keeps spreading rapidly, the Nigerian situation is a peculiar one. This phenomenon which many Nigerians have aptly described as a disease, has taken the country like prairie fire. Nigerian Pentecostalism has been thriving on the people’s ignorance, surviving on a mixture of evangelism which incorporates African traditional beliefs. They have been surviving on befuddling the populace with miracles and promises of prosperity. Pentecostal followers are repeatedly told that the “Holy Spirit changes lives so that sickness and calamity only befalls non-believers”. However, it is only the believer who is able to double his donations to the church that is guaranteed the favours of this “material God”.

The social, economic, moral and political fall outs it has engendered are quite many. It is so sad to note that a great percentage of the ‘men of God’ in the Pentecostal churches have boldly deviated from the Gospel path and only pay lip service to the true essence of Christianity. The fact that the Pentecostal church business remains one of the most flourishing businesses in Nigeria is openly embraced and flaunted in our faces without apologies. Holiness in the Pentecostal preaching more or less, translates to wealth. You can be holy if you are wealthy and powerful. There is an accelerated rat race for material wealth among the supposed men of God. In order to continually give testimonies in churches, men and women would do a lot for money. The source of wealth is rarely questioned by the “god” of these prosperity preachers.

Pentecostal churches and hotels compete for space in Nigeria. Cinema halls, disused warehouses, bars, and night clubs have all been turned to churches. To maintain their grip on the people and to assure the comfort of their profit base, these churches have been extremely creative, particularly in the use of the media, radio, television, newspaper, posters, electronic mails and even the internet. They have perfected the means of quoting the Bible to suit their extortionate usurious purposes. Most of their pastors depend on the contributions of their over-burdened members to live out their luxurious and extravagant lifestyles. Their wives automatically become mummy G.O., assistant pastors, bishops etc. And in the case of the death of their husbands, they struggle to take over the running of the affairs of the church.

It is so sad and scandalous that while majority of the Nigerian populace is greatly traumatized by the biting pains of severe economic crunch, Nigeria’s ‘men of God’ are busy licking milk and honey, counting billions and flying in private jets. While the nation is burning, our pastors are busy baking and eating cake. Nigeria boasts of thousands of churches with stupendously rich ministers. Deception is being actively pursued under the guise of Christianity. It is so bad that the whole thing has been turned into ridicule and the pastors are busy fleecing the society blind. In addition, they make themselves centres of attraction in all they do, thus obfuscating the Gospel message of humility, simplicity and value of suffering.

Reading about the life of the Lord Jesus Christ, one marvels at some of these happenings in the Pentecostal churches. Two things about him often puzzle me. One was the manner Jesus avoided publicity. Despite his myriad of miracles and astounding deeds, he tried to keep a low profile. At various fora, he tried to keep the news about himself from spreading- (Mk.1:34; 3:12; 5:43:7:36; 8:26; Lk. 4:41; Lk.5:114). Is that not puzzling? Does that not seem preposterous that the much-expected Messiah would (work a plethora of miracles and then) shrink from the spotlight, when he should have basked in it. The contemporary man would have expected Jesus to get as much mileage as he could out of those occasions; may be, hold an open air crusade, or a press conference. But no, he would not do that. Even when his deeds attracted great crowds, he would slip off to another place with his followers. Just look at those who claim to do miracles today. Could you please attempt juxtaposing the two?

Now let us look at the second puzzling aspect of Christ’s life. Here we zero in on the conversation between Jesus and his disciples recorded in Mt.16. Jesus and his disciples came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, when he asked them; “Who do men say that the Son of man is?” And they said: “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the Prophets (Mt16:13). He said to them “but who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter replied, “You are Christ, the Son of the living God” Then he strictly charged them to tell no one that He was the Christ. (Matt.16:15&16; 20). Let us follow the conversation further. Jesus then started to teach them that he must suffer many things, be killed, and on the third day be raised. Peter began to rebuke him, saying, “God forbid, Lord, This shall never happen to you”. But Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me Satan! You are a hindrance to me…” (Matt.16:21). After this, Jesus made it clear thus, ‘If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Mt.16.24).

The traditional understanding of the title “Messiah” portrayed a spectacular figure who would accomplish victory over Israel’s oppressors by the use of military prowess; a victor who would never be touched by suffering or defeat. Conversely, this conception is a world way from Jesus’ conception of his role. Jesus speaks about himself through the figure of the son of man who must suffer, be rejected, and be put to death. This experience of Christ would be answered by God who would raise him up on the third day.
God would allow Himself in his Son to be wounded, rejected and subsequently killed. Jesus is determined to undergo suffering for the sorrows of others. To understand this is to understand the uniqueness of his being. Little wonder the Christian faith teaches that Christ’s Paschal mystery stands at the vital point of the Gospel. It is in fact, the very core and dynamic center of the Christian life. Sequel to its dynamism, Christians are exhorted to live out daily, the consequences of their membership with Christ. By a common sharing in the cross of Christ, Christians might actually participate in what he did for us.

Jesus made the cross the conditio sine qua non for following him (Mt.16:24). It simply entails that following Christ requires self-denial. The cross is the means of entering into eternal life. Concerning this, St. Paul writes: “Christ sent me…to preach the Gospel; and not by means of Wisdom of language, which would make the cross of Christ pointless. The message of the cross of Christ is folly to those who are on the way to ruin, but for those of us who are on the road to salvation, it is the power of God” (1Cor.1:17-18).

All this teaching has come under a flurry of attacks from some of the avant garde Christian groups of the Pentecostal circle. The result is that the emphasis on the cross has literally waned in many Christian circles. With alarming frequency, the proponents of a cross-less Christianity, have pulled up their socks in a bid to make sure that this teaching joins the dinosaurs. What baffles me is that the catchment areas of these churches appear to be in the cities and urban areas, where there is more concentration of the rich. Most of the Crusades and Revivals they organize are amply advertised; and people are called to come to receive their healing, miracles, and financial breakthroughs. Little or no emphasis is now laid on holiness of life and salvation of the soul.

Another fall-out of all this is the ushering in of an era of unhealthy competition and rivalry among these Pastors; vis-à-vis, who is richer, who wields more miraculous powers, and who is working with what power, and so forth. Each one sees himself as the one specially called by God to the ministry. After seeing the happenings in many Pentecostal churches, one writer said: “Christianity has lost much of its spiritual appeal. It has become more of a social fad”

Against this backcloth, we call on Christians to open their eyes to the integuments that are cast on the fundamental teachings of Christianity by the new fangled Pentecostalism. The cross is inevitable in Christianity. The salvation brought by Christ can only be proclaimed in the light of the cross. The cross must form the crux of the Gospel. We have to see the suffering Saviour as our substitute and example. He denied himself in other to accomplish the Father’s plan. We too must deny ourselves in order to follow God’s will. We must willingly reject our plans and comfort in order to follow Christ. If as a Christian your faith has cost you nothing, its genuineness is questionable.

Christians are admonished to “enter by the narrow gate… that leads to life” (Matt.7:13-14). The cross is the means to salvation. No suffering in this present time can be compared with the glory which is destined to be revealed to us (Rom.8:18). “Let us exult too in our hardships, understanding that hardship develops a tested character, something that gives us hope, and a hope which will not let us down, because the love of God has been poured into our hearts, by the Holy Spirit which had been given to us” (Rom.5:3-5). Every Christian must unite his pains, sufferings and entire conditions with that of Christ as Paul did when he said: “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake and in my flesh complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, that is the church” (Col.1:14). In all our suffering, Christ tells us to be of good cheer: that is, we must look up to the future with hope. We must share his sufferings, so as to sit with him in the heavenly places (Eph.2:6). This is the truth every Christian must embrace: that Christ our substitute and example has called us to follow in his footsteps. This is a call that necessarily entails embracing the cross.

Rev. Fr. Protase Ogechi Anyanwu is a priest of the Catholic Diocese of Ahiara and the Editor-in-chief of the Diocesan Newspaper THE GUIDE.

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