The state has an obligation to save its citizens from crooked self-styled pastors who enrich themselves at the expense of their brethren.
By Dr. Mutyaba Emmanuel
I get surprised when I hear some people complaining about having a religious policy in Uganda. That policy has even delayed coming into existence because what happens in some churches in Uganda is unbiblical. I refer to cases where one due to poverty wakes up and claims to have received a command from God to open up a church to pastor his people.
They pick up any title that they think will capture followers for them such as: pastor, prophet, rabbi, bishop, apostle etc and also choose catching name for their churches like the only full gospel church, salvation church, the only true church of Christ , gate to heaven church, center for miracles, etc, and begin to collect money from their followers without accountability. They even tell people not to offer less than 50,000shs because they annoy God and He does not bless them.
This is theft and the state has an obligation to save its citizens from such crooked self-styled pastors who enrich themselves at the expense of their brethren. They take advantage of people's misery, they promise them miracles and rob them.
The state should devise means of distinguishing between crooks and genuine pastors. A genuine pastor has to be recommended (by some known pastors who have been in the service for long without committing any scandals) to a registered theological or biblical institute of proper teachers. Pastors should not play on people's heads but they should be knowledgeable of things concerning God. The Government has to look into that as a fulfillment of its obligation to defend the right to collect information of the citizens. The government's intervention is justified by 1 Timothy 3: 8-13 which demands that church leaders must first be tested and allowed to serve only if found fit. The rampant self-appointed church owners and leaders who are only satisfying their greed are sinful: read Jesus' words in Mark 10: 17-25.
Therefore, being a Christian (a follower of Christ) is incompatible with greed for earthly things. When the rich young man refused to detach himself from his wealth and he went away, Jesus turned to his disciples and told them that it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of the needle than a rich man to enter heaven.
Actually today's pastors preach the opposite, they take advantage of the misery of their flock and tactfully get a lot of money from them promising them blessings. To them I address these words of St. Ambrose "it is the hungry man's bread that you withhold; the naked man's cloak that store away, the money that you bank is the price of the poor man's ransom."
Many emerging churches' preachings are diverted from the original message of Christ as seen in the scriptures: Mark 10: 17-25, Mathew 21:12-13, and from the word of God in Deuteronomy 23:19-20 and other? What made pastors to be so money-minded than saving souls for Christ?
Churches have become dirty business places for pastors to the extent that they are now days registered as NGOs not houses of God. A famous Pastor known as L. Ron Hubbard said in the Los Angeles Times of August 3, 1987, that the quickest way of becoming a multimillionaire in the USA is to found for yourself a church. Actually he founded the church of Scientology.
The turning point was the reformation period which was championed by Martin Luther (a former catholic priest of the Dominican order) the founder of Protestantism.
To gain support from rich men, princes, and queens, he preached what they wanted to hear. He preached that the accumulation of wealth and money was a blessing from God. He reversed the former Christian teaching by preaching that usury and avarice cannot prevent one from being saved.
This preaching very much attracted usurers, avaricious men, and merchants including Queen Elizabeth. This idea was taken to its extreme by other reformation leaders particularly John Calvin (the founder of the Dutch Reformed Church) the aim was to give a blow to the Catholic Church's teaching.
He preached the doctrine of predestination where salvation does not depend on morality but predestination. Those who were predestined to salvation even if they acquire wealth in immoral ways they will be saved.
Likewise, those who were not predestined to salvation, even if they live morally: no avarice or usury they will still suffer damnation. He preached that worldly prosperity is a sign of God's grace. So a poor pastor has no God's grace/no sign of salvation. Pastors began to look for wealth in whatever way to prove that they have grace after all the way wealth is earned does not make one to miss salvation.
Calvin's gospel of wealth accumulation reaches America by the puritan missionaries. There rose Preachers like Catton Mather one of the most influential English preachers of that time, preached that Christians should glorify God by doing good to others and by getting wealth for themselves (Cotton mather., A Christian at his calling. Boston, 1701, quoted from Richard Hober., the American idea of success,McGraw, Hill book company, New York, 1971, p. 12).
William Penn, one of the founders of the church of the Quaker Pennsylvania, preached that wealth is a visible sign that one lives in the light of God (Willian Penn, the advice of William Penn to his children. Quoted in Richard Hober., the American idea, p. 14).
Max Weber in his work the protestant ethic and the spirit of capitalism, on p. 56, translation of T. Persons, Unwin, London 1930, accused pastor Benjamin Franklin for saying that we live to accumulate wealth rather than we accumulate wealth in order to live. Since that time to date, any Pentecostal pastor who does not assure his flock, Jesus, the giver of wealth loses it to another pastor. In 1836, Pastor Thomas P. Hunt published a book "the Book of wealth" teaching that it is a duty of every man to accumulate wealth.
An article was written in his Merchant Magazine that Adam and Eve were expelled from the garden of Eden because they failed to do business there. Pastor Panker Thomas of Boston Unitarian church preached that no saint is higher than the saint of trade. The church of Christ has gone into business.
The situation reached its climax during Ronald Reagan's period with its slogan of "enrich yourself". Justin Dart a member of Reagan's kitchen cabinet, taught that greed is good; it should be invoked in whatever we do (Los Angeles Times of Feb 6, 1982, quoted by Bellah et al, Habits of the Heart. University of California Press, 1985, p. 264).
Jerry Falwell the then pastor of the Thomas Road Baptist Church in Virginia, preached that money is a sign of God's grace. He actually paid himself an annual salary of $100,000 from his church's collections (Frances Fitzgerald., cities on a Hill, Picador, London 1987, pp. 143-195. And John Tayor., Circus of ambition, wirner books, New York, 1989, p.3. and Times of August 3, 1987). Since then Pentecostal pastors seek money from their flock at all costs.
We here in Uganda pastors selling holy rice, many have personal TV channels not belonging to their churches but to them as individuals getting money from church offertory, and the rest. Actually in 1987, in America, there grew the most successful TV evangelist known as Jimmy Swaggert who according to the Times of Aug. 3. 1987, run a television ministry as a family business. He gained billions of dollars out of it, he built three luxurious homes and two Lincoln town cars.
Pastor Robert Schuller who broadcasted one hour of healing power every week in Califonia paid $ 86,000 salary plus tax exemptions and a house allowance of $ 43,500. Pastor Jim Bakker earned $ 638,112 and six luxurious homes with bath room-taps planted with gold; it was his habit of adultery that led to his downfall.
Here in Uganda, the situation is not different. Pastor L. Ron Hubbard's advise as reported in the Los Angeles Times of August 3, 1987, that the quickest way to becoming multimillionaire is to construct for yourself a church is being followed by many pastors.
The clearest sign that they are not doing the work of God but look for wealth is the conflict among them.
One tells people that do not go to a pastor so and so's churches that there is no grace, simply come to mine. If they all do the work of god why should they mind to which pastor people go to? Each one wants to keep his customers from which he earns greatly.
One may wonder how people keep flopping into these churches where pastors look for their own wealth at the expense of their flock. But how can they fail to go there if they were well tricked into believing that they are the pastors who have the powers to deliver them from all sorts of misery? The more money you donate the more you fasten your deliverance.
Fellow Ugandans wake up; the money of a fool is enjoyed by the shrewd!
The writer is a lecturer at Uganda Martyrs University