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Opinions of Sunday, 6 January 2008

Columnist: Appeadu, Charles E.

Ghana's Version Of Christianity

I know I may be stepping on some toes here as I attempt to provoke a discussion on how we are practicing Christianity in Ghana, and in the Diaspora. I feel it is appropriate to begin this piece with a clear disclosure. I am a Christian with complete trust in the Lord Jesus Christ. My virtues in life and what I stand for have been heavily shaped by my Christian studies and practice. However, when I read the Bible and compare what I read to what I see and hear being preached and practiced in Ghana and among Ghanaians here in the United States, I sometimes see two different things. I want to be bold enough to expose some of the disturbing things I am seeing.

Hard Work: The Bible has a lot to say about hard work. In fact Paul, arguably the greatest Christian ever, was a very busy apostle planting churches and traveling to make sure the churches were on solid grounds. In spite of his busy schedule, he was a tent maker (akin to a builder today) and used some of the money he made from his building trade to meet his needs and the needs of his Christian co-workers. The following verses from Acts 20: 32-35 (NIV) attest to this:

32"Now I commit you to God and to the word of his grace, which can build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified. 33I have not coveted anyone's silver or gold or clothing. 34You yourselves know that these hands of mine have supplied my own needs and the needs of my companions. 35In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: 'It is more blessed to give than to receive.' "

Today, in Ghana, many of our churches are not adhering to these principles. I am not saying that it is wrong for a pastor to depend on the congregation for his livelihood. However, the higher road to take is for the pastor to work as hard as possible and only to supplement his income from his congregation. Our congregation should be encouraged to get education, acquire skills, work hard to supply their own needs and the needs of the weaker ones among them.

Financial Integrity: The Bible talks about money more than about any other thing. This is not by accident because man, unchecked, is prone to corruption. The Bible warns Christians, especially the leaders, against loving money. The following verses speak to this (1 Timothy 6: 3-11):

3If anyone teaches false doctrines and does not agree to the sound instruction of our Lord Jesus Christ and to godly teaching, 4he is conceited and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy interest in controversies and quarrels about words that result in envy, strife, malicious talk, evil suspicions 5and constant friction between men of corrupt mind, who have been robbed of the truth and who think that godliness is a means to financial gain. 6But godliness with contentment is great gain. 7For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. 8But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. 9People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. 10For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs. 11But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness.

Greed is rampant in the church today and something has to be done about it. Often, the church members are afraid to speak up because they think by being critical of the pastor they will fall out of favor with God. This is certainly not true if they are speaking the truth in love. A church should never be considered as the pastor’s personal business. The pastor should always be considered an employee of the church. Every church should have a finance committee that determines the salaries of its employees (including the pastor) and all other expenditures. One other disturbing doctrine is the prosperity doctrine. God indeed desires that His children prosper. However, this prosperity is not limited to money. In fact, as we read in the 1 Timothy 6: 11 quoted above, God’s prosperity includes righteousness, goodness, faith, love, endurance, and gentleness. There are pastors who present God as a magician “performing magic” for their congregations to become rich. They are just using the law of large numbers to their advantage. People send monies to their relatives back home frequently. A pastor who prays for several people and “prophesies” that they will receive some surprise money soon is likely to get one or two people to come and testify that their miracle has happened. And then this relative of yours will take a significant fraction of your hard-earned money (you sent to him to use to pay for your nephew’s school fees) and give it to this unscrupulous, dubious, evil pastor. Within weeks, she is calling you for more! We need solid Christian teachings in our churches both in Ghana and in the Diaspora.

Spirituality, Witchcraft, Occultism: This is probably where our greatest deviation from scripture is. The Bible clearly says that Christ has come to set us free from bondage. However, many Ghanaian Christians live in the same old “idol worship” and fear of witchcraft and attribute all their failures to witchcraft. The churches have failed woefully here. They have failed to instill confidence in the people. They have failed to analyze the real causes of people’s woes and they have failed to prescribe the true solutions to these woes. The Bible is a very practical document. Take a high school or university student from a village who comes home for long vacation and everyday goes to the palm wine tapper to drink his head off, assumes an air of arrogance because he is now a “college” student and spends all his energy on the village girls who swamp him because he is the only educated person (krakye) in the village. This student fails his exams and is bold and stupid enough to blame his mother’s sister. What more, he gets a pastor to tell him that it is indeed this poor woman who is at the root of this failure. People want to travel to the US or Britain and pay huge sums of money to some pastors to pray for them so they can get visas. What kind of Christianity is that? Where are these practices in the Bible? Many homes are being destroyed as relatives blame each other for their failures and tragedies. Nobody dies a natural death in Ghana (perhaps only very old folks). Automobile accidents are frequent on our roads not because there is some old woman sitting in the middle of the road but because the drivers are not qualified to drive, the roads are not designed or constructed well, there are too many potholes on the road, the potential for headlong collision is too high, drunk driving may be rampant and unchecked, and many of the vehicles are not roadworthy. Of course, some of the accidents are just pure accidents. We, as a people, should use our God-given brains to do the right things in life.

I am not claiming that everything in life is physical. I am the first one to give a testimony of the hand of God working clearly in my life. However, we have to do all that we can do with the brains God has given us and pray that He will bless our efforts. Practical Application of Christianity: To many Ghanaian Christians, Christianity means going to Church on Sunday, going to Bible Study on Tuesday/Wednesday, going to regular or all-night prayer meeting on Friday, going to Church the next Sunday and repeating this cycle. Going to church is a very important component of being a Christian. Bible studies and prayer meetings are equally important aspects of Christianity. However, the Christian life is lived inside and outside of the church walls, seven days a week. It should be lived in our dealings with other human beings at home, at school, at work and in public places, including even when you are driving in traffic. In fact, Colossians Chapter 3 gives us rules for living the Christian life. The first eleven verses are reproduced below from the New International Version: 1Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. 2Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. 3For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. 4When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. 5Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. 6Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. 7You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. 8But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. 9Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices 10and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. 11Here there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all. The verses above emphasize, among other things, the fact that we are not to lie to each other, we are not to be greedy, and we are not to slander others. Also, the verses say that we are not to consider people based on their ethnic classifications: Greek or Jew, (Ashanti, Brong, Akwapim, Ewe, Ga, or Dagomba, for that matter). In Ghana, bribery and corruption are increasingly becoming accepted in the society, sometimes even among Christians; and lying to each other is not considered a (“big”) sin. We have narrowed down the sinful things to only sexual immorality and drunkenness. However, Christ called Satan “the father of lies”.

Christianity means Christlike relationship with all others. This is not easy as we are humans and are prone to being selfish and greedy and slanderous etc. To help us do this, God has given us His own Spirit and has also commanded us to meet frequently to encourage one another. Church should be the place for Christians to go and learn proper Christian behavior that we can put into practice the whole week so that more and more we will be built up to become like Christ!

Charles E. Appeadu, Ph.D., CFA

Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.