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Opinions of Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Columnist: Pryce, Daniel K.

Restoring the Church to Its Rightful Place in Ghana

“And Jesus cried with a loud voice, and gave up the ghost. And the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom” (Mark 15: 37, 38). When the Holy Spirit of the Most High God, after persistent prayer, opened up the aforementioned Scriptures to me, I would sit and cry each time that I mulled over those words. Suddenly, the Lord Jesus Christ had given me a clear understanding that had eluded me many years, perhaps because I had depended so much on analyzing the Word of God with an intellectual magnifier.

Some of us were born into the Church – that universal body of Christ, devoid, for the purposes of this discussion, of specific denominations – even if there remain doctrinal differences between the Protestants and Catholics, between the Presbyterians and Baptists, between the Trinitarians and Unitarians. Yes, Doctrine is essential, that specific delineation between God-inspired facts and man-made assertions – but the Church, as a whole, has moved so far away from the Word of God that we should, first of all, revisit the Church’s pertinent role in the Ghanaian society, and then analyze the specifics of Doctrine, no matter how controversial, in future discussions.

In Hebrews Chapter 9, we learn about blood sacrifice, specifically the way people of the Old Testament era atoned for their sins. In accordance with specific instructions from God, there was, made by the hands of men, a tabernacle – a place of worship and sacrifice that held a table, a candlestick, and the shewbread, which were behind the first veil. Into this sanctuary the priests of God regularly went to perform services to God on behalf of the people.

Then there was a second veil, beyond which was the Holiest place of all, which was reserved for the High Priest to enter once a year only. In the Holiest place, the High Priest would offer sacrifices for himself and the children of God, but this act was only a shadow of the propitiatory sacrifice that Christ Jesus would render on the Cross of Calvary, when He shed His blood to atone for all sins, once and for all. So, whereas the High Priest had to make a sacrifice for the people once a year, for “it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins” (Hebrew 10:4), Christ’s immeasurable work of grace on a cruel Cross would permanently remove the handwriting of sin against mankind, ushering the latter into a newness of spiritual life that was, hitherto, unavailable to him. When Christ yielded his physical life on the Cross, the veil of the temple was split into two by God’s Holy Spirit (see paragraph one above), signifying that the impediments that had previously existed between God and man were now gone.

It is for this reason that becoming a “born-again Christian” – to some a confusing phrase; to others a powerful message of redemption and victory! – is so easy, requiring only “[t]hat if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation” (Romans 10: 9, 10). It is, therefore, no longer necessary to depend on a fellow human being to be ushered into the presence of God – for if any confessions of sin were necessary, if any prayers of faith were needed, and if any manifestations of healing or deliverance were required, these could be made or sought in our rooms, right where we are, even as we read this piece, for the veil of the temple was rent in twain for us 2,000 years ago! Oh, how I want us to grasp this concept of spiritual victory reserved for anyone humble enough to accept Christ’s sacrifice on a dreadful Cross!

So, how do we restore the church to its rightful place in Ghana, after all the calamitous stories and revelations of graft, sexual abuse, and the twisted message of prosperity that we continue to read about? That some so-called men and women of God go into ministry to enrich themselves at the expense of their congregants cannot be denied – we have the evidence in the Ghanaian society to prove it. Was not a “great” man of God imprisoned quite recently for defrauding a foreign national, under the guise of offering special services?

Jesus did not charge anyone a penny for his ministrations; as a result, He instructed and reminded His disciples, after He had endued them with power, to “[h]eal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out devils: freely ye have received, freely give” (Matthew 10: 8), so why do some modern-day preachers think that people ought to pay them for their ministrations? Using a twisted version of Scripture to promote their dishonesty, some of these self-styled men and women of God cunningly demand the few resources and possessions of the poor, and avariciously spend what they have collected on expensive cars, houses, and other mundane things. In 1999, a Ghana-based preacher received a large donation from my church (name and location will remain anonymous), the explanation being that he needed to buy a parcel of land for a new church building in Accra, only to turn around, as soon as he got to Accra, and purchase a brand-new Jaguar sedan! Indeed, God is watching us all.

People no longer study the Holy Bible on their own, preferring, instead, to hop from one camp ground to another, seeking miracles that no man can provide, except by the power and anointing of the Holy Spirit. In fact, it is a damnable thing to ascribe celestial powers to a mortal man, if, indeed, we know that all things divine come from our heavenly Father. Miracles and healings continue to occur, even in these days of egregious immorality, but the churchgoer must prayerfully seek to know the source of the preacher’s power, for even the magicians in Egypt, shortly before the Israelites would obtain their freedom after 400 years of Egyptian subjugation, were able to match 80-year-old Moses’ ability in converting a rod into a serpent!

In 1978, shortly after a group of Christians descended on Peki, Volta Region, for a church meeting, I saw a paraplegic abandon his wheelchair and rise to his feet during ministration by the clergy. Those folks were ardent Pentecostals who believed that all things were possible to those who would dare believe! Could I prove that the miracle was genuine? Yes, because the man’s thighs were initially no larger than his forearms! In fact, the man hobbled around several minutes after he was ordered to rise up and walk in the name of Jesus of Nazareth, but he believed and held on to his miracle! As the camp meeting progressed, the once-paralyzed man’s gait improved steadily. I was 9 years old at the time, but how could I forget something as astonishing as that?

Every true believer knows that there can be no miracles and healings – and I believe in both types of restoration of the body – except by the will and power of the Holy Ghost. So, why do we pursue fallible men and women, as if they held the power to our future, wellbeing, and prosperity? Why do we not seek Christ, the author and finisher of our faith, who could use the simplest of vessels to bring us the victory and deliverance that we badly need? Well, the information is in the Holy Bible, but unless we study the Word of God on our own, as well as pray and seek God’s face, we will continue to be seduced by false prophets and remain gullible to the devices of fallible man. Blame it on ignorance – ignorance of the laity.

It is now quite common to read on Ghana-promoting Web portals about the sexual abuse of women – married and unmarried – by charlatans and popinjays parading as preachers. As if these constant abuses of our mothers and sisters are not enough, some filthy and despicable preachers even molest minors, stealing from our children their purity and innocence. It is one thing to seduce an adult; it is another matter altogether to prey on innocent children. For such acts, these pedophiles must be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.

It is quite difficult for today’s Christian to know who is a true man of God and who is a swindler: we have become complacent, taking the word of criminals for the Word of God, because we lack the discipline to study the Word of God and discover surefire truth for ourselves. No wonder we have become the slaves of people with a tawdry past, men and women who do not love God any more than we hate sin. It is painful to read online about the dastardly behaviors of some of our so-called preachers. No wonder the church has lost its appeal to the unsaved, for those outside do not behave any differently from those within the walls of the church. Blame it on ignorance – ignorance of the laity.

The false message of prosperity is everywhere – and the ostentatious lifestyles of some of these so-called men of God would leave the observer scratching his head in bewilderment! By telling a congregant that God will give him a Rolls Royce if he gave everything he possessed to the church is not only deceptive, it is criminal as well. What will a person who lives on two dollars a day need a Rolls Royce for? Even if such an automobile were given to him as a gift, he could not possibly raise enough money to both buy fuel and maintain the vehicle on a consistent basis. Then, again, we know that some of these preachers are rich because others have supported them financially, so why do they not, in turn, spend their wealth on those in need? When we look around us, we see some very poor people in our pews, but do we care about their physical welfare? No!

The Church can only be restored to its place as a moral compass for the larger society when those at its helm begin to interpret the Word of God truthfully, when its leaders eschew excessive personal gain, and when these men and women show concern for the poor in their midst. And unless people study the Word of God on their own, they may never know that it is sinful for a preacher to tell them to remove their garments so he will rub oil on their bellies and breasts, in an attempt to bring healing to their bodies; to have sex with them as a way of driving away demons and witches; and to demand their last dollar bill, as a way of invoking blessings upon them. If, indeed, we believe that the veil of the temple was rent in twain for us, then we ought to know that we do not need mortal men to intercede on our behalf, that we have available to us the tremendous power that raised Jesus Christ from the dead (Romans 8: 11), that we can come to God, just as we are, wherever we are, and seek His mercy and grace for our lives, and healing for our bodies.

If the Church wants its respectability – and influence – restored in our society, it must interpret the Word of God correctly, expel from its leadership those dragging Christ’s name in the mud, and assist law enforcement prosecute those dirty preachers who take advantage of innocent boys and girls. For such depraved members of the clergy, the law must be implemented to the fullest, for they are held in high regard, and their priestly robes give them a certain veneration that the average person does not possess. May God help us as we further the kingdom of His Son, Jesus; may God bless those men and women of God who are preaching the unadulterated truth of God’s Word; and may God help Ghanaians differentiate between impostors and true servants of the Most High God.

The writer, Daniel K. Pryce, is pursuing a doctoral degree in Criminology, Law and Society at George Mason University. He holds a master’s degree in Public Administration from the same university. He is a member of the national honor society for public affairs and administration in the U.S.A. He can be reached at