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Opinions of Wednesday, 19 January 2022

Columnist: Vincent Anane Denteh

Tackling the prophecy controversies in Ghana: An open discussion

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Many Christians are displeased with the way the prophetic ministry is being handled by some “men and women of God” in Ghana as against the noble biblical standards of Christian leadership. The glorious ministry that is one of the five-fold apostolic ministry, characterised by the virtues and fruit of the Spirit, as stated in 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Galatians 5:21-22, appears to have largely turned into a harem of ungodliness, mischief, and vices on the Ghanaian Christian landscape.

This article discusses fundamental issues of the desperation of a section of the Ghanaian public “prophecy about deaths” of certain individuals, the chaos it creates because of the issue going viral, and the ridiculous behaviour of some so-called gospel ministers behind such prophecies. An attempt will be made in the article to recommend ways to improve and streamline the prophetic ministry in Ghana to minimise the rampant scandals it has witnessed.

While one cannot rule out the presence of genuine prophets in Ghana who speak the mind of God in an aura of revered spirituality and Christian ethics, we equally cannot close our eyes to the excesses and unethical behaviour of some purported church leaders in the light of the precepts of Scripture. The limitation of this article is not to give a theological meaning of the prophetic ministry, but to address the ethical dimension of how the prophetic ministry is operated in Ghana. How do we deal with this situation in our cultural context and legal framework without stifling the fire of the Holy Spirit in the prophetic ministry?

The Biblical Qualifications of a Christian Leader

For the sake of the discussion, we need to take note that the apostle Paul is very particular about the qualifications of Christian leadership:

Whoever aspires to be an overseer desires a noble task. Now the overseer is to be above reproach, faithful to his wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him, and he must do so in a manner worthy of full respect. (If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?) He must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil. He must also have a good reputation with outsiders, so that he will not fall into disgrace and into the devil’s trap (1 Tim. 3:1-7, NIV).

The above passage opens with a description of Christian leadership as a noble task, but that statement is followed by a call for Christian leaders to be “above reproach.” In this context, “to be above reproach” means church leaders must be blameless and role models of society. A critical issue in the passage is the requirement for every God-fearing, noble, and decent Christian leader.

The church leader must be “faithful to his wife, have self-control, be respectable and not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, and not a lover of money.” The inference is that the Bible is emphatic on the character of a church leader, even more than his capacity or anointing to perform a specific task in God’s Kingdom. This is evident in 2 Peter 1:5: “In your faith supply moral excellence.”

Paradoxically, and unfortunately, the aforementioned biblical principles are the most flouted by some church leaders today to the extent that they do not show remorse when they fall short of these biblical standards. Their unethical actions speak louder than the gospel they profess to preach. For example, how do we relate the attitude of ministers who boast of being quarrelsome, violent, and intemperate in their use of language to the qualification of Christian leadership stated in the above passage?

It is quite common in recent times to observe some Christian leaders spending time on various media outlets abusing others, fabricating stories against their innocent victims, priding themselves in being quarrelsome, treacherous, wealthy, and dreadful in unleashing terror or invoking curses on their perceived opponents. Sadly, their “disciples” applaud them for their rudeness and unethical behaviour. Are these traits what Christianity stands for?

Since the Bible is clear on the life and ministry of Christian leaders, many people who are well-versed in the scriptures and conversant with Christian ethics and virtues wonder why some church leaders, particularly the self-acclaimed prophets in our day, seem to comfortably behave contrary to the above biblical principles.

Their aggression, vituperation, and threats make it difficult or risky for noble Christian leaders to attempt to counsel them. Their use of intemperate language has a national concern. The misconduct is becoming so alarming that continued silence will let some people perceive all Christians to be like-mannered and also cast a slur on the prophetic ministry.

The Battle Lines of the Prophets

Some of these “prophets” seem to have drawn the battle lines to assert their prophetic authority and supremacy in a bid to remain relevant to their followers. Their modus operandi has introduced what many people see as unethical practices into Ghanaian Christianity and the situation is very worrying.

Prophet versus Prophet

Fundamentally, prophets are ministers of God who declare the will of God to His people. The term “prophet” in the context of this discussion is chosen to represent any operator of the five-fold ministry stated in Ephesians 4:11, 12 (apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers) because some of them also prophesy. It is common these days to see two or more prophets with their “disciples” locking horns over trivial issues. The insults, uncharitable words, and invectives used by the contending factions make the church look unattractive to some people, including potential converts to Christianity.

The situation has become so common that, these contending prophets try to rationalise and theologise their actions just to give false assurance to their unsuspecting followers to accept their misconduct as normal of Christian leaders. Sometimes, they twist certain passages of Scripture to justify their actions. The most worrying aspect of these conflicts is that they prefer to be captured live in the mass media as they showcase their anger and power in terms of their ability to insult and invoke curses on their opponents.

To them, the more insults and curses they invoke, the more powerful and good they feel about themselves over others who are noble and meek in Christ and would not want to descend into the gutters with them. They have no regard for decorum, confidentiality, and Christian ethics. The church leader, as a spiritual mother or father, deals with many private issues of people making confidentiality and trust as the hallmark of his or her ministry. Jesus says, “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Matt. 11:29, NIV).

Unfortunately, most of the people purported to be doomed because of their curses still live on to enjoy God’s grace for their lives, and yet these prophets would not learn their lessons to model the life and ministry of Christ. Many of them have not come to the realisation that their style of ministry and behaviour is an affront to the tenets of Christ’s Kingdom principles and values because that is not how Jesus behaved even in the midst of adversity.

Warning against Revenge

The Bible says, “Never take revenge. Leave that to the righteous anger of God. For the Scriptures say, ‘I will take revenge; I will pay them back,’ says the LORD” (Rom. 12:19, NLT). This gives us an idea that even if it becomes necessary for us to exonerate ourselves amidst unfounded allegations, we should leave the vengeance aspect in the hands of God without resorting to pouring of curses and invectives on our opponents.

Much as we have the right to defend ourselves, it does not mean that we should use insults and curses to address our situation. The Bible says, “But I say, if you are even angry with someone, you are subject to judgment! If you call someone an idiot, you are in danger of being brought before the court. And if you curse someone, you are in danger of the fires of hell” (Matt. 5:22, NLT). This is a warning by Jesus against invoking curses on other people. How do we justify or defend the phenomenon of some people of God who curse their perceived opponents in the light of this Scripture?

Prophet versus the State

There have been reports in the Ghanaian media about the contention between some prophets and the state security apparatus. The most recent of these situations resulted from the directive by the Ghana Police Service that reminded the nation that issuing statements of “doom with potential to cause fear and panic” in the name of prophecy is against the laws of Ghana and, therefore, prophets are to be discreet with their public utterances during the 31st December, 2021 watchnight church services.

The directive caused anger among some prophets to the extent that they reacted differently to the order from the Ghana Police Service. The directive is against the backdrop of a series of what many consider as “the prophecy of doom” concerning certain individuals during previous December 31 watchnight church services and the chaos that followed those prophecies. This means that both our socio-cultural context and legal framework consider public declaration of impending deaths of individuals as causing “fear and panic,” particularly if it is declared through the mass media.

Sadly, being so frustrated about the directives, some prophets and their followers hypocritically made it look as if the Police Service has banned prophecy in its entirety, and as such they will fight back. They threatened that they would not allow any institution to gag the prophets of God from speaking the mind of God.

Although it is biblically acceptable to be steadfast in our faith as Christians and uphold our Christian values in the face of persecution, no matter how the consequences may be, the question being asked is, should this principle be applied to the case at stake when it is obvious to even the Christian community in Ghana that the mischief of some church leaders tends to undermine the development of Christianity in this country?

Another question parting my lips is: Did the police administration really say that they were putting a ban on prophecy? The answer is a big “NO”! and that is obvious to all well-discerning Ghanaians. Perhaps some people have resorted to these lies just to win public sympathy and to make room for their invectives and misconduct to thrive.

On the contrary, the police rather issued a warning to those prophets who seek to create fear and panic such as prophesying publicly through the mass media about the death of someone. Such prophets seem to be insensitive to the psychological trauma that their victims and families may pass through as a result of being informed in the media through prophecies that they are going to die. What prevents these men and women of God from issuing the prophecies privately to their intended recipients? Is the use of the mass media (even before the potential victims hears of it) a fame-induced or Spirit-inspired approach?

Confidentiality as Ethics

Frankly speaking, the Police Service would not prevent prophets to reveal privately to any individual who is facing a looming disaster and that has been the practice of men and women of God with high ethical standards. The new phenomenon of employing the media to telecast such revelations is actually very disturbing. After all, the prophecy is not meant for the consumption of all Ghanaians? How would society accept the behaviour of a health practitioner who makes public the medical condition of his or her client?

If we are to consider that the prophets of God are spiritual fathers and reputable people in society, then why should their revelations about a private individual (oftentimes some of these individuals are not even members of their churches), which are supposed to be confidential, be broadcast or telecast on all media outlets for the public to know about someone’s “spiritual problems”? Are they sensitive to the privacy of the individual and the stigmatisation he or she is likely to face? Is the prophet seeking fame or the redemption of the victim’s situation?

In the Bible, the Lord revealed to the prophet Isaiah about the impending death of King Hezekiah. Instead of declaring it publicly to the hearing of the entire nation Israel, Isaiah delivered the prophecy privately to the king. The Bible says, “The prophet Isaiah, son of Amoz, went to him and said, ‘This is what the LORD says: Put your house in order, because you are going to die; you will not recover” (2 Kgs. 20:1, NIV).

In fact, any well-trained Christian leader with decorum knows how to handle confidential issues because every man or woman of God needs self-control as a fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22). After all, our achievement in ministry is to glorify the name of the living God and not for our self-glorification.

Back to the discussion, while the directives of the Police Service aroused debate among the Ghanaian Christian community with many anticipating what the news on prophecies during the new year festivities (particularly during the 31st December, 2021 watchnight services) will be, some of the prophets settled on what people consider as funny and weird strategies. Out of desperation for fame and power, they adopted unethical schemes, ploys, fictions and lies to communicate their messages, just to give their “disciples” a false sense of hope that they were still in charge as “commanding” prophets of God.

The Prophet and his Territory

Critical in the causes of battles among some prophets in Ghana is the issue of territorial powers, the battle for supremacy, political, and regional, national or international recognition. One may think that the various titles such as regional prophet, national prophet, major prophet, territorial prophet, and the African prophet found in our society are merely wading into absurd nomenclature, but they are not.

These titles have been strategically churned out by some prophets and conferred on themselves just to look dreadful or famous. The titles are jealously defended to the extent that they monitor the ministry of one another to undermine those who may want to rise to their levels. Ironically, these titles have also become the source of conflicts among some prophets and their followers. Like their masters, one’s ability to insult, vilify, and abuse the perceived opponents of one’s master has become a proof of loyalty to some “men and women of God”. The most loyal disciple must be an expert in insults and vituperation on behalf of his or her master. Those who do that perfectly are able to secure their master’s favour and admiration.

In James 4:1-3, the Bible speaks into the dynamics of these kinds of pride-induced conflicts in the church and we must allow ourselves to be counseled by this passage:

What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.

Insults as a Weapon – The Invective Ministry Syndrome

As already stated, insults and curses through the media have become the major weapons of these prophets, instead of God’s Word which is described as the sword of the Spirit. I have termed this shameful attitude as Invective Ministry Syndrome (IMS). IMS in a sense that the strand of ministry they exhibit is characterised by insults, vilification, vindictiveness, and abuses.

The IMS is so cherished by its followers that it is common nowadays to hear some men and women of God blatantly boasting of their ability to insult people rather than propagating the gospel for salvation of souls. Some so-called church leaders have been able to acquire their own television or radio stations not necessarily to promote the gospel as it is mandated in the Bible, but to have a wider media platform to abuse their opponents and promote their ungodly attitude.

Sadly, when God wants His true children to dare harsh climatic conditions (like it happened in the early days of Christian mission) to propagate the gospel to His creation, some Christians today are seriously rehearsing insults, curses, flaunting their wealth on the mass media, and using profane language in place of righteousness. Most of them even fear to minister to the downtrodden at remote places where they know that their effort will not accrue any fame, and financial returns or dividends.

If this is the case, then how do we understand the Great Commission and the Missio Dei (the mission of God) divinely mandated through the church (Matt. 28:18-20; Jn. 20:21; Ac. 1:8)? The major concern is that the rich Christian legacy bequeathed to us may be corrupted with this Invective Ministry Syndrome and abuses if we all become passive and allow it to fester.

Addressing the Culture of Insults

Already the ecumenical bodies in Ghana are concerned about the culture of insults in the Ghanaian political space and its effect on our nation building. They are trying their best to address the situation so for some church leaders to be exhibiting the same attitude is an issue of concern. We want our children to be innovative, creative, progressive, and people with decorum rather than being rude to the elderly and other innocent people. We have many progressive people in the world whose ingenuity has transformed their systems of this world without using insults and abuse of other people.

The unfortunate effect of this is that some young Christians wrongly think that the prophet who is ‘anointed’ or progressive is the one who is able to insult or curse more than his colleagues. This might suggest why some church leaders seem to have a stand-by squad of young people armed to the teeth with insults ready to cast insinuations against the perceived opponents of their masters. This model of Christianity being presented to the younger generation should be a serious issue of concern for every Christian; it is ridiculous because it is not what Christian values and principles stand for.

The future of Christianity with its glorious nature should not be destroyed in our day because our forebears toiled to develop the Christian faith to bring it to its current status. They fancied righteousness, holiness, and had the passion for mission work; instead of boasting of material wealth and abuse of innocent people. Christianity in Ghana has earned an enviable position across the globe and it must be jealously guarded for posterity to cherish.

All over the world, there are Christians sent by mission-minded churches in Ghana as missionaries to preach the gospel and that is what we want to see more of from any thriving Christian denomination in Ghana. We need more young people ready to sacrifice their lives and wealth for the propagation of the gospel; not those trained to cast insinuations as their core mandate in ministry.

Resolving the Issue

Based on the arguments advanced herein, the prophecy brouhaha in Ghana and the desperation to be the first to release a prophecy of doom about certain individuals is indeed largely, fame driven and about self-aggrandizement. Otherwise, there would not have been any reason to make it the core mandate of ministry while the propagation of the unadulterated gospel of Christ at every part of the country has been relegated to the background by some of these prophets.

Despite the fact that this challenge seems insurmountable to address, the church would still have to make an attempt to resolve it in the light of biblical standards for Christian leadership. While we admit that no human being is perfect and may faulter in the discharge of their duty, the apostle Paul gives us a clue that Christians must press on towards perfection (Phil. 3:12).

In Matthew 5:16, Jesus admonishes Christians to be role models in society so that by their good behaviour, His name would be glorified: “In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (ESV). Children of God have the responsibility to model Christian virtues wherever they are; that is what makes people glorify God’s name. To glorify God means, through our good conduct in Christ, many are attracted to faith in Christ.

Another focal point is the role of the Christian community in redeeming the good image of the church in a society where many people ridicule the model of the prophetic ministry as demonstrated by some church leaders. The prophetic ministry itself is a noble office, but the misbehaviour of some prophets today constitutes serious concern for the church in Ghana.

To avoid external regulation of the activities of the church (as has been agitated in some quarters), we should avoid being passive or intimidated by the insults. We need to muster the courage to take the bull by the horns to address the excesses exhibited by the activities of some ministers of the gospel. The church should rethink models of Christian doctrines and practices to be promoted and develop strong ecumenical conferences to help church leaders pattern their ministries after that of Jesus from which the Christianity we believe in, live by and preach originated.

I must reiterate the point that some prophecies being experienced today are purely divine while the issue of fame has also been the main reason for some. The kind of fruit some prophets bear affirms this claim. An authentic ministry is a blend of character and charisma. No genuine church leader should decouple one from the other. Our passion for the charismata (gift) must complement the desire to be virtuous leaders as enjoined in Galatians 5:22.

Finally, it should be stressed that Jesus is love and church leaders must demonstrate love in all aspects of their lives; Jesus preaches salvation and church leaders must do likewise. Jesus is not quarrelsome, boastful, arrogant, haughty, and lustful. Any person who claims to be a follower of Christ must exude the virtues of Christ; that is the only way to fulfill the diagnostic test prescribed by Jesus that: “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits” (Matt. 7:15, 16, NKJV).

Having discussed the chaos being caused by some prophets and its negative effect on Christianity, there is the need to consider the recommendations made in this article. I end by calling on Christians to focus on Jesus Christ as the perfect example and Master. May the Lord have mercy!

Email: vadentcop@gmail.com