The dramatic growth of non-Western Christianity across Africa is due largely to the flourishing New Pentecostal Churches. Why has the prosperity gospel, imported from the West and preached in these churches, found such fertile soil in Africa? In the second installment of the Global Conversation, Ghanaian seminary professor Kwabena Asamoah-Gyadu explains how these churches' peculiar emphases resonate with tribal religious backgrounds. Unfortunately, the prosperity gospel leaves behind the rural poor and other marginalized people who have little access to wealth and success. The gospel of Jesus Christ, on the other hand, glorifies neither poverty nor prosperity, but instead offers deliverance, forgiveness, grace, and restoration.
For thousands of believers in Ghana, Jericho Hour is the place to be if you are looking for a breakthrough. Founded in 1998, the prayer meeting—where, according to its slogan, "giant solutions await your giant problems"—is hosted by Archbishop Nicholas Duncan-Williams and his Action Chapel International in the Prayer Cathedral on Spintex Road in Accra. On Thursday mornings 3,000 people make their way to the cathedral, where they are encouraged to pray for breakthroughs in business dealings and employment, international travel, money to build houses and buy cars, help with finding a spouse or bearing a child, and, when experiencing setbacks, vengeance on those spiritually responsible.
Founded by Duncan-Williams in 1979 as Christian Action Faith Ministry International, the church was the first of a new stream of Pentecostal churches that have since flourished in Ghana and across Africa. Duncan-Williams's mentor was the late Nigerian Benson Idahosa, who, before he died in the late '90s, conferred upon himself the titles "Professor" and "Archbishop." Duncan-Williams's own transition—from "Pastor" to "The Rev. Dr." to "Bishop" and now "Archbishop"—reflects his growing influence, though these elevations must be understood as vivid examples of the blessings he promises to those who exercise faith.
Duncan-Williams's "blessings" are not just nominal. Though his 26-year marriage ended in 2005 (after American pastor T. D. Jakes tried to mediate much-publicized efforts at reconciliation), he married a prominent African American diplomat turned entrepreneur in 2008. Their lifestyle, including a home many describe as palatial, might not be exceptional in the United States, but in Ghana, lavish displays of wealth are usually the domain of politicians believed to achieve their material success by stealing from the public purse. Rumors about where the couple's wealth comes from are probably inevitable.
The Marks of Faith
The New Pentecostal Churches (NPCS) of Africa emphasize prosperity of all kinds. Wealth, health, success, and ever-soaring profits in business are coveted, cherished, and publicly flaunted as signs of God's favor. In this new type of Christianity, success and wealth are the only genuine marks of faith.
Just as Christian movements elsewhere in the world have their favorite Scripture verses, the NPC movement finds support from selected passages. Prosperity preachers quote 3 John 2: "Dear friend, I pray that you may enjoy good health and that all may go well with you, even as your soul is getting along well." The wish for general well-being is interpreted to mean not only that God will give believers their basic needs but also that they will live in comfort and luxury. Abraham, who was rich in cattle, sheep, and gold (Gen. 13:2), is commonly cited, with special emphasis on his willingness to pay tithes to Melchizedek, a model for the "sowing of seed" that prosperity churches encourage. Since the apostle Paul tells us that the blessing of Abraham has come to the Gentiles (Gal. 3:14), why shouldn't Christians enjoy similar wealth and influence?