FEATURE ARTICLE

Monday, January 7, 2019
[email protected]
Pontifical Urban University, Vatican City (Rome)
INTERPRETATIONS OF SIGNS OF TIMES ARE NOT PROPHECY

"Many will say to me, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophecy in your name, drive out demons in your name, work many miracles in your name?' Then I shall tell them to their faces: I have never known you; away from me, all evil doers" (Matthew 7: 15, 22-23).

he end-of-year prophecies of some popular Neo-Pentecostal pastors and priest-healers of the Miracle-Healing Centers in Nigeria, is no longer a news. This New Year 2019 is no different. The social media is already awash with such prophecies of the pastors and priest-healers for the New Year.

The question is, 'Since when has the readings of signs of times by religious leaders (pastors and priests) at election time, or any other time for that matter, translated into prophecy or prophetism in Christian tradition?' When has the personal thoughts or rather interpretation of signs of times of a country's political situation at election time or even outside it, become prophecies?

These are some of the questions, we wish to address in the present article. The swooping of readings of signs of times for prophecies by the powerful pastors and priest-healers of the Miracle-Healing Centers in Nigeria, questions our understanding of Christian theology of prophecy and history of prophecy in the African Independent Churches, which the present Neo-Pentecostalism and healing centers in the country, are an offshoot.

The fact that political election time in Nigeria has been turned into bumper-harvest of prophecies for most of the pastors and priest-healers of the Miracle-Healing Centers, need to be viewed critically for what they are. They need to be evaluated from the point of view of Biblical and theological teachings on prophecy as well as from the danger such a development poses to the future of African Christianity.

In this case, therefore, I would like to refer the reader to our previous article on prophecy and prophetism in the Nigerian context, published in this column, under the title: "At A Time Like This in Nigeria Where Are the Prophets." In that article, we discussed at length the Biblical teachings and theological nuances on prophecy and prophets. We distinguished true prophets from false prophets, and thereafter, showed the differences between prophets and social activists. That social activism is not prophecy in Biblical tradition and Christian theology.

In the present article, however, we intend to highlight briefly, the danger of taking as prophecy, our interpretations of signs of times in political matters. However, in future article, we hope to relate our discussion in the present one to prophecy and prophetism in the first generation African Independent Churches, which scholars have described as anti-colonial religious movements, and therefore, as the beginning of true prophetism in African Christianity. We shall in our next article, discuss how the present practice of prophetism in Neo-Pentecostal African churches and healing centers is a departure from what has been recognized by scholars as true prophetism of the first generation African Independent Churches.

The Problem

As usual, the pastors and priest-healers of the Neo-Pentecostal Miracle-Healing Centers in Nigeria have since, December 31, 2018, being releasing a list of what they called prophecies, which they claimed God communicated to them for the New Year 2019. Unfortunately, their so-called prophecies for the New Year 2019 ended up being their personal interpretation or rather thinking on the current political climate of the country, namely, 2019 general elections: 'Who and who, and which political party will win or lose this or that post during the 2019 elections?'

The most worrisome aspect of it all is that even the political class are themselves patronizing these pastors turned prophets. Such that the poor masses are not the only victims of these "charlatan prophet-pastors", but even our politicians, the ruling class of the nation have also become their regular clients. They are the ones our political leaders rush to during political campaigns for endorsement.

The miracle centers and churches of these pastors and healers have since become a new "Mecca", a pilgrimage kind of center for our politicians and government functionaries. The miracle centers and churches have become the most privileged arenas for political campaigns and endorsements of candidates for election. Politicians go to these miracle centers to seek popular approval and endorsement of the pastor-prophets.

Of course, what does one expect in a country, where the government does not care an inch for its citizens any more, churches have become a unique arena where the politicians can meet a big crowd of people in different places for electioneering campaign. In normal countries, governments and politicians assess their popularity through the influence of government policies with the masses in workplaces and in the area of social development, security and general welfare of all the citizens of the country concerned. People vote during elections depending on how the government in power and political class have performed in these basic areas of governance.

But today, how many people are employed in Nigeria through government efforts and enabling environment? What of security? How many innocent citizens have terrorists organizations such as Boko Haram and Fulani herdsmen murdered, their villages and communities destroyed by these terror groups in the last four years alone. How many of these terrorists have the Nigerian government brought to book? None at all. Rather the government is busy defending the actions of these terrorists, while playing politics when it comes to defending the vulnerable communities of the indigenous populations.

And with the election at the corner, the only preoccupation of the ruling class is for reelection or winning at the polls. Today the Islamic fundamentalist terrorists' groups, Boko Haram and Fulani herdsmen are busy massacring the indigenous populations of Zamfara State and those of the Middle Belt region, among others. Yet, there is no serious efforts seen on the part of government and the ruling political class to address this state of insecurity that has become the lot of the country since the present dispensation.

What is obvious is that Nigeria has become another Somalia in Africa, and is now ranked the third most terrorist country in the world after Iraq and Afghanistan. Moreover, the closest ally Nigeria is touting today is no other country than Sudan, a country that is suspected to be the hub or rather the training ground for Islamic terrorist groups like ISIS and Boko Haram in Africa.

In spite of these security challenges, the government and the ruling political class are only preoccupied with elections and reelections. The local communities of indigenous populations where these terror groups operate, now live on the "mercy of God." For these vulnerable indigenous populations, it is as if the Nigerian state is no longer for them.

In normal countries and in advanced societies, politicians and governments assess their popularity with the masses through how they have improved the standard of living of the people while in power. That is, how government in power had impacted on social and economic developments of the people, especially in the following areas: security, employment, education, healthcare, transport (good network of roads, railways, airports, and seaports of international standard). Other areas of popular assessment of government performance for support at election times, include: respect for human and people's rights, freedom of expression, freedom of worship, freedom of movement, rule of law and order, justice to all, social cohesion, etc.

But because these fundamental role of the state to its citizens are no longer respected in Nigeria by both government in power and the political ruling class, people feel alienated from the Nigerian state and government. Only when election time arrives, do politicians remember that the people exist. Moreover, since there is no other place politicians could meet the people en masse except in churches and miracle centers of popular pastors, they do everything possible to win the friendship of the powerful pastors and priest-healers during election time. This is the reason why politicians of major political parties do everything possible to lure the powerful pastors and priest-healers to their corner, to secure their endorsement for election or reelection.

This is why also election time has become a kind of "harvest season" for the pastors and priest-healers. The clever ones among them go for the highest bidder among the politicians. They tie their support and endorsement of any politician and political party to the highest bidder among the contending candidates or political parties. The recent incident involving a popular priest-healer at Enugu and the insult he rained on a Vice-Presidential candidate of People's Democratic Party (PDP), during an 'arranged Bazar" at the former's famous "Adoration Center", is an egregious example.

The situation is even worse among some famous Pastors or rather General Overseers of some of the Neo-Pentecostal Churches in Nigeria. The popular pastors of these churches go to the extent of putting forward their own candidates for political elective posts like Vice-President, Senator, etc., as condition for supporting any candidate or party. Often most of the members of the church of the General Overseer that he trades for political elective posts are themselves pastors. So that today in Nigeria, we have Christian pastors in partisan politics, holding such elective offices like vice-president of the nation, senators, governors, etc.

Some powerful General Overseers frequent Aso Rock (Presidential Villa) in Abuja at will, and in each visit would make public statement in solidarity with the government in power. This is even when it is obvious to every Dick and Harry that the government in power is not doing well at all, especially, with regard to security of lives and property of Christians and indigenous populations in the country (majority of whom are Christians).

In spite of this, however, the pastor prophets, General Overseers and priest-healers will continue to sing praises of the government in power. In their end-of-year prophecies, we see them predicting victory at the forthcoming elections for a tyrant and dictatorial regime.

Moreover, the e-warrior-pastors of the miracle workers and prophets are not left out in the game. With the coming of social media, gifted pastors who publish articles constantly on social media and online Newspapers about their own healing and miracle gifts and powers are also on the game. The e-warrior-pastors are often contacted by desperate politicians and political parties. An e-pastor, however, may decide on his or her own to bend his writings and articles in online Newspapers in favor of a particular political party or candidate.

In whichever case, however, clever politicians and political parties don't miss out contacting such e-warrior-pastors for online endorsement and patronage. This is why at election time like these days, it is not unusual to see write-ups and end-of-year prophecies of the e-pastors and prophets, endorsing and singing praises of a particular candidate or political party. When something of this kind begins to happen, know that money has exchanged hands between the e-pastor himself and the politician or political party involved.

Consequences

All this implies that most of the pastors, General Overseers and priest-healers, who dish-out what they usually, call "end-of-year prophecies", do so because of monetary inducement. These are pastors and priest-healers who have fallen into the trappings of partisan politicians. They are now victims of Nigeria's corrupt political class.

Most of these pastors and priest-healers have since dabbled into partisan politics. This is why some of them don't see anything wrong any more in coming out in public, in the name of prophecy, to declare that this particular "candidate" or political party is going to win the presidential, gubernatorial or whatever elective post during the forthcoming elections. This is what they call "prophecy" in Nigeria today!

In this case, it is no longer the pastor or priest as a minister of God that is talking, but rather someone under the influence of monetary inducement and political deceit of the ruling class. The monetary gift or pact he might have entered with the candidate or political party in question, is now the driving force in his life. He is now acting like someone under "possession", to use their own terminology. Such a pastor is no longer in control of his senses. In fact, he needs "deliverance", another term of theirs.

Thus, part of the so-called prophecy of such a pastor or priest-healer is to predict the victory of the candidate or political party in question. It is a prophecy made to favor the highest bidder among the politicians that might have visited the individual pastor's church or miracle center before the elections.

Interpretations of Signs of Times are not Prophecy

Our contention is that there is nothing prophetic about this type of "prophecy." Interpretations or rather personal thoughts of pastors and priest-healers on political situation of the country have nothing to do with prophecy and prophetism in Christian tradition. In fact, the word "prophecy" should in no anyway be used to describe such things.

Again, endorsement of politicians or prediction of a winner at political elections by pastors and priest-healers are neither prophetic nor are they prophecy. At best, they are a kind of spiritual "fraud", happening nowadays in those miracle-healing centers where their pastors have turned into prophets for political parties and politicians of the highest bidder for monetary enrichment and lust for political influence in the society.

Prophecy has nothing to do with moneymaking venture of the pastors and priest-healers of the miracle-healing centers in Nigeria or elsewhere today. There is no difference between such pastors or priest-healers with the Biblical Simon Magus who thought with money one can purchase the gift of the Holy Spirit and healing (Acts 8:9-25).

St. Paul in his Letter to Colossians warned Christians to be aware of such charlatan pastor-prophets:

"Do not allow yourselves to be cheated by anyone who claims to be superior because of special visions, and insist on false humility and worship of angels. Such a person is all puffed up, for no reason at all, by his own human way of thinking, and has stopped holding on to Christ, who is the head." (Colossians 2:18-19).

In other words, what some of the pastors and priest-healers dish out to the public, as prophecies for the New Year are nothing else, but their personal thoughts and readings of the current political situation of Nigeria! Their personal interpretation of popular signs emanating from the country's present charged political atmosphere, are presented to the public as prophecies.

In other words, these pastors are taking their human thoughts on Nigeria's political reality as prophecy for the New Year. It is to such pastors that St. Paul was asking to desist from their deceptive act in the Letter to the Colossians cited above.

These pastors, instead of telling their adherents that these are their personal thoughts and interpretation of the country's current political situation, would rather bring God into it. They twist their personal concocted thoughts and readings of the signs of times as prophecies, and say, they are "what God communicated to them to tell the people." The individual pastor tells his congregation that those things (his personal thoughts), he claimed God had communicated to him ("prophecies"), are the things that will happen during the New Year. What a deceit of the devil?

Unfortunately, these pastors and their prophecies are the ones that receive publicity and attention in the mainline Nigerian media and Newspapers. Not much attempt are made to advice the public about the seemingly dubious nature behind all those things being presented as prophecies for the New Year.

The uninformed public have continued to be deceived by the charlatan practices of the self-acclaimed prophets. This is in addition to the fact that most of our poor masses who frequent the miracle-healing centers of these pastors and priest-healers have often time been victims of other forms of deceptive and clandestine activities going on there.

The most painful aspect of it all is that these pastors are the ones our ruling class and politicians are dinning with, and often consult on governance issues in the country. No wonder, Nigeria has continued to retrogress instead of progressing as a modern nation state.

Our world of academia, professionals of different fields of human endeavor, university professors, researchers, experts in science and technology, political and economic scientists, have been relegated to the background. The prophecies of the charlatan pastors are the thing that matter most for our politicians and ruling class nowadays in Nigeria. What a tragedy!

Those who call the shot today in Nigeria are pastors and prophets of miracle-workers. What a painful thing that has befallen a country blessed with the highest number of highly educated men and women, talented professionals in all fields of human endeavor in the whole of Africa and even beyond?

Presently, in spite of poor image of Nigeria at the international arena caused by failed leadership at home, our talented and educated men and women are like hotcake for industrialists, educational and medical institutions as well as companies of many countries of the world. But in their own fatherland (Nigeria), charlatan pastors and prophets of miracle-healing centers command more respect of the ruling class and politicians than the home-grown trained professionals in the world of academia and field of scientific and technological research? Again, what a tragedy?

Conclusion

Talented Nigerians, who are thousands in their numbers, are making strides in their chosen professions in different countries of the developed world today where they live. Yet, there is no space for them in Nigeria, no enabling environment for them to utilize their potentials fully in their homeland. Nobody, not even the government and the ruling class cares for them. They are like abandoned group of people.

No wonder most of our talented men and women in various fields of human endeavors have decided to go on self-imposed exile in other countries where their talents are better cherished and appreciated than remain languishing in agony in Nigeria. This is the root cause of the so-called brain-drain of Nigerian talents, which is occasioned by ineptitude leadership and enthronement of mediocrity at the center of Nigeria's governance culture and political system: The preference of the government at the center to mediocrity instead of promoting meritocracy is the bane of Nigerian state.

This is what ineptitude, corrupt and mediocre government has brought to Nigeria, a government that has no regard for its own citizens, a government that discriminates against its own citizens on basis of primitive and divisive elements of ethnicity and religious differences.

This is Nigeria where its government disowns his own youths who are struggling as immigrants in the hostile nations of Western Hemisphere and the Asian Giants. The Nigerian government prioritizes charlatan pastors to talented professionals and professors in the world of academia.

The question is, what a future has this type of country in the community of nations today? In such a circumstance, under what basis should one be discussing of moving Nigeria forward in indigenous technology, development in science and education?

In a country where its political class is controlled by the spells of charlatan pastor-prophets, what future has such a country in our modern world today?


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