reprinted with amendments and additions from The Sunday Mail

As early as 7 am on a Sunday morning, the City Sports Centre in Harare is already a hive of activity as people jostle to take seats for a church service. One might be deceived into thinking that the service is already under way, but, alas, it is due in about four hours’ time.

As the church service begins, enthusiasm fills the venue as people sing along, with all their hearts, to the songs being churned out by the praise and worship team. “It’s about deliverance of the soul, the spirit and how the Almighty can enrich us spiritually and physically,” says an ecstatic follower, George Mandere. Half into the sermon, another enthusiastic believer confesses, “Before I came to this church, my life was a mess and I was jobless, but now I have been blessed with several cars and houses all over the country.”

The gospel of prosperity is now the new trend in most churches. Quite a number of conservative Christian churches like the Roman Catholic, Anglican and Methodist have lost a significant number of their flock to Pentecostal churches. But it also appears that most of the senior clergymen in these emergent churches are now living luxurious lives.

It is clear that there is now an ideological shift from the original church ideology in these new places of worship. While the “new” churches have been attracting huge numbers, some people have questioned their line of teaching. The Bible says, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal.” Another verse goes on to add, “It is easier for a camel to enter through the eye of the needle, than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.”

Head of the Faculty of Social Studies at the University of Zimbabwe Dr. Watch Ruparanganda believes the current trend of the gospel of prosperity is a step in the right direction. “It’s a paradigm shift from the gospel of poverty to the liberating theology which encourages enterprises. Some of the most eminent people in the Bible like Job and Solomon were filthy rich and even the Apostle Paul survived on an enterprising tent-making business. The current trends of social networking have resulted in the need by the people for self-expression and the need for active participation rather than the situation where only the priest was the only actor and the congregation were passive or zombie actors.”

Senior Pastor with the Christ Embassy in Zimbabwe Dr. Ruth Musarurwa said the gospel of prosperity was the rediscovery of the truth. “The word gospel was taken from a Greek word which, if translated, stands for good tidings,” she said. 

Dr Musarurwa added that the poor were the ones who were against the gospel of prosperity.
She also added that God and his Son associated with rich people. “That is why God is often referred to as the God of Abraham, who himself was a very rich person, and not the God of Lazarus,” said Dr. Musarurwa. She said that God did not want the poor in his realm because the Almighty himself is not poor.

Sociologist Karmen Joseph, formerly with the Women’s University in Africa, believes that the conventional religion was a capitalist way of making humans content with  poverty. “Conventional religion was a project of those who owned the means of production to oppress the working class. It was a tool utilised by the capitalists whereby the masses were supposed to relieve their suffering through the act of experiencing religious emotions,” she said quoting from Karl Marx’s views on religion.

As the new gospel trend hits town, many people watching from the sidelines have generated more question than answers. Are the lures of riches, greed, power and dominion over individuals the pull factors to the gospel of prosperity in churches? Or is it a real fact that conventional churches have failed to address the real societal issues hence their decline and the popularity of the new denominations?

But it must also be highlighted that too much wealth, if not properly checked, can ultimately lead to greed and subsequent oppression of others.