By Bishop Dave Chikosi
My journalist friend is not being honest about why I entered this debate. Hack exegesis of scripture and a hermeneutic of suspicion on his part are what brought me here. In my last essay I pointed out three particularly egregious examples of how he misuses and mutilates scripture to attack ministers he disagrees with.
And now in his latest essay the beat goes on. Mr Pongo gives the following passage as justification for his crusade against pastors who preach what he calls the false doctrine of prosperity:
Do not entertain an accusation against an elder unless it is brought by two or three witnesses. But those elders who are sinning you are to reprove before everyone, so that the others may take warning (1 Tim 5:19-22).
Readers, this passage is Paul writing to young Timothy. Timothy is the second Pastor or Bishop of the Church at Ephesus. So here Paul the apostle is instructing Timothy, one of his bishops, on the need to bring his church elders in line with church order. Mr Pongo comes along and wants to appropriate those same instructions.
First of all sir, and with all due respect, your name is not Timothy! Secondly, and as far as we know, you don’t pastor a church. Thirdly, you have no church elders under you who are accountable to you. So where does this man get off arrogating to himself the same pastoral privilege and responsibility that Paul gives to Bishop Timothy?
Where is the similarity in ministry and calling between Bishop Timothy and journalist Pongo? Who is the apostolic authority sending him to set in order the houses of God in Zimbabwe? We don’t even know this man’s salvation history or church membership (even though I have enquired about these things from him). When did you get born again sir and what church do you attend?
But this is yet another instance of Mr Pongo violently seizing a Biblical text, zvechibhinya, and trying to make it serve a purpose it wasn’t created for. Will this rodeo ever come to an end? Well, don’t hold your breath. Mr Pongo will not stop opining on matters that he demonstrably has minimal knowledge about. The only problem is that the more scripture he cites and uses, the deeper he gets into the theological hole he has already dug for himself. Yet the first rule when you find yourself in a hole is very simple: Quit digging!
So let me try this one more time: I did not join this debate to defend church practices and procedures. Different churches and different pastors will do what different churches and different pastors do. There is no way I could possibly know what every man of God has done, is doing and will do tomorrow. Plus, people do change over time, for better or for worse. Today’s hero sometimes becomes tomorrow’s villain, and vice-versa.
This is why I generally don’t like discussing people. People change. I have always believed what Eleanor Roosevelt once said – “Great minds discuss ideas. Average minds discuss events. Small minds discuss people.” So what I have tried to do in this debate is steer the conversation away from an excessive and unhealthy pre-occupation with people in favor of a focus on ideas. I wanted the conversation to go big, not small. But I haven’t had much success as Mr Pongo seems mired and stuck in personal antipathies towards those who believe different from him.
And now he wants the discussion to be about me – my ministry, my calling, my income, my upbringing and my hair! I do not for the life of me understand the incessant and insistent demand to know details of my calling and personal income – what else is next – my date of birth, name of my dog, make, model of my car, favorite restaurant? Back in the day they used to call it being nosey. I hardly know this man. I don’t know why he thinks I will allow him to get all up in my business like that. I have already said ‘no’ to this Great Inquisition of his. I’m not sure which part of ‘no’ he is failing to understand.
But lets get back to substantive issues. One of the big Bible ideas that Mr Pongo constantly attacks is the principle of “sowing and reaping.” He does not want pastors to teach this principle to their congregations because the net result is that pastors will become too wealthy. He thinks “sowing and reaping” is just another clever trick that preachers use to enrich themselves – a sanctified pyramid or Ponzi scheme. Well, take it up with the Holy Spirit. He is the One who inspired the apostle Paul to write such “false doctrine” as this one:
Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.(2 Cor 9:6-8)
(BTW this is also the passage that Mr Pongo thinks has nothing to do with money even though the context of the whole chapter is about offerings!)
This passage is clearly about cause and effect. Paul basically says if you want to receive or prosper in a big way you must give big. The financial blessing you receive from God is in direct proportion to the size of the financial seed you sow. But my debating partner doesn’t like that too much. It irritates him to no end. He calls it a false gospel. And not even the fact that the writer of this passage is none other than the highest ranking apostle in the church is enough to deter him. As far as he is concerned it’s a false Gospel.
So let’s climb up the Kingdom chain of command and see if we can convince him that sowing and reaping is indeed Gospel. Let’s check in with the Big Kahuna Himself and hear what He has to say about it. Luke 6:38 says:
“Give and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you”
This is Jesus Christ speaking. Instead of refuting “sowing and reaping” the Lord Himself in fact funds it (no pun intended). Jesus says in essence, that when you give an offering, you are not being robbed of your money. You are in point of fact, actually investing in your future. You will get it all back multiplied and running over. And the size of your return or harvest depends on the measure you use to invest or sow.
Jesus Christ Himself implies that if you give in say cupfuls, you will receive in cupfuls. But if you choose to up the ante and give in bucket-loads, God will measure it back to you in bucket-loads. This verse is so easy to grasp that you actually need someone to help you misunderstand it. And Mr Pongo has the temerity to call this false doctrine? He has the true gospel, while Paul and Jesus got it all wrong? What causes a man to take an anti-Christ position like that?
But what I find also fascinating in scripture is that long before Paul and Jesus came on the scene, the ancient Hebrews understood this principle very well. They knew very well that the law of “seedtime and harvest” had been given to them by Yahweh through Noah in Gen 8:22. This is why Solomon could later urge them to “Cast your bread upon the waters, for after many days you will find it again” (Eccl 11:1).
This is also why the widow of Zarepath did not hesitate to handover her last loaf of bread to the prophet Elijah, who proceeded to consume it right in front of the hungry poor widow and her starving son. I can see the editorial headlines in the “Zarepath Times” newspaper: “Fake Prophet Mooches Off Of Poor Widow.”
But aren’t we all grateful that Mr Pongo wasn’t around when this event took place? He would have talked the poor widow out of giving to the prophet and this story would never have been written! Thank God she listened to the prophet and the result of her sowing was that “the jar of flour was not used up and the jug of oil did not run dry, in keeping with the word of the Lord spoken by Elijah” (1 Kings 17:16).
Mr Pongo likes to talk about what he calls “the prosperity gospel.” This may come as a surprise to him (like many Biblical passages do), but there is no such thing as “the prosperity gospel.” I have never taught it and I don’t know anybody with any sense theologically who does. There is only one Gospel of Jesus Christ.
What some of us take flak for is the fact that we teach that divine prosperity is integral to that one Gospel. The word “gospel” simply means Good News. The Good News of the Bible is that Jesus Christ came to die in our place (substitutionary atonement). But what is often missed by people like Mr Pongo in their one-dimensional reductionist rendering of the story of Calvary is that Jesus did not just die to remove the curse of our sins. He also died to deliver us from two additional curses that afflict mankind – sickness and poverty.
Now this may raise the hair on the back of Mr Pongo’s neck, but it is nevertheless true. Just because you’ve never heard it preached doesn’t make it false. Take sickness/divine healing for an example. Back in the 1940s the big debate in church circles was whether “healing is in the atonement” or not. That battle raged on even as the likes of Oral Roberts, William Branham etc were healing masses of people in the name of Jesus and on the basis of passages like Isaiah 53. In the end the church began to accept, albeit grudgingly, the truth that divine healing is part of the “package” that believers received through the Death and Resurrection of Jesus.
But it is the third part of the package that has Mr Pongo in a theological tail spin. Like a lot of people in the church, Mr Pongo refuses to accept that salvation has anything to do with material well-being. For him salvation is one-dimensional i.e. spiritual regeneration. A lot of church folk today still won’t accept that divine healing is in the atonement let alone divine prosperity. In their opinion God is only interested in our spiritual, not material well-being.
But you know what they say about opinions. Opinions are like armpits. Everybody has them, but some of them stink!
Here is what we know about poverty. According to Deuteronomy 28:15- 52, poverty is a curse, not a blessing. But we also know from Galatians 3:13 that “Christ has redeemed us from the curse by being made a curse for us.” These two passage put together demonstrate to us that the curse of poverty was broken on the Cross.
But we don’t just want to be delivered from the curse of poverty, as wonderful as that is. We also want to be divinely empowered economically. Well, the great news is that Christ did not just redeem us from the curse of poverty. He went further than that. He became poor so that we can become rich (as trite as that sounds). Hear Paul:
“For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich” (2 Cor 8:9)
Before Mr Pongo jumps the gun and spiritualizes this text (as he erroneously did with 2 Cor 9:6-8), I ask him to read the context. This verse makes it very clear that prosperity is integral to the work of the Cross. It is not a separate Gospel. It is part and parcel of the one Gospel of Jesus Christ. Salvation is inclusive of the idea of material well-being.
In fact, “sozo” (or “soteria”) is the Greek word for salvation. “Sozo” means to deliver or protect. It also means to heal, to preserve. And lastly “sozo” means to do well, to be made whole. And so in essence salvation is three dimensional: spiritual regeneration, physical healing and material prosperity. Jesus came “that you might have life and have life more abundantly” (John 10:10). Abundant life is all encompassing: spirit, body and material blessedness. Any other definition of abundance would be defective.
In conclusion, let me say that this is very likely my last essay in this debate. I do have other writing and speaking commitments elsewhere. Besides, when your debating partner starts taking cheap shots at your deceased parents (who btw were financially very prosperous), you know silly season is here and it’s time to move on. So unless my journalist friend can come up with a serious refutation of the above prosperity argument, I do feel like my work here is done. I don’t debate for the sake of debating. I debate for the sake of those who are Biblically undecided on controversial issues. If readers are no longer learning anything, it’s time to call it quits
If Mr Pongo is able to go past calling people ‘phony’ for believing what Jesus and Paul taught, and actually present a coherent argument using careful exegesis and hermeneutics, then I might be persuaded to return (“insults are the last resort of a feeble mind”). But I have a sneaking suspicion that he will be more than happy for this debate to end. It has taken its toll on his carelessly constructed anti-prosperity house of cards. Adios everyone and God bless you all.
(I can be contacted personally at [email protected] if anyone needs further teaching or help in this and any other related spiritual matters)