On a Wednesday morning, we set out for a church service at a local house of worship in Masoro, a Kigali suburb. We sat patiently and waited for the miracles that the church is well-known for. Thirty minutes into the service, worshippers were called to queue for offertory. The belief among worshipers here is that the size of one’s offertory will determine the blessings they receive. The bigger the offertory the more the blessings!
Like this Masoro based church, many churches have turned into business centres where ‘miracles and blessings’ are on sale to the highest bidder.
Real life examples of pastors driving expensive cars and living in mansions, while their loyal followers sell their life possessions to donate to the church in the hope that they will be blessed, has become the order of the day.
Indeed, last week Rwanda Governance Board (RGB) closed over 700 churches in Kigali. For 700 churches to be concentrated in Kigali city alone gives credence to the argument that many people were establishing churches as a business to make quick money from believers.
Gloria Iriza visited a Pentecostal church in Kicukiro a few weeks ago. The congregation at this particular church had been asked to buy water that apparently had blessings. The ‘holy water’, they were told was imported all the way from Israel by a senior pastor at the church.
The averagely small church was fully packed and people were joyously dancing to the praise songs led by the choir. Shortly after, the congregation was invited to the pulpit to give testimonies of what the Lord had done for them.
About 30 people lined up to give their testimonies, most of them spoke about how the water ‘healed’ them of an illness they suffered from for a long time, Iriza recalls.
“One of the preachers at the church later told me that the water is sold to willing members so they get blessings. This left me wondering where our churches are heading. When did blessings become for sale?,” she asked.
Are churches standing on a shaky ground?
Eric Maniraguha observes that there is a huge difference in today’s churches compared to the traditional ones. He says today’s churches are not solely focused on preaching the word of God, but instead have hidden intentions.
He says, “Instead of trying to get more people to repent and turn from sin, you find that churches are mere businesses looking to milk the last coin from gullible believers. Some pastors put their focus on preaching and prophesying about blessings based on exchange for money and other offerings, but this is not right.”
Sabrina Kalisi Ihozo, Miss Photogenic 2015 and a staunch Christian, says only God knows what will happen next for today’s churches.
She talks of religious leaders who solicit money from their believers, condemning it and insisting that preachers should lead by example, focus on the gospel and expanding God’s kingdom.
She is, however, hopeful that even though times seem hard for the church today, God has a good plan for Rwandans.
“God is able to meet all of our needs; He will make a way for you to have something, but not you to find ways for yourself. For us to be exemplary as Christians we need to do what the Word requires of us and trust God completely,” she says.
She understands that giving is a good act but also believes that it shouldn’t be compulsory.
“Offertory in the house of God goes back to the biblical era, but we shouldn’t take advantage of it. A lot of bad things are done by ‘people of God’ and it’s really sad. Some churches are taking the Lord for granted, we strongly need God’s guidance,” Ihozo says.
Enmanuel Karegyesa, a pastor at Eglise Anglican Au Rwanda, explains that giving is a fundamental biblical principle. Karegyesa refers to giving as a sign of worship but also a sign of justice. Giving is essential for Christian living.
The pastor is, however, quick to add that even though Christians are ultimately compelled to love or to give; giving must not be out of coercion or done grudgingly, but rather joyfully and willingly.
Could the ban of some churches be timely?
Yvette Kabera says it was in order to close over 700 churches in Kigali for operating below the minimum required standards. Kabera says today’s churches are marred by vices that not only compromise Christian values but even impede non-believers from turning to God.
“The Kingdom of God is in jeopardy and we need the Lord’s grace to save us,” she says.
Reverend Francis Kabango of Anglican Evangelical Remera shares a similar few. He argues that it’s a shame that some of these churches that should set an example are the ones being told what to do.
“How can you set up a church with hundreds of followers and you don’t even have a proper toilet. Cleanliness is next to Godliness, but how does poor sanitation worship God?” he wonders.
The reverend also points out that if church leaders are preaching things that are rebuked by both believers and non-believers, then there is need to know what is presented to people so that the message is holy.
Pastor Hassan Kibirango of Christian Life Assembly advises that people should not just walk into any place calling itself a church. He calls onto believers to analyse the churches they choose to lead them in their religious journey.
He says, when the shepherd of the church is esteemed and given undue honour and nearly worshiped as God, or when there is little or no accountability in a church, one should take caution.
Kibirango also notes that there should be questioning when a church shows favours a few members because they have more means and give more to the church than others.
He advises believers that when choosing a church, the key thing to look out for is the devotion of that church to the supremacy of the gospel.
“The church should preach the fundamentals of death, burial and resurrection of Christ and how this message should help us live a God honouring life, as well as serve those around us. Every other message should be around these fundamentals,” he warns.
He also adds that the church should be a good steward of resources. For example, the church should be accountable for the time they use, the gifts and talent of its volunteers and most importantly, the utilisation of the money entrusted.
“A church should be able to fully account for the money it receives from worshippers. The messages people should avoid in a church are messages that glorify and put anything or anyone above Christ. Christ and his gospel should be central. Every other message should be built on Christ as the foundation,” he advises.