Table of Contents
2. Allô Allô Allô Papa Bonheur and Prophetic Warranty
3. Why the Ubiquity and Increase in Prophetic Activity Today?
4. Prophets in the Hebrew Bible as Champions of Justice
5. Prophets in the Second Testament
6. How do you tell a true Prophet from a fake one?
The first part of the title of this article comes from the second stanza of Congolese singer Kofi Olomidé’s song, Papa Bonheur,[i] part French, part Lingala making it well-nigh impossible for me to follow the general drift of the song until my colleague Augustine Lumwanga, hitherto unbeknownst to me, a Lingala native speaker, put me out of my misery. The song came to mind somewhere from the recesses of my delayed and misspent youth. I and another colleague were discussing the contemporary phenomenon of prophets who come under a variety of nomenclatures such as Papa, man of God and yes, even prophet. The association with the line Allô Allô Allô Papa Bonheur is that these men of God — very rarely women — seem to be the go-to place of choice for material and spiritual weal, well-being, prosperity or bliss while exacting fawning, ingratiating and obsequious deference not meet for mere mortals who draw breath. Even what may be clearly psychiatric cases, such as the women mentioned below who allowed their pubic hair to be shaved in public by a prophet, are now being handled by this one-stop shop for earthly weal and eternal salvation. It is often understood that this bliss will be manifested by material prosperity in the nunc et ora — the here and now — hence the eternal pull and market value of these men and women of God.
My colleague was not sold on the kosher stakes of these latter-day prophets as harbingers of weal, may be woe. His problem was that his niece was initially under the spell of such men of God but of late she has been having her own doubts after receiving nuisance texts from a Nigerian prophet of a foreboding and woeful nature “prophesying” doom in her life. Presumably the plan was that once she was sufficiently spooked, she would entrust her life into the hands of the man of God who would fast, pray or make a pilgrimage to some remote mountain of God somewhere in Nigeria to assuage doom after a sizeable contribution of a pecuniary kind, preferably in US dollars. My friend wanted to find out whether these prophets were for real and if they were not, how to make sure they were not living in your psyche rent-free. My friend teaches English and is used to critical thinking but he reckoned prophecy, whether true or false, was a tard beyond his pay grade. Just as well his neighbour, yours truly, was a practitioner of the noble arts of Religious Studies with an MPhil in biblical sciences specialising in apocalyptic literature and a PhD in biblical hermeneutics to boot. As the discussion on prophecy with my colleague took place during the never ending Covid-19 pandemic, both of us had time in bucket loads to while away, as there was no in-person lecturing. What followed was a two-hour discussion on true and false modern prophets and the vast swathe of fifty shades of grey in between and how to tell the difference between the two which formed the basis of this article.
This present article aims at debunking the popular notion abroad, of a prophet as someone who foretells the future in the manner of someone who has a speed dial to God and is afforded a telescopic view into the future not available to ordinary mortals. A Zambian online newspaper, Zambian Eye, reported that Prophet T.B. Joshua was able to prophesy the enmity between President Edgar Lungu of Zambia and his nemesis, Hakainde Hichilema after the death in office of the incumbent, Michael Chilufya Sata. I could have told T.B. Joshua that free of charge without benefit of prophetic inspiration. This is how the prophesy was framed, “Two of the nations in Southern Africa will face a leadership tussle because of sickness and disease.”[ii] How you move from there to the death of President Michael Chilufya Sata and to the political charade between Edgar Chagwa Lungu and Hakainde Hichilima presumably requires more prophetic inspiration on the part of the reader. But prophetic revelations know no bounds. Their predictions range from predicting who in their congregation will be driving a BMW or will be pregnant this time next year, presumably with a little libidinal help from the prophet showing the woman’s husband how to do it while she ecstatically reaches orgasm shouting, “Alleluia” to who will win the elections in the United States because God is really bothered about the political affiliation of US presidents because of the country’s privilege of exceptionalism.
I hope to show that all this nouveau prophetism is a misunderstanding of the office of prophet in both the Hebrew Bible and Christian Bible. Rather than fore-tell the future, the prophet is someone who forth-tells — tells it as it is — whether about the past, present or future doesn’t matter. In the process I discuss the popularity of modern prophets as God’s merchandisers, usually for personal gain. As in the Hebrew Bible and Christian Bible there were always true and false prophets. How to tell the difference, one from the other was the recent conversation I had with my colleague whose niece had been haunted by a modern false prophet. If the truth be told and to be fair to latter-day prophets, the choice is not always binary, that is, either true or false. There are fifty shades of grey in between, to adapt a trope from E.L. James’ erotica of the same title[iii] ranging from the genuine to the charlatan or spiritual conman.
Rather than invent the theological wheel, I found a blogger who mirrored my own views. I will cite him below to support my argument. I was particularly pleased that he does not come from mainstream Christianity or of a Pentecostal hue. He introduces himself as follows: “My name is Craig Greenfield. “I am the founder and leader of a grassroots youth movement working in 16 countries called Alongsiders International. I’m the author of The Urban Halo and my last book, Subversive Jesus, was published by Zondervan. My next book is entitled How [ not ] to be a White Saviour — keep an eye out for it in early 2021!”[iv]
In telling the difference between the true and false prophet, I follow Jeremiah’s criterion, who, as J. Todd Hibbard puts it, “de-emphasizes the role of prophet as prognosticator in favour of the view that a prophet’s role is to spur moral, social, and religious change” (Hibbard 2011: 339), especially as Pauline Wanjiru Njiru puts it, by “Telling Unwelcome Truths.”[v] Part of the answer to their pull factor is sordid money. “The shocking net worth of [the] 10 richest U.S. Pastors will blow your mind,”[vi] says Karen Bennett. I am not intimating that all of them belong to the darker hues of the fifty shades of grey but I mention them to illustrate the pull factor of modern prophecy in contradistinction to prophecy in the Hebrew Bible and the Second Testament. If I have scratched your interest, here are the top ten, according to Karen Bennett: Kenneth Copeland, Pat Robertson, Joel Osteen, Benny Hinn, Creflo Dollar, Billy Graham, Rick Warren, T.D. Jakes, Franklin Graham and Joyce Meyer.[vii] Only two are black and one woman. I mention them neither to question their authenticity nor to begrudge them their wealth. Even a Catholic man of the cloth, a one Archbishop Paul Casmir Marcinkus, was reputed to have uttered the now immortal words, “The Church cannot run on Hail Marys.”[viii] I suggest below, in answer to the question, “Why the increase in prophets today?” that Mammon, or what Takesure C. Mahohoma has referred to as “God business” may have a lot to say about the popularity of prophetic figures today (Mahohoma 2017). In addition, you do not need an undergraduate degree to qualify. All you need is the necessary pecuniary pitch, necessary decibels and a few useful verses, punctuated by a few Alleluias and the presence of a Gospel band and the sale of holy merchandise.
2. Allô Allô Allô Papa Bonheur and Prophetic Warranty
I want now to justify my choice of title at this point and briefly discuss what I am referring to as prophetic warranty or licence. “Allô Allô Allô Papa Bonheur” is a recurring line from the chorus of the song “Papa Bonheur” by Koffi Olomidé, born Antoine Christophe Agbepa Mumba (born 13 July 1956). He is a Congolese Soukus singer, dancer, producer, and composer. He is the founder of Quartier Latin International. In 1992, he released Papa Bonheur, an autobiographical release about his relationship with his detractors back in the Congo. From a biblical perspective, it may be couched as of the same ilk as Yeshuah ’s relationship with his hometown crowd. I will cite this latter example at length before comparing it to that of Koffi Olomidé.
6 He left that place and came to his home town, and his disciples followed him. 2 On the sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astounded. They said, ‘Where did this man get all this? What is this wisdom that has been given to him? What deeds of power are being done by his hands! 3 Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?’ And they took offence at him. 4 Then Jesus said to them, ‘Prophets are not without honour, except in their home town, and among their own kin, and in their own house.’ 5 And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them. 6 And he was amazed at their unbelief (Mk 6. 1‒6 NRSV).
The principal trope I am borrowing from the above passage is that of the rejected prophet as a sign of the true prophet which I will take up in my analysis and my discussion of prophetic warranty. Admittedly, Koffi Olomidé is not claiming to be a prophet but his reliance on Papa Bonheur or Nzambe [God] is close to what I am referring to as prophetic warranty. He is claiming something akin to a son of God. Let me now take you through the song. It opens with the words, “Muana yango ya mawa alanga nzembo lokola angelu. Bofingi botongi ye mingi, bopemisa ye [This child of sorrow sings like an angel. You have criticised him a lot. Give him a break].”[ix] The speaker in these verses is Papa Bonheur whom we later learn is God himself. The singer is appealing to him for his warranty, not popularity. He tells us that he has been criticised a lot and that he now deserves to be given a break. Compare this to the non-acceptance of Yeshuah we have seen in the text from the Gospel of Mark above. “Prophets are not without honour, except in their home town, and among their own kin, and in their own house,” Yeshuah informed his hometown folk who were questioning his Curriculum Vitae.
The Congolese singer then shifts his attention to his humanity and his reliance on the grace of God. “Moto moko te oyo Nzambe akela aza parfait. Na maboko ya Dieu le Père Papa Bonheur azalii [no human being God has created is perfect. In the hands of God the father, Papa Bonheur is there].” Peter, the first apostle writes of his master the quintessential prophet Yeshuah, “When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly” (1 Peter 2.23 NIV). There is something of that in the demeanour of Koffi Olomidé. Then comes the chorus that gave us the title of this essay, “Allô, Allô, Allô Papa Bonheur au telephone. Ba mamans mbote, ba papas respect. Tout le monde Tshatsho, problème eza te [Hello, Hello, Hello Papa Bonheur on the phone. Greetings to the mothers and respect to the fathers. Everybody Tshatsho, no problem].” If there was any doubt in whom the singer entrusted himself, it becomes clear in the last line, “Nzambe pe azali [God is always there].”
Papa Bonheur could as easily reflect the plight of any beleaguered Hebrew Bible prophet such as Jeremiah. One lesson from the Hebrew Bible for modern prophecy is that the man or woman of God appointed to be a prophet does not court popularity. His or her warranty is the God who commissioned him or her. He or she knows that their message is often counter-cultural and may lead to their persecution as a prophet. As Yeshuah pointed out to his followers, “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Mt 5. 11‒12 NRSV) but Mammon or God’s business may well explain the popularity and ubiquity of prophecy today.
Koffi Olomidé, a prophet by analogy, reminds his faithful fans, “Tango nakomi Dusseldorf nakati ya Bundes diva. Tango nakomi Geneva nakati ya Switzerland. Tango nakomi na Paris eh nakati ya mboka France. Nga nayoki se sango, Kinshasa n’importe quoi na kombo na nga eza faux eza faux [When I reached Dusseldorf in Bundes (Germany) diva, when I reached Geneva in Switzerland, when I reached Paris in France, I got news that in Kinshasa people were saying things about me, which were not true].” If he is referring to himself as “diva” his Latin needed a small correction to “divus” unless musical metre prevented that, which I doubt. The singer returns to the theme of the prophet not being without honour except in his hometown although he was not actually born in Kinshasa but in Kisangani. But then again Kinshasa is the more well-known metropolis. What has Koffi Olomidé to do with prophetic warranty then? Prophets were a bit like today’s celebrities but unlike today’s celebrities who depend on their fickle fans for warranty, the ancient prophet relied completely on the God who had commissioned him or her and the paradigm for such prophetic warranty is the example of Yeshuah. This is how he expressed his commissioning and right from the word go his message was counter-cultural. He was not taking the temperature of public opinion before launching his Nazareth Manifesto.
16 When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, 17 and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written: 18 ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, 19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour’ (Luke 4. 16‒19 NRSV).
3. Why the Ubiquity and Increase in Prophetic Activity Today?
Craig Greenfield, whom I introduced above, probably feels the same as I do about the ubiquity of men calling themselves prophets when probably some may be charlatans, in for a quick buck and religious people have been sitting ducks since time immemorial. “Does your Church talk much about prophets?” He asks and then immediately answers, “Chances are, if you go to a charismatic Church, they do. Otherwise, possibly not. Charismatics have co-opted this term to mean people who mysteriously predict the future. These modern day ‘prophets’ are the superstars of this wing of the Church. After all, who dares argue with a pronouncement from a Church leader when it is preceded by the magic words, ‘The Lord told me.’ These guys must have special Skype connection with God. I better listen and obey!”[x] In spite of the secularisation of the West, religion appears to be a growth industry. This is especially the case of evangelical and Pentecostal Christianity. Names of millionaire pastors such as Kenneth Copeland and the appropriately named Creflo Dollar may well give away the pull factor of prophecy today: Mammon or what I refer to as the theology of the belly, parodying Jean-François Bayart’s la politique du ventre [the politics of the belly].[xi]
While researching for this article, the darkest shade of grey I came across regarding the pull factor of latter-day prophets was the case of an unnamed pastor from Ghana whose signature prophetic act includes shaving women’s pubic hair publicly as reported by the Maravi Post in what can only be described as spiritual or prophetic porn. “Ghanaian tongue-speaking pastor has caused quite a storm on social media with a video of him shaving the private parts of his female church members…. In the video, the pastor informed the women that when it gets to their turn to approach him, they should remove their under garments. While shaving, another man, perhaps a junior pastor, is seen with a white handkerchief collecting the pubic hair even before they fall. The pastor was so angry as he shaved the ladies. He was fuming that some people had questioned and ridiculed his spiritual directions.”[xii] This prophetic symbolic activity was not for the morally squeamish and could have been at home with any African practitioner of the dark arts.
The recent case of a prophet jumping bail in South Africa by one pastor Shepherd Bushiri of Malawi illustrates the uneasy symbiosis of any prophet and Mammon. In Zambia, this phenomenon of the pull factor of Mammon is evidenced by the ubiquity of pastors preaching in Pentecostal mega Churches fit enough to rival St Peter’s Basilica. They are now calling them Cathedrals and with the way their prophets and pastors are now dressing, you would be excused for thinking that they were Catholic. Their rather less heeled proteges can be seen on buses plying third trade since the pentecostalisation of Zambia, for instance, by one born again but later pilferer-in-chief President of the country in 1991. If he had not become president, most probably Frederick Chiluba would have turned pastor or prophet. The pity is that you do not need to be educated to succeed in this trade or God’s business. A few You Tube sessions of Kenneth Copeland may suffice as long as you can mimic the accent and manic and spittle expelling enthusiasm. If you preaching in English, an American twist to your accent may just give you a competitive edge. In one case, even after our pastor-on-wheels had left us in blessed assurance, a young woman who had caught the Spirit continued whacking eloquently in the Spirit long after the departure of the man of God. But, let’s go back to where it all started.
- Quote paper
- Dr. Tarcisius Mukuka (Author), 2021, True and False Prophets. An analysis, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/1005153