Reformation literally means improving on someone or something by removing or correcting faults and problems with the intention of making it better than before. In Church history, Reformation was a term given to the sixteenth century religious movement in Europe that set out to reform some of the doctrines and practices of the Roman Catholic Church and resulted in the development of Protestantism.
One motive often given for the European penetration on the African soil, commonly known to them as ‘a place in the Sun’, was to spread Western Christianity to the Africans. There was a popular ideology amongst most Europeans that Africans had no religion, idea about God and hence, were pagans. However, as a result of missionary activities in the Gold Coast, Christianity was planted on the African soil. As indicated earlier, the African saw the western Christianity as an alien religion full of European culture which had no basis in the Bible and hence sought to indigenise it by adopting certain traditional practices from the African Traditional Religion. This resulted in schism in the various missionary churches in Africa. This schism resulted in the formation of independent and Pentecostal churches in many African countries. The charismatic churches, however, came later.
One may ask which churches in Ghana can be referred to as protestant churches?
One characteristic of all protestant denominations is the rejection of the notion of papal supremacy over the church and generally deny the Roman Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation. If this is so, then we can generally conclude that protestant churches in Ghana are mainly the churches or Christian denominational groups outside the Catholic church. This will therefore comprise of the charismatic, Pentecostal, African Independent churches and even the prayer centers. However, it should be noted that all these Christian denominational groups also emerged from the earlier protestant churches such as Anglican, Presby, Adventist, Methodist, Assemblies of God and the Baptist church. These churches were the groups that directly broke away from the Catholic church during the Reformation period in the sixteenth century.
Having been able to identify protestant churches in Ghana, the next question for us to tackle will be what should these protestant churches reform?
First of all, to be able to understand what these churches should reform, it is important we look at a brief history about the existence of these protestant churches to be able to understand and appreciate their practices.
BACKGROUND TO THE PROTESTANT MOVEMENT
Initially, the Catholic church was the sole Christian denomination in the World. However, some people such as John Wycliffe (1330-1384), Martin Luther (1483-1546), and John Calvin (1509-1564), began to question some teachings of the Catholic church and challenged the authority of the Pope as the head of the Church. The term ‘Protestants’ was not initially applied to these reformers, but later was used to describe all groups protesting Roman Catholic orthodoxy. Several reasons have been given for their protest against the Catholic church. Some of these reasons were, simony, nepotism, the wealth of the church, extortion of money from the members, the selling of indulgences, the influence of the ideas of the Renaissance, the printing press etc. These early reformers tried to reform the Catholic church by protesting these teachings and practices of the Catholic Church. But the teachings of these early reformers were considered as heretical, hence most of them were excommunicated and burnt at stake by the Catholic church. However, after the death of these early reformers, their teachings lived on and led to the establishment of many protestant churches across Europe, which later spread to the African continent.
It can be deduced that the primary objective of these protestant churches was to reform the Catholic church and to eradicate all forms of unaccepted teachings and practices within the Church. It is, however, surprising that some protestant churches in Ghana today still practice some of these corrupt teachings and practices of the Catholic church during the Middle Ages.
WHY PROTESTANT CHURCHES IN GHANA NEED AN URGENT REFORMATION
First of all, one reason why the Protestant Churches in Ghana need an urgent Reformation is that the practices of extortion in the form of money, which existed in the Catholic Church during the Middle Ages still persist among various Protestant Churches in Ghana today. During the Middle ages, the clergy extorted money from the members and minors of the church. The money was mainly used by the Pope and the clergy for their selfish interest. Again, the monies collected from the sale of indulgence was mostly used to build huge and expensive monasteries. Thus, the plight of the members in the church was not the primary concern of the Roman priests. There was also excessive demand for money for tithes and burial services. (Hurstfield, 1965). This situation is not different from what is happening among many Protestant Churches in Ghana today. For example, a Protestant Church in Ghana can give as many as three different types of offerings at a service and notwithstanding the collection of tithes, fellowship dues, ‘Kofi and Ama ’ and many more. More so, many protestant churches have adopted the habit of selling the so called ‘Holy Water’, anointing oil etc. to members in the church at a higher cost. The situation even becomes worse when the ‘Holy Water’ is not sold at the same price; Some may cost more than the other. All these practices by protestant churches in Ghana are in a form of extortion in one way or the other. There is no wrong in demanding tithes and offerings from members in the church. But what is the intention behind asking members to pay three different types of offering? I am pretty sure that the offering of the poor widow recorded in Luke 21:1-4 and Mark 12:41-44 was offered once. Because if the temple had demanded more than one type of offering, do you think that the poor widow could have gotten extra mite as her offering? Meanwhile Jesus Christ commended her effort, “Truly I say to you that this poor widow has put in more than all…, but she out of her poverty has put in all the livelihood that she had”. This indicates that it is not the number of times you pay offering at church that it will be accepted by God. If the church continues with this habit, it prevents the not to do well persons in the society to attend church. Obviously, if the poor widow knew that three different types of offering will be collected at the temple, she may have stayed home. The protestant Churches in Ghana need to reform themselves to refrain from such bad habits of taking money from the poor and using it for their selfish interest.
Secondly, the Protestant Churches in Ghana need a Reformation because corruption has been the order of the day for them. Prior to the Protestant Reformation which we have discussed above, there was the practices of selling indulgence. The granting of indulgences proved to be a popular way of raising money for the church particularly because, unlike tithes, it was voluntary (Encyclopedia Britannica Online). Most of the clergy also paid for their positions. Many Protestant Churches in Ghana today demand huge sums of money from members before they have a consultation with the Bishop or the senior pastor. These Protestant Churches today have made it seem as if it is only the Bishop who can help to solve the problems of their members as it was in the case of the Pope during the Middle Ages. Normally, members in the church discuss issues such as bareness, sickness, diseases, infirmity, unemployment, family matters relating to marriage, the abundance of poverty in the family, witchcrafts etc. with their pastors. Many Protestant churches in Ghana today have also proved that they are capable of solving such intricate problems of members. Therefore, members are required to pay huge sum of money before they are able to have their problems addressed by their pastors. Therefore, in as much as one cannot fulfill the demands made by the Church by paying consultation fees, the individual’s problem will still persist until the consultation fee is paid. There is no doubt that one of Jesus Christ’s commission was to heal the sick and even after his resurrection and ascension to heaven, the apostles of the early church also began to heal the sick. The problem, therefore, is that did Jesus Christ or any of his apostles demand for money or any kind before performing the healing miracles to the needy? Among the thirty-one individual Healings of Jesus Christ in the Bible, He never demanded anything from the victims, not from the leper in Galilee (Mark 1:40-45), the widow of Nain (Luke:11-16), the two blind men from Capernaum (Matthew 9:27-31), the Woman with the issue of blood at Capernaum (Luke 8:43-48), nor the man born blind at Jerusalem (John 9:1-12). Peter, an apostle of Christ, told the lame man at the beautiful gate that Silver and Gold I do not have but what I do have I give you, in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk (Acts 3:6). So let’s ask ourselves, what do these pastors have for us? Comparing the nature of ministry in the early days to presently, it is clear that the leaders in the early church were generally concerned about the plight of their followers but certainly the same cannot be said about many pastors in protestant churches in Ghana today. Protestant churches in Ghana have now changed the phase of ministry to a more economic oriented. And I can state emphatically that many protestant churches in Ghana have opened more radio and television stations in order to advertise their economic ministry but not, necessarily, the salvation of mankind. To attest to this fact, I personally watched a pastor on one of the MultiTv channels advertising his spiritual soaps, anointing oil, spiritual spray and other spiritual medications to his church members and the audience. These items are generally believed by members of the church to solve certain spiritual problems. Surprisingly, one of these anointing oil cost GH₵500.00 and others not less than GH₵50.00. How many women in such churches can get such amount of money? How much did Jesus Christ collect for the miracles he performed? Also, during fundraising in many protestant churches in Ghana, certain amount of money attracts the blessing of only the Bishops while other low amount attracts the blessing of the junior pastors. Therefore, Protestant Churches in Ghana need an urgent Reformation to eradicate all these corrupt attitudes and to redefine the nature of church ministry. If health-care cannot be accessible to all, certainly God’s salvation is free for all.
Lastly, Protestant Churches in Ghana need urgent Reformation because these churches have buried their heads in material things instead of focusing on spiritual perfection. During the Middle Ages, the Catholic church was more concerned about acquiring wealth. The priests lived like kings and were more interested in acquiring wealth for themselves. Hence, individual’s spiritual life was not their concern. This habit and practice is very common among many pastors in Protestant churches in Ghana. Most of the Bishops in the Protestant Churches only preach about prosperity, marriage, prophecies and others while relegating or in some cases share just a little message on salvation, relation with other neighbours and individual holiness. These worldly sermons have been widely accepted by the members so much so that even if a pastor attempts to hammer on individual holiness in the church, members begin to excommunicate themselves from the church. Women are more interested in the hearing of marriage and prophetic sermons while the men stick to the prosperity sermons. This, however, makes it difficult for pastors who want to preach the Gospel as it is while other unscrupulous pastors also capitalise on the demands of the members relegating the meaning of the true nature of the Gospel. I think we can’t overlook the two most important terms in economics, Demand and Supply, at work here. Jesus Christ never preached about marriage, wealth and others. Jesus Christ’s vision was towards the eternal salvation of man. All His teachings were based on love for one another and individual’s struggle for a perfect life devoid of any impure attitudes. Protestant churches in Ghana are gradually moving away from the doctrines of Jesus Christ as it was during the Middle Ages. Reformation is necessary to restore the Protestant Churches in Ghana to the fundamental doctrines of Christianity.
To sum up, from the above arguments there is no doubt that Protestant Churches in Ghana need to undergo an urgent Reformation to eradicate all issues of corruption, extortion, and the materialistic doctrines which has been developed by these Protestant Churches. These practices were the same reasons that prompted Martin Luther and other reformists to call for a Reformation in the Catholic Church. Even the Catholic Church responded with a Counter- Reformation which removed all the corrupt practices of the clergy and the Popes. If Protestant churches in Ghana will take a second look at some of their practices and doctrines, Christianity will become more attractive and interesting to be part of. However, if these practices continue in our protestant churches then there is no doubt in saying that Protestant Churches in Ghana are still living in the Middle Ages.
Hurstfield J. (Ed.) (1965). The Reformation crises. 41-maddox street, London: E. Arnold publishers.
Appold K.G (1965). The Reformation; A Brief History. Singapore, Ho printing Ltd.
Roman Catholicism. (2012). Encyclopedia Britannica. Encyclopedia Britannica Ultimate Reference Suit. Chicago: Encyclopedia Britannica.