During our discussion time it became apparent that I was correct. Although while I was teaching I did not mention the Charismatic “deliverance” movement, almost all the questions were related to this phenomenon. It is a common vice.
The loss of the gospel
My chief concern about this movement is the loss of the gospel. In my personal evangelism I often come across individuals who are members of these churches and all their talk is about perceived miracles and deliverance but never about repentance and personal faith in Jesus Christ. There is something definitely wrong with that.
The regular content of preaching on TV confirms this. I never hear a straightforward sermon on the death of Christ as God’s atoning sacrifice for our sins. I never hear preachers calling hearers to repentance and faith in Christ. Rather, whatever passage the preacher is dealing with, he soon makes a beeline to felt needs (barrenness, lack of or infidelity in a spouse, a “curse” in your wider family, lack of employment, etc) and then appeals for any individuals going through this to “believe” as he—the preacher—is about to pray for them.
The consequences of the loss of the gospel have been disastrous. Churches are filled with happy-clappy people whose lives are whitewashed tombs full of dead men’s bones. This must be obvious. The gospel alone changes people’s hearts. Once you lose it, you will have the crowds but without sanctified hearts. Their religion becomes a thin veneer that covers unbridled sinful passions. In the end, those who know the truth about the scandals and the skeletons in the wardrobes of church-going people blaspheme the Lord’s name. It is terrible!
The loss of worship services
In most cases, the deliverance supposedly takes place as the preacher is praying. This is not just a TV phenomenon. It is now the highpoint during church services. After all the singing and dancing, there is a sermon. It amounts to something like, “So-and-so came to Jesus or Paul for deliverance, this is your day to also be delivered. Just believe.” Then the invitation is made for those with any needs to come to the front for the deliverance.
There is no doubt that this draws the crowds. However, it is not because there are any miracles taking place. Far from it! It is because of the phenomenon of people falling down and writhing on the ground. It is precisely the same kind of phenomenon that draws crowds to the local witchdoctor. There is only one difference. We are supposed to believe that it is the devil who does these things at the witchdoctor’s den but it is God who is doing it at the “deliverance” church.
My quarrel is with turning a worship service into a deliverance session. Every Sunday ends with people coming to the front to get their “deliverance”. Is this what was happening in the days of Jesus or that of the apostles? Even a casual reading of the book of Acts does not give me that impression. It is clear that worship services were for singing and prayers going up to God, and the Word of God being preached for the salvation and sanctification of the people. After which they went home to think about and apply what they had heard.
The loss of the priesthood of all believers
When I question all this, I sometimes get accused of not believing in a God who can do the miraculous today. That is not the point. My quarrel is with the “man of God” phenomenon that is utterly unbiblical. It steals away from the priesthood of all believers and reduces it to the priesthood of “the man of God” who seems to have powers that ordinary Christians do not have. Hence, his prayers (and those of his wife) are anointed while the prayers of ordinary John and Mary are not.
In the Bible, the phrase “man of God” was applied to prophets (as vehicles of God’s self-revelation) and not to priests (as miracle workers). Granted, some of these men of God (like Moses) were also miracle workers but that was not the essence of this phrase. Hence, you find men like David being referred to as men of God (see 2 Chronicles 8:14) but they never performed a single miracle. Thus Paul was also able to apply it to Timothy in the New Testament (see 1 Timothy 6:11) and as far as we know no single miracle was performed by Timothy.
This answers the question that I was asked at the pastors’ retreat: “What if, while I am preaching, some demons manifest in an individual?” My answer is simple. Ask a few mature Christians in the church service to carry that person out to another room so that they can pray for him and continue with your sermon.
Why keep everyone waiting for the next hour or two while pandemonium breaks out in front of the pulpit? There are no special powers in the prayer of the preacher, which ordinary Christians do not have in their prayers. It is the prayers of a righteous man that avail much and not the prayers of some anointed “man of God”. In fact, from the scandals filling up our history books, we are learning again and again that the so-called “men of God” are often not even righteous.
We need to arrest this trend
I am very concerned about the “false prophets and teachers” of our day, who have come into evangelicalism through the back door. As I said earlier, this is a Trojan horse. The loss of the gospel, the loss of worship services, and the loss of the priesthood of all believers is a matter of grave concern. If we do not arrest this trend there will soon be serious animism and syncretism in the church, until there will be no difference between what takes place in the witchdoctor’s den in the village and what is taking place in church. God forbid that it should be so!