A peep into life in Africa, through the eyes of an African Reformed Baptist pastor.

Water, water, water, everywhere. What else do you expect? I am a Baptist, and I live in the land of the mighty Victoria Falls!

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Why is the Charismatic Movement Thriving in Africa?

Many explanations have been given for the explosion of the Charismatic movement in Africa. Many have seen this as a powerful visitation of the Holy Spirit. Whereas there is probably more than one reason, I want to add my own observation to this for what it is worth. In this blog post, I do not refer to the old conservative form of Pentecostalism once represented by the Assemblies of God churches. I have in mind the current extreme form that is mushrooming literally under every shrub and tree in Africa. How can one explain this phenomenon?

I think that one reason why the Charismatic movement in Africa has been like a wild bushfire is because it has not challenged the African religious worldview but has instead adopted it. It has simply baptised it with Bible verses and Christian words that previously meant something totally different.

The African Spiritual Worldview
Let me explain what I mean. The African spiritual worldview consists of four tiers.

1. God
2. Angels and demons
3. Ancestral spirits
4. Human beings

It is because of this reality that Africans do not question the existence of God, as is the case with many people in the Western world. To an African, God is there. He is the Creator and ultimate Governor and Benefactor of the whole universe.

Rather, in our spiritual worldview, although God is there he is very far away. Between him and us as human beings lie two layers in the spirit world. One is that of angels and demons (i.e. bad angels) and the other—which is even closer to us—is that of the spirits of the departed.

So, although God is a benevolent, loving, and caring Being, unless the beings that dwell in these two layers that lie between him and us are appeased, his blessings cannot reach us. It is, therefore, important to appease the ancestral spirits and defeat the demons. Only after that will God’s blessings come upon us.

This is where in African traditional religions witchdoctors come in. They are the people with the mysterious power to break through these two layers. They tell us what we must do in order to appease the spirits of our forefathers. They also engage the demons for us through their midnight trances, dances, and incense.

So, a person who is beset with perennial illnesses, failing to get a job, failing to find a spouse or to have children, whose business is failing to thrive, etc., simply goes to the witchdoctor who alone has the key to look into the spirit world. He is told that it is either a deceased person or an evil spirit who is frustrating him.

Sometimes the enemy is a person who is alive. However, the reason why this living individual seems to have a mysterious hold over your life is because he has plugged into those two layers (of either dead ancestors or evil spirits) and you have not. With the help of a powerful witchdoctor you can outsmart him in those two layers, and the blessings of God can once again begin to flow into your life.

Whichever way, the power of the witchdoctor is not in explaining truth but in mindless frenzy. His grip upon the popular mind is his eerie mysteriousness and his capacity to knock you out of your senses and then pronounce you delivered. Of course, this is never done by benevolence. You pay for his services.

The Charismatic Movement’s Rendition
I do not mean to be unkind, but what the modern Charismatic movement in Africa has done is to simply take this entire erroneous superstructure of African religious worldview and baptise it with wrongly applied Bible verses and Christian language. The only difference is that the layer of dead ancestors and evil spirits is now one hotchpotch of confusion. This is why the nonsense of demons becoming spirit husbands and wives, and wrecking havoc in marriages, is taken for granted! This is also why the heresy of generation curses has become so popular. In our minds, bad luck can be passed on from that layer of dead ancestors.

In the African Charismatic circles, the “man of God” has replaced the witchdoctor. He is the one who oozes with mysterious power that enables him to break through those two impregnable layers, which us lesser mortals cannot penetrate. So, when blessings are not flowing our way despite our prayers, we make a beeline to his quarters or his church for help. This explains the throngs in these circles. The crowds are not looking for someone to explain to them the way to find pardon with God. No! They want the “man of God” to pray for them.

This also explains the stranglehold that “men of God” have on the minds of their devotees in these circles. In the Evangelicalism of a former generation “men of God” were primarily preachers of the word of God, but in the new setup they are primarily priests who enter the inner sanctuaries to bring down blessings to us.

This also explains why the answer to almost any problem that you take to these “men of God” is “deliverance” and “breakthrough”. God wants to bless you, but you need to break through these impregnable layers before those blessings can reach you. The prayers of the “man of God” will bring deliverance because at the overnight prayer meeting or on the hill he will bring about a breakthrough. Who can doubt that these two phrases have become the key words of this movement?

This also explains why prayer in the modern Charismatic movement in Africa is literally a fight. In fact, the people praying are called "prayer warriors". Although they begin by addressing God, within the first few seconds they divert from God and begin to fight the spirits in these impregnable layers with their bare knuckles. The language is almost always, "We bind every unclean spirit in Jesus' name! We loose the Spirit that breaks the yoke in Jesus' name!" 

The "prayer warriors" scream at the top of their voices and chant the name of Jesus. They sweat as they put up a gallant fight with these spirits, straining every muscle of their beings until they prevail (so they think). That is when they reach through to God and his blessings begin to flow. This is nothing more than the African traditional religious worldview sprinkled with a thin layer of Christianity.

Notice also how teaching is not the strength of the modern Charismatic movement in Africa. Its chief proponents survive on a few, well-worn, tortured verses: “By his stripes we are healed,” “We are not the tail but the head,” etc. There is absolutely no effort to properly exegete Scripture. Rather, by chanting phrases and making people drop under some trance, in witchdoctor fashion, they are holding sway over the popular mind. The people love it and are paying for it! The “men of God” are becoming stinking rich as the crowds just keep on coming.

This is not Christianity
What worries me is that this is so obvious that I am wondering why we are not seeing this. Or if we are, why we are not warning Christians against this. For the love of crowds, we have allowed African traditional religion to enter the church through the back door. Like the Arabian camel, it has since kicked out the truth. This is why I am not excited by the multiplication of churches—or ministries—under this banner.

We need to sound the warning that this is not Christianity. I know that this approach is filling our church buildings and classrooms to overflowing, until we have to multiply church services in order to accommodate the crowds. But this is not Christianity. It does not lead to heaven. It is a thin coating over the religion that has been on African soil for time immemorial, which Christianity was meant to replace. We have lost the Christian faith while we are holding the Bible in our hands and using some of its words. This is really sad.

The religion of the Bible does not teach a God who is so far away from us that unless some powerful humans come in and give us a breakthrough he cannot bless us. No! The Bible teaches a God who is near us. The only barrier between God and us is our sin, and Jesus has dealt with that by his death on the cross.

When we pray, we are in the throne room of divine grace talking directly to God. We do not need to address demons and ancestral spirits before we break through to him. We do not need to chant and jump around like witchdoctors around their fire under the midnight moonlight. God is our heavenly Father. Only our sin can hinder our prayers.

Listen! Angels and demons exist, but they are not an impregnable spiritual strata that needs someone reeking with anointing to breakthrough their layer before we can access God’s blessing. They are simply beings that either carry out God’s commands or the devil’s commands. They are not between God and us!

Finally, we do not need “men of God” to lay hands on us every Sunday (or at Friday overnight prayer meetings, or on hills in the outskirts of our cities) in order for us to know God’s blessings. There is only one Mediator between God and us—it is the man, Christ Jesus. All others are imposters and must be rejected with the contempt they deserve. 

[Included afterwards: Many individuals and organisations that run websites and blogs have asked me for permission to repost this article. Permission is granted, as long as due acknowledgement is made of the author and original blog post. Thank you for your interest in getting the word out!]

Monday, July 15, 2013

Surrendering ‘Hands Down’ to Christ’s Lordship

[This is the fourth in a series of blog posts that I have entitled “Tales from the Mission Field.” It was submitted by Pastor Curtis Chirwa, who was sent to plant a church in the northern part of Lusaka, the capital city of Zambia. He has now been there for five years and a lively church has since been planted from scratch. In this blog post he tells us of the joy of being a fisher of men and shares with us the testimony of one lady who got converted after one of his evangelistic visitations in the area. May we hear more and more of such testimonies in years to come!]

Pastor Curtis Chirwa with his family
Church planting ministry is very exciting. You would want to go on without resting, winning souls for the Lord. Before long, you have many exciting and encouraging testimonies, such as seeing hard-hearted lost souls turning to Christ for salvation through the power of the gospel. As an indigenous missionary family, sent by Kabwata Baptist Church to plant Faith Baptist Church, in Kabanana Site and Service, we have witnessed many life-changing testimonies.

One such testimony is the conversion of Mini Onalenna, who surrendered ‘hands-down’ to the Lordship of Christ in 2011. Mini grew up in a syncretistic African church in Botswana. She now admits that she was very far from evangelical Christianity. Evangelical Christianity made no sense to her, until she relocated to Zambia in 2011 and met me during one of my evangelistic door-to-door visitations.

Mini Onalenna
Here is the testimony she handed in to the church when she asked for baptism:

“It was Saturday morning in May 2011, when Pastor Chirwa passed by my house and inquired if I was a Christian. As far as I was concerned, I was a Christian. When he read some Bible verses to me, it began to dawn on me that I most likely was not a Christian. I told him that I wanted to be a Christian.  He took his Bible and read some verses that clearly said if I admitted that I was a sinner and confessed my sins to God, if I was willing to repent and turn away from those sins, and if I accepted Jesus as personal Saviour, I would be saved. He assured me that this could be done anytime, anywhere.  I asked, ‘Even in the house?’ He said, ‘Yes, you can go in your room and ask God. It does not have to be at church.’

“After he left I started thinking about everything he said.  The thought continued up to the following day.  When I was alone I went in my bedroom and prayed to God for forgiveness.  I repented of my sins and accepted Christ as my Saviour. After that I felt different. On Sunday, I went to church. After the church service I told the pastor that I had repented of all of my sins and I was sure that I was now born again.

“After I was saved I started reading the Bible and having devotions every day. Now that I am a Christian, I am involved in church activities and I talk to people about God. I also pray for my family in Botswana because I want them to also be saved. I want to be with them in heaven.”

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

An African in the Diaspora making a difference back home

I have returned from a week's preaching trip to Malawi. This was at the invitation of Fletcher Matandika, the president of Joy to the World International Ministries. Although Fletcher asked me as far back as 2010, this was the earliest I could fit this trip into my schedule. I am glad I went. I preached at two events--The Chosen Generation Missions Conferences at the Kamuzu Academy in Kisungu, central Malawi, and at Nthemba Presbyterian Church in Blantyre, southern Malawi. During the long journey between these two conferences, we visited the Joy to the World International Ministries work in Dzuwa village where I was delighted to find a very impressive work (see photos). I also used the time to find out a little more about Fletcher's conversion, call to the ministry, and involvement in Joy to the World. I have reduced this into the form of an interview to make it easier for you to follow.

Fletcher preaching at the Chosen Generation Missions Conference in Blantyre
Conrad: Fletcher, how did you become a Christian?

Fletcher: I got converted when I was very young. I must have become a Christian when I was nine years old. I was brought up in a Christian home. My dad was and is still a pastor. I came across a tract in the home. It was the famous Four Spiritual Laws. I understood that I was a sinner who needed to be reconciled to God through Jesus Christ. It had a prayer at the end. I memorised it, closed my eyes, and prayed from my heart. As young as I was, I'm sure that was when the Lord saved me.

Conrad: How did you find yourself training for the ministry?

Fletcher: Due to my new found love for the Saviour, I began to preach immediately to my friends and went on doing this right through high school. Being a preacher's kid people were not too surprised about this and designated me as such. Upon completing high school I failed to go to university due to the high competition that was there then because we had very few places in university in Malawi in those days. I began a small business selling groceries. The business sank when a friend borrowed my money and failed to repay.

My dad, being a poor rural pastor, could not sponsor my tertiary studies. I felt stuck. It was a very low point in my life. I decided to leave home and go to Lilongwe. My mother was concerned and followed after me. She caught up with me in a town along the way to Lilongwe and took me to a pastor's house in that town to seek to dissuade me. This man pastored a large church and talked to me, but I was not convinced and so I still proceeded to Lilongwe. While in Lilongwe, I listened to the African Bible College (ABC) radio station. They were inviting people to apply to the Bible college. I applied and began to study there.

Speakers at the Chosen Generation Missions Conference at Kamuzu Academy
David Reiner, Julius Twongyeirwe, Conrad Mbewe and George Macaskill
Conrad: You are very passionate about missions. How did you develop this passion?

Fletcher: While studying at ABC, my desire for ministry slowly changed and missions became a burning desire. The call to do missions work grew as I interacted with the lecturers. I particularly remember a short-term missions trip we undertook as students to Mozambique in my first year. As I saw people converted through my preaching, my desire to reach out to people in this way really grew and I determined to find a way after college to go into missions.

Conrad: I hear you have been used by the Lord to start a ministry called The Ministry of Hope. How did that come about?

Fletcher: In my second year at ABC in 1999, I visited my father who was in a new village and there I came across many orphaned children. It was what I saw there that caused me to start The Ministry of Hope. I wanted to help these children. I remember seeing a baby die from malnutrition and my heart bled. I also remember a family that brought firewood to my dad's home to trade with food. This really broke my heart and I determined to do something about it. That was how I began The Ministry of Hope programme, which has since grown and now regularly feeds and supports over 4,000 children all over the country. Government officials were very interested in this and so we partnered with them in due season.

Two semi-detached teachers houses being built. The head teachers house
is almost complete. In the far right top corner of the photo can be seen the
roof of the administration block and the classrooms.
Conrad: How did you branch off from all this and get back to your original missions vision?

Fletcher: Well, with time my spiritual life began to suffer because of the busyness of this ministry. I felt that I needed to resign from this work and finally did so at the end of 2003. I wanted to get back into missions. There were a number of options such as Brazil and Turkey that were on my mind. I attended an Urbana Missions Conference in the USA and was greatly challenged to go to such places. However, the Lord had other plans and instead sent me for further studies. A couple in California offered to sponsor me to study at Westminster Seminary and so I commenced studies there in 2004.

Conrad: That was quite a detour. How did you finally get into the work that you are currently doing?

Fletcher: In my second year at Westminster Seminary, I was invited to stand in for a pastor in Canada. I, however, visited Malawi first and while home I changed my mind about going to stand in for this pastor in Canada. However, at a conference back in the USA, I met American missionaries serving in Canada who spoke of the need for missionaries there. I wished I had not turned down the previous opportunity. The following year, I asked that Canadian church if they were still interested in my service but they turned me down.

At the end of my studies in 2008 that same Canadian church sent out an appeal to the final year students at the seminary asking for someone to go and help them because they were a very small congregation desperately in need of a pastor. I wrote to them telling them everything I had gone through. They called me for ten days and I met with the elders there. They invited me to be with them for one year. They then asked me to be with them for a second year. After that they asked me to stay permanently as an ordained minister of the Associated Presbyterian Church. That was in 2010. I have been there ever since.

The administration block under construction with one classroom block
that has already been roofed
Conrad: How did you begin this wonderful ministry of Joy to the World?

Fletcher: I began Joy to the World International Ministries in 2006. I took a semester off from my studies because I was failing to concentrate on my studies. I was feeling as if my own people back home were feeling abandoned by my being away in the USA. I decided to go back to Malawi and work under my father as a pastoral intern in the village. Dad assigned me responsibilities to preach in different villages, one month per village. In Dzuwa village, my heart was strangely warmed. I held a crusade in the midst of this village that was gripped by witchcraft. I felt a connection with the people there in their spiritual darkness and misery. I would go up in the hills to pray, and my burden grew, until one day the vision of Joy to the World became a reality.

I went to see the village chief. I asked him for 50 acres of land where I could fulfill this project that was developing on my heart. He called the chiefs under him and in my presence he asked them to consider giving me some land for this project. Each one of them agreed. After that they excused me and remained to agree on how much land and where the land would be. When I was called back, I was taken and shown the 171 acres that they had agreed to give me. I was overwhelmed because I did not have a single coin to use to develop the massive land they had given me.

I returned to Westminster Seminary after God gave me two brethren, Elliot and Ulemu, who were willing to move to Dzuwa village to oversee the start of this project. Later, MacDonald joined them. While in the USA I would send them some basic support to keep them going month by month. We sank thirty-one boreholes across the village and thus provided clean water to the people. Deaths from waterborne diseases immediately reduced to the barest minimum. We helped to refurbish the primary school in the village, which at that time had two teachers and three hundred pupils. Now the school has ten teachers and two thousand pupils. By 2008, we started building a clinic in the village to meet the medical needs of the community.  We  have since hired a medical officer (Jordan) and a registered nurse to run the clinic. People travel long distances to to come and receive treatment in this clinic.  We are now building a classical secondary school, which we hope to open in September, the Lord willing.

The Clinic that has been built in the village and is run by Joy to the World
Conrad: I am here to preach at the sixth missions conference being sponsored by Joy to the World International Ministires. How did all this begin?

Fletcher: We started these conferences in 2008. I had spoken at a missions conference in the USA and wished a similar conference could also be held in Malawi. Hence, the goal was to mobilise young people from all over the country for missions work. I was not aware of any missions conferences in Malawi though there were individuals who were passionate about missions. What I wanted was not simply to inspire people to go out in missions but to give them doctrinal moorings. The missions conference was aimed at adding the doctrinal element to the call to missions.

One night, while thinking about it, 1 Peter 2:9 came to mind, hence the name "Chosen Generation Missions Conference". In fact, the first conference had "Chosen to Proclaim" as its theme. From my exposure at Westminster, I wanted consecutive expository preaching at this conference. Thus I began taking the conference through the Lord's Prayer. By the way, it was during the very first missions conference that I met my lovely wife, Angella. She was studying at university and had heard that there was going to be this missions conference. She came. We met. And the rest is history.

A group photo. Standing next to Fletcher in clerical garb is Fletcher's dad
and standing behind me is Michael, the board chairman of Joy to the World
Conrad: I must admit that I am very impressed by what I have seen here in Dzuwa village. As the work here grows and your pastoral ministry also grows, how are you hoping to combine your pastoral ministry in Canada and your burden for your own people back home?

Fletcher: My goal is to continue teaching and preaching to my congregation and at the same time continue to get involved in a global ministry. I look forward to the day when I will remain in Canada ministering at my church while my church members travel to Africa and elsewhere in the world to do what I am currently doing. I want this to be an outworking of their growing vision and passion for missions in response to the Lord's work in their lives. I am truly hoping that this will grow through my preaching ministry among them to the glory of God. If this is achieved, I trust that it will be a blessing to God's people among the nations through Jesus Christ.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Confronting the Cults in Kapiri Mposhi

[This is the third in a series of blog posts that I am doing entitled “Tales from the Mission Field”. They are giving us a peep into what is happening in the lives and ministries of the missionaries that have been sent out my Kabwata Baptist Church to plant churches in various parts of Zambia. This one is from Manasseh Kaonga, who is planting a church in Kapiri Mposhi, some 200 kilometres north of Lusaka.]

In the month of March 2013, I had three encounters over s very short period of time with victims and teachers of heretical doctrines here in Kapiri Mposhi.  The people that I encountered included members of the Lumpa Church (who follow the teachings of a woman called Alice Lenshina), Jehovah’s Witness (whose false teachings are familiar to us all), and the End-Time Message Church or Branhamites (who teach three phases of God instead of three persons of God). These encounters reminded me of the importance of sending out true preachers of the gospel and planting sound churches across our country.

Manasseh Kaonga making a point during our missionaries prayer retreat
An Encounter with the Lumpa Church Members

It was Wednesday, 6 March, 2013 when I was doing my routine evangelistic work, giving out literature, inviting people to our church services, and making appointments to share the gospel. I met three men to whom I introduced myself and the church I was coming from. I engaged them with the word of God concerning their future hopes of eternal salvation. Their response was that they too possessed those hopes.  However, upon further inquiry on how they obtained their hopes, I was taken aback by what they believed.  Their background was from the Lumpa Church, and they talked about a certain prophetess named Alice Lenshina, whom they claimed had possessed divine gifts of great wonders.  The men sincerely and strongly believed that Alice Lenshina died four times and rose from the dead each time. During those times they said that she saw God.  One of them described how their prophetess conducted cures of large epidemics in the villages in Chinsali of the Northern Province of Zambia in the 1950s and 1960s. They said that it was because the colonial government and the subsequent UNIP government were jealous of her fame that they pursued her. During these times she performed disappearing acts. These three men talked about faith in Christ and at the same time expressed categorical loyalty to their ancestral roots, to their church, and to its prophetess.

The discussion was cut short by a phone call.  I got all their contacts and, God willing, we will meet again. I believe these men were just expressing what their parents have passed on to them rather than what the Spirit of God had revealed to them.  I have no doubt that they were lost and still needed to know Christ as their Saviour.

Mr Salimu making a point in Manasseh's home in the encounter below
An Encounter with the End-Time Message Church

Another encounter I had was with the members of the End-Time Message Church.  It was on another day when I was at an Internet Café in town. I thought I would chance an opportunity to witness to one man who, later in the discussion, I discovered to be a Jehovah’s Witness.  I had just begun challenging this man to consider the new birth. He argued with me that only heavenly creatures get born again, whereas the rest of humanity need only be taught the word of God for them to attain salvation in the future earthly kingdom of God.  Another man in the background was quietly following our discussion. He was from the End-Time Message Church. He joined the discussion and supported my arguments. For some reason the arguments moved into discussing the personality of Christ. The Jehovah’s Witness, alleged that Jesus was a created being. To my surprise the man on my side, responded that in fact Jesus is the only God there is and that other terminologies like Father, Son, and Holy Spirit were simply titles.  Surprised, I quickly distanced myself from him.  Immediately tables changed, and the argument was now between this man from the End-Time Message Church and myself. As this argument raged on, the Jehovah’s Witness man quietly sneaked out of the café.  This claim that God was in three phases rather than three persons irritated someone else who was listening in to this discussion, a Mr Salimu. So, he took over the discussion, citing different Scriptures against this heretical position.  In the end, the debate was postponed to Friday 15 March, and it was to take place at my home.

On the meeting day, the End-Time Message Church member showed up at my house with three other members of his church, including their pastor. Mr Salimu also came and joined the meeting.  After introductions, the Branhamites pastor began asserting their position, talking about how God created the world not in six days but in six thousand years. Then he went further to talk about the three dispensations.  These were the Dispensation of Conscience (Adam to Abraham), of the Law (Abraham to Jesus) and of Grace (Jesus up to date).  Then he talked of how Jesus acted as the Father in the old Testament, quoting Isaiah 6:6-9, Jeremiah 23:5,6. He further explained how Jesus displayed his divine powers on the earth and that the baptisms carried out by the disciples in the name of Jesus were proof of Christ being the only God, instead of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

I disputed with them, greatly accusing them of making out Jesus to be a liar in all of his speeches where he talked of the Father being in heaven and his sending the Holy Spirit after his ascension. How can you receive yourself from yourself and then send yourself? Besides, Revelation chapter 4 and 5 gives a picture of Jesus the Lamb in heaven receiving the scroll from the Father who apparently sat on the throne.  How can you receive something from yourself? Mr Salimu and I rejected their teaching as false.  But the men went to the extent of putting our salvation in doubt by insinuating that we proclaimed three Gods.  The whole discussion lasted from 14:00 to 18:30 hours without any conclusion.

What good can come out of all this?

Since that discussion, Mr Salimu, who is a teacher by profession and only recently moved with his family to Kapiri Mposhi from Lusaka, is trying to persuade his wife to join our church. I have maintained contact with him.  Please pray for him and his wife to make a right decision. He has shown great interest in joining our church. He seems to be a mature Christian. His roots are in the Pentecostal Assemblies Of God church.

This is merely a representative sample of the kind of arguments I often have with people in this town, simply because the cults got here before we did. Nothing short of the grace of God opening blind eyes can enable these people to see the errors of their way. With your prayers, God can do this. So, pray for the people of Kapiri Mposhi who are victims and teachers of these destructive heresies that the Lord will open their eyes to see the light of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ so that they can be saved.