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Why Is the Charismatic Movement Thriving in Africa?

Wednesday, July 24, 2013 | Comments (18)

Conrad Mbewe

Conrad Mbewe is the pastor of Kabwata Baptist Church in Zambia, Africa. He is one of the keynote speakers at the Strange Fire conference in October. 

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.


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#1  Posted by Gary Lee Fennimore  |  Wednesday, July 24, 2013at 7:16 PM

How tragic that the Church people of Africa have been duped into apostasy. GOD's word warns us that false pastors, teachers and believers will proliferate in the last days. Africans and their sought after blessings are in essence no different than the same USA crowd that does not discern in the midst of suffering that you are being blessed by GOD. The scriptures do not promise our "defined blessings", but GOD's definition of blessings; namely suffering and afflictions for HIS Glory. Lack of biblical discernment is "spiritual illiteracy" and it is rampant all over the world and yet people still try to claim that more education is the key. The key is more Scriptural Literacy along with growth in the Grace and the Knowledge of our LORD and Savior JESUS CHRIST. No counterfeits!

#2  Posted by Russell Aubrey  |  Wednesday, July 24, 2013at 8:19 PM

I'm sorry to hear this, and would like to know how the true church can go about fixing it - if it can be fixed. I regret that I won't be able to attend the "Strange Fire" conference, and hope to see some of the results and reactions here. Good luck, Africa.

#4  Posted by Andres Webber  |  Wednesday, July 24, 2013at 11:55 PM

You described with great detail what it´s happening in Latin America. Sadly a very similar situation.

#5  Posted by Robin Lane  |  Thursday, July 25, 2013at 3:21 AM

This is a very helpful explanation, thank you Conrad. We can hear the influence of this in some of the prayers spoken in some churches in the UK.

#6  Posted by Tom Mcmichael  |  Thursday, July 25, 2013at 7:36 AM

Wonderful words!

I fear this is similar to what is going on in the USA. Thank you for the insight.

#7  Posted by Kaleb Martens  |  Thursday, July 25, 2013at 10:33 AM

"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."

Preach it, Brother! Amen!

#8  Posted by Matthew Hach  |  Thursday, July 25, 2013at 11:50 AM

This has been happening in Africa? During my youth (about 15 or so years ago) I had thought this was the Christianity to seek! A "prayer warrior," "intercessor," were titles to obtain; we would hold prayer meetings until we felt a "breakthrough." I'm from middle America, and this brand of Christianity has been prevailing for decades.

#9  Posted by Joane M.  |  Thursday, July 25, 2013at 2:21 PM

I'm not African but I was attending an African Pentecostal church that originates out of Africa and now has several branches in every state in the United States and around the world. I attended there for approximately 8 years. Everything described here is truly what goes on, including several overnight prayer services per month where you supposedly confront those enemies who are fighting you in the spirit and preventing your breakthrough in finances, marriage and health. Attending such a church is absolutely exhausting because one is constantly "fighting in the spirit" through "violent" prayer, among other things. They rely heavily on Matthew 11:12 as justification that Christians must "fight" to take God's blessings which are being held hostage by the devil and his demons who war against us because they do not want Christians blessed. My experience was that the word of God wasn't preached at all. The people in these churches have no clue about the true nature and character of God. Moreover, when the word is preached, it's completely taken out of context. I began to study the Word on my own, although I remained a regular member of that church. Thankfully, the Lord led me to www.gty.org where I began to listen to Pastor MacArthur's sermons. I've been listening and studying for 3 years now. Only four (4) days ago did I decide to leave that church and fellowship elsewhere. I left amicably by approaching the pastor and letting him know that I was moving on. Since that day, I have struggled with whether I was just being overly critical and too judgmental. I am so thankful to the Lord for this piece written by Pastor Mbewe, which is so timely for me. It's confirmation that I'm not just being overly critical and validates everything I began identifying as unbiblical and problematic in that church. We need to pray for people in these churches. Many of them truly love the Lord, but don't know any better.

Thanks and may the Lord continue to bless the Grace to You ministry and Pastor MacArthur!

#10  Posted by Joshua Bolaji  |  Thursday, July 25, 2013at 11:59 PM

I am very thankful for Pastor Mbewe for crystallising what I have struggled to encapsulate for a long time.

I am an Anglo/Nigerian pastoring a church here in South Africa (Welkom Baptist Church). One of the reasons my family and I returned to the continent was because of the dire proliferation of this brand of religion, sadly categorised as, "Christianity". Back in the UK, you are forever hearing of "revivals" in Africa and it is a perception I have argued against for a long time - a losing battle.

When you raise the issue addressed in this blog with other believers, one is labelled arrogant for standing in judgement of another brother. When we first served in SA as missionaries (2004-2008), we struggled to raise any support because our focus was not humanitarian enough (i.e. feed the hungry children, HIV/AIDS etc...), although these were part of our church outreach work; our focus was church planting gospel-centred churches and training people in the word.

Since our return (June 2011) to SA, we have continued with this approach...focusing on equipping, church planting, reaching out to churches that want to change; and in the process being labelled "judgemental".

This kind of "Christianity" and the proliferation of the Word of Faith (WoF) doctrines is wreaking havoc on this continent. We keep shouting to our friends back in the UK not to turn their backs on Africa just yet, thinking there's one revival after another happening here - not the case at all. We need help with setting up good, affordable, robust Seminaries/Bible colleges. On that point, I'd like to say, well done to the Masters Seminary for their work through Christ Seminary here in SA - we need more of these.

We thank God for people like Pastor Mbewe, Pastor Kalifungwa and others that are leading the charge here. There are good and bold initiatives like the African Pastors Conference, and others.

We have set up the Welkom Gospel Coalition (a partnership of 18 churches in our local area). Here we host workshops such as: "What is the Gospel?"; "The Authority of Scripture"; "Introduction to Hermeunetics" and others. There are good things happening here, but we are swimming against a tide, but God is almighty.

If you want to know how bad things are; just visit Lagos (Nigeria) where there's nearly a church on every street corner, but you will struggle to find one where the Scriptures are expounded.

Please, keep praying with us. For those who would be critical of my assessment of the church on this continent, I offer the following: I speak from personal experience from visiting various countries in Africa, and I grew up in one of these churches. John Stott's book: "The Cross of Christ" was an eye opener for me at the age of 17. This started me on a road of discovery that I have not turned from since. I only desire that many more would come to the knowledge of the truth.

Peace and love.

#11  Posted by Mae Ella Jones  |  Friday, July 26, 2013at 7:37 AM

Thank you Pastor for explaining what is going on.

I have seen this movement in my own community.

Let us pray for the churches here and around the world that are truly preaching God's truth. Also, for those who are in bondage to this false religion.

#12  Posted by Babajide Ajayi  |  Saturday, July 27, 2013at 3:43 AM

This is so well said it could not have been presented better. If you live in Africa especially countries where you have some economic improvement in the urban areas, you see a lot of Churches basically pouring this out everywhere you go like you said under every hut and tree. It is hugely unfortunate because people are not desirous of the word of God or the true gospel. There is an expectation that as a church you must function along these lines otherwise something is wrong with you. I bless the Lord for you for how you have been put some flesh on the malaise. This is the reason it is so hard to find a church because there is just no way your spirit can agree with this teaching and approach.

The word will endure in the midst of falsehood. I believe there is hope and this blog is an encouragement because I was beginning to wonder if the strength of this movement will wane in any way. By the grace of God it can and it will.

Blessed by the name of the Lord

#13  Posted by David Barnes  |  Saturday, July 27, 2013at 6:09 AM

I think we can easily get off track when we fail to remember who the initiated the salvation plan. It was Father God who sent His beautiful Son to the world as a guilt offering to redeem man. This was Gods' perfect idea/plan, and this tells me alot about our Father,who in the midst of our rejection and rebellion to Him, still sent His Son. He deserves all the glory that He shares this with his children. Let us go back to our Father and worship him for His unbelievable gift. I think Jesus is directing us to this in Jn. 17 when He asks His Father many times to remind/LET THE WORLD KNOW, that the Father sent the Son.

#14  Posted by Kelly Whalen  |  Saturday, July 27, 2013at 7:34 AM

Pastor Mbewe thank you, for the very first time since leaving the charismatic movement someone has put into word EXACTLY how this movement works. I was very deeply in this movement and left it quite confused and there are still some gray areas I still have no answer for. But I better understand their draw for me by the way you show the relationship of the witch doctor to the people who come to him. I'm finding the more the charismatic movement is exposed the more I understand and the more I heal in the gray areas.

Thank you so much for your faith and courage.

Kelly Whalen

#15  Posted by Caroline Wise  |  Sunday, July 28, 2013at 5:05 PM

A women apostle of the New Apostolic Reformation reports extraordinary numbers of decisions for Christ and hundreds of profound signs and wonders in Africa experienced by her ministry. The NAR movement validates one's apostleship or ministry by signs and wonders alone not by sound biblical teaching. This woman apostle is greatly loved and considered by some as the "Mother Teresa of Pentecostalism" Providing homes for 10000 orphans is pretty impressive after all.

The erratic and extreme emotionalism and the statement made by this apostle that "it doesn't have to be in the book (meaning bible) to be of the Holy Spirit" was troubling to me when I visited one of the NAR churches at a friends request. Her fellow apostle sharing the platform repeatedly stated "the Holy Spirit trumps the bible" By that he meant any experience they claimed was authored by the Holy Spirit no matter how bizarre was more relevant than the Scriptures. At that moment I saw the red flag "cult in the making"

What I couldn't explain was the authorship of the miracle. Lets say someone is healed miraculously after prayer. Who did the miracle? I was afraid that if something was of divine origin I would be guilty of accusing the Spirit of devilish activity. For a long time I let my question of "who did the miracle" many of which are proven clearly to be supernatural, sit on the shelf unanswered.

This article helped me answer that question and understand the danger of relying on signs and wonders instead of the infallible scriptures in which a believer has all they need for life, godliness and salvation In other words, everything.

I understand now why this "apostle" can report such extraordinary numbers of gospel responses because it is not the gospel being taught but some hybrid in which she merely replaces the witch doctor. All of this reminds me of the passage in Matthew 7:27 "but Lord I did many signs and wonders in your name" and He responds by saying depart from me I don't know you"

God gave us a way to know Him through His word, those who toss the word in favor of an experience will not really know Him. The Charismatic movement mistakes "fruit" for signs and wonders. When Jesus said "by their fruit you will know them he wasn't referring to signs and wonders as fruit or he would not have disqualified those who had signs and wonders but were cast out of His presence.

#16  Posted by Moroti Olowonyo  |  Monday, July 29, 2013at 4:36 PM

Comment deleted by user.
#17  Posted by Larry Miles  |  Thursday, August 01, 2013at 9:35 AM

God bless Conrad Mbewe

#21  Posted by David Smith  |  Monday, August 12, 2013at 8:13 AM

What Conrad convincingly argues is very similar to what I've seen written about Korean Pentecostalism. Korean culture is steeped in shamanism, and Christianity did not make much progress there until pentecostalism arrived. Pentecostal churches then grew rapidly as their worldview was one that people could relate to. Sadly, this worldview was not Biblical, but reflected the pagan beliefs that were present in the society.

#23  Posted by Daniel Wilson  |  Tuesday, August 20, 2013at 12:19 PM

Wonder why so many poor in Africa.... They are deceive by those false preachers then gave their money to them thinking money given can heal them and the community... sad.. :(