The first session of the final day at the Strange Fire conference brought Conrad Mbewe back to the pulpit. Phil Johnson introduced him by sharing how others have called him the Spurgeon of Africa. Today he brought message entitled, “Are We Preachers or Witch Doctors?”
Though an odd question, it is pertinent to him because there has been a clear shift in how “evangelicals” relate to pastoral ministry. Mbewe’s aim is to give a broad sweeping picture of the landscape of African “evangelicalism.” Throughout this message his caveat is to put “evangelicalism” in quote and end-quote, because it does not represent biblical and faithful Christianity. There will be those in Africa who do not fit within the picture Mbewe portrays, but what he shares today is the trend and it is a dismal trend.
2 Timothy is the last epistle Paul writes because he will soon end his labor and depart from the world. This is not the end of the Christian Church. This exhortation is Paul’s parting gift to Timothy, much like Christ’s high priestly prayer is a departing gift to the Church.
First, this exhortation in 2 Timothy 3.16-4.5 illuminates how Scripture is a sufficient tool to accomplish all the work the man of God is to do. He is adequately equipped by the Word of God. Second, this is a charge to Timothy, a hair raising charge, evoking God the Father and the Son to preach the Word. Third, once an audience is found, even if it has stuffed ears, Timothy is to do all he can to ensure that the Word is preached.
Mbewe then contrasts Paul’s exhortation in 2 Timothy with the present picture in Zambia. He shares two newspaper clippings from July concerning evangelical preachers. In the first, a clergyman impregnated 10 women before his wife came forward about the scandal. She came forward after witnessing the scourge on the children in this church and the presence of the witchcraft taking place. In the second clipping two clergy men took two women into the mountains and sexually assaulted them. They first visited their home and took prayer requests and then led them into the mountain.
Conrad asks, “How can this be happening so frequently among so called evangelical churches today?” His response: a seismic shift in how people view the pastor. What is read in 2 Timothy is not the popular view today. It is because of how the view of the “man of God” has evolved today. Pentecostalism’s visit to Africa did not primarily emphasize the preaching and teaching component of the “man of God.” Now the “man of God” is primarily seen as the deliverer. Preaching has lost emphasis. It has become motivational platitudes followed by shouting and chanting.
The same thing can be seen in America on popular TV channels, but with different colored skin and nicer buildings. There are biblical quotes tossed about followed by a demon possessed, crazy and maddened looking preacher.
Yet, the important part of any service is what happens next. The “man of God”, wrested out of the context of 2 Timothy, takes on the role equivalent to a witch doctor.
Timothy was told to preach the Word of God—what is described as teaching, correcting, training, and rebuking in righteousness. Yet, back home, people are waiting for the point when hands are laid upon them and they are delivered. They are waiting for the “man of God,” wreaking with power to do his work. This is after a prolonged evening prayer meeting going into the night followed by an all day service in the mountains, just like in the clippings. Remember, the picture of the mountains in the clippings. This is what takes place in the mountains!
Sadly there is not effort towards biblical counseling. A man without work is not asked about his work ethic. A marriage in jeopardy is not examined to see if the husband loves his wife like the church or the wife submits to her husband. In America Mbewe has heard the radio preachers do likewise. Rather than counsel on the radio they invite the caller with question about infertility to come to a prayer meeting and seek deliverance. This is the penicillin for all issues. No moral questions are asked. This is precisely what the witch doctor does.
First, he claims spiritual discernment after lengthy time in prayer. He has secret dealings with God. Then he tells you what your real problem is. He goes into a trance, moves pebbles around, and announces that your neighbor has spoken to the spirit of your dead uncle who is obstructing your pregnancy.
Second, the witch doctor seeks to obstruct conventional medicine, which function as a threat. If you betray his trust you are undoing what the “man of God” has done by going to the hospital for the white man’s medicine. Many have died of illnesses that could easily have been prevented had they come earlier for treatment. The markings on their bodies betray what has happened and the work of the witch doctor. With that pastor, “the man of God’s” mark is left on the family who can tell why the person delayed in visiting the hospitals.
Mbewe repeats the question: How can this be happening so frequently among so called evangelicals? The people keep their lips zipped because of ignorance and because of blind loyalty in frauds. “The man of God” is the equivalent of the witch doctor. “The man of God” has an eerie connection with God where lesser mortals do not. This is not the priesthood of believers. Exposing “the man of God” brings a curse on oneself. Therefore, the people pretend to know nothing.
Consequently, when “the man of God” does what borders on immoral, there is no premise to blow the whistle. Mbewe is shocked by the number of women who have this story and fail to come forward just like the woman in the newspaper clipping. He wishes this was just about cows or some traditional African religion. But this is the new face of African evangelicalism to the outside world. It is a far cry from 2 Timothy 3.16-4.5.
“The man of God” will be dressed in flashy dress like a worldly pop idol with a feigned American accent. Their sermons are not worth listening to twice. There is no exposition of Scripture and no display of the unsearchable riches of Christ. Repentance is conspicuously absent. There is no effort to conform the people of God to the image of Christ. Rather, it is about how you get so much to spoil yourself. One statement that represents “the man of God” is this. “I declare prosperity on your life in Jesus name.” This irreverent invocation repeated is just like the witch doctor with his incantations. In reality nothing really happens!
Mbewe was invited to a radio broadcast panel discussion in Zambia about miraculous healing. There was a Catholic trying to ride the fence. Then there were two charismatics invited. One could not come because he was sick. He lied. Conrad saw this man shopping in the mall with his wife directly afterward with a trolley of goods.
During the broadcast the other charismatic and Mbewe locked horns. He challenged listeners to call in if they had been healed. Like a New Testament Elijah he taunted the charismatics for an hour due to the lack of calls. Two calls came in. The first a man who attested to a girl with unequal legs being healed 8 years ago, a very stale testimony for a country that claims to have healing crusades from prophets, bishops and “the man of God” all the time. The second came from a woman who chastised Mbewe as a dead theologian. There were only two calls in a nation where miraculous gifts happen all the time. The charismatic pastor responded that the people are shy. Unfortunately a week later he suffered a stroke and died after being in a coma for a week. None of his friends came to his aid and raised him because they knew it was all a fraud and a lie.
Mbewe shared that Zambia has an organization called the council for the handicapped, which revealed that not one actual healing has ever occurred. The council instructed people to stop going to these deliverance meetings.
He closed by apologizing. He apologized for bringing this dismal report in the morning as everyone enjoyed his or her coffee and donut. He wishes this was happening in a fringe corner of the world. Rather, the modern day successful African evangelical pastor is but a witch doctor using clearer and more potent power to bring about deliverance and breakthrough for the people. In light of 2 Timothy, he is concerned about the silence in addressing this matter. His blog post, “Our Criminal Evangelical Silence” was written because it bothered him. 90% of African evangelical fellowships are members of these kinds of ministries.
Mbewe’s final appeal is first, if you go to Zambia or Africa, call the pastors back to what their work is as designated in 2 Timothy. What sets apart a congregation is not some powerful connection to God to connect and talk to spirits. It is the calling to preach the Word of God. Second, pray and keep praying for those who are fulfilling 2 Timothy 4.1-2. Pray that they will be faithful and increase in number. Pray that the word of God will bring light into the darkness. Third, provide truth especially through books that clarify this issue, sound a warning, and give a clarion call to faithful exposition of scripture. Last support the training and work of true preachers and church plants that represent New Testament Christianity.
- Tim Challies