Two years ago, the Revd Conrad Mbewe, pastor of Kabwata Baptist Church in Zambia, spoke at John MacArthur’s Strange Fire conference.

Pastor Mbewe spoke about the Charismatic movement in Africa for the conference. The Grace to You ministry team has published an article he wrote on the same subject.

A summary and excerpts follow, emphases mine. Please also read the comments. This movement is popular on other continents where shamanism is popular, e.g. some Asian countries (Korea) and South America.

Why the Charismatic movement is popular in Africa

Mbewe introduces his article by saying that the Pentecostalism practised in Africa is not the traditional, old fashioned one, but a syncretic one which merges with ancient animist beliefs.

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 …

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.

Christians practising a Westernised form of the faith rely on private prayer, Bible study and structured worship, with a focus on Jesus Christ as our only Mediator and Advocate. However, many churchgoers in Africa look for a ‘holy’ man living among them who can accomplish this mediation. Historically, this was the witchdoctor.

The witchdoctor was the key to relieving health problems, difficult relationships and ridding demons from people’s lives:

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.

Mbewe makes two important observations:

Whichever way, the power of the witchdoctor is not in explaining truth but in mindless frenzy.

Of course, this is never done by benevolence. You pay for his services.

In many African churches, a ‘man of God’ has replaced the witchdoctor but not completely:

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.

Africans are flocking to church not because of salvation as much as resolving personal issues via the pastor:

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 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?

He warns us off ‘prayer warriors’ for this reason:

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!” 

At some point, they seemingly ‘prevail’ over the bad spirits:

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.

Another dangerous and false teaching is ignoring a proper explanation of the Bible and hammering home the same few verses out of context:

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

Not Christianity

Mbewe says that we should discourage the expansion of this movement because it is not Christian but syncretic:

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.

He asks us to remember the central tenet of Christianity, one not preached in these ‘churches’:

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.

This is true. However, the truth does not ‘tickle the ears’.

We can but pray for true men of God to spread the reality of the Gospel.

Witchcraft murders in the UK

Over the past several years, we have had a few violent, systematic deaths by torture in the UK. There have also been cases of abandonment. These have to do with witchcraft. Some of these crimes are possibly committed under animistic belief. Others, however, are related to Christian Africans.

Victoria Climbie’s horrific torture and death in 2005 is probably the best known case. Authorities were reluctant to intervene because her guardians were African. The BBC has documented other cases. Ibidapo came to the UK from Nigeria at the age of ten to work for relatives:

Each time the children got sick my aunty would accuse me of being the one responsible for their illness, start calling me a witch, start beating me up, and there was a time that she took me down to church, to a pastor. They were calling me a witch, they were using a broom to beat me.

Sometimes my aunty would look into my eyes and call me a witch. It made me feel rejected, like I’m nobody.

Fortunately, a Nigerian neighbour helped her to escape a horrible situation.

Debbie Ariyo, founder of Africans Unite Against Child Abuse, told the BBC that stepchildren are often targets of abuse. It is not unusual for pastors to single them out during public worship. The object is to make money via ‘deliverance’:

She added that within churches there was often a financial motivation behind accusations.

“The pastor says there’s a witch in this church today; looks around and points to a child.

“That means public humiliation for the family. The next step is exorcism which is not done for free. It’s a money-making scam.”

The Daily Mail also featured articles on African church-led child abuse. One of them described the violence a little girl from Angola endured:

In 2005, three people originally from Angola were found guilty at the Old Bailey of torturing an eight-year-old girl they thought was a witch. The cruelty started when a boy told his mother that the girl had been practising witchcraft.

The girl was starved, cut with a knife and hit with a belt and shoes to ‘beat the Devil out of her’. She had chilli peppers rubbed in her eyes and, at one stage, was put into a laundry bag to be thrown into the river. She was saved from drowning only when one of the perpetrators warned that they would be sent to prison if caught and they decided against it.

This child, an orphan, was the victim of trafficking, like Adam [another horrifying case where his body was found dismembered in the Thames] she was brought into the UK from Angola by her aunt, who had passed her off as her daughter.

A few years ago, we read of the death of Kirsty Bamu, a teenage boy tortured because a relative thought he was a witch. Tragically, this took place on Christmas Day 2010. The Huffington Post carried news of the trial in 2012:

A teenager begged to die after being tortured by relatives wielding hammers, pliers and chisels who were convinced he was a witch, a court heard on Thursday.

Kristy Bamu was subjected to a “prolonged attack of unspeakable savagery and brutality” by his older sister and her partner. The 15-year-old had suffered 101 injuries by the time he died on Christmas Day in 2010, jurors heard.

Kristy’s brother-in-law Eric Bikubi his partner Magalie Bamu, both 28, forced Kristy’s other siblings to join in with the horrific torture, according to prosecutors. Kristy’s face and head were covered in deep cuts and bruises and his teeth had been removed, the court was told.

Brian Altman QC, prosecuting, accused Bamu and Bikubi of beating, torturing and drowning Kristy after they accused him of witchcraft and sorcery.

The Daily Mail also reported on some of the testimony given:

Kelly [Kristy’s sister] said: ‘They started talking about kindoki, witchcraft and this and that. It was as if they were obsessed by witchcraft and then it became absolutely unbearable.

‘They asked if we were witches. I repeated again and again and again that we were not witches. I did not know what was going on in their minds. They decided we had come there to kill them.’

Kelly said they had been made to fast, pray all night to remove the kindoki and hold a vigil over the next few days. Then Bikubi had allegedly said he would get the truth out of them with a stick.

She said angrily: ‘He began to hit Kristy while my sister was watching and didn’t do anything.

‘I begged him, we didn’t do anything, we are innocent. She didn’t argue at all. It was as if it was completely normal. She was just sitting there as a spectator.

He hit and hit Kristy. He was not feeling well, He was having trouble breathing and he fell over. As far as Eric and Magalie were concerned, that was the kindoki coming out of him …’

Conclusion

These beliefs and practices — under the banner of Christianity — are un-Christian, dangerous and fatal both to the body and the soul.

Let us pray that African churches and congregations discover the truth of the Gospel and salvation through our only Mediator and Advocate, Christ Jesus.

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