Animism and the prosperity Gospel in an African context by Pastor Rudolph Boshoff.  

Christianity in Africa is growing at an exciting pace. In April 2017, David McClendon from the Pew Research Center wrote;

Christianity’s future lies in Africa. By 2060, a plurality of Christians – more than four-in-ten – will call sub-Saharan Africa home.”[1] McClendon mentions that the sole reason for this growth is because of “demographic factors, including fertility, age and migration, as well as religious switching into and out of Christianity. In sub-Saharan Africa, Christians, on average, are relatively young and have more children than their coreligionists elsewhere, contributing to the projected rapid population growth in the decades ahead.”[2] [3]

 

Dirk Van Der Merwe (University of South Africa) highlights another interesting factor.

“the past few decades a shifting in agency has taken place. Where the gospel message used to be communicated by white Westerners to Africans, Africans themselves now communicate the gospel in Africa. Where the gospel message is communicated and accepted, lives change and consequently during different eras and in different places the game of the gospel also changes and continues to change.”[4]

 

This leaves us with an incredible amount of optimism when we see that Christianity in Africa is growing and as a people, we are promulgating its message. Joel Carpenter, Director of Nagel Institute for the Study of World Christianity, Calvin College noted:

 “African higher education’s growth has also been rapid. In the 1950s, there were only 41 higher education institutions and 16,500 students on the whole continent. By 2010, 5.2 million students had enrolled in 668 higher education institutions in sub-Saharan Africa, more than double the number in 2000.”[5]

 

Popular site Christianity.com mentions:

“The seeds of the Sub-Saharan church had been planted by Western missionaries. Now, as the Gospel spread throughout the nooks and crannies of the continent, African Christianity began to define itself on its own cultural terms. Reformers within the missionary churches as well as independent church leaders called for change in the institutionalized church. This led to both reform, on the one hand, and to the birth of thousands of “African Initiated Churches” (AICs) on the other.”[6]

 

 Is growth good?

We praise God with great optimism when we see that the Church in Africa is growing, but we dare to inquire with great caution when we see the overemphasis on the supernatural and a self-help theology. Rapid growth is also evident in cancer, and instant multiplication is not a sign of truth. When we look at the sole selfish reliance on the ‘giving god’ the dominant ambience is based on a false premise that promise if we petition this deity enough with the right formula he has to grant our demands. There is no doubt that the Church in Africa has identified itself in greater proportion to the prosperity Gospel. Jack Zavada from thoughtco.com mentions that:

 

“In the U.S., the Word of Faith movement and the prosperity gospel have spread like wildfire through the African-American community. Preachers T.D. Jakes, Creflo Dollar, and Frederick K.C. Price all pastor black megachurches and urge their flocks to think right to get their monetary and health needs met. Some African-American pastors are worried about the Word of Faith movement. Lance Lewis, pastor of Christ Liberation Fellowship Presbyterian Church in America, in Philadelphia, said, “When people see that the prosperity gospel doesn’t work they may reject God altogether.”[7]

 

Feumba Samen gives an excellent report on the state of prosperity Churches in Africa and the reasons they work:  

“The sermons of prosperity gospel churches [In Africa] follow this pattern: predestination of members of their cults to reign (political and social power), prosperity (economic power), and the overcoming of disease and occult forces (mystical power).” Prophets, pastors, and gurus take the place of God. They do not preach according to the vision of Christ whose sole mission for the church is to seek the lost and make disciples, according to the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18–20). They do not preach Christ crucified—instead, they proclaim healing, miracles, and support for the tired and overworked as a priority of the church. These so-called men of God divert the theological foundations of the church, using all the means of propaganda for manipulating their followers looking for social rank, honor, and money by means of miracles and healings.”[8]

 

The Dominant mindset.

Zavada gives three extreme demands that spill over in the Theology propagated by the Word of Faith movement in the USA:[9]

Word of Faith Error #1: God Is Obligated to Obey People’s Words

“Words have power, according to Word of Faith beliefs. That’s why it is often called “name it and claim it.” WOF preachers cite a verse such as Mark 11:24, emphasizing the belief aspect: Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. (NIV)”.

 Word of Faith Error #2: God’s Favor Results in Riches

“Financial abundance is a common thread among Word of Faith preachers, causing some to call this the “prosperity gospel” or “health and wealth gospel.” Wealth is not a sign of favor from God. Many drug dealers, corrupt businessmen, and pornographers are wealthy. Conversely, millions of hardworking, honest Christians are poor.”

 Word of Faith Error #3: Humans Are Little Gods

“Human beings are created in the image of God and are “little gods”, some WOF preachers claim. They imply that people are capable of controlling a “faith force” and have the power to bring their desires into being. Christians believe there is one God only, in three Persons. Believers are indwelt by the Holy Spirit but are not little gods. God is a creator; humans are his creations. To attribute any type of divine power to humans is unbiblical”

 

John L. Allen writes:

“Today the primary competition stems from Africa’s sprawling galaxy of Pentecostal and Evangelical churches, some part of global denominations but most home-grown. In many parts of the continent, these churches dot every village square and street corner, and signs, billboards, and flyers touting their high-octane worship and miraculous claims are ubiquitous… A 2011 study by the Pew Research Center found there were 122 million Pentecostals and 110 million Evangelicals in Sub-Saharan Africa, meaning their combined total at 232 million outpaced the number of African Catholics at 200 million. Given explosive growth rates, it’s likely that gap has widened over the six years since the survey.”[10]

 

There is no doubt that the curiosity and desire to see God in Africa is evident. It is not just the ‘Hyper-Prosperity’ Gospel that is growing in Africa, and we cannot paint with a broad-brush when we deal with the majority of Churches. But I think it is safe to say that there is an allure to the Prosperity Gospel and the Charismatic experience. I have written in the past about the classification of the Charismatic Movement click here. The Word of Faith movement is not a denomination, like the Charismatic movement, it is a hyphenated theological trend within the Pentecostal and Evangelical Church. Nevertheless, it is one of the most dangerous teachings in the African context. Robert M. Bowman Jr. cautions us and writes that:

 

“What most people do not know is that the “health and wealth” promise is merely the tip of the theological iceberg. It is the teachings about faith, words, and confession — and what these teachings in turn imply about God, human beings, Jesus Christ, and the nature of the Christian life — that have turned out to be the most controversial aspects of the Word-Faith movement. The distinctive theology of the Word-Faith movement is in many respects seriously unbiblical, and at least some of the movement’s leading teachers espouse heresy. This heresy, however, is not accurately described in the literature critical of the Word-Faith movement. Sweeping generalizations about the Word-Faith movement as cultic or heretical fail to take sufficient stock of the diversity within the movement.”[11]

 

There are various reasons some African Churches are drawn to this movement is because it is predominantly animistic and highly pragmatic. It is also reasonable to say that the previous African milieu can easily syncretise and merge the previous world of animism with the word of Faith concepts. Let me show you:

A definition of Animism:

Dean C. Halverson says that Animism “is the religion that sees the physical world as interpenetrated by spiritual forces – both personal and impersonal – to the extent that objects carry spiritual significance and events have spiritual causes.” [12]  Halverson Laments:

“We have all experienced those times when God seemed silent and distant and when His apparent lack of action leaves us feeling helpless. The feeling that God is distant and, that He does not care might overtake us after hearing the news that one has cancer, or after experiencing the death of a child, or being laid off from a job. At such times, we become desperate, and we are tempted to grab for something that works—anything that will give us the power to get us out of our suffering or to fix what is wrong. Animism promises such power… To the extent that we seek to manipulate spiritual powers—including seeking God for the “quick fix” or for our personal benefit—we are coming from an animistic rather than a biblical perspective. In that sense, we all have animistic tendencies.”[13]

 

The dominant mindset in Africa will always gravitate towards some form of relief. Due to poverty and a desperate need for advancement, the prosperity Gospel can become a substitute for the real Gospel. The Church should address this concern, and we should always endeavour to present the Gospel in the fullness of truth. Here is a table that shows the similarities between Animism and the Word of Faith movement and the true Gospel.

 

  Animism Christianity Word of Faith Theology
God God exists, but He is beyond our abilities to know Him or to communicate with Him.  

God exists, and although He is beyond our comprehension, He is nevertheless knowable; and He has made Himself known to us through Jesus Christ and the Bible (Hebrews 1:1-2).

 

It has a deistic view of God, who must dance to men’s attempts to manipulate the spiritual laws of the universe. God can only function on earth because man has given Him the right to do so.[14]

 

Spirits

 

The spirits are seen as being other intermediaries between God and us or as representatives of God.

 

 

The spirits are deceptive; they seek to take the place of God in our lives. Angels are God’s servant that listen to the command of His will[15] (Ps. 103:20-21 (NET)

 

Man can command both angels to accomplish the will of man and both expel evil spirits by commanding them by invocation and prayers.

 Power of the spirits The spirits and the instruments of magic have the power either to do harm to others or to bring benefit to us.  

 

The spirits do have power, but our utilizing such power leads of bondage. God has demonstrated through Jesus Christ that He is greater than the spirits and magic, for “the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world” (I John 4:4, see also Exodus 8:18) and He has “disarmed the powers and authorities (Colossians 2:15). Submitting to God brings freedom (John 8:32-36) not bondage.

 

 

Everything is not under the sovereign rule and reign of God. The wrong words can bring the wrong results and you can open a door for the devil to attack you by announcing the wrong words.

 

 

Needs

 

 

Formal religions are concerned only with the ultimate issues of sin and salvation; but Animism offers the power to cope with the immediate, everyday needs.

 

The God of Christianity is concerned both with the ultimate and immediate issues. God desires to provide not only for our eternal needs but also for our daily needs (I Peter 5:7).

 

Christian contentment is not key in all we have and modesty is not the surest way to live (Phill.4:11-13, 1 Tim.6:6-12). God’s will is always material prosperity and healing.

 

Jesus

Jesus is can be seen as one of many potent ancestors.  

Jesus is the Only-begotten Son of God (John 1:1-18, 14-16) revealing the true nature of the Father. God with us, the second ‘person’ that fully reveals the Triune God.

 

The Faith movement compromises the deity of the Lord Jesus Christ and makes Him a mere anointed man who is the first of all other men[16]

 Sin Depends upon sacrifices for appeasement.  

Does not depend upon our sacrifices because He has created all things (Acts 17:25), and because He has provided on our behalf the “once for all” sacrifice (Hebrews 9:24 – 10:14).

 

It has a metaphysical view of salvation, which deifies man and spiritualizes the atonement, locating it in hell rather than on the cross, thereby subverting the crucial biblical belief that it is Christ’s physical death and shed blood, which alone atones for sin.

 

God’s power

 

Has power over various aspects of nature.

Has power over all things (Acts 17:24).  

God is limited in power and can only function as His creatures give Him the right to do upon earth.

 Life-force Animism works by activating power to accomplish the desired result both good and evil.  

God is the source of life and everything came into existence through His Son by His Spirit (Gen.2:7, Job 33:4, PS.36:9, Neh.9:6, John 1:3-4, Acts 17:25).

 

In the natural, everything is governed by spiritual principles both positive and negative that can activate or violate the individual’s daily walk and life.

 

 

Words and Symbols

 

Words are used in rituals to communicate and manipulate spiritual realities. Words can bring both blessings or curses and has a significant result in the efficacy in both spells, magic and incantations.

 

Christians will give an account for every careless word (Matt.12:36). Words have a definite effect on our everyday lives (James 2, Prov.18:21). Words cannot form metaphysical realities but can bring forth a good and bad result (Prov.12:18,15:4). We are cautioned to stay away from slander, gossip, and backbiting (PS.101:5, Rom.1:28-30, 1 Pet.2:1-3).   

 

Positive Confession is the belief that if a believer speaks “spiritual” or “faith-filled” words then he can have what he says. When “faith-filled” spiritual words are spoken (as words of power), they can alter the physical and spiritual world.

 

 

 

Magic[17], Divination, & fetishes

 

 

In Animism, magic is used as a means to connect with the supernatural force in a ritualistic way to accomplish the desired result. Divination is the practice to enquire hidden knowledge by interpreting natural events, objects, visions, or dreams, by consulting supernatural beings.

We are not to consult mediums, use magic, or evoke any spiritual commands through the means of divination (Deut.18:9-12, Lev.19:26, Isa.8:19-20, 2 Kings 21:6, Acts 19:18-19). It has a gnostic view of revelation, which demands the denial of the physical senses and classifies Christians by their willingness to do so.

*Adapted from Halverson’s outline![18] & D. R. McConnell, A Different Gospel, page 185.

 

Conclusion:

It is with both optimism and concern that we can look to the church in Africa. We have the assurance that God is the one that will ultimately build His Church. If we look at the current state of affairs we can assuredly say that that Prosperity Gospel is not the true Gospel, and can only produce false fruit. It should be the task of the true Church of Jesus Christ to equip and speak the truth in love to those who have merely syncretised their old belief system. In all areas of influence, the true Church of Jesus Christ needs to endeavour to make the truth known. It is my hope that this article will provide a healthy opportunity for discussion so we can ultimately task ourselves to align our minds and mandates to the Kingdom of Christ, our Lord and Saviour.

Be blessed

Pastor Rudolph Boshoff.

 

Sources:

[1] http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2017/04/19/sub-saharan-africa-will-be-home-to-growing-shares-of-the-worlds-christians-and-muslims/

[2] http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2017/04/19/sub-saharan-africa-will-be-home-to-growing-shares-of-the-worlds-christians-and-muslims/

[3] <a href=”http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2017/04/19/sub-saharan-africa-will-be-home-to-growing-shares-of-the-worlds-christians-and-muslims/ft_17-04-17_regionschristian-gif2/”><img width=”310″ height=”594″ src=”http://www.pewresearch.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/04/FT_17.04.17_regionsChristian-GIF2.gif?w=310″ class=”attachment-large size-large” alt=”By 2060, more than 4-in-10 Christians expected to live in sub-Saharan Africa” /></a>

[4] http://www.scielo.org.za/scielo.php?script=sci_arttext&pid=S2413-94672016000200027

[5] http://theconversation.com/what-lies-behind-the-rise-of-christian-universities-in-africa-79850

[6] https://www.christianity.com/church/church-history/timeline/2001-now/the-explosion-of-christianity-in-africa-11630859.html

[7] https://www.thoughtco.com/word-of-faith-movement-history-700136

[8] https://world.wng.org/2014/11/the_prosperity_gospel_in_africa?fbclid=IwAR2YF9d1Pi9N_zsFzKQZzJw6-6YmOO1megA3znx1ys0NIQ0LF_R132rOAbo

[9] https://www.thoughtco.com/word-of-faith-errors-700135

[10] https://cruxnow.com/africaund/2017/03/25/pentecostal-evangelical-boom-forces-african-church-wake/

[11] The Word-Faith Controversy: Understanding the Health and Wealth Gospel, by Christian apologist Robert M. Bowman Jr. Published in 2001.

[12] The Compact guide to World Religions; Pg.36.

[13] http://www.ijfm.org/PDFs_IJFM/15_2_PDFs/01_Halverson_05-9.pdf

[14] The Faith movement not only deifies man but also demotes God to the beck and call of His creation.

 

  • Kenneth Copeland claims that God is “A being that is very uncanny the way He’s very much like you and me. A being that stands somewhere around 6’-2″, 6’-3″, that weighs somewhere in the neighborhood of a couple of hundred pounds, little better, [and] has a [hand] span of nine inches across.” (Kenneth Copeland, Spirit, Soul and Body I (Fort Worth, TX: Kenneth Copeland Ministries, 1985), audiotape #01-0601, side 1.

 

  • Jerry Savelle elaborates on Copeland’s teachings when he says: “He is measured out heaven with a nine-inch span…The distance between my thumb and my finger is not quite nine inches. So, I know He’s bigger than me, thank God. Amen? But He’s not some great, big, old thing that couldn’t come through the door there and, you know, when He sat down, would fill every seat in the house. I don’t serve the Glob.” (Jerry Savelle, Framing Your World with the Word of God, Part 2 (Fort Worth, TX: Jerry Savelle Evangelistic Association, Inc., n.d.), audiotape #SS-36, side 1.

 

  • Morris Cerullo says, “As I lay there on the floor in this condition, my spirit was taken out of my body and the next thing I knew, I was in the heavens…Suddenly, in front of this tremendous multitude of people, the glory of God appeared. The Form that I saw was about the height of a man six feet tall, maybe a little taller, and twice as broad as a human body with no distinguishing features such as eyes, nose, or mouth.” (Morris Cerullo, The Miracle Book (San Diego, CA: Cerullo Word Evangelism, Inc., 1984), x-xi.

 

  • Says Benny Hinn, “I could almost visibly see the Lord, and I cold tell you what He was wearing.” Jan Crouch, giddy about Hinn’s statement, asks, “Was that the Holy Spirit?” Acknowledging that he may get in trouble, Hinn resolutely answers “yes.” (Benny Hinn and Jan Crouch, Praise the Lord program on TBN (October 3, 1991).

 

  • Hinn made the following statement, “Man, I feel revelation knowledge already coming on me here. Life your hands. Something new is going to happen here today. I felt it just as I waled down here. Holy Spirit, take over in the name of Jesus…God the Father, ladies and gentlemen, is a person; and He is a triune being by Himself separate from the Son and the Holy Ghost. Say, what did you say? Hear it, hear it, hear it. See, God the Father is a person, God the Son is aperson, God the Holy Ghost is a person. But each one of them is a triune being by Himself. If I can shock you—and maybe I should—there’s nine of them. Huh, what did you say? Let me explain: God the Father, ladies and gentlemen, is a person with his own personal spirit, with his own personal soul, and his own personal spirit-body. You say, Huh, I never heard that. Well you think you’re in this church to hear things you’ve heard for the last 50 years?” (Benny Hinn, Benny Hinn program on TBN (October 3, 1991).

 

  • Two years after his initial “revelation,” Hinn once again voiced virtually the same statement. As he puts it, “God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost—three separate individuals, one in essence, one in work—and, may I add, each one of them possess His own spirit-body. You don’t like it?” (Benny Hinn, Praise the Lord program on TBN (October 23, 1992).

 

  • Kenneth Copeland said, “I was shocked when I found out who the biggest failure in the Bible actually is…The biggest one in the whole Bible is God…Now, the reason you don’t think of God as a failure is He never said He’s a failure. And you’re not a failure till you say you’re one.” (Kenneth Copeland, Praise-a-Thon program on TBN (April 1988). He also said, “Adam committed high treason; and at that point, all the dominion and authority God had given to him was handed over to Satan. Suddenly, God was on the outside looking in…After Adam’s fall, God found Himself in a peculiar position…God needed an avenue back into the earth…God laid out His proposition and Abram accepted it. It gave God access to the earth and gave man access to God..Technically, if God ever broke the Covenant, He would have to destroy Himself.” (Kenneth Copeland, Our Covenant with God (Fort Worth, TX: KCP Publications, 1987), 8-11 passim.

 

[15] https://www.gotquestions.org/command-angels.html

[16] · Consider this statement by Kenneth Copeland: “[Adam] was the copy, looked just like [God]. If you stood Adam upside God, they look just exactly alike. If yo stood Jesus and Adam side-by-side, they would look and sound exactly alike.” (Kenneth Copeland, Authority of the Believer IV (Fort Worth, TX: Kenneth Copeland Ministries, 1987), audiotape #01-0304, side 1.

 

  • Jesus Christ supposedly told Copeland in the following prophecy: “Don’t be disturbed when people put you down and speak harshly and roughly of you. They spoke that way of Me, should they not speak that way of you? The more you get to be like Me, the more they’re going to think that way of you. They crucified Me for claiming that I was God. But I didn’t claim I was God; I just claimed I walked with Him and that He was in Me. Hallelujah.” (Kenneth Copeland, Take Time to Pray, Believer’s Voice of Victory 15, 2 (February 1987): 9.

 

  • Copeland asserts, “What [why] does God have to pay the price for this thing? He has to have a man that is like that first one. It’s got to be a man. He’s got to be all man. He cannot be a God and come storming in here will attributes and dignities that are not common to man. He can’t do that. It’s not legal.” (Kenneth Copeland, What Happened from the Cross to the Throne (Fort Worth, TX: Kenneth Copeland Ministries, 1990), audiotape #02-0017.

 

  • Benny Hinn writes, “And let me add this: Had the Holy Spirit not been with Jesus, He would have sinned. That’s right, it was the Holy Spirit that was the power that kept Him pure. He was not only sent from heaven, but He was called the Son of Man—and as such He was capable of sinning…Without the Holy Ghost, Jesus would have never have made it…Can you imagine Christ headed for the grave, knowing He would remain there forever, if the Holy Ghost would change His mind about raising Him from the dead?” (Benny Hinn, Good Morning, Holy Spirit (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1990), 135-36.

 

  • Copeland promises, “Here’s where we’re gonna depart from ordinary church: Now, you see, God is injecting His Word into the earth to produce this Jesus—these faith-filled words that framed the image that’s in Him…He can’t just walk onto the earth and say, “Let it be!” because He doesn’t have the right. He had to sneak it in here around the god of this world that was blockin’ every way that he possibly could.” (Kenneth Copeland, The Image of God in You III (Fort Worth, TX: Kenneth Copeland Ministries, 1989), audiotape #01-1403, side 2. He continues by adding, “God was making promises to Jesus, and Jesus wasn’t even there. But, you see, God deals with things that are not yet as though they already were. That’s the way He gets them to come to pass.” (Kenneth Copeland, What Happened from the Cross to the Throne (Fort Worth, TX: Kenneth Copeland Ministries, 1990), audiotape #02-0017.

[17] Magic is the art of bringing about results beyond human capabilities through supernatural agencies.

[18] http://www.ijfm.org/PDFs_IJFM/15_2_PDFs/01_Halverson_05-9.pdf

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