(15-minute read)
What is happening in our Churches? It seems like the Gospel is only a preliminary to where the real action is. Philip Jenkins states that if history can tell us anything, any pandemic always allows for the opportunity for snake oil salesmen and charlatans to capitalize on the sentiment of religious people.[1] You and I should be concerned with the current influx of spirituality and revivalism infiltrating the South African Church. Online platforms and social media revealed the aspirations of the bored who can sit in from of their screens for hours watching supposed men of God conjuring the Holy Spirit. They guarantee the masses more money, quick fixes, healing, and more then what they could ever desire. Gary E. Gilley writes,

“the Word of God is increasingly taking a back seat to the managerial and the therapeutic. This is undoubtedly the case because Christian leaders no longer have confidence in the sufficiency of Scripture. The Word of God today is under attack, not just by its enemies, but also by those who claim to be its friend.”[2]

When Paul speaks to the Church in Philippi (3:3) he characterizes Christian worship this way:

“We are the true circumcision, who worship in the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh” (italics added).

Our ecclesiology reeks of our vested self-interests and our worship has become avenues to advance the tainted self. I dare you to look up and notice how overly occupied the songs we sing fixate on us. The worst part is no one even noticed. In the C.S. Lewis classic “The Screwtape Letters”, Uncle Screwtape cautions his apprentice Wormwood and says;

“Indeed, the safest road to Hell is the gradual one-the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts.”[3]

Tom Stipe, Pastor at Crossroads Church in Denver Colorado describes the process of his Church slipping into the abyss of obscurity;[4]

“It all sounded downright intoxicating. After struggling with the daily duties of ministry and our fears of inadequacy, this was exactly what we wanted to hear. Being told that our struggles and sacrifices had made us special in God’s eyes was a comfort in itself. We clung to the promise that spectacular things would follow the inauguration of this new move of God. We listened attentively to the flattery of our new friends, the prophets. Our scepticism barely peaked above the surface of our consciousness. It disappeared entirely later in the meeting when one of the prophets singled us out and proceeded to reveal, in detail, the secrets of our lives. Now they really had our attention. How could they not be from God?”

Before you go to the Prophet, allow me to show you exactly what takes place behind the curtains of some of these meetings. There are specific techniques to “woo the crowds” and to accentuate a perceived autonomous individualism. James Jordan writes that these services:

“too often has little use for Scripture. The emphasis in the movement as a whole is upon direct, mystical experiences with God (roughly defined). The stimulation of glands has priority over the reformation of life, this is most pronounced in the various healing cults and “name it and claim it” sects, which are all over the airwaves today. This is nothing more than medicine man religion, and scarcely Christian at all. It has little more relation to Christianity than do the “cargo cults” of Polynesians. Not all charismatic are this bad, of course, but the tendency is there in all too many of them. The effect is that the Word of God is rendered null and void.”

Inflated promises and fortunate ideas usually accompany these events. Participants are gradually socialized into accepting unusual phenomena and supernatural manifestations. It is promised that the miraculous has become the ordinary, and the man of God is God’s mediator, bestowing these blessings on whosoever follows him. Even more sinister is the subjective techniques they employ to get the crowds under their sway. And boy, do they know how to ‘play the crowds.’ Hank Hanegraaff[5] wrote about these conventional methods that are usually employed in these services to stir people towards the man of God’s intended results. Next time you attend a Church or revival, please note these tactics that are applied to draw you in. Here are seven signs that you are being set up:

An overemphasis on emotionalism

Can you feel His presence?” “His presence is here” (as if it left them up until then). Anything to make us more aware that God has drawn close. When the service is solely trying to conjure the Holy Spirit’s presence, it could be that he was never part of it to begin with. “Fire,” “More Lord,” (Blowing over an audio system). All of these commands aim to get the crowds to invest themselves in the service emotionally. Unless you feel something, there is something at a loss. Maybe you have sinned? Perhaps you doubted the prophet? The subtle lie is that unless you ‘feel’ something, God is not close. Now don’t get me wrong; an emotional response is not evil; neither should a deeply felt awareness be foreign to our devotional practice. The problem is when they use a hyper-stimulated atmosphere to fuel these touching experiences; in the end, it boils down to the fact that they want to manipulate God. Donald G. Bloesch writes;

“The complaint I hear most often is that people can no longer sense the sacred either in the preaching or in the liturgy. The atmosphere in most of our services is clubby and convivial rather than adoring and expectant. What is missing is the fear of God, the experience of God as the Wholly Other. Worship has become performance rather than praise. The praise choruses that have pre-empted the great hymns of the church do not hide the fact that our worship is essentially a spectacle that appeals to the senses rather than an act of obeisance to the mighty God who is both holiness and love. Contemporary worship is far more egocentric than theocentric. The aim is less to give glory to God than to satisfy the longings of the human heart. Even when we sing God’s praises, the focus is on fulfilling and satisfying the human desire for wholeness and serenity.”[6]

We cannot syncopate the Holy Spirit and commercialize events based solely on the newest fad and the next encounter. The Holy Spirit is not part of the program; He should be the central object of worship in the program! These services seek to make the Spirit part of the experience, and the Holy Spirit is not an experience, He is a God, and He should be revered. So how do we Worship God in His fullness? True worship always aims to think high thoughts about the Triune God. John MacArthur writes about the true purpose of Worship. He writes;

“Music by itself, apart from the truth contained in the lyrics, is not even a legitimate springboard for real worship. Similarly, a poignant story may be touching or stirring, but unless the message it conveys is set in the context of biblical truth, any emotions it may stir are of no use in prompting genuine worship. Aroused passions are not necessarily evidence that true worship is taking place. Genuine worship is a response to divine truth. It is passionate because it arises out of our love for God. But to, be true worship it must also arise out of a correct understanding of His law, His righteousness, His mercy, and His being. Real worship acknowledges God as He has revealed Himself in His Word. We know from Scripture, for example, that He is the only perfectly holy, all-powerful, all-knowing, omnipresent source from which flows all goodness, mercy, truth, wisdom, power, and salvation. Worship means ascribing glory to Him because of those truths. It means adoring Him for who He is, for what He has done, and for what He has promised. It must therefore be a response to the truth that He has revealed about Himself. Such worship cannot rise out of a vacuum [unless it] is prompted and vitalized by the objective truth of the Word.”[7]

We cannot petition God with stylized music services at the expense of His Word. An English Reformer, John Hooper, stated the same principle in this way:

“Nothing should be used in the Church which has not either the express Word of God to support it, or otherwise is a thing indifferent in itself, which brings no profit when done or used, but no harm when not done or omitted.”

Altered states of consciousness

There are various ways to motivate and manipulate the mind. Music, in these services are key. They are used in the background when the Prophet speaks, it is used when the man of God preaches. This form of service aims to use music to create an effect that would impress upon its listeners to respond in a given manner. I can remember in my first Church I Pastored, the Bishop related to the musicians, “You lay the platform for God to move.” Unless there is the right ‘vibe’, God’s people won’t seem to move. Stephanus Pretorius noted;

“Music has an important impact on a human being. It can make him or her joyful or sad, but it could assist a person to move into an altered state of consciousness. A repetition of the same song over and over again could make people more susceptible to what the preacher or leader suggests in a service. Music is a very important role player in the experience of charismatic spirituality generally.”[8]

Have you ever wondered why some of these services have a prolonged worship experience? People that are gradually stimulated seem to relax, and the environment disarms them so the Prophet or the man of God can take up the offering. Dr. Elizabeth L. Hillstrom suggests that;

“Having largely set aside their ability to think rationally and critically or to exercise their will, they have become hypersuggestible, which means that they are likely to accept any “spiritual truth” that enters their minds. Even more remarkably, they seem to be primed for mystical experiences and may attach great spiritual significance to virtually any event or thought, no matter how mundane or outlandish. Seeking mystical experiences through altered states, as defined here, looks like an open invitation for deception.”[9]

Sadly, when we look at the pedagogy of these teachers, they make a lot of noise but say nothing. People are motivated to give a little more and open their hearts just a little further. And because it feels good, they ‘give’ good. Ask yourself, is the man of God teaching from the Scriptures, or is he merely selecting a few passages to bolster his interests? Is the supposed anointing connected to the man of God, or God Himself? Ask yourself, “How will the man of God benefit if I give more money or dream more exuberant dreams?” Another point, God does not gossip, and you do not need a man of God to speak on His behalf. Mature leadership seeks to create disciples that can grow up and discern God’s will for themselves. Illegitimate leadership keeps you dependent, leaning on the supposed revelations of the Prophet. In his book ‘Between Two Worlds’, John Stott says it well:

“Word and worship belong indissolubly to each other. All worship is an intelligent and loving response to the revelation of God, because it is the adoration of his Name. Therefore, acceptable worship is impossible without preaching. For preaching is making known the Name of the Lord, and worship is praising the Name of the Lord made known. Far from being an alien intrusion into worship, the reading and preaching of the word are actually indispensable to it. The two cannot be divorced.”[10]

Peer Pressure

Group think and echo chambers categorize the very heart of these Churches. Essential to the core of these people is the assumption that somehow what they are experiencing is extraordinary and, in many ways, unique. Fitting in means that you affirm the same beliefs, the same ideology, even the same identity. I belong, therefore I am. Paul writes to the Galatians (1:10)

“For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.”

Author Hank Hanegraaff mentions that the leaders of these ‘moves from God’ tend to be;

“well aware that people in crowds are prone to believe that the behaviour of their peers is a standard that should not be questioned. They further reinforce this proclivity by intimating that to resist these manifestations is tantamount to resist the Holy Spirit.”[11]

No criticism against the group is tolerated. The unpardonable sin is speaking out or questioning the authority of a set leader or elder. People are inoculated against any criticism. They are told, “Do not quench the Holy Spirit.” Never dare to look at the Prophets theology, never question the revelation. Just accept, just believe. Usually, labels are given to those who dare to ask, “Jezebel,” “Critical spirit,” “Pharisee,” and sadly much more. When the Prophet criticize, it is divine truth. When the Prophet is questioned, it is heresy! “Judge not gods anointed!”

Exploiting expectations

Are you looking for a better life? Are you tired of the mundane? Do you want to be extraordinary? Grandiose claims, like these and elevated promises from the man of God drives a generation that long for more than just a purpose. These revivalists have one thing in common, they prey on the desire to achieve and significance. Everyone is seen on the ‘stages of the world’, no one is called to the suffering of the Disciples of Jesus and the Lord Himself. When Paul says;

“But you, be sober in all things, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.” (2 Timothy 4:5).

Suffer hardship with me, as a good soldier of Christ Jesus.” (2 Timothy 2:3).

“we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing.” (2 Corinthians 4:8).

These scriptures have no relevance in these movements and can be erased because Jesus only promise health and wealth. Not! Jesus said;

“they will deliver you to tribulation, and will kill you, and you will be hated by all nations because of My name.” (Matthew 24:9).

“In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 6:33).

Peter mentions;

“those also who suffer according to the will of God shall entrust their souls to a faithful Creator in doing what is right.” (1 Peter 4:19).

Usually, these meetings are riddled with the testimonies of those who have been brought out of their predicament. Those who have received the miraculous. Those who have named and claimed their miracle or sowed a seed towards their own good providence. “God will make it worth your while”. “Say, I receive”. Similar mantras are declared, and man’s faith is merely a form of escapism. Hank Hanegraaff mentions;

“the expectations of the miraculous created the illusion.”[12]

Jesus and his disciples assured us of persecution while we are in this world. Now, I am not against comfort, or even God providing abundance to you, neither should we seek to become pious martyrs. But we should live as Paul did, counting all things a loss for Christ (Phil.3:8) no matter what the conditions, we are content, (Phil.4:12) giving thanks in all circumstances (1 Thess.5:18). A.W. Tozer sums up the spirit of the age when he writes,

“…the cross of popular evangelicalism is not the cross of the New Testament. It is, rather, a new bright ornament upon the bosom of a self-assured and carnal Christianity whose hands are indeed the hands of Abel, but whose voice is the voice of Cain. The old cross slew men; the new cross entertains them. The old cross condemned; the new cross amuses. The old cross destroyed confidence in the flesh; the new cross encourages it. The old cross brought tears and blood; the new cross brings laughter. The flesh, smiling and confident, preaches and sings about the cross; before the cross it bows and toward the cross it points with carefully staged histrionics–but upon that cross it will not die, and the reproach of that cross it stubbornly refuses to bear.”[13]

The sugary laced promise is that if we come to Jesus, He will give you what you want. The sole way in which these individuals exploit their adherents is to promise them a financial blessing. The individual’s financial benevolence will be directly affected by how they esteem the man of God. “Sow a seed towards the Prophet.” “Sow a seed towards that Prophecy and that blessing will become yours.” Seed faith is the participation in the karmic cycle of sowing and reaping, give to get, sow to grow. Maria Frahm-Arp looked at the motivation of people that give in these communities and she mentions three principles connected to this form of manipulation;

“Three types of prosperity theology emerged from this study: “abilities prosperity,” “progress prosperity,” and “miracle prosperity.” Abilities prosperity focuses on getting believers to exercize and develop their own abilities. The belief is that anyone can achieve anything when they align themselves with God’s principles, claim God’s blessings, give generously to the church, and work hard. Progress prosperity centers on shifting people’s attitudes and emphasizes the idea that prosperity means progress. Members are encouraged to see any small success, such as getting a new client for their business or passing an exam, as progress and, therefore, a sign of prosperity. Prosperity is achieved through faith and righteous living and includes social outreach programs to develop and uplift others in the community. Miracle prosperity, in turn, embraces the belief that spiritual growth determines material wealth and that people achieve material wealth through victory in spiritual battles of prayer, driving out demons, and making personal sacrifices. This form of prosperity theology often, but not always, includes “positive confession” or “naming and claiming” practices.”[14]

What is vital to understand is that they claim that your efforts are the catalyst for the life you have and the life you want. This teaching is nothing different than a confessional caste system. In one way or another, your confession enables your blessing to materialize, and your actualization of these spiritual principles directly determines your financial portfolio. The “man of god” has a special anointing and association will bring promotion and actualization. People are told, if you are generous, God will be generous towards you. These promises sound very much like Johann Tetzel when just before the Reformation he eloquently promised;

“When the coin in the coffer rings, the soul from purgatory springs.”

The power of suggestion.

The trick of the trade is to say what people want to hear. They know that no one buys into a promise of loss or seem attracted to that which might not be for their own advancement. I dare you to listen to the tone of these individual leaders. These “men of god” usually rely heavily upon stories of the miraculous; these are stated as obviously present, yet, just far enough to be scrutinized. The teachers can speak for hours and relate story after story on how it always work. Their defence against any criticism is the phrase “But it works?” or “We have a larger following than our critics.” With this slight of hand they try to show people that the popular vote counts towards the validation of their teachings to be true. They usually talk with “rrrrrrrroling R’s.” They can fiddle their thumbs, or gesture with their hands. They openly profess that their critics are too intellectual, but lack to be spiritual. They give you enough to buy into the idea for yourself so that at the end of the promise doesn’t deliver; you only have yourself to blame. Hank Hanegraaff mentions;

“Indirect suggestions are far more subtle. They can involve “embedded suggestions and commands, paraverbal shifts of tone, voice directionality, enunciation, syntax, and pacing; the use of truisms, binds, double binds and other semantic variations.”[15]

These teachers usually know how to capitalize on what people want, and they typically have the means to get to it. Like the serpent in the garden of Eden, the man of god will leave you with reasonable doubt to try it for yourself.

Expectation of repetitive manifestations

Be wary of leaders that continuously call upon the miraculous to generate interest and devotion. John Wesley recognized physical manifestations as a natural response to an encounter with the gospel. Still, he also attributed activities such as dropping, laughing, and shaking to the “naïveté” of people and the ploys of Satan. Wesley related the account of a meeting that took place in 1773. A hymn was sung over and over some 30 or 40 times, resulting in bodily agitations on the part of some of the people present.[16] In response to this phenomenon, he wrote,

Satan serves himself of their simplicity, in order…to bring a discredit on the work of God.” “It is a fundamental principle that to renounce reason is to renounce religion, that religion and reason go hand in hand; all irrational religion is false religion.”[17]

Years earlier, in 1740, an epidemic of laughter had broken out during a gathering in Bristol. Wesley said,

“I was surprised at some, who were buffeted of Satan in an unusual manner, by such a spirit of laughter as they could in no wise resist.”

A short time later the “spirit of laughter” returned. One lady present was;

“so violently and variously torn of the evil one” that “she laughed till almost strangled; then broke out into cussing and blaspheming; then stamped and struggled with incredible strength, so that four or five could scarcely hold her.”[18]

South Africa is plagued with the oddest manifestations. Anything from spiritual ecstasies to enchanted behaviors will bring despair to Harry Potter’s school of witchcraft and wizardry. I do not have time to go into all these events, but they cannot be God. The Holy Spirit produces a sound mind (2 Tim.1:7) and self-control (Gal 5:22-23). These experiences come as a result of not having a sound mind and losing all self-control. The Spirit of God will not Work against the very instructions he constitutes.

It’s all about you (or the man of God).

There is an illusion of self-actualization and the preoccupation with self. Ego can only take you that far, and the focus on self will leave you endlessly bored. That is why these services always press for something more, something different. If you fed your congregants signs and wonders to keep them interested, you are going to have to keep on doing it to keep them there. J.I. Packer writes;

“The quest for one’s own pleasure in some shape or form is the rule and driving force of the egocentric life. Pride is the classic Christian name for this self-asserting, self-worshipping syndrome, of which “my will be done” is the implicit motto. Through egocentric pride may adopt the of Christianity, it corrupts Christianity’s substance and spirit. It tries to manage God and harness him to our goals. This, as was hinted earlier, reduces religion to magic, treating the God who made us as if he were Jeeves to our Bertie Wooster, or the genie of the lamp to our Aladdin. Theocentricity that repudiates egocentricity, recognizing that in the fundamental sense we exist for God rather than he for us and worshipping him, accordingly, is basic to real godliness. Without this radical shift from self-centeredness to God-centeredness, any show of religion is phony to a greater or lesser degree.”[19]

Self-actualization and the preoccupation with individualism is simply an illusion. “Give us more Daddy,” “Touch the man of God“, “I believe it man of God,” “I receive,” these seem to come from the chants of the masses. Ego can only take you that far, and the focus on the self will leave you endlessly bored. An occupation with any individual other than our Lord can never be right, or healthy. The preoccupation with the man of God only lingers before it ruptures into a disillusioned frenzy. We are not called to follow anointed men, but Christ. There is a reason why these services always press for something more, something different or something more bizarre. People long to be defined by their personal religious experience. Another Prophecy, hot off the press, and the demand for personally tailored messages from God. The problem is when you supply your congregants with only the spectacular, you will need to produce a constant flow of the supernatural to keep them interested. In these services we do not produce disciples, but consumers, and a consumer driven appetite is only interested in a good consumer experience (Luke 9:23). Jesus warns us not to find our significance in religious experiences, self-consumption, or spectacular experiences;

“Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed” (Luke 12:15).

“Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’” (Matthew 7:22-23).

Clive Staple Lewis wrote that God claims;

“Give me all of you!!! I don’t want so much of your time, so much of your talents and money, and so much of your work. I want YOU!!! ALL OF YOU!! I have not come to torment or frustrate the natural man or woman, but to KILL IT! No half measures will do. I don’t want to only prune a branch here and a branch there; rather I want the whole tree out! Hand it over to me, the whole outfit, all of your desires, all of your wants and wishes and dreams. Turn them ALL over to me, give yourself to me and I will make of you a new self—in my image. Give me yourself and in exchange I will give you Myself. My will shall become your will. My heart shall become your heart.”[20]

In Conclusion.

Paul writes a startling account where God will hand these people over to their own carnal appetites. Let us determine to be of sober mind. It amazes me how hastily we surrender ourselves to spectacular experiences. Paul warns us:

“The coming of the lawless one is by the activity of Satan with all power and false signs and wonders, and with all wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. Therefore, God sends them a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false, in order that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness. But we ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the firstfruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth. To this he called you through our gospel, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter.” (2 Thes.2:9-15).

There will come a time, when those who call for truth will be mocked, and those that point to truth will be disregarded. May our Lord fasten our hearts to abide in His Word and allow for us to stand against a tide that squander all thing sacred.

Selah,

Rudolph Boshoff.

Sources:

[1] https://www.christiancentury.org/article/notes-global-church/what-happened-africa-after-pandemic-1918?fbclid=IwAR3wQeAfxuacqaAChwenr4jbkZRcus3feTJLq5ucDl6_gjnvhl8tDhIctV4

[2] This little Church went to market: The Church in the age of entertainment. Pg. 110.

[3] The Screwtape Letters, Pg.61.

[4] http://www.hnlc.org.au/rensford/resources/stipe.htm

[5] Counterfeit Revival: Looking for God in all the wrong places. Thomas Nelson Publishers. 2001.

[6] https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2001/february5/9.54.html?share=

[7] The Coming Evangelical Crises, Pg.182-183.

[8] http://uir.unisa.ac.za/bitstream/handle/10500/15821/thesis_pretorius_sp.pdf

[9] Elizabeth L. Hillstrom, Testing the Spirits (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1995), Pg.79.

[10] Between Two Worlds: The Art of Preaching in the 20th Century (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1982), Pg.82.

[11] Ibid. Pg. 250

[12] Ibid. Pg. 254

[13] https://www.awtozerclassics.com/articles/article/4938678/86407.htm

[14] Pentecostalism, Politics, and Prosperity in South Africa by Maria Frahm-Arp, Published: 3 October 2018.

[15] David G. Benner, in Psychotherapy in Christian Perspective who is quoting Vance L. Shepperson in an article entitled “Hypnotherapy”.

[16] John Wesley, as quoted in Ronald A. Knox, Enthusiasm: A Chapter in the History of Religion (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1994 edition), Pg.533. 45Ibid.

[17] Quoted in Os Guiness, Fit Bodies, Fat Minds (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1994), Pg.32

[18] John Wesley, as quoted in Nick Needham’s appendix, “Holy Laughter – The Experience of John Wesley,” Was Jonathan Edwards the Founding Father of the Toronto Blessing? (Welling, Kent, England: self-published, 1995), 39.

[19] Hot Tub Religion: Christian living in a materialistic world, Pg. 72.

[20] Mere Christianity