It was almost 9 pm on a Friday night when Candice and I listened to the young and dynamic Prophet pointing to the TV Screen claiming, “God wants you well”; “God wants you prosperous”; “God wants you healed”. Somehow all of these seem to make you quite comfortable, especially in a year of global panic after the Covid 19 infestation. It seems like everybody is in some need of assurance, and like many others, these dynamic ‘men-of-god’ tend to have a direct affiliation with that which the ordinary mind just cannot comprehend. They seem to speak directly for the will of the Divine, enabling us to hear the silent scream directly between God and the aching masses. For a lot of us these days, it seems like we are more despairing than ever, especially to hear from above, and like many desperate people, it almost seems like anything will do! In this environment, a lot can take place, and the possibilities seem abundant. These times seem to constantly reveal these types of men.
Does God still heal?
I was 12-year-old when another boy in school accidentally jabbed me in the eye with a piece of wire. I needed an immediate emergency eye operation with only mild sedation. The best part was that I could skip school for a week, but the Sunday, we would go to Church where a healing evangelist, late Prophet Kobus Van Rensburg, would preach. As he was praying for people, I was not aware of any change in my eye, but as he prayed a corporate prayer, under the eyepatch, I could not feel the stitches in my eye anymore. Later that night, I told my parents that my vision seems to feel healthier, and after a lengthy examination, concluded that my eye was completely healed, and the stitches gone. It was not the first time God came close; my mom, a few years before, was healed supernaturally of a lump in her breast through a revelation and subsequent healing after prayer with medical verification.
I am relating these accounts so that the reader will not think that there is an anti-supernatural bias or even an indictment against the unexplained purely from the author’s idiosyncratic perspective. I am convinced, as a Bible-believing Christian, that the God of the Scriptures is present amongst men and can steward current and other desperate events according to His will (1 Cor 12:11). I do not denounce the Holy Spirit’s divine working; neither do I condemn the power of God to accomplish the miraculous as He sees fit. I do not hold that the supernatural is typical or normative. Still, neither do I shy away from the reality that God can heal through both natural and ‘above’ natural intervention. I am keenly aware that today, what we are experiencing is not due to the supernatural. I find that a lot of services are merely governed by egotistic energetic figures that have clothed themselves in biblical titles persuading unsuspecting souls that are looking for some stimulation obtaining some vicinity in these Churches that conjure the spirit.
The art of the Con
It seems like the market for miracles boomed in Africa in the last few years. Prophets, Apostles, Bishops, and Wannabees have flooded every area of our lives. From social media to television, to the neighborhood shopping mall. All of these present an opportunity to meet the God of the Impossible. People have tried many things, but the promise of divine intervention seems to garner a lot of support. This God promises it all, success, prosperity, and above all, the American dream. “Nothing is impossible for those who believe.” The most successful Prophets/Apostles/Preachers are those that can affirm the results of what they have promised. Usually, they find themselves on top of the feeding scheme, ready to challenge those that show any disdain for their perceived position and divine power. “Touch not god’s anointed” and do not question the man of God.
Their perceived success falls apart, though when we look a little bit closer to the conman methodologies they use, that can explain why so many people seem to follow them. Director Richard Pearce showcased a stunning movie starring Steve Martin called “Leap of Faith” (1992) that revealed the actual methods used by some revivalists and faith healers to defraud the unsuspecting crowds that followed them. Now, in all fairness, not all those seeking to petition the Divine are conmen. Some are rather sincere but have been taught precise methods to showcase “the hand of God.” Here are some necessities needed for the miraculous to work.
Power of persuasion and expectation
Desperate people do desperate things, especially if you can show it to them from the Bible. Jonas (Steve Martin) in the movie, “Leap of Faith”, calls out the recipe to get the gullible when he laments;
“A town this deep in the crapper’s got nowhere to turn but God!”
Everybody is buying something in a desperate market, even if it just an idea. Others are not as desperate, but they are usually instructed to come expectant for a miracle or touch from the man of God. The richest conmen are those that could convince a man of their impending need without providing any substance to account for it.
“The best manipulators don’t force someone into doing something that they don’t want to do. Instead, it is more about helping someone see the value in helping you and doing what you would like and then building up from there… “The manipulator has found a way to break into your world by disguising themselves as someone they can relate to. When in reality… they are just trying to distract them from getting closer. There are times when people are going to come into your life to make you rethink your choices based upon your world.””
Always ask yourself, what is in it for them? They might desire affirmation; they might even fend for their greed or want to control others for the sake of control. A practice that is often used to convince people of some communication from beyond the visible is called ‘cold-reading’ where a Prophet will start with the word “J” for instance.
“Now, most people in the audience likely knows someone in their life who died and had a J name, so these people might assume the psychic is talking about someone they knew. The audience member may even speak up and say something like, “My uncle Jason just died.” The supernatural will then go with that audience member, playing off their body language, and making some small, and very general guesses, that the member of the audience can relate to their own life.”
Sadly, these tactics are but some of the ways in which these individuals cultivate trust in the people they are trying to sway. One Prophet even draws pictures supposedly revealed to him by the divine. Others find all kinds of ordeals and even guesstimate the ages of the listeners children and make grandiose promises about their future even claiming that their supposed intervention now have cubed and thwarted the future plans of the evil one. In the end, the result is the same, impress to be blessed, especially with the wilful financial blessing of the audience. Earlier I have mentioned the movie, “Leap of Faith”, in it, Jonas (Steve Martin) accounts for what truly makes men affirm the power of the divine. He adds;
“Never underestimate the power of belief, boy. With it, I’ve seen a mute sing “Hallelujah” and I’ve seen an old man get out of his wheelchair and dance. When you’ve got it, you’ve got the power of every ocean and every star right in your hand. Without it you’ve got nothing. Everyone you meet is just another sinner, and everywhere you go is just another hell.”
Power of personality
Men will always seek a mediator. Biblically, God’s best was not a man, but rather Himself. The Israelites lamented, “give us a King like the other nations” (1 Sam.8:6), and with great sadness, the Judeo-Christian God obliged, but not without showing them the reality of this man’s wanderings. He would place hefty taxes on them, send their children to war, and even lead them away from the heart of God. Yet, Israel wanted it! And so, moved closer to pass the almighty God (verse 11-17). There is usually one way to detect any con, question the man. It amazes me the amount of time, resources, and influence these individuals gradually usurp until people literally cannot function without them. It is almost as if they become THE mediator between the supernatural world and the temporal realm. To get people to the place of surrender takes time, takes consistency, and takes quite a performance. Costi W. Hinn, a family member of famous Televangelist, Benny Hinn writes;
“False teachers are good communicators who understand how to manipulate feelings without directly addressing the need for individuals to pursue holiness. To do this they use highly stylized preaching and engaging music content that promises people immediate pleasure and prosperity—be it emotional or physical. This is a vital point: if any teacher tells you the Gospel promises prosperity, power, or material reward, their message is not of God.”
As I stated earlier, these individuals cannot take any form of criticism; neither do they desire any external criteria to reveal their methods. People flock to the cult of personality. Ruth Ben-Ghiat, writing an article about political leaders for the Huffington Post, makes quite a fair comment that can readily apply;
“cults of personality go beyond private money and public influence. They are about an emotional tie that is forged between the leader and his followers. For this reason, they can be hard to grasp for those not making the connection. Here’s the trick to cults of personality: the leader has to embody the people but also stand above them. He must appear ordinary, to allow people to relate to him. And yet he must also be seen as extraordinary, so that people will grant him permission to be the arbiter of their individual and national destiny.”
“Just get to know the Prophet,” “Just speak with the man of God, and you will be convinced.” I cannot tell you how many times I have heard numerous pleas from bewitched congregants and followers. I believe them when they say it, but not because the supposed man of God has a magical touch, but because usually, they do have a way to sway even the sincerest individuals. Never underestimate the power of a charismatic leader. The sad reality is that this is simple displaced trust and as David DeSilva laments;
“Once authority becomes located in the teacher’s alleged access to the divine, it is quite difficult to bring external, objective standards to bear on evaluating their claims.”
Master manipulators usually lead you to a place of integration where they draw you into a crowd. This allows the leader to step back and lead the group, generally with the backing of a strong core or a few individuals who ‘know their place.’
Collectivism and the woes of the crowd
I cannot account for how many times I have seen the slogan, “An atmosphere for miracles,” on revival posters and Church bulletin boards. The promises are numerous, and the catch usually is that it is seemingly for free (until the offering). The most successful Churches are generally those that implore you to play your part in furthering the work of God via the special man of God. Those are usually the promises of a twisted mind, but we do not dare question it because it comes with guarantees of achievement. To challenge the man of God’s message or methodology is to petition God, and this can seem to be unforgivable. The majority rules, and what is popularly perceived by the many, are deemed right and appropriate. And in this positive atmosphere, people are more prone to hyper suggestibility, and the man of God can do almost whatever he wants. Results are usually attributed to the faith of the individual or group, not the man of God or leaders.
The onus is on you, never them! After the first, there is a second sin, which is to define or question the man of God, that is equally important, never defy the group. We watched some famed Prophet one night saying that any individual who has challenged their gift has “the Spirit of Jezebel.” There is a lot of power in collectivism, and even one’s prosperity can be advanced or activated by belonging to the group. Whatever is befitting or counted as accurate is what is determined by the movement or group. Truth is what is deemed necessary by the assembly. The ‘argumentum ad populum‘ (Latin: “appeal to the people“) is the fallacy that holds a proposition must be true because many or most people believe it. In a group setting, anything supernatural can be fostered and facilitated by the mere power of suggestion.
The leader, Prophet, and man of God thrive in this atmosphere because at a distance; he can maintain control and let groupthink mandate what is unique in this conflated echo chamber. I have many friends who lament that whatever these communities propose works. They have experienced something of divine touch and seen some tangible results. As for their experiences, I do not discount the fact that what they say is true. I want to inform them that that may be not necessarily God but a result of suggestion, manipulation, collective experience, and sometimes even the demonic. To them, I appeal for some sense and biblical discernment.
Paul encourages Timothy
I dearly pray that this article will allow for some reflection upon the miracle signs and wonders industry that is growing in Africa. When we are faithful to the preaching of the Gospel, the priority is always the Gospel first and everything else second. Every time we speak out against that which is perceived to be false, we should remember Paul’s excellent instruction to Timothy. Here is a young man, zealous in faith, wanting to see God’s Kingdom advance through the ministry that was entrusted to him. Paul does not even start with signs and wonders as a means of advancing the Gospel. As for the Kingdom of Christ, here is what Paul says?
- “hold on to the pattern of sound teaching” (2 Tim.1:13).
- “commit to faithful men who will be able to teach others also” (2 Tim.2:2).
- “keep in mind Jesus Christ, risen from the dead.” (2 Tim.2:8).
- “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, correctly teaching the word of truth” (2 Tim.2:15).
- “Turn away from unrighteousness” (2 Tim.2:19).
- “be gentle to everyone, able to teach, and patient, instructing.. opponents with gentleness.” (2 Tim.2:24-25).
- “come to a knowledge of truth…know the sacred scriptures, which are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Jesus Christ.” (2 Tim.3:7&15).
- “teach, rebuke, correct, and train… until completion of maturity (2 Tim.3:16-17).
- “Finish the race” (2 Tim.4:7).
Please notice that nowhere does Paul tell Timothy to perform signs or wonders as a Kingdom priority; he encourages Timothy to teach faithfully and focus on Christ. Let this be our aim and motivation.
 NLP Dark Psychology: Neuro-Linguistic Programming Techniques: The essential guide To Persuade and Influence People, learn to detect deception, covert manipulation). J.R. Smith. Pg.60,62.
 Ibid, Pg.69-70.
 Defining Deception, Costi W. Hinn. Pg.207-208.
 An Introduction to the New Testament: Contexts, Methods & ministry formation. Pg.873-874.