Interesting article on the African Church

Just read a very interesting article about the African Church where the author tries to break down the different theologies that are around.

It’s true that charismatic churches in Africa have been growing at a rapid rate, but they’re not the only ones doing so. For example, the Evangelical Church Winning All (ECWA), the largest Protestant denomination in Nigeria, with over 6,000 churches and 2.5 million adult members, is decidedly not charismatic.

Other non-charismatic churches are also growing in Africa and will stay the majority for some time, say researchers. In the Atlas of Global Christianity, Todd M. Johnson and Kenneth R. Ross estimate that only 33 percent of African Christians are “renewalists” (their term for charismatic, Pentecostal, or otherwise “Spirit-empowered” churches). They divide African renewalists into three groups:

  1. Denominational Pentecostals (including Assemblies of God): 19% of all African renewalists
  2. Mainline denominational charismatics (Catholic, Anglican, Lutheran, Baptist, and so on): 27% of all African renewalists
  3. Independent charismatics: 54% of all African renewalists

Isaac Laudarji, an ECWA pastor in Chicago, says it’s difficult to quantify the number of charismatics in Africa. But he agrees that they exert wide-ranging influence. One reason, he says, is the way they go about their ministry. “They tend to be aligned with churches outside the African continent that make them more prominent than non-charismatic churches in Africa,” said Laudarji. And charismatic churches have done better than non-charismatic churches in using media like TV and radio, contributing to their wide recognition, he said.

One of the statements that I particularly agree with is..

“The African church will need to become theologically sound and in depth but that cannot happen overnight,” said Fon. “We need scholars and theologians committed to the work to help the African church. Unfortunately, many Africans who should be lending a helping hand are living in diaspora, and the church continues to have poorly trained leadership or leadership trained outside of her context.”

Some “diaspora” Africans, like Gordon College’s Darko, do regularly travel back to Africa to train church leaders. Though his efforts are focused primarily on equipping pastors of fast-growing churches, Darko also works with other Christian leaders in Ghana to curb what he considers extremes.

“But we don’t correct extremes with top leaders in public,” he said. “I discuss some of the areas needing moderation with leaders at the personal level.”

Rather than extinguishing the African charismatic “fire,” Asamoah-Gyadu said, Christians need discernment to see how much of it is God’s. “I know people who were living with all kinds of health situations, who have been prayed for and healed,” he said. “I don’t accept every ‘miracle worker,’ but I know that in the midst of the negative reports surrounding some of them there are those who are genuine.”

Africa has many problems, he said. They’d be much worse without these churches and without people placing their trust in God. “I can point to people I knew,” he said, “whose lives were going nowhere, whose lives were transformed.”

Read the article here.. http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2013/october-web-only/african-church-charismatic-pentecostal-cessationist.html?paging=off

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8 comments

  1. Stephen, I wondered if you had a chance to see any sessions or articles about John McArthur’s recent conference, and what your thoughts were? I watched some of the sessions from here in Australia. Understandably it has created some controversy, and I would be interested in some feedback from outside of our crumbling ‘Western’ bubble. 🙂

    Also, do you know much about the ECWA denomination? I had not heard of it. I have friends who were missionaries in Jos, Nigeria for many years so will ask them on Sunday. The ECWA appears to be charismatic…is that correct?

    1. Actually this was the first time I have heard of them… was quite surprised that they are supposed to be the largest protestant denomination.
      I will have listen to some of the sessions and let you know.

      1. What a great article, thanks for sending the link. I agree that those are commonly held positions in this current environment.

        Perhaps TA could have added Confused? 🙂 I had no idea I was a ‘cessationist’. Even now I am not even sure what that means. If it means I don’t believe God works visibly in this world, that is an irrational charge for people to level at me and others who are clearly being sanctified (as described in the Scriptures) by the Holy Spirit. I have seen God work miracles and heal people (not the TV kind though), clearly communicate his will to his people. I have also experienced the awesome, painful process of true conviction of sin and the new life that comes after conversion.

        However, if it means that I don’t believe in the gift of tongues, even then I don’t know how to answer that. I had never even known that people still spoke in ‘tongues’ until very recently (and I am 39!!!). It just wasn’t on my radar. Raised on the mission field in a Catholic/Muslim country (the Philippines), by Reformed Baptist/Anglican parents it just wasn’t an issue. We just believed in the Bible, and at worst I thought some traditions in other denominations were a bit odd. I had no idea what they were really about though.

        I have found this whole issue very challenging, since my first true experience of the charismatic/pentecostal movement and ‘tongues’ and ‘words of knowledge’ was in the past couple of years, with the worst of its false teachings and poisonous fruit. Of course, it is no worse than the poisonous fruit of the emergent theology. 😦 So I am not sure where the lines between the two camps actually lie. I think that is the concern of many people I know. Some of whom are orthodox, God-fearing children of God who call themselves ‘continuists’, whatever that inadequate term really means.

        Perhaps we now have incorrectly defined terms, since the false teachers have slowly mutated them so that they now mean other things? As Emmanuel so aptly says in his post (nice one, by the way!)…words are not playthings. But sadly that is what they have become, and now I wonder whether we need to go back and clarify what we are actually talking about, and then unite to exclude the wolves from the flock. The flock is suffering.

        Are the sessions online, or had you recorded them? I haven’t seen them but keep seeing people refer to their existence as if they are available!

    2. Seems the only resources I can get on the conference are the transcripts from cripplegate. But it seems quite a few people are commenting that even though the conference might have been a good a idea the tone of it could have been better. But yet again I think the best response I have heard will be from Thabiti in the comments section of his article. He said
      “And here’s the question we must ask: If the issue were so exegetically clear in the Bible then why didn’t he take 30 seconds to give us chapter and verse to settle the issue? (perhaps he did and you’re just quoting a section you found compelling?) Instead, he makes a “stream of history” argument, an extra-biblical argument. Now, I place myself in that very same theological stream–and certainly not in the stream of the Kuhlmans and MacPhersons of the world! If it’s unclear to me it has nothing to do with those folks who I’ve never heard, read or consulted for any interpretation of scripture.

      I rank John MacArthur a far, far superior exegete to myself. I also rank Don Carson a far, far, superior exegete to myself. The fact that the two men may disagree at points is surely no grounds to say the scripture is unclear, but it is grounds for a little neophyte like myself to say, Hold on; I’d better listen and think pretty hard here. Differences of opinion do not make the matter unclear, but they do clearly make the matter one requiring care and caution.

      Now, as I listen to the debates and read things from time to time, I think every party in this discussion makes a lot of inferences from the scripture that are not themselves the explicit teaching of the scripture. So, just by way of example, cessationists will point to prophets and apostles as “foundation” and conclude from the foundation simile that this means those offices and gifts closed with the apostolic era. On the other hand, continuationists will point to 1 Cor. 14 and ask, “Why did God inspire Paul to give regulations for the gifts of prophecies and tongues if they were not to continue and be used in the church?” Both make inferences. Neither side can point to a text that says “These gifts have ceased” or “These gifts continue.” Both sides think their positions follow logically and necessarily from some other biblical statements. This impasse at least means the interpreters see through a darkly stained glass.

      But I think we might be forced to say more if we’re not too interested in defending our position. And that more is this: The Bible doesn’t solve the issue as neatly as we would like. It just doesn’t. And that’s why my fourth point was that the Bible isn’t as compellingly clear on this point as we would hope. For example, the NT list of gifts include gifts for which we have no definition beyond the words themselves and no NT example or illustration of how they functioned in the church. I hear people all the time say, “Oh, that means….” When I ask them how they know and show me in the scripture how they got there, they have to sit in silence or ramble on about the meaning of the gift’s name. So here you have the scripture naming a gift but doing nothing else with it while people fill in the blank. Personally, I don’t find that compelling.

      That doesn’t mean the Bible is insufficient. It means, like some other things important to us, the Bible is unconcerned with our questions or our debates, as if our questions and debates set the agenda. It means God said what He wanted to say about the matter, all that He deemed important to say about the matter, and that’s enough on the matter even if we’re left at some point scratching our heads.

      The historical and experiential arguments have their place. But for me, that place is vastly secondary to the biblical discussion. Once you settle what the Bible teaches then you’ll know how to interpret those experiences and history. The danger, of course, is we may all lock ourselves into a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy, an interpretive confirmation bias that only tells us what we decided a priori must already be there. I think I see a lot of people do that, all the while failing to say this is an inference and insisting “the Bible says.”” …

      1. Bless you, brother! Your response is incredibly helpful. It also reflects some of my own thoughts that perhaps I have not been able to articulate well.

        I personally don’t have a fixed position, at least not in line with any of the available definitiions. I think this is partly for the very reasons you describe in your response…there are things that are not clearly defined so we need to be careful not to stray into error using extra-biblical sources to cement our position. Who is to say whose extra-biblical arguments are correct? History/tradition and current personal experience are both powerful influencers. However, as TA point outs…there can’t be two opposing views that are both correct, contrary to popular post-modern belief. There is truth, and there is untruth. We must desire and seek God’s truth.

        I want to be able to ask my friends genuine questions – on both sides of the debate. I want to come alongside fellow believers to read the Scriptures, pray and seek the Holy Spirit’s guidance even thought it means one of us will end up being in error. I think of it as a ‘wrestling with truth’ together, not in opposition. Yet, often when I ask questions, people seem very keen to spend most of the time defending their own position, or wanting to declare me in one camp or another and then still not answer my questions. It can become very frustrating, and is especially difficult as we are called to be gentle and patient. Perhaps there was not enough of that at the conference?

        A key problem I see is this…there is a dangerous, false spirit in the church. That is undeniable. It has pervaded every denomination here in Australia. Heresy is rife in the church. That is undeniable. Our own Hillsong stands as a shining example of that. It seems from the many testimonies shared with me that the Lord is working in and among his people to call them out of such false churches and into fellowship with true believers. Even from across the globe!

        It seems that the call to be separate is being placed on many hearts. But it is the Holy Spirit that helps us to recognise error, and to also recognise his Spirit in others. What a diabolical situation then when in the wider church people can’t even agree on whether something is of the Holy Spirit or not…the very source of all our wisdom and discernment. That tells me that there are many sowers of dissension, many tares among the wheat. I certainly don’t want to add to the confusion, which is partly why your response was so timely. Caution and humility does not equal ‘fence sitting’!

        Again, thank you for sharing your thoughts. I have been greatly encouraged.

  2. I had to chuckle. Of course…since Africa is a large continent made up of many nations, languages and cultures it is a bit naive of me to expect you to know everything that is going on. 🙂 Half the time I don’t realize what is happening here in my own city. Especially with the wildly spreading ‘church’, much of which seems to be founded on terrible false teaching (not that there is ever ‘good’ false teaching). Anyway, I will chat to my friends about it and see what they have to say. If you are interested, I will get back to you. In part, it interests me becuase there are so many wild claims about the sweeping revivals and extraordinary church growth happening around the world…yet every time I investigate more closely, what I find is false doctrine. Seriously false, not just different to the traditions I am familiar with!

    Conrad Mbewe spoke at the conference. His talk was the first I heard, and was excellent. If you can’t get access to the sessions (ot sure if they are online – let me know if you find them!!), or don’t have time then Mike from the Cripplegate blog did excellent transcripts/summaries that you might like to read instead. I posted some of the links in one of my posts, but if you are interested, here is the blog link http://thecripplegate.com/.

    I look forward to hearing your thoughts, particularly in light of what you see in Ghana, and coming out of the USA and other places.

    I really appreciate being able to hear from a brother in Christ so far away, and praise God for bringing his people together. More than ever, we need to encourage each other along the narrow path. May God bless you as you go about your week!

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