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AUTHENTICALLY PENTECOSTAL IN THE GLOBAL SOUTH

by David Oginde

This is a reflection of the early church which addressed itself to every matter that stood in the way of the spread of the gospel, dealing with both the social and spiritual needs of the people.
Many church scholars and demographic students have unanimously concluded that the church’s centre of gravity has moved from the global north to the south. For example, Philip Jenkins argues in The Next Christendom that the Christian world has shifted inexorably southward, to Africa and Latin America. He reports that, according to the Centre for the Study of Global Christianity, the number of African Christians is growing by at least 2.4 per cent annually, and that by 2025, the largest number of Christians may be found on the continent of Africa. Thus Elizabeth Isichei is correct when she writes, “Christianity in Africa is of global significance, and the directions it takes are of importance to Christians everywhere.1

What is significant about these projections is that this growth is being driven mainly by Pentecostalism, fuelled by the strong supernatural orientation of global south Christianity. Again Jenkins reports, “According to current projections, the number of Pentecostal believers should surpass the one billion mark before 2050.”2 In fact for some, the Pentecostal expansion has been so astonishing that, according to Harvey Cox,3 some have termed it the new reformation.

And indeed for Africa, Pentecostalism represents perhaps the fastest expanding sector of Christianity. However, as Asonzeh Ukah4 points out, Pentecostalism in Africa is unarguably the most complex and socially visible strand of religion in Africa, not only because it is still evolving and changing rapidly, but the proliferation of division and innovation is dizzying. To this end, Ukah identifies three distinct strands of Pentecostal churches (although some of these overlap at significant points) in Africa as: classical/mission Pentecostal churches, indigenous/independent Pentecostal churches, and the new Pentecostals/charismatic churches/ministries. Whereas it is not within our scope to pursue these strands in detail, suffice it to say that all three embrace aspects of the classical Pentecostal beliefs and practices of faith healing, exorcism, speaking in tongues, spontaneous prayer, exuberant liturgical expression, and a special emphasis on extra-biblical revelation through prophecy, dreams and visions.

However, it is noteworthy that because of its rise to respond to the socio-economic upheavals of the 1980s, the new Pentecostal/charismatic churches have become distinct from the other Pentecostal churches. They have developed a new message that promises individuals a comprehensive solution to all their worries, on the condition that they become born again and give generously to the religious leader. In return, the obedient faithful are to receive material and spiritual blessings in the form of healing, wealth, abundant life, success and earthly promotion. As a result, vast Christian empires, under the leadership of one man or woman, have flowered in the continent, with large numbers of followers.

For many, this has become the face of Pentecostalism, especially because of its strong presence in the electronic media, and particularly on TV. Consequently, the health and wealth gospel, as it is sometimes known, has become so prevalent that in its 2006 survey, when Pew Research Center asked participants if God would “grant material prosperity to all believers who have enough faith,” eighty-five per cent of Kenyan Pentecostals, 90 per cent of South African Pentecostals, and 95 per cent of Nigerian Pentecostals said yes. Similarly, when Pew Research Center asked if religious faith was “very important to economic success,” about nine out of 10 Kenyan, Nigerian, and South African renewal believers said it was. This gospel has become so prevalent that, as I once pointed out in an interview with Christianity Today, we could easily triple our church membership simply by turning to the health and wealth gospel. Yet again, if that is all I am teaching, then I have lost the biblical message. For the kingdom of God is built, not on bread and butter, but on the cross!

However, it is important to point out that, whereas many of the founders of these new Pentecostal churches claim divine authorization for establishing what now seem more like economic empires than religious organizations, I fully agree with Ukah that there is a discernible American influence in the theology, organizational structure and practice of these churches. And in this milieu, authentic Pentecostalism is on the brink of being consigned to the land of the dinosaurs—not just in Africa, but across the globe.

It is my contention that, whereas the beliefs and practices of faith healing, exorcism, speaking in tongues, spontaneous prayer, exuberant liturgical expression, and extra biblical revelation through prophecy, dreams and visions must still remain the hallmarks of Pentecostalism, the exercise of these must be founded on biblical injunction for them to remain authentic. To this end, Paul’s example has been a lighthouse.

In almost every letter he wrote, Paul’s introduction was: “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God” (emphasis added). The fact of Paul’s call formed the foundation for the life he lived, the sermons he preached, and the activities he engaged in. Writing to the Corinthians in 2 Corinthians 4:1-3, he told his fellow ministers:

Therefore, since through God’s mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart. Rather, we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God. And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing.

Every Christian leader must approach ministry with the humility of knowing that whatever ministry he or she is engaged in, it is given by God’s call through His divine grace. It is this reality that should help us to avoid pitfalls in at least five areas:

Commitment, not Discouragement —“We do not lose heart”
Set within a very competitive environment, contemporary Christian ministry can be a very discouraging affair. There is always an unwritten comparison between preachers, churches and programs—the pressure to perform is real. Many new Pentecostal leaders are media savvy individuals who, with a university education background, have introduced commercial practices into their organization. Public crusades are often grounds for proving popularity rather than proclaiming the gospel. The size and design of buildings are seen as expressions of who is moving in the right direction!

All these things put together can bring great stress and distress to the church leader who wants to remain true to the gospel. At such times, the sure knowledge that God has placed His divine hand of approval on an individual will help that man or woman to set about his or her ministry with faith, courage and confidence. Thus, the fact of God’s call carries one through the turbulent waves of opposition, criticism, and possible slander—both from within and without—thereby offering a shield against every form of discouragement that may come our way.

Character, not Disgrace—
“We renounce secret and shameful ways”

The new Pentecostalism has been marked by some strange practices and questionable behaviour, especially on the part of its leadership. It is therefore incumbent upon every authentic church leader to heed Paul’s admonition to Timothy to watch his life and doctrine closely. The practice and demonstration of the gifts cannot replace a life of integrity, whether or not anybody is watching. The world, the flesh and the Devil must be watched carefully and kept at bay. Many a ministry has been brought down by lack of financial integrity, sexual infidelity, and sheer desire for power. In the Scriptures, true Pentecostalism in the nascent church punished infidelity severely—ask Ananias and Sapphira!

Credibility, not Deceit—“We do not use deception”
Writing to the Corinthians after his ministry among them, Paul told them in 1 Corinthians 2:1-5:
When I came to you, brothers, I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. I came to you in weakness and fear, and with much trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on men’s wisdom, but on God’s power.
With an emphasis on extra-biblical revelation and special oratory skills, the new Pentecostal preacher is ever dependent on eloquence or superior wisdom. Wise and persuasive words which have a strong appeal to the urban mind are carefully utilized and pose an immediate challenge to the seemingly simplistic message of the gospel. Though this kind of language sometimes leaves the congregation hopefully impressed, it most certainly takes them nowhere nearer the cross of Christ.

Creed, not Distortion—“We do not distort the word of God”

Martin De Haan II observes, “The best teachers are those who see themselves as communicators of truth, not originators of it.”5 Yet, because of the pressure to build large empires, many preachers have taken to preaching what the people want to hear—health and wealth, blessings and curses, healing and deliverance, power and miracles, etc. Whereas there is nothing wrong with these themes, and whereas they are part and parcel of the gospel, it is the manner in which they are being distorted to attract audiences that is extremely appalling. Hermeneutical principles have been sacrificed at the altar of popularity and crowd pulling! It is therefore important to realize that authentic Pentecostalism brings the Spirit’s power into the simple spoken word of God, transforming it into “the power of God unto salvation.”

Clarity, not Disparity—“We [appeal] to every man’s conscience”
Most urban centers are cosmopolitan in nature, bringing together people with a wide diversity of needs and a large mix of people from various racial, tribal, social, economic, educational and religious backgrounds. The challenge therefore that faces the urban minister is how to present the old time religion to a contemporary audience whose attention is constantly being drawn by other competing voices.

In a worldwide survey conducted in 1998 by the Institute for Natural Church Development and published by the International Centre for Leadership Development & Evangelism, Christian Schwarz identifies eight quality characteristics of growing churches. These are:

• Loving Relationships
• Need-Oriented Evangelism
• Holistic Small Groups
• Functional Structures
• Inspiring Worship
• Passionate Spirituality
• Gift-oriented Ministry
• Empowering Leadership

This is a reflection of the early church, which addressed itself to every matter that stood in the way of spreading the gospel, dealing with both the social and spiritual needs of the people. Thus, selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Yet, “every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people.” Consequently, “the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved” (Acts 2:45-47).

For a long time, evangelical Christians —especially Pentecostals—have been accused, perhaps legitimately so, of being too heavenly minded to be any earthly good. Our message has overemphasized the spiritual at the expense of the physical and social. No wonder our members have been so ill-equipped to handle material and social problems. Thankfully, though, several Pentecostal ministries are responding to social needs and advocacy issues, not only presenting Jesus as the answer to human problems, but also clearly articulating what those problems are. This means that the minister must be up-to-date with current affairs, holding the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other. Otherwise, we may find our message in disparity with the conscience of the people.

Conclusion
In his book Issues Facing Christians Today, John Stott decries the Christian’s lack of engagement with contemporary issues. Stott argues that the better and more Christian way to approach today’s complicated questions “is to develop a Christian mind, namely a mind which has firmly grasped the basic presuppositions of Scripture and is thoroughly informed with biblical truth.”6

Very interestingly, this ties in with 1 Chronicles 12:32 (NKJV), which speaks “of the sons of Issachar who had understanding of the times, to know what Israel ought to do.”

Though not explicitly mentioned, I am of the considered opinion that these men kept their five senses alive to the issues of their day. They distinguished themselves not only by their abstract knowledge and understanding of the current affairs of their nation, but more so by their ability to critically interrogate these happenings and offer practical solutions.

The sons of Issachar were not mere consumers of daily news, but critical thinkers and researchers who diligently sought answers to the issues that troubled Israel in their day. The Bible says they had understanding of the times, to know what Israel ought to do.

I am of the view that unless we can raise some sons of Issachar in our days who understand the times and know what we need to do, then we risk being irrelevant to the society we live in!

ENDNOTES

1. Elizabeth Isichei, A History of Christianity in Africa (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1995), 1.
2. Philip Jenkins, The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity (New York: Oxford University Press, Inc., 2002).
3. Harvey Cox, eminent Christain scholar and philosopher and author of The Secular City and The Future of Faith is variously credited with coining the term.
4. Asonzeh Ukah, A New Paradigm of Pentecostal Power: A Study of the Redeemed Christian Church of God in Nigeria (Trenton: Africa World Press, 2008).
5. Martin R. De Haan, Who Qualifies to Be a Church Leader? (Grand Rapids: RBC Ministries, 2002), 22.
6. John R. W. Stott, Issues Facing Christians Today (London: Marshall Pickering, 1990), 5.
REV. DAVID OGINDE is the Bishop of Christ Is the Answer Ministries (CITAM) formerly known as Nairobi Pentecostal Church He holds a Bachelor of Architecture degree from the University of Nairobi and a
Masters Degree in Leadership from the Pan Africa Christian University..
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