31 October 2013

Strange Fire Conference #5: Conrad Mbewe

by Dan Phillips

First post
Second post
My overall summary report to CBC
Third post
Fourth post

I am going to combine Conrad Mbewe's two sessions, on days one and three, into two posts.

Mbewe (mm-BAY-way) pastors Kabwata Reformed Baptist Church in Lusaka, Zambia, and is known as "the Spurgeon of Africa," though he himself does not know who gave him that name. When Phil Johnson introduced Mbewe's second talk, he said that, if he were unable to sit under John MacArthur's ministry, he'd gladly sit under Mbewe's preaching.

In his first talk, Mbewe focused on the impact of the spread of Charismaticism to Africa. He began with John 17:17 and noted that, were that verse fully valued, Charismaticism would never have taken hold. The central problem is a failure to recognize the centrality and sufficiency of the Word of God. Amen, and not just in Africa.

North of the Sahara, Islam dominates; but south of the Sahara, Charismaticism has flooded the continent to the extent that it is the most visible form of "evangelicalism" (he stressed the quotation-marks). "Born again" has become a synonym for Charismaticism, due to media saturation, and a staple diet of TBN.

Thirty years ago, Pentecostal missionaries came to Africa and made some attempt (along with their other interests) to teach some Bible. They didn't do it well, but they at least made the gesture. Now, however, Mbewe says that he can't recall the last time someone in this movement said he was going to a Bible study. What Charismaticism has increasingly done, instead, is to take African religion, sprinkle superficially Christian terms on top, and bring in the masses. The pagan African worldview is not challenged and overthrown in the name of King Jesus; it is embraced and pressed into the service of church growth. (Mbewe expands on this in a post on the GTY blog.)

For instance, ads say "Come and receive your deliverance and your healing and your breakthrough." This sounds perfectly American-Charismatic. [UPDATE  since I posted this, Joyce Meyer was kind enough to make my point for me:
Thoughtful, no? Now, read on.]

However, to the common African breakthrough connotes the belief that problems in life are caused by layers of angels, demons, and ancestral spirits between the sufferer and God. Until those layers are broken through, he won't get what he wants. So the African concept of a distant God is enshrined in Charismatic preaching and practice.

So now Africans have two options to try to attain the same goals: rush to the witch doctor, or to the Charismatic pastor. Indeed, Mbewe's second talk asked whether pastors were witch doctors, since that is the role they now play in the Charismatic movement. Confronted with problems, these "pastors" (most commonly and ironically called "man of God") do not respond with the Gospel and the Word, but with all-night prayer meetings and power confrontations and ritual. At a meeting, perhaps 20 minutes of motivational speaking is followed by charismatic fakery and manipulations.

All the time Charismatic leaders talk about demons and breakthroughs, the Word remains closed. As in America (which I call the "What Verse Are We On?" phenomenon). Mbewe pointed to scandalous news reports of sexual abuse perpetrated by charismatic leaders, imposed on followers who'd become conditioned to being ordered around and manipulated by the "man of God." Another charismatic leader is accused of impregnating at least ten women before being divorced by his wife.

All this happens, Mbewe says, because of a seismic shift in understanding who and what a pastor is. A pastor should be someone who faithfully studies, preaches, and applies the Bible. Now the pastor occupies the place originally held by the village witch doctor, an impression strengthened by the pastors' claim to have personal secret dealings with God, and receiving secret revelation.

Any of this sound familiar?

But despite this constant buzz of supposedly supernatural phenomena, the track record of African Charismatics is evidently just about as good as that of their American counterparts. An African organization for the lame, blind, and otherwise disabled ultimately issued a statement urging people to stop going to these meetings — because they did not know of a single incident of healing from those maladies.

Just like it was in apostolic times, never.

More than once, Mbewe noted that he is necessarily painting with a broad brush — but not too broad: of a list of "evangelical" ministries in Africa, 90% are of this persuasion. He noted as well that Africa was poised to launch the next missionary initiative — but, he asked pointedly and poignantly, what would they be exporting? The same diseased, destructive error that America exported to Africa — that America itself continues to refuse to address and confront with sufficient force, as its promulgators and enablers continue to run interference for the very worst doctrine and practice?

What came out repeatedly was Mbewe's concern about our silence on this massive issue, our failure and refusal to lock horns. He alluded to a post of his titled Our Criminal Evangelical Silence. The first paragraph of that post will bring us towards a powerful conclusion to this one:
We all know that the dark ages are upon us again here in Africa. It is almost like a dark blanket that is slowly surrounding the land. People who know absolutely nothing of the core values of evangelical Christianity—the new birth, repentance and saving faith, justification and holiness, etc.—have hijacked evangelical Christianity in Africa. Even the term "born again" is being peddled without an iota of the meaning that Jesus had in mind when he used the phrase in his talk with Nicodemus. These are dark days indeed.
Not only in Africa, sad to say. And the deafening squeal of protests to this conference, from perpetrators and enablers alike, signals that the darkness mightn't be ending anytime soon, due in large measure to the very tragic phenomenon we see in Jeremiah 5:31a:
The prophets prophesy falsely, 
And the priests rule on their own authority; 
And My people love it so! 

Dan Phillips's signature


Tom Chantry said...

Oh, but John MacArthur was so wicked to not exempt cautious continuationists from all responsibility.

And while we're on the subject, what was up with FDR? Has anyone else noticed that his "Day of Infamy" speech said nothing about the cautious imperialists in Japan? I only wish he had bothered to take Tojo out for coffee first...

Rob said...

I listened to one of Pastor Mbewe's messages yesterday and found the Africa 'pentacostal-witch doctor' parallel fascinating.

Eric said...

I visited Malawi a few years back while my brother was working for a Reformed mission organization there. I remember seeing a church in the capital city of Lilongwe that had the large slogan: "Home of Unlimited Breakthroughs". The word breakthrough was used repeatedly on the façade of the church. Brother Mbewe's talk sheds some light on the depth of that phrase. I figured it had a Pentecostal/charismatic/prosperity origin, but did not realize the depth of tie-in with the African worldview.

This is not an original observation, but I think it worth repeating: The charismatics don't seem to want to touch this portion of the conference. I wonder why that is?

milhistorian said...

Scary thing is that in a lot of corners, especially in the Christian intelligentsia, any concerns about the lack of good doctrine in African Christianity is pooh-poohed as being merely a product of Western bias.

Frank Turk said...

It's funny that the most damning talk at the conference (this one) has no takers -- nobody running over here to tell us all the faults of the talk and the faults of Mbewe.

I wonder why Conrad Mbewe is not the focus of the fight?

I have a hypothesis: facts are the kryptonite of charismatic apologetics, and this talk was a lump of kryptonite the size of the Fortress of Solitude.

DJP said...

Well, Mbewe as to Africa, Jonia and Justin as to America.

Verification/falsification are not friends of the Charismatic movement. It lives in the shadows of credulity and laziness.

Webster Hunt (Parts Man) said...

I had a guy tell me that Bro. Mbewe and Mrs. Tada were simply token negro/paralytic at the conference. So ad hominem seems to work for them too.

What a shame.

DJP said...

So now we know the conference didn't miraculously cure being-an-idiot.

Kofi Adu-Boahen said...

To anyone who still doubts the veracity of Pastor Mbewe's comments about the deplorable state of African Christianity, as someone who became a believer in the context of a well-known Nigerian Pentecostal denomination (which my dad pastored in for several years), had moved in dozens of other African churches both in Ghana and his native UK and continues to have quite the ear in these churches - may I say, it's 100% true, if not even worse in West Africa than in the east where he is based.

There's a distinct reason you have NO pushback from his talks - because anyone who has been there KNOWS it's that bad. And I could prove it with deceptive ease.

Kofi Adu-Boahen said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jennifer Feldman said...

Is the problem with faulty doctrine in the Charismatic movement this severe?

Jennifer Feldman said...

Are things in Africa this severe? It almost sounds as if were seeing a version of 1st Corinthians in the charismatic sectors of the church. I hope and pray for real repentance among those who are in error.

Kofi Adu-Boahen said...


Here's one of West Africa's most well-known "prophets", T.B. Joshua doing his 'thing'. There are worse out there - this was one of the more tame examples of his spiel I could find: