Pentecostal churches all over the world have come under attack for their emphasis on success, healing and miracles. As BRIGHT MHANGO writes, this has created room for some people to argue that the ‘miracle gospel’ is a way of taking advantage of the gullible to rip them off.
From nowhere, the preacher shrieks ‘Rabha ka shaka mamamamamamamaa.’ If one is uninitiated, they can run or think the preacher is crazy or possessed but for the Pentecostal going crowd, that is very normal.
Pentecostalism is an evangelical faith, emphasising the reliability of the Bible and the need for the transformation of an individual’s life through faith in Jesus.
Pentecostals emphasise the teaching of the “full gospel” or “foursquare gospel.” The term foursquare refers to the four fundamental beliefs of Pentecostalism: Jesus saves (John 3:16); baptizes with the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:4); heals (James 5:15); and is coming again to receive those who are saved (1 Thessalonians 4:16–17.)
The general agreement among scholars lists the central belief of Pentecostalism as being that through the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ, sins can be forgiven and humanity reconciled with God. This is the Gospel or “good news”. The fundamental requirement of Pentecostalism is that one be born again.
The new birth is received by the grace of God through faith in Christ and acceptance of him as personal lord and saviour. In being born again, the believer is regenerated, justified, adopted into the family of God and sanctified.
Pentecostal churches are awash in Malawi, and they are popular, especially in cities. While they swim in the best part of the soup of time, some critics say Pentecostals are evil in nature and have many things in common with demonic worship and are actually a threat to Christianity.
Roger Olson, a theology lecturer, quoted on www.religion-online.org, says he was a big Pentecostal member who “spoke in tongues at age 14, raised my hands in exuberant worship at revivals and camp meetings, witnessed to my friends at school and tried to convince Christian friends that they needed the ‘sign gift’ of speaking in tongues to be fully Spirit-filled.”
Olson, however, said he ditched Pentecostalism and returned to criticise the movement which he calls immature.
“Endemic to Pentecostalism is a profoundly anti-intellectual ethos. It is manifested in a deep suspicion of scholars and educators and especially biblical scholars and theologians.
“Pentecostalism has little or no time for doctrine or truth. It’s all about experience. The low educational and intellectual level of so many, if not most Pentecostal pastors, only exacerbates the problem. Musicians can turn pastors overnight; many church leaders do not even know what a diploma in theology looks like and puts the followers at a risk of following half-baked doctrines.
“Another part of Pentecostalism’s dark side is rampant sexual and financial scandals… Other Christian movements have suffered similar scandals, but Pentecostalism seems particularly rife with them. Insiders know some of the reasons. Deeply embedded within the Pentecostal movement’s ethos is a cult of personality; charismatic leaders are put on pedestals above accountability and are often virtually worshiped by many of their followers,” charges Olson.
In Malawi, it is easy to get tempted to agree with Olson who says Pentecostal leaders misuse the phrase “Touch not God’s anointed” drawn from Psalm 105:15 to forbid criticism of the movement’s leaders.
Many Pentecostal leaders in Malawi are demi-gods in their own right; they own the church; they alone can speak for the church; they are the anointed and the title ‘man of God’ is usually christened on them as if the rest of the flock are men of Satan.
Another commentator, speaking on allexperts.org, said Pentecostalism is a threat to Christianity because of what he called phony signs and wonders and fake tongues.
“Historical Christianity, whether Catholic or Protestant, promised man a glorious afterlife if he would have faith in what he couldn’t see and live according to God’s commandments. Pentecostalism, with it is promises of health, wealth, worldly prosperity, miracles and a direct, exciting experience with God Himself, appeals to something very carnal in mankind, which probably explains it is incredible growth,” he said.
In Nigeria, there are preachers who have private jets and the flock still go to church every Sunday to worship God and offer offerings. It is as if the message that people would get financial blessings at the end of the year is enough to keep masses returning to church every Sunday.
There are churches in Malawi that do not have branches in Mchinji but are thinking of opening branches in the UK and South Africa. It is the same with Pentecostal pastors on buses at Wenela. Buses going to Thyolo or Nsanje are not graced, but those going to Lilongwe—as if salvation is for the affluent only.