Heresy in Africa
April 19 05
We've been talking about Catholicism a lot over the last couple of months. This week, I want to talk about Catholicism and Pentecostalism in Africa.
With the death of John Paul II came speculation that the next pope might be African. That speculation comes because Africa is proving to be the continent with the most growth potential for Roman Catholicism. Africa has a population of 900 million, 140 million of which are already Roman Catholic. Catholicism is growing in Africa because it has determined to do what it did over the centuries in Latin America and Asia, and that is: don't rock the boat. Catholic missionaries have long debated whether to adapt their faith to the culture or to try to change the culture to adhere to strict Catholic traditions. Today, the faith is being adapted to the culture to some degree and it seems to be working. Catholicism is growing in Africa because it recognizes the cultural traditions particular to Africans. Those traditions are not necessarily changed but, rather, are incorporated into Catholicism.
Paul Germond, professor of comparative religion at the University of the Witswatersrand in Johannesburg, said, "Africans are very pluralistic in religious beliefs. They can be Catholic and still attend Pentecostal services or go to traditional healers." Those traditional healers are what we Westerners call "witch doctors." Germond contends that African culture is changing the nature of Catholicism in Africa. As that continues, the traditions found on other continents will do the same to Catholicism.
Even as Catholicism grows in Africa, it does so at a lesser rate than Western Pentecostalism. One African Pentecostal preacher, who is enjoying exponential growth in his congregation, is not ashamed to say that faith is "made popular by advertisement, the charisma of the leader, and the material benefits for its followers."
We find Pentecostalism flourishing in Nigeria, a country of 130 million, two-thirds of whom live in poverty. For these people, the Pentecostal faith healers, preachers, and prophets promise a better life. One young man has joined the faith for what he believes it can do for him. He is a moped taxi driver who says, "I ride this bike every day and I know that as long as I go to the church, nothing bad will happen to me." The Pentecostal preachers promise salvation, but that salvation is not necessarily the hope of eternal life, but is more focused on the here and now. The poor, the disadvantaged, and the crippled flock to the Pentecostal churches to receive relief from suffering in this life. They are told to have faith that the power of Jesus will heal them. For some, that is the only "gospel" they hear. There is no cross, there is no sin, there is no repentance.
Says one Catholic priest, "This is a lawless jungle. Anybody can wake up one morning and say, 'God has spoken to me, I am a pastor.' People don't go to them for faith, but to ask: how do I break out of poverty? And they tell people what they want to hear."
This is American Pentecostalism transported thousands of miles to a large continent where people are dying of AIDS and other diseases brought about by poverty. This is a continent with a rich heritage of false gods and spiritual pursuit. Many Evangelicals in America look to the "success of the Gospel" in Africa as proof of a modern revival. What they fail to see is what our missionary friends in Africa do see: Christianity in Africa is "a mile wide and an inch deep." There are missionaries in Africa who are having to combat the false gospel being preached there. Yet American Christians will scoff at anyone who says that the Church is not growing in Africa. If I say that Africa, by and large, is not coming to Christianity, I am accused of being a pessimist at best and an unbeliever at worst.
Of course, there are some in Africa who are receiving the true Gospel and are being born again. We have testimony of that from our missionary friends. But we also know that far more Africans are being deceived. We personally know a cult leader from California who is very successful in Africa. He has brought his teaching over there and held workshops with African leaders to train them in his doctrine. They, in turn, are building new congregations in Africa with that false doctrine. They call themselves Christians. So do the Roman Catholics. So do the Pentecostals who teach a false gospel of health and wealth and a false Jesus who doesn't really care about idolatry.
As much as this tears me up inside, I know that it is prophesied. I know that this is what the "church" must come to. What is most upsetting is that those who should have their eyes and ears open are looking the other way. Let us wake up and see what is really happening. Instead of believing everything you hear about the wonderful spread of Christianity in Africa and the 10/40 window, do some investigating. And then ask, "How can I help?" What is it that we can do if we know that this is the way of the end times as prophesied in the Bible? We can keep preaching the true Gospel. We know that not everyone will be saved. We know that very few will be saved. But we don't know which ones. We don't know which person will accept the Truth and which one won't, so all we can do is preach the Gospel to everyone and let God sort it out.