Surprise: The African Church Is Not Very Charismatic
- 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.
Is charismatic African Christianity too traditional?
Africans like Laudarji and Ghanaian Daniel Darko, associate professor of biblical studies at Gordon College, were not surprised that MacArthur found an African to speak at the Strange Fire conference. However, Laudarji said he was surprised that MacArthur found only one, because he feels there are many African pastors who are willing to discuss their concerns about the charismatic movement.
One repeated concern is that the charismatic movement is a reinvention of African indigenous spirituality. As Mbewe wrote at MacArthur's blog, "In the African Charismatic circles, the 'man of God' has replaced the witchdoctor. He is the one who oozes with mysterious power…. So, when blessings are not flowing our way despite our prayers, we make a beeline to his quarters or his church for help. This explains the throngs in these circles. The crowds are not looking for someone to explain to them the way to find pardon with God. No! They want the 'man of God' to pray for them."
Kofi Noonoo, a Ghanaian pastor in the United States who identifies himself as neither a charismatic nor a cessationist, agrees that syncretism is a major concern. He said many charismatics "blend the traditional African religion with the Christian life" to a degree that "sometimes you don't know which is which."
But Kwabena Asamoah-Gyadu, professor of contemporary African Christianity and Pentecostal/charismatic theology at Trinity Theological Seminary in Ghana, says the problem is overstated. "You will rarely find an African Christian leader or a revival movement that says, 'I want to be African in my Christianity.' What they usually say is, 'I want to be biblical.' One reason why Pentecostalism does well in Africa is its emphasis on the Spirit, its spontaneity, and its expressive nature. These things resonate with African ways of being religious." He also said that African spirituality and Pentecostalism use similar language regarding evil, and that's why Pentecostalism finds affinity with many Africans.
Prosperity gospel entanglement
The other frequent critique leveled by non-charismatics in Africa is that the movement has widely embraced the prosperity gospel.
"The gospel is being twisted to affirm a lenient pursuit of holiness, in setting aside the rigor that Paul sets forth: 'to know the power of [Christ's] resurrection and participation in his sufferings,'" said Laudarji. He is concerned that charismatics have set aside a robust theology of suffering.
Noonoo agrees. Many people in Africa go to church "for a solution, because they expect God to hear them, to provide for them and other things," he says. The problem, Noonoo said, is that sometimes they sense that God promises them something "but God hasn't delivered." Noonoo also said that many Christians in Africa need to be reminded that "our faith is built up through suffering" and that "God will teach you many things in suffering." He also said there are African pastors who "use God" to get money, and teach formulas like "if you do this or that, then God will heal you."