Friday, August 21, 2009

Abusing Pentecost,and The East African Revival

St Peter's Cathedral, Diocese of Kinkiizi, Under Construction
Fire, by nature, always tends to burn itself out unless you feed it and stoke it with additional fuel. The East African Revival is a spiritual fire that needs to be fuelled and fanned into flame. One of the contributing causes is the nature of revival itself. It comes with an enthusiasm that can compromise the very nature of the revival. The word “enthusiasm” has “enthus,” or “in Theos” as its root, but it is “theos,” “god” with a small “g” not a big “G.” When the strong action, work, and gifts of the Holy Spirit are incarnated in the corporate and individual lives of believers, it is incorporated in human flesh, and by necessity it is compromised by the frailty and sinfulness of our humanity.

In our context the work of the Holy Spirit is compromised by the coolness of our spiritual ardour and by our Western secularism and materialism. In Uganda it is compromised by the history and biases of Western missionaries, and by the pagan backgrounds from which many of our Ugandan brothers and sisters have come. It is compromised also by poverty, by desperate need, and by a whole society helpless without adequate medical care. It is incarnate in the flesh and the flesh is prone to surrender to base enthusiasm, rather than travel the more difficult road where the initiatory grace of revival is fuelled and fed by spiritual discipline.

Discipline and discipleship are related. Initiatory grace fades, and the threefold life of prayer: The Prayer Book Offices, the Practice of the Awareness of the Presence of God, and Frequent Regular Eucharist must be the fuel that feeds the fire. In that context, to be fully disciplined the new believer needs three conversions. The first is conversion from sin and the glad acceptance of Jesus Christ as Saviour and Lord; the second is conversion to the Body of Christ and enfolding into a fellowship of believers; and the third is conversion to the exercise of the gifts of the Holy Spirit in the shared and various ministries of the body of disciples which is the Church, the Body of Christ.

All revival awakens the old enemy, not only the enemy within, but that old diabolus, the devil, and all its ilk. Why should we be surprised? For the East African Revival the devil comes from two sources, first from the West, and second from the pagan backgrounds and pagan cults of Old Uganda. In the former the real danger is not the red herring of Western Liberalism and its naïve humanism, but rather the poor theology, triumphalism, and even worse practices of Western Pentecostalism and the aging Charismatic Movement. Both are fraught with an enthus that overwhelms a sometimes genuine anointing of the Holy Spirit. We children of the tired West bring not only the issues surrounding homosexuality, that is often easily seen and rejected by Africans, but more dangerously our Western enthusiasts bring with them a prosperity gospel with its false promises and a number of practices that do not translate well into African culture.

To be specific, one major American pentacostalist features healing by words of knowledge through which God gives the preacher letting him know what illness, disease, or demonization is present in those who have come to hear him and be healed. I have listened extensively to this particular preacher who is very popular among Pentecostals in Uganda. It is my observation that in his ministry in the United States this may not be abusive, but I would raise a caution regarding balance. The problem arises when the host of lesser practitioners, in their enthus, make that the one note of their “ministries.” This translates down into Uganda Pentecostalism where it uncovers itself as harsh, loveless, and manipulative. We end up with, “God has told me you have a demon of lust,” or “The Holy Spirit has told me your father has gone to hell,” or “The Lord has told me you are going to die early.” All of these arise from an unsanctified imagination under the influence of an unholy enthusiasm. What is missing is love, and God is love and he who does not love his brother does not know God. What is so often present is an attempt to exercise personal power at the expense of others.

Smith Wigglesworth
This is just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. Below the surface there are a number of vicious and sometimes stupid practices. One of the early uneducated English Pentecostals would occasionally strike someone to drive out a disease or a demon, but he only did that occasionally. Filtered through an American Pentecostalism, itself historically wary of education, these practices arrive in Uganda with its desperate need and is grafted into the pagan background This then becomes a standard way for some Ugandan Pentecostals to exercise the ministry of healing and deliverance from demons. Just a week before the writing of this article the Dean of a Ugandan Anglican Cathedral went to a nearby medical centre. While there he saw a young woman with cuts and bruises all over her face and body. He wanted to know what had happened and he was told that these wounds were inflicted by a Pentecostal group who were trying to drive out a demon by striking the woman. He wanted to know why they did this and was told that was the way they always did it. One has to remember the origin of Joseph Kony and his Lord’s Resistance Army. Kony claims that he is the “spokesperson” of God, and claims to be a spirit medium, primarily of the Holy Spirit. Kony presents us with syncretistic blend of Christianity, Mysticism, traditional religion and witchcraft.

A Witch Doctor
That leads to another major issue. In the United States, among Pentecostals in the not too distant past there were what are euphemistically called “Coffee Can Ministries.” Their theory was that “most everybody who needs any kind of healing has a demon and we better pass out the empty coffee cans because when the Anointing falls all of these people are going to start throwing up as the demons are cast out.” In a peculiar way it sort of self-validating, many people tend to gag when someone else is vomiting. Even with the peculiarity of the coffee can ministries, the theory that all sick people have demons is disastrous, whether in America or in Africa. Now the Diocese of Kinkiizi in Uganda borders Rwanda where the East African Revival first broke out in full force and these abuses among others have created much damage to the Church and dampened the fires of revival even in that area.

Of course some who read this will say this Holy Spirit stuff is all nonsense and if they could they would pour the cold water of Western scepticism over every glowing ember even as they have in much of the Western Church. The fruit of such malignant labour is obvious, the Episcopal Church is dying and being sucked into the very culture it should have been transforming. America, and the American Church, needs an East African Revival or the Church will continue to die. There are many fine men and women of God in Uganda, many of them filled with the Holy Spirit and power, and the time may be coming when they will be evangelizing us. But now for them it is time to deepen the revival, it is time to stop following Western Revivalists and instead search the Holy Scripture to see what is actually true. It is time for them to develop a sound and solid biblical East African Theology to help them give voice to their faith and experience. It is time to fan into flame the gift of the Holy Spirit that is within them.

No comments:

Post a Comment