Conrab Mbewe is a man who wears many hats and who fulfills many different responsibilities, but above all else he is a preacher of God’s Word. MacArthur introduced him by explaining that he wished to have Mbewe at the event because the charismatic movement has done devastating damage in Africa and he wanted an insider’s perspective. Mbewe titled his message “The African Import of Charismatic Chaos.” Here are some brief notes.
Mbewe decided to provide a brief overview of the charismatic movement in Africa. It is a movement he has observed for over thirty years and one that is of great concern to him. This is not something he has learned about by reading books, but something he comes across literally every day. He warned that some of what he would say would be somewhat foreign to a Western mindset, but he felt it necessary to speak from his African background.
He went to John 17:17 and said the charismatic chaos we see would never have been the case if this verse had been taken seriously. This verse comes near the end of Christ’s ministry, on the eve of his crucifixion. He is seeking to convince his disciples concerning how they ought to live in his absence, and his great desire is for God to be glorified. In the time between Jesus’ ascension and his return, God’s Word is to remain serving and sanctifying his people. This is what Jesus desires, yet the African charismatic movement has come about because of a failure to hold to the centrality and sufficiency of Scripture.
The charismatic movement has flooded the African continent south of the Sahara Desert where it has become the most visible form of “Evangelicalism.” The phrase “born again” is equated to that form of Christianity. Its spread has largely come through the use of crusades, radio, television and free literature. Most of this literature has been shipped from the United States and it contains the kind of heresy that has become a common diet in the health and wealth movement.
Invariably, this has been riding on the back of the old time conservative Pentecostalism which found its way into much of English-speaking Africa in the second half of the last century. That opened the doors slightly but they have now been blown wide open. Many people ask the question, “Why in this short time has there been such an acceptance, a multiplication of churches that can be described as charismatic?” The answer is that this form of Christianity has appealed to the African worldview in terms of its understanding of the spiritual world. Almost invariably the messages you hear are like this: Come and receive your deliverance, your healing, and your breakthrough. As an African, there is a whole world in his mind that this invariably floods into. The word “breakthrough” is really saying to the common African man that if you are struggling in your marriage or struggling to conceive or struggling to maintain a job (and so on), it is because between you and God there are other layers that need to be dealt with. One of those layers is that of angels and demons and the other is that of your ancestral spirits. Until those layers are broken through, you will not get what you want. This is what the charismatic movement has taken on when dressed in African attire. The language that has already been there for centuries in Africa is given a thin veneer of Bible verses. You can understand, then, that if men and women are running in throngs to the witch doctor, they will rush in throngs to these so-called churches because it boasts the same power they are looking for.
What is happening today has gone a number of steps further than where the charismatic movement began. This has happened because the Word of God is no longer playing the role of governing our thinking and our practice. His concern is that when a lot of people look at the full to overflowing churches in Africa and the apparent excitement in the church, they cross back to the USA and say, “There is revival there.” But the fact is, they are seeing bad news, not good news. It is bad news primarily because of John 17:17. It is bad news because of the absence of serious interaction with the Word of God within the movement.
Thirty years ago you could attend a Pentecostal church in Africa and a pastor would stand in the pulpit and give you some kind of biblical exposition. You might disagree, but there would be some attempt to teach what the Bible is saying. There would be a mid-week Bible study. That is now almost completely absent. You cannot have spiritual life when the Bible is closed! The gospel has been lost and what has replaced it is twenty minutes of motivational speaking followed by an opportunity to bring your problems to Jesus so Jesus can help you get over your problems. Unfortunately, this is drawing people so that droves of them are responding to this message. They want their problems to be handled. The result is that churches are full of goats, not sheep.
Where the word of God is closed, the Gospel has been lost and the way of life becomes sinful and self-centered. This leads to a loss of true worship. Mbewe references the evening worship saying that Pentecostals in Africa have no real interest in singing the kinds of songs that were sung that evening at the conference. Rather, people are singing to danceable tunes. They repeat little phrases over and over again. You can say little phrases that are biblical about the glory of God, but that does not make it worship.
They proclaim that the extraordinary revelatory gifts are still operational today, but the moment you open that door a little bit, where do you stop? There are different levels to the practice, but so many are taking advantage of it for selfish sexual or financial gain. How do you examine your life in comparison to others who have opened their life to these gifts and have taken them to their logical conclusion, those who are successful in areas where you have not been? Mbewe followed this by using himself as an example for taking Pentecostalism to its logical conclusion. He proposes, “What’s to stop someone like me from coming up with irrational ideas because I’ve been empowered to do so?” He has counseled many, many people who are caught in these scandals—sexual scandals about spiritual husbands and wives, where a messenger from God, a pastor, steps in to be sexual partner with someone because of the authority that they have from God. These people keep God’s Word closed.
He concluded by emphasizing his main point about the centrality and sufficiency of God’s Word. God’s Word must be taught and applied. He then shared two reasons why we should be concerned about these issues in Africa. First, Africa’s current population is over a billion people. God is concerned about these people and, therefore, we should be concerned with these people. Second, Africa is strategically placed to be the next major force in world missions and it will be an utter disaster if this is what they export to the rest of the world. Everyone who has the cause of Christ at the center of his or her heart should be concerned about this.
His final remarks expresed his relief to see the Reformed movement growing on the African continent, though it is still in its infancy there. He exhorted us all: We have got to pray and get back to the Bible! Today we are not saying enough that this book is sufficient. It is sufficient!