At 8:00 pm darkness quietly steals across the soccer field. But darkness isn’t the only thing stealing. A shouting woman from the raised platform blasts her voice via 10 four-foot-high speakers in English and Tsonga to a waiting crowd of several hundred. “Do you want a miracle?”
Crowd responds with roars and cheers.
“Then don’t give R10 ($1.50) and expect a R10,000 ($1,500) miracle!”
Crowd responds with mild, begrudging roar.
Holding up a stack of envelopes, she continues, “If you want me to pray for you, then come take an envelope. But these envelopes are only for people who will pay at least R100 ($15).” She then asked for translators to explain that to all the grandmothers who were there because they get a government pension of R700 every month. The “preaching” hasn’t even started yet. The offering went on for nearly an hour.
The platform has multi-colored lights and huge brightly painted signs saying, “Miracles!” and “Jesus”. I spotted at least 8 people I have witnessed to in the past who are not converted and know they are not. One of them was an usher at the crusade that week who lives with a woman he is not married to in a one-room shack. He gave money in the offering.
You might be tempted to think that some of my descriptions are exaggerated, but I think 9 out of 10 people would have called his platform motions and antics clown-like. He shouted for the entire time. His favorite pose was looking away from the people. He continually interrupted the translator. Several times he bent over to the ground shouting to his voice’s extremity.
For 10 days this white man openly lied (“I will not leave this city until no one has AIDS!” and “Everyone of you will get a job this week!”), twisted the Scripture (“Elijah killed the false prophet of poverty! He killed the false prophet of HIV!”), and perverted the Gospel (“You are all children of God! I don’t want to talk about Hell, I just want everyone to be happy!”).
But his message wasn’t wholly lacking in intellectual content. I learned that poverty is a demon that he could cast out. During one particularly memorable segment, he also assured us that if we had faith, then money would fill our pockets. Of course, he was a man of faith, because his 2008 Mercedes wasn’t hidden from view. He also closed his sermon by asking people to raise their hands if they love him and his ministry. He never asked the same question about Jesus or the Bible.
He began his “miracles” each night about 10:00 pm, 90% of which included causing people to collapse and pretending to throw the Holy Spirit like a baseball to other people. There wasn’t one word about the people’s sin, God’s anger, Hell, or faith alone in Christ alone. But they did have an “altar call.” Every night the crowd increased.
The day before the crusade started I had visited with the “preacher” who styled himself as an apostle and a prophet. “Hi, my name is Seth and I am a pastor here in the area. I was wondering if you could tell me what your goal is with this crusade?”
Without a moment’s hesitation, “Miracles, signs, and wonders,” he said with an edge in his voice.
He failed the first question. Let me make it easier. “I am a pastor who loves the Gospel. It’s my burden to explain the way of salvation to people. What will you be hoping to do this week?” I asked him for the second time not really because I thought he would have the right answer, but to make my point even clearer.
“Miracles from the Holy Spirit.” He failed the second question even after I gave him a hint. But at least he was honest that time. He didn’t say he would preach the Gospel, and he didn’t.
Crusades like this are the heart and soul of African Christianity in this region, and I suspect other areas are the same. Here are some of my musings on this mess that will hopefully provoke you to prayer for us.
- Missionaries need to know the Gospel. The music was bad. The stage antics were man-centered. The offering was criminal. But the confusion that crusade made about the way of salvation was immoral. Again I was convinced that God’s plan for saving sinners must be the preeminent theme of study for a missionary who would evangelize so that his converts remain in 25 years.
- True logic doesn’t serve Satan. Fuzzy thinking helps the false teacher. For that reason, we’ve been catechizing our teens on principles of logic in youth group. A large-scale shortage of logic is not a good field to grow soldiers of the Cross.
[This was my report from March 2008, but it’s still entirely relevant.]