8 min read
The esteemed Rev. Conrad Mbewe pastor of Kabwata Baptist Church and a council member of The Gospel Coalition Africa penned a blog post in which he called for regulating the ministers of the Church. You can read the blog here.
There is a huge ongoing debate and wrangling in some parts of Africa namely Kenya, Zambia and South Africa about regulating religion but to a greater degree the regulating the Christian faith. This is because of ongoing abuses within the church. This is very rampant and apparent, especially within the charismatic movement. It is then obvious that such measures regarding regulation and screening should happen. Or so we think.
On a casual reading of his piece, you will agree wholeheartedly with his positions. I would. They make sense. They are practical and would safeguard the Church from abuse. Again, on surface reading that would be so. On a deeper reading, however, it may not be as easy as he advocates.
Rev. Conrad Mbewe cites examples of certain professions that are heavily regulated like doctors, architects, lawyers and even presidents. And calls for the same within the Church and especially the charismatic movement. Yes, those professions are heavily regulated, as they should, but this is a rather unfair comparison to make. Two points come to the fore.
- For issues of science—issues that can be proven, then yes you need regulation. You need its members to undergo the highest levels of scrutiny and tests and exams. They have to be qualified. For example, I refuse to be treated by a doctor who hasn’t gone to medical school and passed with flying colours. His certificates need to be hanging on the wall of his office as proof.
- For issues of philosophy and religion—issues that cannot be proven—issues that are faith assumptions, it is near impossible to regulate those. Human beings are entitled to believe what they want to believe as long as it doesn’t cause harm or impinge on the rights of others. When people go to theological schools, they do so voluntarily or based on God’s call on their lives. They go to study that which cannot be proved, literally. And yet when they graduate we trust them implicitly. Calling for regulating Christian ministers by the government is akin to equating religion and sciences. This cannot be. These are two separate and distinct fields.
How do you regulate a pastor and his members who believe if they put a stone in a container and fill the container with water their terminal disease would be cured? If this as is claimed is heretical and manipulative, what about when this practice has actually “cured” the sick member? How do you sanction this? Our house help goes to a church that believes such with fervency. A month ago, her auntie became very sick. They went to her pastor, he took a stone, prayed for it, immersed it in water, and sent it to the sick auntie to drink the water and bathe in it. She was cured. An outsider might look at this incident and call the man heretic and manipulative, but it worked as far as the members were concerned. How do you regulate this? By whose standards? Baptist, Presbyterian, Reformed, charismatic or even government standards? I could go on and on. What Rev. Conrad Mbewe is advocating for is a departure from how God calls his people. In the book of Acts, Peter, and John were considered ordinary men with no special training in the Scriptures. They also recognized them as men who had been with Jesus. (Acts 4:13 (NLT) This is just one example.
I am in no way relegating the study of scriptures in a theological seminary or even local Bible school. I am one who has benefited tremendously from theological training and I continue to do so. This is essential, but it is not the be-all and end-all. Not all men and women called into ministry will be afforded the opportunity to experience theologial training as Rev. Conrad Mbewe and I have experienced. And yet God will use them for his own glory. Again, the calling of God is bespoke. The point is this, theological training and even government regulation are not enough to determine someone’s call to the ministry and whether that person will in the long haul faithfully serve God’s people. This is a poor standard to base our assumptions on.
In terms of Christian ministers belonging to certain fraternities to authenticate their ministries. Again, this is up to the individual/s to decide. This cannot be obligatory. It is unscriptural and even unlawful to force this on Christian ministers. People join these fraternities on their own accord. And joining these fraternities does not mean that there will be no abuse. These fraternities are not synonymous with no abuse. Abuses happen everywhere because human beings are flawed. Even in the best accountability systems, people fail or the systems themselves fail them. If our own stringent accountability systems fail, how do we expect the government, a secular institution to pass muster?
The charismatic movement is the low hanging fruit in the evangelical world. All abuses and missteps in the evangelical world are attributed to them. Some leaders of other evangelical movements don’t even consider the charismatic movement spiritually legit. Whenever a leader leaves the charismatic movement and joins them, they are immediately celebrated and sign book deals. They then spend the rest of the time writing about the ill’s in the charismatic movement. Yes, there are ills within the charismatic movement that need to be addressed head-on. And there are also ills within the Baptist, Reformed, Presbyterian sub-groups that need to be addressed head-on.
Most people who critique the charismatic movement, and rightly so in some cases, haven’t met orthodox Christians who identify as charismatic. Orthodox charismatic Christians who hold firm to the truth of the gospel as revealed in the Bible. Orthodox charismatic Christians who believe in accountability systems—elders, deacons and the fivefold or fourfold ministry (depending on which side of the hermeneutic arguments you take). Orthodox Christians who believe that the Gifts of the Spirit as revealed in 1 Corinthians 12:1-11 are operational in the Church today. Orthodox charismatic Christians who believe in the sanctity of marriage and the marriage bed. Orthodox charismatic Christians who believe that regenerated men and women are equal before God and play different roles in marriage (Complementarian). Orthodox charismatic Christians who believe in personal conversion. Orthodox charismatic Christians who believe in Church membership and submission to Church leaders. Orthodox charismatic Christians who believe in witnessing in word and deed. Orthodox charismatic Christians who believe in discipleship and missions. Orthodox charismatic Christians who believe in the sanctity of life and gender. Orthodox charismatic Christians who believe in tithing and generosity. Orthodox charismatic Christians who believe in biblical social justice. Orthodox charismatic Christians who believe in prayer and fasting. Orthodox charismatic Christians who believe in the physical resurrection and bodily ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ. Orthodox charismatic Christians who believe in the catching up of the saints. Orthodox charismatic Christians who believe the second coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.
If you don’t encounter such people, you will end up lumping us all together and calling for our dismissal based on the actions of a few.
Wherever there have been abuses within the charismatic movement, our secular constitutions have ample power and legislation to deal with such charlatans. The reason governments don’t enforce such laws is that they are in cahoots with the Church, and especially the African church. The politicians know that the Church has massive numbers and so regulating these institutions might cause them to lose elections. Such was the case recently in Kenya. President Uhuru Kenyatta against the advice of the attorney general unbanned the registration of churches and ministries. Why? For political expediency. He was facing an election, and he needed the support of the Church. This happens when the church relies on fallible human institutions to legitimize its ministers and its ministries. The Church becomes a futsal in the political arena. This should not be so.
So yes, I disagree with the esteemed Rev. Conrad Mbewe’s position, and I still hold him in high regard in terms of his humanity, ministry, experience and of utmost importance as a Christian brother who one day we will stand by side, worshipping the Lamb who gave his life for us.
That’s what grace looks like.
Below is a short back and forth that Graham and I after reading the piece. He and I follow the TGCA Facebook page.
My initial response to Rev. Conrad Mbewe’s blog on TGCA’s Facebook page (sic)
I am actually shocked and perturbed that the esteemed Rev. Conrad Mbewe would hold such a position. Yes, the Charismatic Movement has charlatans. The esteemed Rev should also state that the Reformed, Baptist and Presbyterian have theirs too. The church has had its charlatans since its formation in the book of Acts. And nowhere in the book of Acts did the apostles call for such measures. Nowhere. The church doesn’t need the state to ordain and license its ministers. That would relegate the church’s position and influence in society. If the state gets involved and we allow it to, this will indicate that we haven’t done a thorough job, through the years of discipling our people. The problem lies not with the charismatic church per se but the African church in general. Let God deal with the charlatans and let the church be the church.
Graham’s response (sic)
you write, “ If the state gets involved and we allow it to, this will indicate that we haven’t done a thorough job, through the years of discipling our people.” That is the precise point of Conrad’s article. He is bemoaning the independence and lack of accountability in charismatic churches, especially where pastors are self-appointed. Conrad would not for a second deny that the denominations you mentioned have had their own controversies and pastoral failures, for all of the reasons mentioned in his article. The difference is those have been addressed by other elders, because of the accountability structures in place.
I’m not sure that the church is positioned to determine state legislature and authority. That is certainly becoming apparent in the West. Christ called his people to be salt and light rather than those wielding stately might. I can’t remember if Conrad made the point in his article, but perhaps state intervention is “God [dealing] with the charlatans,” as you said. If I am honest, the increasing hostility towards the Christian church is unsettling, bringing with it dark portents. But where the church is not wielding its God-given authority within, we should probably not be surprised that the government has unsheathed its sword (Romans 13:4).
My subsequent response
Hi Graham, a rather long reply. Bear with me. (sic)
A disconcerting thought of mine has been that many outside of the charismatic movement assume that all charismatics don’t have accountability systems in place. That charismatic is synonymous with lawlessness. Nothing could be further from the truth. There are charismatics who hold dear to the truth of the gospel as revealed in scripture and have accountability systems in place. Most if not all these charlatans you see are people who have refused to be disciplined or abide by the accountability systems in place. What should we do then with those? Corinthians 5:1-5 and Matthew 18:15-17 has been our approach. My only issue with the Rev. is he singled out charismatics instead of laying the blame at the feet of the African Church which the Rev., you, and I are a part of.
Regarding Romans 13:4, I totally agree with you on principle. The truth is this, the unsheathed sword is present in our secular constitutions. For example, if a leader is fleecing God’s people, SARS should get involved and probe his/her finances. Or, if a leader is accused of rape, the police can investigate and charge the leader. These systems are in place to deal with such charlatans. They only need to be enforced. But to license and register ministers which the esteemed Rev. is advocating for, this is out of step with Church history and practice. How will the state know who is genuinely called and who is a charlatan?
Lastly, recently in Kenya, a country the Rev. mentioned in his article that has been at the forefront of regulating the registration of churches and ministers, President Kenyatta played an overt political card when he overrode his Attorney General and lifted the ban on the registration of churches. Notice what happened there? The church becomes a ball kicked back and forth by politicians for political expediency. As we say here in South Africa, the Church has been captured. Lol…
From experience, these charlatans don’t last long. We must follow the precedence set to us by scripture – Let both (weeds and wheat) grow together until the harvest. Then I will tell the harvesters to sort out the weeds, tie them into bundles, and burn them, and to put the wheat in the barn. Matthew 13:30 (NLT) We should, therefore, not advocate for long-term solutions to temporal problems. And yes, these charlatans cause irreparable damage to God’s people, however, God has his way of defending and healing his bride as revealed in scripture. We cannot outsource this to the state.
What sayest thou? 😀😀😀
If Graham or anyone replies to this thread, I will update this post.