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Neopentecostal megachurches and their celebrity pastors

20 September 2014

“IT DOESN’T matter how many people come to services,” says Temitope Joshua, pastor of Nigeria’s Synagogue Church of All Nations. “It’s about how many people are being saved.” But it is the sheer size of his flock in Lagos that marks out Mr Joshua, better known as Prophet T B Joshua, who runs one of Africa’s mega-churches; 15,000 people attend his services every Sunday. A lot more watch his channel, Emmanuel TV.

via Religion in Africa: Celebrity priests | The Economist.

"Prophet" T.B. Joshua

“Prophet” T.B. Joshua

The recent collapse of a guesthouse at the headquarters of T.B. Joshua’s Synagogue Church of All Nations. in which dozens of South Africans died, has led to questions in the South African media about the popularity of “charismatic churches”, and why people travel from South Africa to Nigeria in search of healing. And this came shortly after the news that an aircraft owned by another Nigerian celebrity pastor, Ayo Oritsejafor, was allegedly used to bring money to South Africa to purchase arms for the Nigerian intelligence organisation.

As the article in The Economist suggests, T.B. Joshua’s Synagogue Church of All Nations is similar to other neopentecostal negachurches found in Africa and other continents.

How and why these new denominations arose is still a matter for debate among missiologists and church historians, but here’s a brief summary:

The Pentecostal/Charismatic movement in Christianity is commonly said to have occurred in three “waves”:

  1. First Wave (1900-1950) Pentecostal Movement. This led to the establishment of Pentecostal, Zionist and Apostolic Churches in South Africa and elsewhere, eg Assemblies of God, ZCC and numerous other Zionist denominations. White-led groups tended to be called Pentecostal, black-led groups tended to be called Zionist, and tended to develop differently, partly because of apartheid.
  2. Second Wave: (1950-1980) Charismatic Renewal Movement. This was a revival of interest in the Holy Spirit in non-Pentecostal denominations, which led to some phenomena similar to those found in “classical Pentecostal” denominations – speaking in tongues, healing etc. In South Africa it affected mainly the Anglican, Presbyterian and Roman Catholic Churches though others were also affected. There was also some controversy, as some people within these denominations rejected the new movement for various reasons, and in some cases this opposition led some members, including some clergy, to leave and join….
  3. Third Wave (1980-2010) Neopentecostal Megachurches. These were new denominations, formed in various countries, including South Africa, Nigeria, USA and elsewhere. They sometimes gathered people from the 2nd wave movements mentioned above, who were frustrated by the opposition to the charismatic renewal movement in the mainline churches. The main emphasis shifted away from speaking in tongues to healing and exorcism, and, in some instances an emphasis on material prosperity.

There are some home-grown South African neopentecostal denominations, like the Rhema Bible Church of Ray McCauley, the Tyrannus Apostolic Church of Simon Mokoena, the Grace Bible Church of Mosa Sona, and possibly the International Pentecostal Church of Frederick Modise.

This is a bit of an over-simplification, since the so-called “Third Wave” took some other forms as well as megachurches, for example in the Vineyard movement, and the Restorationist movement, which advocated house churches. The Second Wave — Pentecostal manifestations in non-Pentecostal denominations — has also taken on new forms. An example of this in South Africa is Anglicans Ablaze, whose national conferences attract several thousand people (and little media attention). But the megachurch phenomenon is the one that has probably had most impact on the news media, and therefore on the general public.

Some of the megachurches have expanded to other countries in Africa, and some based in other countries, like T.B. Joshua’s church, have members in South Africa and elsewhere in the continent. Another foreign-based Neopentecostal church with many branches in South Africa is the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God, which originated in Brazil.

Five of the best-known celebrity pastors in Nigeria, whose denominations have branches in other parts of the continent and overseas, are:

Adeboye, Enoch Adejare
Born: 1942
Redeemed Christian Church of God

Joshua, Temitope Balogun
Born: 12-Jun-1963
Synagogue Church of All Nations (SCOAN)

Oritsejafor, Ayo Joseph
Word of Life Bible Church

Oyakhilome, Chris
Christ Embassy

Oyedepo, David Olaniyi
Born: 27-Sep-1954
Winners Chapel

The phenomenon of neopentecostal megachurches has its origins in several different movements, which have combined.

Ayo Oritsejafor - Nigerian celebrity pastor

Ayo Oritsejafor – Nigerian celebrity pastor

The megachurch concept was developed and advocated by David Yonggi Cho, who wrote several books about it. These books were read quite widely around the world, and some of those who read them tried to implement the ideas in them, and a kind of megachurch ecclesiology developed, which seemed to go along with the figure of the founder becoming a celebrity pastor.

Another influence was the so-called “Word-Faith” teaching, associated with the names of Kenneth Hagin and Kenneth Copeland, also known as Prosperity Theology, or the Prosperity Gospel. This was spread through audio and video tapes of their sermons, which circulated widely in charismatic circles, and were particularly attractive to megachurch leaders, who had large and expensive buildings to maintain, and had a constant urge to pull down their barns and build bigger ones. Many of those who adopted this teaching took it out of context, and gave it an exaggerated importance which caused even its founder to have second thoughts: Kenneth Hagin Sr.’s Renouncement of Word-Faith Teachings:

Charismatic Bible teacher Kenneth Hagin Sr. is considered the father of the so-called prosperity gospel. The folksy, self-trained “Dad Hagin” started a grass-roots movement in Oklahoma that produced a Bible college and a crop of famous preachers including Kenneth Copeland, Jerry Savelle, Charles Capps, Jesse DuPlantis, Creflo Dollar and dozens of others—all of whom teach that Christians who give generously should expect financial rewards on this side of heaven.

Hagin taught that God was not glorified by poverty and that preachers do not have to be poor. But before he died in 2003 and left his Rhema Bible Training Center in the hands of his son, Kenneth Hagin Jr., he summoned many of his colleagues to Tulsa to rebuke them for distorting his message. He was not happy that some of his followers were manipulating the Bible to support what he viewed as greed and selfish indulgence.

Again, this was not an isolated phenomenon, nor unique to Pentecostal and charismatic circles. In the 1960s an Anglican priest in Johannesburg, Norman Luyt, preached the gospel of money in parishes that at that time had not been influenced by the chartismatic movement at all, and was so good at it that he was made an Archdeacon. “Success appeals to those who love success, and all men do” he used to proclaim, saying that in order to appeal to the world, the church must polish its image to make it look like a big success. The clergy should live in big houses and drive expensive cars. I doubt that he had ever heard of Kenneth Hagin, even though his message was not all that much different. But it was Kenneth Hagin’s books and tapes that circled the globe, and promoted the ideas that led to the celebrity pastors of today.

It is misleading to refer to the neopentecostal churches as “charismatic churches”, as some do, which leads many to confuse the charismatic movement with the prosperity gospel, and the charismatic miovement was much wider, and has had many different manifestations. Not all charismatic churches adopted the prosperity gospel, and many have explicitly rejected it.

For more reasons for the growing popularity of neopentecostal megachurches, see here, and for more on the charismatic movement in southern Africa, see here.

Nigeria church guesthouse collapse: the blame game

18 September 2014

The news of the collapse of a church guest house in Lagos, Nigeria, has gradually filtered through to South Africa. The first reports suggested that the church itself had collapsed, and later reports said that 67 South Africans had been killed. And then the blame game started, with the media and the Twitterati and even the pastor of the church, T.B. Joshua, looking for a scapegoat.

Well, not everyone was looking for a scapegoat, as this article shows: Shock, condolences after Nigeria building collapse | News24:

Citizens, religious leaders, and organisations expressed their condolences on Wednesday after dozens of people, including 67 South Africans, were killed in a building collapse in Nigeria.

But condolences were rather muted, and many people seemed to feel the need to attack someone, anyone, perhaps because it makes them feel better. I suppose that must count as a “normal” human reaction. After all, after the collapse of the World Trade Centre in 2001 the US Government killed several thousand people in Iraq, who had nothing, nothing at all, to do with the collapse, simply because it made some Americans feel better.

Maybe it is the same thing that made so many people angry with Judge Thokozile Masipha because she found Oscar Pistorius guilty of culpable homicide rather than murder. And so we see the angry birds tweeting things like:

No kingdom has shed more blood than the kingdom of God.

The collapse of TB Joshua’s church has given him so much PR, he must be a very happy man

Some have blamed the South African government for not “doing something”, some blame the Nigerian government. And some have blamed the victims for going to a church in Nigeria instead of one in South Africa.

The media have reported T.B. Joshua as saying that it was a plot to kill him, referring to an aircraft seen in CCTV footage apparently flying over the building. Some have therefore blamed him for being callous and insensitive, and being more concerned with himself than with those of his followers who had lost their lives. But we don’t know that. The media choose to give prominence to some statements and not to others, and may calculate conspiracy theories are more likely to sell newspapers than condolences, and so give prominence to the former and play down the latter.

So who, or what is to blame, and for what?

CCTV footage of the guest house collapse

CCTV footage of the guest house collapse

I’ve seen the collapse of the building replayed many times on TV. It happened so fast that you could see that passers-by in the street were unaware of what had happened until the sound reached them a little while later, when the building had already disappeared.

It happened so fast, and was so complete that it would take several days to know how many people were in the building at the time, never mind who they were and which countries they were from. As a guest house it probably had records of who the guests were, but those records would also have been buried under the rubble, so neither the Nigerian Government nor the South African government could fairly be blamed for not having such information immediately at their fingertips.

And the South African government is pretty good at looking after their citizens in that way. A couple of months ago my daughter had a bike crash in Athens. A guy who was stoned on alcohol or something else suddenly stepped out from behind a parked vehicle as she was going down a hill. Her bike was a mess and she and the bloke she hit were bruised and grazed, but no broken bones. A few days later the South African Embassy phoned to check if she was OK. She hadn’t reported it to them. The police must have reported to the embassy that a South African citizen was involved in an accident, and they took the trouble to check. If they can do that in a relatively minor incident like a bike accident, I’m sure they are doing everything they can for those involved in the building collapse.

Some have sought to blame the victims, and have questioned why they were going to a church in Nigeria, rather than one at home, or saying that all religious people are gullible. But in South Africa we have freedom of religion, and we are free to travel to Mecca or Mount Athos or Rome or Las Vegas for religious reasons if we want to. I’ve stayed at church guest houses in Moscow and Hong Kong, and possibly a few other places I can’t now remember. Perhaps the most apt tweet for this kind of attitude was

“… those 18 who died when the tower in siloam fell on them, were they more guilty than anyone else?”

Some, no doubt inspired by the Oscar Pistorius case, have pointed dolus eventualis in T.B. Joshua’s direction. That would mean that he expected the building to collapse and didn’t care who was inside when it did, perhaps to claim on the insurance.

As far as I can see, the most likely causes of the collapse are one or more of:

  1. Bad building materials
  2. Bad workmanship
  3. Sabotage

It is up to the Lagos municipal authorities who are responsible for building plans and codes to investigate what went wrong, and, if anyone is to blame, it is up to the judicial and law enforcement authorities to deal with them.

But, I suspect that, even if that happens, many people will not be happy. Because justice is not enough. We don’t want justice, we want vengeance, and it doesn’t matter who we take vengeance on, as long as it makes us feel better. And that makes us no better than Boko Haram, and a good deal worse than Oscar Pistorius.

What more can we say but, Lord have mercy? And Memory Eternal for those who died. Whatever their faults and imperfections, they were seeking God.

He that answereth a matter before he heareth it, it is folly and shame unto him (Poverbs 18:13).


Memory Eternal: Pope Petros & his companions

11 September 2014

It is 10 years since Pope Petros and his companions died in a helicopter crash in the Aegean Sea near Mount Athos on 11 September 2004.

petrosviiNow, ten years later, it is much easier to find news stories of the event than it was at the time. There is this, for example:

Greek Patriarch Killed in Crash – – Sofia News Agency:

The spiritual leader of Greek Orthodox Christians in Africa has died in a helicopter crash off northern Greece.
Patriarch Petros VII of Alexandria was going to a monastic community on Mount Athos for a religious event.

Sixteen other people were killed in the crash.

and I have even, for the first time, managed to find a complete obituary published in an English-language newspaper:

Patriarch Petros VII of Alexandria – Telegraph:

His Beatitude Petros VII , who died in a helicopter accident on Saturday aged 55, was the Pope and Patriarch of Alexandria, namely the head of the Eastern or Greek Orthodox Church in Africa; by tradition, he was the 128th successor in that office to St Mark the Evangelist.

His Beatitude Petros VII, Pope and Patriarch of Alexandria and all Africa

His Beatitude Petros VII, Pope and Patriarch of Alexandria and all Africa

Petros had taken charge in 1997 of a see much diminished in size and importance since its heyday during the first four centuries of the Christian Church, when from Byzantium to Seville the faithful were united and followed a common rite. At the Council of Nicaea in 325, where the Creed was formulated, the three centres of the religion were deemed to be Rome, Alexandria and Antioch – the greatest cities of the Roman Empire – with Alexandria supreme in the East.Like the Bishop of Rome, who held a particular place of honour but did not outrank his coevals, Alexandria’s Patriarch was called a Pope; his other honorific titles included Shepherd of Shepherds, Thirteenth Apostle, and Judge of the World. (Read the rest here).

And I have even, for the first time since the crash, managed to find some news reports mentioning some of the others who died in the crash. Perhaps Google search is more efficienct than it was in 2004.

Before becoming a bishop Pope Petros served as a parish priest in Johannesburg and was known to many here in South Africa as a loving pastor.

Australian bishop dies in air crash off Greece – World –

An Australian senior cleric of the Greek Orthodox Church is among 17 victims of a helicopter crash that also claimed the life of the church’s spiritual leader in Africa, the Patriarch of Alexandria, Peter VII.

Bishop Nectarius of Madagascar

Bishop Nectarius of Madagascar

The group was heading for the Mount Athos monastery in northern Greece, one of the holiest sites in Orthodox Christianity, in a Greek Army helicopter when it disappeared from radar screens.

Archdeacon Sophronius Konidaris, personal deacon to Archbishop Stylianos, of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Australia, yesterday paid tribute to the Australian, Bishop Nektarios of Madagascar, whom he described as a humble cleric and pioneer missionary.

“We are all very shocked by his death. He was very placid, a very unassuming, very loving man who dedicated his life to the people of Madagascar. He had an established life here, was an ordained cleric serving in the Gold Coast and mostly Adelaide, but he chose to leave everything to go to Madagascar.

Life is tough in Mamelodi

7 September 2014

This morning we fetched Grace Malahlela and her mother Alinah and Grace’s two grandchildren, and gave them a life to Christina Mothapo’s house where we join them and a few others for the Hours and Readers Service every second Sunday. Alinah has a bad leg, and that is why she needs a lift. On the way Grace told us the latest bad news: they fear there is a serial killer in Mamelodi.

Mamelodi church meeting 30 July 2011

Mamelodi church meeting 30 July 2011

A young girl was murdered in their street last week, and another a few streets away, and yet another in Mamelodi West. This was the big topic of conversation after the service, and it seems that many people are very scared.

But there was also good news, or at least mixed news. Christina said the Tshwane Municipality was offering to replace roofs that had been damaged in a hailstorm last year. Her roof had been badly damaged, but she had already replaced it, and it had cost quite a bit of money. We suggested that she ask if the municipality would be willing to reimburse her for at least some of the cost of repairing the roof.

Christina Mothapo's house on the inside, in the sitting room where we normally hold services, showing the holes in the roof

Christina Mothapo’s house on the inside, in the sitting room where we normally hold services, showing the holes in the roof

The old roof had been asbestos, and she had replaced it with galvanised iron. Many of the apartheid era council houses in Mamelodi had asbestos roofs.

But it was good to hear that the municipality was doing something to help the poorer residents.

But when we got home there was more bad news from Mamelodi, though not one that had been a topic of conversation among the residents we had been with. For the media, at least, Mamelodi seems to be the drug capital of South Africa, and this has led to an increase in crime as addicts steal to feed their habit. Perhaps one of the worst aspects, not really mentioned in the article, is that antiretroviral drugs are stolen or bought from Aids sufferers to be used as an ingredient of nyaope.

Welcome to Nyaope Street – City Press:

The 150m-long street with no official name is home to one of the notorious drug dens that have proliferated since the early noughties, when nyaope – a mixture of heroin, rat poison, dagga and sometimes antiretroviral drugs – was first sold in the township.

Mamelodi, which has the distinction of being the home of the late struggle hero Solomon Mahlangu, also has the unenviable title as the township most ravaged by this drug. Four out of five households have at least one member addicted to it, says local anti-drug group Thandanani.

Mamelodi’s Solomon Mahlangu Freedom Square has also fallen foul of the drug’s users, who have stolen cement and building equipment to fund their addiction. Curiously, the bronze statue of Mahlangu remains untouched.

On that Tuesday morning, the young people crouch, engrossed in their hand-rolled cigarettes. When City Press approaches, they stand, alarmed, only lowering their guard when we are introduced by Edgar Masuku, coordinator of the Stanza Bopape Health and Community Development Centre.

They are too ashamed to be named, wishing to spare their families further embarrassment, but they are willing to be photographed.


Church planting in Madidi

1 September 2014

About 18 months ago Fr Markos Manyeke started to build himself a house in Madidi, on the remote north-western edge of the City of Tshwane (actually beyond Klipgat, in North-West Province). He also started to gather a group of people, neighbours, and started to teach them about the Orthodox Christian faith. They worship in a small tin shack just down the road from his house. Last Saturday Fr Athanasius Akunda and I visited them.

The shack church at Madidi.

The shack church at Madidi.

The land belonged to a member of the congregation who allowed them to use the land, but he has since died, and there seem to be some problems in settling his estate, so they are looking for a new place to worship.

The ad hoc congregation that gathered to meet us on a Saturday afternoon, with Fr Athanasius on the left, and Fr Markos on the right)

The ad hoc congregation that gathered to meet us on a Saturday afternoon, with Fr Athanasius on the left, and Fr Markos on the right)

Fr Markos told us that there were about 15 families involved in the new congregation, and there are more in another place, Mokau, still further away.

The interior of the church at Madidi.

The interior of the church at Madidi.

One of the members of the congregation had died a couple of weeks earlier, so we had a memorial service for her.

Father Markos speaking to the congregation at Madidi.

Father Markos speaking to the congregation at Madidi.

Later this month we are hoping to have a visitor from the USA, Xenia (Kaycie) Simmons, and we hope that, with the blessing of our Archbishop Damaskinos, she will be able to do some catechetical teaching at places like Madidi.

Fr Markos's house at Madidi

Fr Markos’s house at Madidi

We went to have a look at a piece of land that was for sale, and might be suitable for building at least a temporary church. There is about half a hectare of land available, but we are thinking of perhaps getting one or two 20 x 40 metre plots, since the land is leasehold, not freehold, and so might not be suitable for erecting substantial permanent buildings.

Some of the land that is availavle, and might be suitable for building a temporary church

Some of the land that is availavle, and might be suitable for building a temporary church


In the memory of the forest

1 September 2014

In the Memoryof the ForestIn the Memoryof the Forest by Charles T. Powers

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Occasionally one comes across a book by pure serendipity, and this is such a book. My wife picked it up in the library, just to see what it was like, and when she had finished reading it she passed it on to me.

It is set in a village called Jadowia in Poland just after the fall of communism, and in a way is a kind of biography of a village. It is a time of transition, and so people are caught between two worlds, one of their recent history, and a new world that is coming. But the change and lifting of restrictions makes at least some of the people in the village aware of an older history, of things that had been suppressed, and had faded from consciousness — that in the past people had lived there who were no longer there, that the Jews had simply vanished, and were no longer mentioned.

In some ways the story is almost familiar, because though I have never been to Poland, South Africa was going through a similar transition in the same period, between 1990 and 1994. I also visited other countries that were undergoing similar transitions — Russia, Bulgaria and Albania. Part of the attraction of such a story is that it has some familiar echoes.

The story starts off quite slowly, and at first it is not clear where it is going, and it picks up as it goes along when the author gets into his stride. Amd then it gets quite lyrical, with what I thought were inspired descriptions, that captured the atmosphere of of time and place. Here, for example, is a description of two of the main characters, from neighbouring farms, going to the nearest town to try to get a battery for an old lamp. They walk down a street where street vendors are selling an amazing variety of goods

This spray of color, this wonderland of stuff that was almost-but-not-quite trash, things that you didn’t want but might use, things that you might buy and take home and offer as a present, a toy, a novelty, a small bright newness. Powierza stopped, fingered a pile of plastic knit gloves, and chose a pair for his wife, borrowing bills from me to pay for them. He folded them into his pocket and walked on, pausing in front of a store window offering pornographic videotapes from Germany and Holland, along with a display of electric can openers and kitchen mixers. Powierza ducked inside, received a curt response to his inquiry about a battery for the flashlight, then lingered to look at the illustrations on the videocassettes, ripe thighs tantalizingly imprisoned behind locked glass doors.

How very 1990s. How very Eastern Europe.

As I read it I had a vivid image of a lantern my father used to own, which took a battery like the one described in the book, a square cardboard-covered one. It had a big reflector on the side, for throwing a powerful focused beam, and a smaller inspection lamp on top, with a hemispherical glass cover, and a wire grill, to protect it, presumably, from dropped spanners. I haven’t seen it for 60 years, but the book brought back a clear memory of it.

All this made me wonder about the author, Charles T. Powers. How did he know all this stuff? Was he Polish? Had he lived in Poland? Had he written any other books? It turned out that he was an American journalist who had once been stationed in Poland, and that this is his only published novel. So there are no more books like this, no more where this one came from. This book is unique, and so is a uniquely good read.

View all my reviews

Christ the Conqueror of Sin

23 August 2014

Originally posted on Fr. Ted's Blog:

“Death is always evil and terrifying, whether it be the death of an old man or that of a child, of a just man or of a sinner. Death is always the victory of the devil, a temporary victory, yet a victory. Our body which was created for immortality, submits to the evil law of death, is separated from the soul, disrupted, stricken with decay, turned into nothing. Through sin, death has entered the world; it enters into us from our very childhood, traces the lines of sin on our faces, extinguishes the living fire in our eyes, disables our body. But Christ is the conqueror of sin and hell, and Christ’s task is chiefly the victory over death through His resurrection: ‘if Christ be not risen again, your faith is also vain.’ (1 Cor. 15,14)”  (Father Yelchaninov in A Treasury of Russian Spirituality by G.P. Fedtov, p 481)

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