Neopentecostal megachurches and their celebrity pastors
“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.
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”:
- 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.
- 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….
- 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
Redeemed Christian Church of God
Joshua, Temitope Balogun
Synagogue Church of All Nations (SCOAN)
Oritsejafor, Ayo Joseph
Word of Life Bible Church
Oyedepo, David Olaniyi
The phenomenon of neopentecostal megachurches has its origins in several different movements, which have combined.
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.