Why Do Many Christians In Africa Easily Accept Unbiblical Practices?
It is a well-known fact that many people who claim to be Christian in Africa are accustomed to accepting indulgences like anointing oil, holy water, holy cloths, protective stickers and other unbiblical practices. Have you ever read a verse in the Bible that teaches that one should apply anointing oil on his/her products in the store to attract customers? Have you ever encountered a Bible verse that teaches about holy water or holy cloths that are hallowed (made holy) by the prayer of a church leader, and it can be used for healing and for protection against evil spirits? Did you ever read a single verse in the Bible that teaches about hallowed stickers that you can paste on your car, house, computer or other materials to protect them from the attack of demons and witches? Have you ever heard of the teaching that water used for baptism is holy; therefore, it can be kept in the house to protect you from evil spirits and for others purposes? These are the things that are happening today in many African charismatic churches and in other denominations. Nowhere in the Bible can you find a verse that teaches or approves the practices of such things, neither will you find a biblical principle that approves the practice of such things, yet these unbiblical practices are still being practiced and even easily accepted and adopted by many churches in Africa. The usage of such things is spreading rapidly from the West African countries like Nigeria to the other parts of the African continent and to the rest of the world.
Now the question is, if it is clear that such practices are wrong, deceptive, and unbiblical, why are they still being practiced, easily accepted by many African people and even adopted by many churches in Africa? There are three main interrelated factors that make it easier for many people in Africa to accept such kind of unbiblical practices. The first factor is the influence of African traditions in churches; the second is the ignorance of Scriptures; and the third factor is the love of money (materialism).
Influence of African Traditions
Many of the unbiblical practices in charismatic churches and other denominations are adopted from African traditions. In many African societies, people fear witchcraft and demons that they call ancestral spirits. The fear of such things and other reasons cause many to consult witchdoctors for protection. Many of the practises that the witchdoctors use to treat their clients are adopted in many African charismatic churches. For example, the use of consecrated water, spiritually powerful stickers, oil, and others objects are common in churches, and they are still common practices of witchdoctors in Africa. The witchdoctors always give their clients a variety of objects, objects that they claim that they can help to heal them from their diseases, and protect them from evil spirits, witches, and demons. These protective objects vary from bones of wild and domestic animals to furs, calabash/bottle of water, oil for rubbing, herbs and many others. In addition, witchdoctors always tell their clients how they should use those objects in order for them to be healed and/or protected. For instance, they will tell the clients to burn certain herbs at night in order to protect themselves from witches and evil spirits. Witchdoctors often give instructions such as: bury this at the door/gate of your house; hide this under your blanket or under your pillow; wash your face with this special water when you are going to sleep and when you are waking up for protection; put water in the basin in your room; place the mirror at your desk to prevent witches from entering your room.
Other examples include witchdoctors demanding women to bring clothes or hair from their husbands in order to invoke their husbands to love them more. Witchdoctors tell their clients that they have spirits of ancestors that are causing failures and other problems in their lives. Witchdoctors demand their clients to bring certain things (e.g. black cow, white chicken) in order for the client to be rich or to be protected. Nowadays, this is the same in churches. I have often witnessed pastors telling their counselees that they have spirits of ancestors which are bringing bad luck into their lives and they therefore need deliverance. We have often heard of many women who are told to bring a pair of pants from them men with whom they are in relationship so that the pastor can pray over the pair of pants in order to cause those men to marry such women. I remember visiting one charismatic church in Namibia where we were given clothes with the name JESUS written on them, and the pastor told us that with prayers, such clothes can solve our problems. They can save you from poison, evil spirits, failures, etc.
Another practice adopted from witchdoctors is telling of the future. In Acts 16:16, we read the story of a servant girl who had an evil spirit by which she told the future. This is the same evil spirit that works in sorcerers and witchdoctors to enable them to tell their clients about what they did in the past and foretell upcoming events in their lives. They say things like I can see a great danger coming your way; if you do not bring me a white chicken and black cow, this disaster will kill your family members and destroy your properties. Today, this practice of telling the past and foretelling the future is a well-known practice in many charismatic churches. Those who practice it in church call it prophesying. In most cases these are the same people who sell anointing oil, stickers and holy water for healing and for protection. It is another unbiblical practice adopted from African traditions.
These are some practices that we are seeing in many African charismatic churches and other denominations. Although false teachers who practise such things in their congregations try to twist Bible verses to approve their evil and unbiblical practices, the fact is that the Bible does not instruct the practice of such things. These practices are adopted from African traditions. Consequently, many African people equate the church with their traditions. This makes it easier for them to accept anything which is corresponding to their traditional norms. Unscriptural people and church leaders with unreformed minds can easily accept and adopt unbiblical practices such as these.
Have you ever wondered why it takes time for many African believers to accept the teaching of the priesthood of the believer (the teaching that every genuine Christian has direct access to God through the Lord Jesus Christ)? One of the reasons is that many people equate the pastor with the witchdoctors. The witchdoctor is regarded as a representative of the people to the spirits/gods; he/she has access to the sprits. Witchdoctors talk to the spirits on your behalf and report to you what the ancestral spirits or gods have said. Christians with un-renewed minds think this is just the same with the pastor. This type of thinking has made it easier for many people in Africa to regard pastors as superior and special spiritual people who can talk to God on your behalf. Consequently, followers of such church leaders can believe and do anything that their leaders are telling them without evaluating it in the light of Scripture. This is one of the traditional influences that lead to unbiblical practices. For further information on these unbiblical practices, listen to the sermon titled Are We Preachers or Witchdoctors? by Dr. Conrad Mbewe.
I am not saying all African traditions are wrong; I am saying in adopting traditions from our cultures, we must adopt the right practices and avoid wrong practices. We should evaluate our traditions in the light of Scripture; any tradition (whether it is African, European, Indian, or American) which is contrary to Scripture is sinful, and it must be rejected.
Ignorance of Scriptures
Generally speaking, many of us in Africa, especially the black people, do not have the culture and discipline of reading. We are lazy when it comes to reading. Other people do read newspapers and other things every day, but they do not read the Bible. Although they claim to be Christians, they do not understand the value of Gods Word in their lives. Some read the Bible but not in the correct way. The cause could be that no one helped them to understand how they should read the Bible. For instance, someone closes his eyes and opens the Bible randomly, and then reads at page where he opened. Many who claim to be believers and followers of the Lord Jesus Christ have substituted Bible reading with the watching of movies, sermon videos, and videos of what others are doing in their church services or reading books written about the Bible. I am not saying watching good movies, video sermons, or reading books written about the Bible are wrong things, as long as those movies, videos and books are not contradicting the Bible. However, it is wrong to substitute those things with reading the Word of God (the Bible).
Failure to study the Bible correctly and diligently has caused many who claim to be believers to be ignorant of Scripture and immature in their faith. The knowledge and understanding of the Bible enables a believer to discern right from wrong, good from evil (Hebrew 5:14). Ignorance of Scripture causes the person to accept whatever is being taught without discernment. Unlike the noble wise Bereans (Act 17:11), many people who claim to be Christian do not have the knowledge of the Bible. As a result, they believe everything that their church leaders teach and practice without evaluating them in the light of Scripture. Lack of knowledge of Scripture causes many people to sin against God by believing and practicing evil, unbiblical practices such as anointing oil, holy water, stickers, and others. This is why Scripture teaches that people are perishing because of the lack of knowledge (Hosea 4: 6). Another problem with regard to the knowledge of Scripture is heretical teaching by many church leaders.
Doctrines impact our lives. What we truly believe determines how we live. Faith comes from hearing or reading. What we hear or teach can impact our lives either in a positive or in a negative way. Misinterpreting Scripture and using Bible verses out of context has caused many to misunderstand the Bible. There are those who are spreading false teaching out of ignorance; many churches in Africa are being led by untrained leaders. Consequently, some teach wrong things because of ignorance, while others teach heretic teachings because of foolishness and pride. For instance, church leaders who say that they do not need to go to Bible school because the Holy Spirit will teach them everything. There is much need for trained servant leaders in Africa who can live out the Great commission.
There are also many who are teaching heretical doctrines deliberately for dishonest gain. Such kind of people uses the Bible to enrich themselves (Titus 1:9-15); they twist verses to support theirs evil unbiblical practices. These are the people that you see selling the anointing oil, bottles of water, stickers, and holy clothes. Nowadays they are even selling fluids that they call the blood of Jesus. They always set themselves above other people in the church; they claim to be special people, and they give themselves big titles such as prophet, apostle, powerful man of God in order to scare people and to manipulate people to believe that they have special power and special access to God. They do not believe in the authority and sufficiency of Scripture (2 Peter1:3).
The followers of false teachers and false prophets often substitute God with such church leaders; they also replace Gods Word (Bible) with the word of their church leaders. They will always tell you what their church leaders say rather than what the Bible teaches. Believers who are ignorant of the Bible can do whatever church leaders say without evaluating his teaching in the light of the Scripture. For instance, you have many incidents of pastors in Africa who have told women in the church that the spirit has instructed them to sleep with such women, and they ended up committing adultery with their church members. This is an indication that such members do not know that God the Holy Spirit is the author of the Bible, and He will never instruct anyone to do something that contradicts the Scripture. Ignorance of the Scripture has caused many to accept evil unbiblical practices.
The Bible is the only thing that can renew the mind of a believer and enable him to think and to act biblically and godly. In Africa and in the rest of the world failure to read and study the Scriptures is another factor that is leading to accepting and adopting unbiblical practices that are corresponding to their traditions and to their world view.
Love of Money & Materialism
Greed and poverty in Africa is another factor that contributes to the selling of indulgences and to the accepting of many other unbiblical practices in churches. Many church leaders are greedy and want to accumulate the riches of this world. This is the same thing with their followers. Possessing materials is not wrong, as long as you gain them in a right way. However, living for material gain is wrong. The patterns of this contemporary world such as materialism and pragmatism (belief that whatever works is right) have influenced many Christians. Nowadays many who are claiming to be believers and followers of the Lord Jesus Christ are living for material gain and for the pleasures of this world. In Africa and the rest of the world many who claim to be Christians do not care much about eternity; their minds are not focused on heavenly things as the Scripture commands us; they are only living for now (Colossian 3:1-5).
The doctrine that people are being taught also ruins their faith, value and their thinking. For example, the false prosperity gospel teaches that if you are a child of God you must be rich with the materials of this world; these teachings say that God can deposit money in your account (miracle money) and teach that God can bless you with more materials such as cars, houses, and money if you invest enough in church. They have increased greed and promoted unbiblical thoughts, values and practices. It is clear that greed is the main reason for teaching and believing such evil unbiblical ideas (Titus 1:9-15, Philippians 3:18-19). Such false teachers and false prophets live for themselves; they use the name of God and the name of the church to enrich themselves. The love of money is the root of all such kinds of evils (1Timothy 6: 3-10). People who lack the knowledge of the Bible can easily be deceived and manipulated with twisted verses to believe such unbiblical teachings. People who are ignorant of Scripture are not taught that laziness is sin; consequently, they want to use shortcuts in order to get rich. People are not taught to be content with the basic needs. Consequently, they are not setting their minds on heavenly things and they are not living for Christ whether in hunger or in prosperity (Philippians 4:10-13). The reality is that although there are those who are practising unbiblical practices out of ignorance, many church leaders and their followers in Africa and the rest of the world are doing such things deliberately to gain money although they know that they are wrong and unbiblical. The witchcraft which is?being practiced in churches (anointing oil, bottles of water, stickers, holy clothes, and selling fluids that are called the blood of Jesus) are all done to gain money, not to help people. All this demonstrates that poverty and greed, fuelled by the ignorance of Scripture, are one of the major factors that explain the reason why many people who claim to be Christian in Africa easily accept and adopt unbiblical practices.
In our efforts to address heretic teachings and unbiblical practices and to help the victims of such practices, it is important to consider these three interrelated factors that are contributing to the practice, acceptance and adoption of such unbiblical practices in the Church in Africa and the rest of the world.