01 Mar When your resurrection scam meets its doom
Did you see what I just did there? Jip, the South African charismatic church world is so entertaining, so colourful and so ridiculous that I can even make clever little puns of past and present occurrences in the title of my blog post.
I usually don’t write opinion pieces about stuff, but this whole resurrection fiasco with Alph Lukau has got the world up in arms. One of my colleagues started a blog recently and it showed me just how easy it is to share your opinion with the world (no more ridiculous postage fees and RTS letters from the White House, Parliament and Oprah for me), and since even the president pitched in, I thought to myself, why should I keep quiet? I know what some of you are going to say: “We don’t care about your opinion Norman.” And to that I will answer: neither do my in-laws, but that doesn’t stop me from sharing it. So let’s just call this an attempt to resurrect the dignity of the charismatic church (you see, I did it again! Or to quote Britney Spears: “Ooops! I did it again!” Now you can read the rest of my ramblings with that song in your head.)
Back to Alph Lukau and his fake Lazarus. When the grass eating and Doom wielding pastors did their thing, most of South Africa laughed, the theologians spilled their tea all over their text books and the rest of us pastors cringed. Meanwhile government watched like a strict parent in the background, waiting to wield the sjambok and get a grip on the church-toddler misbehaving. But we stomached it and it gave me material from the pulpit to threaten my congregation with a good dose of Doom if they didn’t laugh at my jokes (I abuse them that way). But this resurrection drama hit the church world dead center (man! I’m on a roll with these puns).
So, I watched the video of the resurrection (if only Jesus had a video camera, we could have seen how it should be done) and someone should call the Academy and nominate Elliot (the alleged deceased) for an Oscar. But I doubt they would find him after the media storm. Or maybe we will read his interview in the Bona, Sun or Huisgenoot magazine in two months’ time – you never know with these things. Employers these days stalk potential employees on the internet before hiring them and ‘jumping out of coffin’ tends to stick to your resume, so finding a decent job might be hard for Elliot and being cash strapped a reporter might be able to convince him to get out of his coffin (I hope he could keep it. Coffins are quite expensive these days and I doubt that Alleluia Ministries wants to come near it after Sunday).
So let me say what I think about the current state of the charismatic/independent church in South Africa. Mind you, I might change my opinion in a while, or I might resurrect (oh yeah!!) some old opinions.
I don’t know why this is such a shock to us.
Some of you internet trolls just gagged on your chips and made a mess of your expensive keyboard, but hear me out before you start blogging about my heresy.
The early church had its fair share of controversies. Especially the church in Corinth. The culture, religions and bad habits of the day got added to the Gospel and resulted in scheming, fraud and even the use of temple prostitutes (I am really surprised that this one hasn’t popped up in South Africa yet. Please pastor somewhere in Pretoria or Potchefstroom – this is not a dare).
Paul and the other apostles had to constantly bring correction in their letters to the churches. So, what we have been seeing now isn’t something new. It is just a reminder that you cannot add to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. You don’t add Jesus to your life – He must become the center of your life. In my opinion, what has been happening in some of our South African churches is nothing more than witchcraft and other cultural beliefs being added to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
I will also speculate that the reason people are so susceptible to this manipulation from the pulpit is that by the time they get to the church – they are already used to it. Just like the white Afrikaner wasn’t shocked to hear Apartheid preached from his Reformed or Pentecostal church pulpit during the Apartheid years. His cultural upbringing and family milieu had already prepared him for it. The same way I believe that the many people who flock to these so-called churches have at some point paid a witch-doctor or sangoma for muti or a “miracle” or a desired outcome that needs supernatural intervention. Or at least they have been exposed to such practices via family or close friends. So why would it be any different now? Jesus was just “added to the mix” with some Gospel tunes. At the end of the day prophet Hosea’s words still ring true: My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge. If Christians don’t have a clear understanding of the Bible, they become open to manipulation and deceit.
But that leaves some of these “pastors” (I don’t really want to call them that) in a predicament – if you build any sort of gathering on miracles, you will have to sustain it by miracles. And even though God is in the miracle business – He will also not be manipulated. So then they decide to fabricate one.
Leave Big Brother out of it.
I think what is really upsetting to pastors and Christians alike is the fact that the South African government wants to play Big Brother now and regulate churches in South Africa. The CRL Rights Commission did its own investigation into the “Commercialisation of Religion and Abuse of People’s Belief Systems” and came forward with findings and recommendations. Let me be clear – what I am sharing are my own opinions and not those of the Rhema Family of Churches in South Africa.
I am an avid believer that the government should NOT interfere in some things in a country. Religion is certainly one of them! To the CRL Rights Commission and the Government of South Africa I want to say – before you try and regulate the church, try and regulate yourself. If we have to compare headlines on who has the most scandals, human rights abuses and corruption (shall I go on?) – politicians beat the church by a wide margin.
If government cannot even regulate its own ruling party, how on earth can they regulate the church? They can’t even keep the lights on in the country for Pete’s sake. Maybe government should rather regulate immigration laws, because both Alph Lukua and “Elliot” are foreigners in South Africa. I find it odd that the government wants to regulate churches when most of the religious charlatans operating in South Africa today are non-South Africans here either illegally or with the wrong kind of visas. And why pick on the church? Can it be that there are other motives behind these threats of “regulation”? These challenges that the Church faces are two-sided, because not only do we have to deal with the challenge of Elliots randomly jumping out of coffins on a Sunday or a maniacal “pastor” who might give you a good dose of Doom or a snake (in the name of Jesus) if you nod off during his sermon, but now we have a Marxist inclined government that threatens to “regulate” churches if our brothers and sisters (or in this case cousins from neighbouring countries) don’t behave in a proper manner.
I’m getting tired just thinking about all of this. Maybe I need a resurrection (now I’m milking it) of hope and inspiration. These guys never seem to run out of ideas of how to con desperate people. If only they could put all that inspiration into preparing good theologically sound sermons that put people’s hope in Jesus.
But you know what? There are thousands of pastors who week after week, year after year serve their congregations faithfully. I know many such pastors who have served for decades in their churches. Why don’t we look them up and give them just a fraction of the attention these con-artists are getting? They might not have performed a YouTube resurrection, but they have resurrected countless marriages. They have resurrected many people’s hopes and dreams. They have resurrected faith for many whose faith has died after a personal tragedy. I think these are the ones we should give attention to. The true shepherds and pastors. Do I still believe in miracles? Do I believe that someone can really be resurrected from the dead? Of course I do. I might venture so far as to say that many people do get physically resurrected from the dead all over the world in the name of Jesus. I just believe that God in His wisdom will make sure there is no video camera close by when it happens.
I’m no prophet, but I want to venture out and say that this is not the last we will see of this kind of fiasco in the name of the Lord. It has been happening for thousands of years – and it will keep on happening (hopefully in a neighbouring country this time) as long as the Church of Jesus Christ is doing what God has called us to do.