Can Pentecostal Beliefs Make You A Syncretic Christian?

It’s true, if you’re not careful, your Pentecostal beliefs can be a breeding ground of syncretism. Especially if you’re an African. This article explores why Africans need to be wary of importing the dangerous aspects of traditional African beliefs into their Christian faith. 

Can Pentecostal Beliefs Make You A Syncretic Christian?

I’m not a cessationist. But A Charismatic inclined towards Reformation or a continuationist. But it’s hard holding on to Pentecostal beliefs when you’re an African without twisting the Word of God.

This is why.

I believe in the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. And that the Holy Spirit is not a passive subordinate of the Triune God. He is God, from whom proceed spiritual gifts for the edification of the church. Hence, some speak in tongues, interpret, tongues, prophecy and even have the gift of healings.

Yet, as an African, I grew up believing that they’re good and evil spirits constantly battling about my life. When the dark side is winning my life is harassed by bad luck. But the light side could be aided by herbal concoctions from witchdoctors.

Pentecostal beliefs and practices replaced the herbs and the witchdoctor with the anointing oil, anointed handkerchief, prayer warriors, binding and loosening.

Until recently, I believed people sinned because of demonic activity. It made sense that Pentecostal preachers had an altar call for people struggling with sin. They didn’t need repentance but deliverance, so I thought.

My upcoming book, Pew Theology will include a chapter on why it’s hard to be a faithful theologian and still cling to Pentecostal beliefs. If you haven’t heard about my upcoming book you may want to read my previous post because I need your help.

But can you have Pentecostal beliefs and care deeply about theology?

Are all Continuationist the same?

I grew up in an independent indigenous apostolic church that did not believe in Jesus Christ. Instead, we called out OT prophets as intermediaries in prayer. God was inaccessible, except through prophets. The Bible outdated and largely irrelevant, hence we need a fresh revelation from the prophets.

[Tweet “Dear Pentecostals, even people filled by the Spirit need to effectively read the Bible.”]

We believed in spiritual gifts. In fact, all church activities centered around prophecies, speaking in tongues, and healings. During the week, church members consulted prophets for healings and miracles. Moses’ outer court when people brought sin offering paled in comparison to the prophets’ shrines.

The prophecies focused on death and witchcraft.

Such churches are common in Zimbabwe. They’re an extreme case of continuationism. The kind often caricatured by cessationists.

When I was in college, a member of an independent indigenous apostolic church asked me, “What do you think about the prophecy and divine healing in my church?” For several months, I avoided the question and chose to talk about salvation in Christ. But he did not relent.

Finally, I said, “God still heals today. He has given some the gifts of healings and working miracles. But your church chose to reject this wonderful gift and settled for the devil’s counterfeits.”

I continued, “Your prophecies and healings encourage enmity in families and communities. Where is the love of God if you reject Jesus Christ from whom proceeds the Holy Spirit? Even people filled by the Spirit need to read the Bible.”

Thus, Kwabena Asamoah-Gyadu observed:

The foremost theological emphasis of Pentecostal/charismatic Christianity is therefore the transformative encounter with God who is holy and who is spirit

My Four-Year Old Son Is Definitely Not A Cessationist. This Is What Happened

Yesterday, I was taking a shower and I badly sprained my right-hand wrist. I tried to keep on bathing but the pain was unbearable. My thumb couldn’t move without effecting a spasm of excruciating pain around my wrist and across my palm. For a second, I thought I had broken a bone.

I dried my body using my left hand and dressed up for work. But there was one problem. I couldn’t put on my belt. My son walked in and saw me struggling. And he asked me what was wrong. I told him about my wrist.

“When I was sick I prayed to Jesus and he healed me.” He’s only four and whenever anyone became sick I always asked him to pray. I believed Jesus Christ heals, but I had my doubts. But my son didn’t have time for my fear and doubt.

“Do you want me to pray to Jesus so that he can heal you?” He was serious and I couldn’t say no. I just extended my hand to him knowing after he says Amen nothing would have changed.

“Thank you, Jesus, for daddy. Heal his hand, in Jesus name. Amen.”

I knew this prayer. It was the food prayer specifically adapted for my sprained wrist. But something indescribable happened as soon as he said Amen and released his tiny hands from my wrist. Tears gushed on my face.

“Is the pain still there?”

“No, son. It’s all gone” I cried. God worked out a miracle in front of me. And through a four-year-old kid who believes Jesus Christ still heals.

Are Pentecostal beliefs inherently wrong?

 

Defending Pentecostalism is very easy. You only need to read the Gospels and the Book of Acts. Jesus Christ promised to send the Holy Spirit and he did. And this was evidenced by the speaking in tongues. In no instance does Mark, Luke, Matthew and John said these gifts of the Spirit will cease with their generation.

[Tweet “We have lost the Christian faith while we are holding the Bible in our hands. Conrad Mbewe”]

But it’s defending Pentecostals and modern Pentecostalism, which is hard. A few months ago, a prominent Charismatic church leader said, “The church needs revelation and not knowledge.”

The worst part is this statement was claimed to be a prophecy. Then you wonder why they are few theologians who are Pentecostal.

With such wrong emphasis on the power of the Holy Spirit, it’s not surprising ignorance and manipulation is rife among Pentecostals. Hence the proliferation of syncretic teachings such as the emphasis on prayer warriors, breakthrough, deliverance, men of God and touch not the anointed.

I agree with Conrad Mbewe:

But this is not Christianity. It does not lead to heaven. It is a thin coating over the religion that has been on African soil for time immemorial, which Christianity was meant to replace. We have lost the Christian faith while we are holding the Bible in our hands and using some of its words. This is really sad.

The truth is Pentecostalism is not inherently evil because that will mean the whole Book of Acts is evil.  Therefore, I agree with Kwabena Asamoah-Gyadu who said:

Pentecostalism is a response to… cerebral Christianity and wherever it has appeared the movement has defined itself in terms of the recovery of the experiential aspects of the faith by demonstrating the power of the Spirit to infuse life, and the ability of the living presence of Jesus Christ to save from sin and evil.

But the problem is modern Pentecostals tend to view Baptism by the Holy Spirit as a shortcut to true spirituality. No, there’s no shortcut to spiritual growth. I will cover more on this in Pew Theology.

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8 Comments

  1. We need to be both biblically grounded and experiential. I was told in a reformed church that my emotions in worship didn’t fit their congregation. How is it possible that I can’t be glad in and lift
    My hands in my salvation, when people scream and jump at soccer games and its encouraged? Does God want active minds and detached hearts, or only hearts on fire without knowledge? We need both!

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  2. Pentecostalism, I don’t know the nomenclator though, is most definitely scriptural. Whether it goes by continuationism, cessationism or charismatic movement it is, as far as I’m concerned, a mere nomenclature with no biblical support.
    Philosophies, with its bombastic insinuations, always leave the problems hanging. How many prophets headed the New Testamentary Church? Most of the assemblage of C.A.C. denomination (let me tell you for free) is shepherded by a prophets, in an unscriptural continuationist stance. A cessationistically minded ones are ready to take up arms against a Pentecostal, spirit filled, tongue talking Christian for attempting to exude a proficiency of the glossolalia. Name-it-claim-it stance of the charismatic movement tend to etiolate the faith kernel of our walk (i.e. ‘halak’, in Hebrew, meaning: ‘lifestyle’) with the Lord Jesus. Anointing services, thousands of litres of oil (especially the holiest Israeli olive) and the anointing carrying kerchiefs. You just have to see the arrogance of some the deliverance ministers!
    I’m certainly not against the personal use of these elements. But to turn them into a congregational rite, that’s what the scripture supports not.
    Pentecostalism should be quite distanced from these scriptural anomalies. It’s the birth of God’s biggest dream and secret: the Church; midwifed by the Holy Spirit Himself. Lucifer was expectedly jealous of this birth and the inevitable celestial position of the birthed woman of the Lamb. Satan manipulated a massive infiltration which is so evident today.
    I love the part where your four years old proved that, “out of the mouth of babes He’s made perfection of praises”, hallelujah! Edmond, you’ve made spiritual investments in your children. You must reap so bountifully. They will…..meet your antagonists at the gate because they must claim the victory. Amen! Keep the vigorous stir of our spiritualism alive, Brother Edmond.

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  3. Great post! Is the experience you had at your church common-place in your country? It was enlightening for me. I have heard about denominations that thought the Old Testament was irrelevant. An outright denial of the logos. That is new! A religious spirit will operate with power and knowledge but deny Jesus Christ. It will deny others from having a relationship with Him. Prophets were used in the Old Testament to direct the lives of the people. Under the New Covenant we may go to God for ourselves. That is why we are given the Holy Spirit. The gifts of the spirit are great but without a relationship with Christ Jesus our work is dead. The relationship must be grounded in Biblical truths. “I will worship toward Your holy temple, And praise Your name For Your lovingkindness and Your truth; For You have magnified Your word above all Your name.” (Psalm 138:2, NKLV)

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  4. Edmond, great elucidation. Weekly we are witness to Pastors and prophets misleading people.

    The pursuit of celebrity has seen pastors competing to grace the front pages of tabloids.

    In these perilous times it is important that we use discernment and that can only come about if we adopt an attitude similar the Bereans who did not take what they were taught at face value but diligently searched scripture for themselves.

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