Saturday, August 31, 2013

A FALSE PROPHET ON THE FRONT LINE


(Christianity Today, July/August 2013.) This clip is a rip from a full-page ad in the magazine that, unfortunately, so many people regard as the voice of Protestant Christianity. Christianity Today is far from a model of orthodoxy. But I was surprised to see an ad in there promoting international charismatic mania. It’s hard, I guess, for a magazine to resist big advertising dollars from an enthusiastic quarter when that magazine is lax on doctrine and morals to start with.

I knew nothing of Reinhard Bonnke before reading this ad. As soon as I saw the ad and read it, suspicion filled my heart. Why was I suspicious? Besides the appearance of show and sham, I suspected evil because of these words: “Over time my ministry has seen 72 million people respond to the call of salvation.” Claims like this one are becoming the norm today among globetrotting wonder-workers who claim to be, as this one does, ‘evangelists from the front line.’ If readers of ads like this would just consider the number of converts that are claimed, they might soon realize that such claims must be false. Conversions cause morality to spread. “Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them” (Matthew 7.20.) Has any significant part of Africa become changed for the better on account of Mr. Bonnke’s rip-roaring meetings? What do we hear about on a regular basis on the news? Whole regions of Africa transformed into communities of righteous conduct and holy behavior? No, we hear of clan warfare, machete attacks, and the rapid spread of AIDS on account of fornication and rape. African superstitions (like sex with a virgin as a cure for, or preventative against, AIDS) carry on because the large scale conversions through visiting boasters like Bonnke are not real. The man’s numbers are a mirage. He does not instruct, the Holy Spirit cannot be with him, and sinners are not transformed through his meetings. If you were to add up the claims of these peripatetic showmen, would the numbers not amount to every African soul being saved by now? People who follow and support anarchic speakers of Bonnke’s ilk, and who marvel at his wild boasts and worthless wonders as if they were genuine, need to be amazed at the fact that the numbers do not reflect the morality on the ground. Such gullible believers must not be very moral themselves, not very instructed, more subjective than reasonable, and more superstitious than Scriptural. They would believe in the accretion of conversions even after the accretions overtopped the population of the world. They would believe in this even while the world all around them is on fire with sin, crime, war, and anti-Christian religion. A loud sensationalist says that 72 million souls have been saved. That is enough for them. He says that ‘America shall be saved.’ They believe it. Never mind that no nation has ever been wholly saved. The man says that it will happen. His word settles it. After he passes through and completes his tour, the nation will continue to believe in gods of every sort, immorality will increase, the people will still be renown for blasphemy, and the Sabbath will be scorned again like there is no tomorrow. What will these gullible believers do then? They will continue to listen to their puffed-up braggart and go on to believe his next claim for the next nation. Not only this, but they will continue to empty their pockets to support him financially. The ad says that the admission in Orlando will be ‘FREE!’ Further down it is written that America has enabled financially for the ‘harvest’ in Africa. Let me assure you that it will enable financially for the vain venture in Orlando as well. Reinhard Bonnke will exact an exorbitant fee, if not through tickets or at the door, then through tricky or coercive methods before or during the event. Yes, ‘bring a friend,’ not for Good News, but to pay the Bonnke fee. There is the plausible interpretation for you. The meeting will take place in the Amway center. For the most part, people who come to charismatic meetings like this are not after salvation, but some temporal aid or a quick fix, which is the same reason why people flock to Amway conferences. I am no fan of Amway. But an Amway meeting would be far less deceptive and destructive to the soul than a meeting where the name of Jesus is disgraced by a lying, barking character such as Reinhard Bonnke.

I would never say all of this without listening to this man for myself, though what I have written so far I would not doubt the truth of just on the basis of seeing the ad. After sighting the ad, I decided to watch one of his performances over the internet. ‘God Uses Ordinary People’ (from 2005) is not a sermon. It is not a speech. It is something akin to a semi-hysterical rant. My guess is that all of this man’s ‘sermons’ are like this, crammed with claims and destitute of doctrine. Though rantings and ravings by men like Bonnke are all alike in their tone (rabid), I was fortunate to choose the ‘Ordinary People’ tirade. He gives us some of the background in this one, concerning both his call and popularity. The story of his call to minister is, not surprisingly, a remarkable one. Being too poor to take a tour of London, Bonnke ended up bussing around the city and then walking about in the midst of it. He eventually happened upon the house of a former preacher who then anointed him for his mission just before he died. And thus did the mantle of George Jeffreys fall upon Bonnke. That is the story. And it is interesting to trace the tale backward from George Jeffreys. This Mr. Jeffreys was one of the men responsible for bringing the ‘gospel of signs and wonders’ to Great Britain, a man who was converted during the Welsh Revival of 1905 or thereabouts, which revival was more conspicuous for fanaticism than teaching or preaching. Jeffreys believed that the Brits are the spiritual and even literal descendents of the ancient Israelites. Does a belief like that not have a cultic ring to it? Is that man fit to preach who would believe such obvious nonsense? Bonnke, not to be surpassed by his predecessor in the fantastic nature of his claims, asserts, though somewhat indirectly, to be in the line of apostolic succession!

What was to be the foundation for Reinhard Bonnke’s ministry? This: preaching on the Baptism of the Spirit, and prayers in unknown tongues. That is what the Lord told him, he says. Did the Lord say the like to any New Testament apostle? No, but that doesn’t matter. Why should it? We might even suppose (not by exposition, for Bonnke doesn’t do any) that Jesus chose his twelve apostles ‘at random’ as he ‘bumped into them,’ as it were. That is the revelation to Bonnke for the rest of us, which is for the purpose of teaching that God uses ordinary people. Yes indeed, Jesus prayed all nite just to pick apostles at random the following day! The revelation has no support from Scripture to back it up. No matter. Bonnke needs it to justify his anti-intellectual pattern. 

When Bonnke was bucking for his beginning, he sought cooperation from local churches for his first crusade. The answer they gave was that anyone can say, ‘The Lord spoke to me.’ Supposing that this story is true, they were right to put him off like that, and Bonnke should have never been given access by anyone to speak anywhere on anything regarding the Bible. After he got his way, how did his venture take flight? Only 100 persons showed up at his first meeting. But why so many after that? Because of core doctrines preached by a holy minister at his first meeting? No, but because of ‘healings’ in the crowd. God does not put a propeller behind you, Bonnke says. But that’s just about what he claims God did for him. “Sermonettes are for Christianettes,” he says. That’s his way of belittling hard work, learning, and preparation. What did he do instead of preach a carefully wrought sermon? He performed for the audience, and by chicanery or emotive influence, some phenomena occurred. What followed after that? Crowds followed, for the world is full of easily deceived sinners who run after wonders even while their souls are sinking down toward hell. And when they show up, what happens to their excitable selves? The lucky ones have hands laid on them or they collapse, or both. Are they taught anything about the Bible and made to feel their sins thereby? No, but what’s the difference? They will settle for the thrill of falling down. Some dare to hope that they will be healed as they fall. But falling is enough in a pinch. Nothing in a Bonnke meeting resembles what we find in the New Testament ministries of Jesus, Peter, or Paul. What does that matter, though? The discomposed folks who gather in meetings like this don’t know what’s in the Bible and care little to find out. And what kind of narrow-minded bigot would limit himself to the rule of Scripture anyway? How many ignorant folks obeyed this man to go out as if called by the Holy Spirit to do so, only to go who knows where and to what disappointing, and maybe even deadly, end? There are consequences to believing the fancies of fanatics. 

Any person who believes that a ministry of reconciliation begins like Mr. Bonnke’s charade did is disconnected from biblical history and ignorant of the history of the Church. In Acts 2 the Spirit falls upon believers, not unconverted visitors, and much teaching on Jesus Christ follows. In a Bonnke meeting, we are led to believe that the Spirit falls upon unconverted visitors through a man who preaches nothing but stories of himself! This rancid talk he gives about God using ordinary people, for instance, has no doctrine in it except the bare mention of salvation and Jesus’ death. And we are told, even during a rant in which no doctrine is expounded or explained that the finger of God is moving through the stadium! It is more likely that seeds planted in a snow-bank would sprout! The Spirit was not moving in this meeting any more than he moved over the pages of Bonnke’s Bible that time he was ‘told’ by God to read 1 Chronicles. If you have ears to hear spiritual things, maybe you will pick up on the spiritual meaning of this story he tells. Here it is: the finger of God moving over the pages of a Bible, that’s nothing; but the finger of God moving in a Bonnke crowd, this is everything. That person is in a sorry spiritual state, or at least in a spiritually stunted condition, who believes that salvation or healing falls from the sky subsequent to a minister shouting for an hour about nothing but himself and his unbelievable experiences. That person needs education on the bare necessities of sacred Scripture if he believes that, and he probably needs to be saved besides. “All the wisdom in man will not save the world.” This is Bonnke’s way of saying that doctrines (teachings on justification, regeneration, repentance, etc.) are not necessary. I know that ‘wisdom of man’ and ‘doctrine’ are not synonymous. But I tell you, the context and tone lead me to insist that this is his way of dismissing saving doctrines. These doctrines are nothing to him but the contents of man’s wisdom. He has no time, patience, or diligence for doctrine. What need of actual sermons? No need. He will get people to respond to his enthusiastic yelling, pacing, and fist clenching. That is his method: self-caused exuberance instead of warm, careful exposition. It is the easiest and fastest way to get a rise from the audience. His mad zeal reminds me of a certain woman who used to exclaim, ‘Stop the insanity!’ Or of a certain man who used to strain his veins with, ‘Technique!’ Mr. Bonnke might as well be a walking infomercial parody, so little does his performance exude holy spirituality! He is a good actor, though, and has a hypnotic effect on deluded, passive souls. If the man did not expect us to take him seriously, it would be safe to say that he is entertaining. What characterizes a sermon during a meeting in which the finger of God is present? Is a revival sermon about the minister and his experiences? Or is it about the most holy things of God? Edward Griffin has written a competent, dependable summary of what a revival sermon contains. He experienced, under his ministerial leadership, genuine revival in Massachusetts in the 1820’s. We should listen to such a man. What does he say? “In those revivals unwearied pains were taken to lay open the divine character in all its benevolence, holiness, and justice; to present the divine government in all its righteousness and purity, in all its sovereignty and covenant faithfulness, in all its reasonableness and benignity and awful terror; to lay open the carnal heart, festering with every evil passion, and the horrid nature of sin, with its infinite demerits; to explain the great provision of the atonement and the terms of acceptance with God; to bring out the mercy which melts in the gospel and to press home the invitation; to show the reasonableness and sincerity of God in his treatment of sinners, and the unreasonableness of their obstinacy in rejecting the gospel” (W. B. Sprague’s Lectures on Revivals, p. 415.) Quite different, this, than speaking about the self! The results are different as well. What can we expect as the result of Bonnke’s frantic exercises up on his fancy stage? We may expect the same as the outcome witnessed by Edward Griffin during revivals that were false: “The people, who were stupid before, relapse into the same stupidity at the end of the protracted meeting” (p. 415.)

A prophet may be discovered false by many avenues of inquiry. He is usually interactive, asking for Amens from the audience, for example (the case here.) He either preaches doctrine falsely, or he dismisses doctrine altogether; again, the case here. A false prophet usually occupies a glittering stage, which is the case here as well. And false prophets of the charismatic stripe always focus more on personal experiences and manifestations than on the life, death, and merits of Christ and the doctrines that are connected with closing with him for salvation. In other words, redemption by Christ, and his righteousness to a sinner’s account through faith, these are facts not considered worthy of expositing or preaching, while claims of bodily healing and other modern miracles take center stage. The false prophet is usually about the business of temporary, transient things (like money and popularity) at the expense of the soul. And, as if by the gift of God for the na├»ve, the gullible, the simple, and the credulous, the false prophet will wear on his sleeve the denial of some basic biblical reality. Here, for example, that comes in the form of a mantra emotionally exclaimed: ‘Hell empty; heaven full!’ Even the dullest reader of Scripture ought to notice an error when a speaker’s pet phrase contradicts a fundamental spiritual reality that is set in stone by God in the Bible. Hell is not empty right now, and it never will be empty. That this phrase is just Mr. Bonnke’s way of expressing his desire for the salvation of all is no worthwhile counter argument. A true prophet, while he may desire the salvation of all or any, submits to the will of God that is written in the Bible. And he chooses phrases that are in line with that.


But for me, what mostly singles out the false prophet from the true one is his attitude toward God. This indicator is not as easy to spot as some of the others. Familiarity with a godly attitude is necessary for one to be able to spot irreverence. If a person listens only to speakers who are irreverent, and therefore imagines, when he reads the Bible, that the Psalmist spoke in a saucy manner too, and that this manner is the holy norm, he will not recognize irreverence even when it stands before him disrespecting God. The discerning spirit will feel the irreverence come across, as it does here when Mr. Bonnke tells the story of how he used to skip the first part of 1 Chronicles while executing his reading plan. Seeing and hearing this man repeating and shouting ‘In Jesus’ name!’ and ‘Glory to God!’ will repulse every spirit that is acquainted with the spirit of the Psalms. This man’s exclamatory utterances will sicken the soul of any person who has had sweet fellowship with any portion of Scripture that is conspicuous for exalting any Member of the Holy Trinity. Those who are filled with admiration for a man who labors to exude energy will take Mr. Bonnke’s demeanor for German passion or even holy zeal. My suggested treatment for this false interpretation is this: Listen to this man and then pause to read Psalm 8 or Psalm 26. Go back and forth, from the spirit of Bonnke to the Psalmist, and if you feel no difference, God help you, for then you cannot be very near God’s kingdom. Read a verse from the Bible where God is extolled: “I will praise thee, O LORD, with my whole heart; I will shew forth all thy marvellous works” (Psalm 9.1.)  Then listen to Bonnke say to God: “I do the preaching, and you bring the people!” If you are not struck by the difference there between a holy tone and a sneering voice, then I might go so far as to say that there is little hope for cure to your blind eyes and ears. But the God who is little esteemed by Bonnke knows for sure if you are one of those, or not, who is beyond curing and left over to endure his everlasting curse. “If you love the praise of man, the criticism of man will destroy you.” That is a rare jewel from Reinhard Bonnke, albeit lacking polish, for criticism is often for our good. It may be safer to say: If you love the praise of man so much that you have no regard for criticism, you might be in danger of missing the advice that would save you from Ultimate Destruction in Hell. “Reproofs of instruction are the way of life” (Proverbs 6.23.)

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