Written by: Dr. Robert Carle
Article source: religionunplugged.com
Pentecostalism erupted onto the Christian religious scene at the turn of the last century, when African American revivalist W.J. Seymour, organized the Azusa Street revival in Los Angeles.
Seymour’s message of speaking in tongues, miraculous healings, prophetic utterances and charismatic worship proved to be a powerful new brand of Christianity for a troubled new century.
Pentecostalism spread rapidly throughout the world and is now the dominant brand of Protestant Christianity in Africa and South America. By 1910, the Azusa Street revival arrived in Africa, where Pentecostalism spread like wildfire. It has helped make African Christianity the world’s most dynamic center of global Christianity. But Pentecostalism has also generated controversies and scandals. In Kenya, an especially noxious scandal involved “pastors” making robocalls to people promising miracles in exchange for donations. The harder the miracle, the larger the donation.
In 2014, in the wake of a fake miracle spree, the government of Kenya tried to sharply curtail the freedom of fake pastors to operate. The backlash from Kenyan religious leaders was so fierce that President Uhuru Kenyatta has had to rescind most of the new regulations on religion, but he kept the ban on robocalls in place. The Kenyan Communications Authority has also banned televangelists from asking for money at the end of their broadcasts. But the issue of pastoral abuses is not resolved. In the current election campaign, candidate William Ruto has advertised himself as the religious freedom candidate, while Raila Odinga supports more government control over illegal religious activities.
Bishop Gideon Mudenyo oversees 56 Pentecostal churches in an organization called Blessed Fellowship International. Mudenyo believes that the government is not competent to police the church. Rather, the church should police the church. “The 2014 legislation would require all pastors to have qualified degrees in accredited theological institutions,” he said. “It would require that all churches meet in coded buildings. It would give the government the power to determine what theology is preached in churches.” This would shut down most of the churches in his fellowship.
“Kenya is a secular state,” Mudenyo added. “Secular states don’t interfere with church business.”
However, Mudenyo recognizes that the lack of organizational and oversight structures is a problem within Pentecostalism. Blessed Fellowship International was formed in 2009 to address this challenge. The 56 member churches in Blessed Fellowship meet annually to elect a bishop, an executive committee and a council of elders and trustees who oversee church property.
“It is essential that churches have pastors who are morally right,” Mudenyo said. “Otherwise, parishioners will lose their passion for God. … Pastors must be role models and mentors for congregants.”
The bishop and elders have the power to withdraw credentials for pastors who are bad role models. The most common problems in the fellowship are scandals involving money or marital infidelity.
Bishop Mudenyo said that he hates to remove any pastor from office, but this disciplinary power is essential to the integrity of the fellowship. Mudenyo agrees that Pentecostalism has a problem with fake miracles. Therefore, Blessed International places an emphasis on teaching the word of God rather than on performing miracles. In many Pentecostal churches, pastors feel compelled to show miracles to prove that they are anointed, and this leads to a lot of abuse. The sign of anointing, Bishop Mudenyo said, is faithful preaching of God’s word. “I believe in miracles,” he said, “but they are not necessarily a sign of anointing.”
Date published: 24/07/2022
Feature image:Parishioners attend a Blessed Fellowship International church in Eldoret, Kenya. Photo by Robert Carle.
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