Conrab [sic] Mbewe is a man who wears many hats and who fulfills many different responsibilities, but above all else he is a preacher of God’s Word. MacArthur introduced him by explaining that he wished to have Mbewe at the event because the charismatic movement has done devastating damage in Africa and he wanted an insider’s perspective. Mbewe titled his message “The African Import of Charismatic Chaos.” Here are some brief notes.
Mbewe decided to provide a brief overview of the charismatic movement in Africa. It is a movement he has observed for over thirty years and one that is of great concern to him. This is not something he has learned about by reading books, but something he comes across literally every day. He warned that some of what he would say would be somewhat foreign to a Western mindset, but he felt it necessary to speak from his African background.
-Pastor Tim Challies
“Strange Fire Conference: Conrad Mbewe,” October 17, 2013
Note: This was written before my meeting with my Pastor last night. More on this as developments occur.
I’ve been trying to figure out the logic of why certain presenters were scheduled and why their presentations were ordered as they were. I’m sure it was purposeful, but I don’t know enough about MacArthur and how he conceives of things to understand what the first day of the three-day Strange Fire conference was supposed to communicate beyond the obvious message that the Charismatic movement is undesirable and even dangerous.
Conrad Mbewe was the last of the speakers for the first day of the conference and he illustrated something for me that I’ve heard before. I used to think that when missionaries were sent to “the foreign field,” they transmitted a more or less generic message about Christianity to the unsaved in the various places on our planet. Now I realize that there is a sort of struggle between denominations and movements in Christianity to possess the minds and hearts of the people in all these nations and regions of the Earth. According to Mbewe, the Pentecostals pretty much “own” most of Africa.
As an African, there is a whole world in his mind that this invariably floods into. The word “breakthrough” is really saying to the common African man that if you are struggling in your marriage or struggling to conceive or struggling to maintain a job (and so on), it is because between you and God there are other layers that need to be dealt with. One of those layers is that of angels and demons and the other is that of your ancestral spirits. Until those layers are broken through, you will not get what you want. This is what the charismatic movement has taken on when dressed in African attire. The language that has already been there for centuries in Africa is given a thin veneer of Bible verses. You can understand, then, that if men and women are running in throngs to the witch doctor, they will rush in throngs to these so-called churches because it boasts the same power they are looking for.
I suspect that throughout the history of the Church, missionaries have encountered circumstances where what they preached, rather than replacing local beliefs and customs, have been integrated into existing beliefs, so that a sort of fusion occurs, as described above. The Pentecostal presentation of the power of the Spirit has been fused with local beliefs of ancestral spirits and witch doctors (or witch doctor substitutes), at least as far as what I can tell from this summary.
He proposes, “What’s to stop someone like me from coming up with irrational ideas because I’ve been empowered to do so?” He has counseled many, many people who are caught in these scandals—sexual scandals about spiritual husbands and wives, where a messenger from God, a pastor, steps in to be sexual partner with someone because of the authority that they have from God. These people keep God’s Word closed.
If these events are indeed taking place, then serious abuse is occurring. The question is, should all Charismatics everywhere carry the blame, or only the people in those specific locations who are authoring this confusion? We have Mbewe’s commentary on what he’s witnessed in his area of the world. This is MacArthur’s building a case against Pentecostalism one brick at a time.
In no way do I defend the heinous practices Mbewe describes, and I can certainly support returning to scripture as a guide for right living. It very much seems, based on Mbewe’s report, that what many African people believe is “Christianity,” is a highly skewed and twisted version that has been heavily abused, to the detriment of many people. Unfortunately, that’s also a description of most of the history of Christianity, pre and post-reformation.
Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth.
–John 17:17 (NASB)
He went to John 17:17 and said the charismatic chaos we see would never have been the case if this verse had been taken seriously.
As much as MacArthur and his peers, including Mbewe, tout the sufficiency and even primacy of scripture, I was a little surprised to see that Mbewe used only a single verse from John to support his presentation. It’s also true that all incarnations of Christianity (and most other religions) lay exclusive claim to “truth,” so isolating John 17:17 and serving it up can actually serve both sides of this debate.
His final remarks expresed [sic] his relief to see the Reformed movement growing on the African continent, though it is still in its infancy there. He exhorted us all: We have got to pray and get back to the Bible! Today we are not saying enough that this book is sufficient. It is sufficient!
This isn’t just a conference designed to expose the flaws and dangers MacArthur and others believe the Charismatic movement represents, but one that markets and promotes the Reformed movement as a replacement. The simple message I’m getting from the conference so far is that, “The Charismatic movement is wrong and I’m/We’re (MacArthur/Reformed movement) right.”
Challies wrote a separate summary of the first day of the conference which outlines the presenters and their messages, as well as the overarching message of that day. How Challies ended his summary told me how it was all impacting him, which showed he that he wasn’t entirely expecting to agree with everything being warmed up over this strange fire:
Until the day of the event, and really until the end of MacArthur’s opening address, I was unsure of whether or not I would give a lot of attention to the event. But I am glad I chose to blog about it as it really does seem to be making a big splash in the Evangelical world and especially among the Reformed crowd that tends to read this site. Like you, I am very interested to know what will come today and tomorrow.
What remains to be seen, and what may take quite a long time to see, is whether this event will call Christians to work to find greater agreement on the issue of the miraculous gifts, or whether it will polarize the camps even further. It is fast becoming my prayer that one way or another the Lord will see fit to use this event to bring greater maturity and greater unity to his church.
I’m reminded of the political polarization that has taken place in our nation, especially during the current Presidential administration. I’m also reminded of a prize-fight. I remember being very young and visiting my grandfather at his house in Omaha. I remember him watching professional boxing matches on a small, black and white television while smoking his pipe. I was more focused on visiting grandpa and my aunts and uncle than really watching the boxing, but it still left an impression.
But is seeking truth and the Word and Will of God supposed to be combat? I suppose “spiritual warfare” sounds pretty dramatic and even heroic, but I don’t think MacArthur has that terminology in mind. If this were a legal case in court, then both parties would have a chance to present their evidence before a judge. There’s no way to truly burn away the dross and produce a pure product without all of the elements being present. A legal court has been called a crucible of fact. MacArthur is attempting to construct a crucible of truth.
But all of his critics, the “defendants,” are stuck outside the courthouse, looking in through the windows, with the Internet as their only means of response. Do the Charismatics ever get their “day in court?”