What does the Bible teach about holy oil, water cloths, stickers that are hallowed by the prayer of a church leader, etc.? Can they be used to unlock blessings, to heal diseases, or to protect against witches and evil spirits? Many self-claimed Christians in Africa easily accept unbiblical practices. Nowadays, such things are being practiced in many African charismatic churches and other denominations. There is no single verse or a biblical principle that teaches or approves such practices, yet they are easily accepted and even rapidly adopted by many African churches. Why are these practices so easily embraced?
There are three main interrelated factors that make it easier for many Africans to accept unbiblical practices: the influence of African traditions, the ignorance of Scriptures, and the love of money.
Influence of African Traditions
Many of the unbiblical practices in African churches are adopted from African traditions. These include the use of charms and rituals. In many African societies, people fear witchcraft and demons (ancestral spirits); they also associate troubles with witchcraft. This fear causes many to consult witchdoctors for protection. In reply, witchdoctors instruct their clients to practice various rituals, or give them a variety of objects which they claim will bring success, healing, and protection from evils spirits. These objects vary from bones, water, oil, herbs, etc. Nowadays, such witchdoctors’ common practices are adopted in churches; the only difference is the objects that are being used. Many charismatic pastors are distributing anointing oil, hallowed water, stickers, cloths written“JESUS”, etc. They tell people that with prayers, these objects can heal, protect and unlock blessings. Furthermore, just like witchdoctors, many pastors are telling their counselees that they have been possessed by ancestral spirits which bring bad luck, and therefore they need deliverance.
Another practice adopted from witchdoctors is foretelling. In Acts 16:16, we read the story of a servant girl who had an evil spirit by which she told the future. This is the same evil spirit that works in sorcerers and witchdoctors. They say things like: I can see a great danger coming your way, so bring me such and such things to avoid the consequences. Today, this practice of foretelling is common in many charismatic churches, being referred to as prophecy. This shows that many dishonest church leaders also acquire evil power and use it in church in Jesus’ name. They are wolves in sheep’s clothing according to the teaching of Scripture (Mathew 7:15-23, 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12; 2 Peter 2). For selfish gain, they use God’s name and twisted Bible verses to support their unbiblical practices.
The mentality of equating pastors with witchdoctors also leads to the acceptance of unbiblical practices. Witchdoctors are regarded as superior and more spiritual and serve as people’s representatives to the spirits/gods (they consult spirits on your behalf and report back to you). Christians with un-renewed minds view pastors that way. Consequently, such followers can disregard the Scripture and do anything that their leaders tell them. False church leaders capitalize on the ignorance of such people by giving themselves big titles such as prophet, apostle, etc. in order to manipulate people to believe that they have special power and access to God.
I am not condemning all African traditions; I am emphasizing that in adopting traditions from our cultures, we must evaluate our traditions in light of Scripture and adopt the right practices. Any tradition (whether African, European, Indian, or American) which is contrary to Scripture is sinful, and it must be rejected.
Ignorance of Scripture
Knowledge and understanding of the Bible matures believers in faith and enables them to discern right from wrong (Ephesians 4:11-15). Unfortunately, many Africans Christians do not know or understand the Bible. There are two main problems that contribute to the ignorance of Scripture:
The first problem is that in many African churches, pastors have abandoned their God-given responsibility of studying, preaching and teaching the Word of God (2 Timothy 4:4-5, Mathew 28:18-20, Acts 6:4). Instead, they become like witchdoctors, entertainers, and motivational speakers in churches.They spend a few minutes in preaching, and many hours in unbiblical practices like casting out demons and prophesying. They do not study the Bible diligently. In addition, many African churches are being led by untrained leaders. Their ignorance of the Bible causes them to teach wrong doctrine, adopt unbiblical practices, and produce church members who are unfaithful to the Scripture in their belief and practice. In addition to untrained leaders, there are also many who are deliberately teaching wrong doctrine for dishonest gain.
The second problem is the lack of a Bible reading discipline among African Christians. Many believers do not read or study their Bibles. The failure of church leaders to teach the Scripture faithfully and to train their followers on how to study the Bible has made the situation worse. Thus, many read the Bible in a wrong way. Sadly, many Christians do not understand the value of God’s Word in their lives. Such unsaved self-claimed Christians despise Bible studies. They prefer to attend churches that entertain them with prolonged singing and short superficial sermons. Lack of discernment due to an ignorance of Scripture and a rejection of God’s Word causes many to accept false prophets and unbiblical practices (Hosea 4: 6).
Love of Money & Materialism
Poverty and greed in Africa contribute to unbiblical practices in churches. Many greedy people are joining churches, and some come into ministry for fame and material gain.
Poverty and greed also cause many to
embrace a false prosperity gospel which deceitfully promises miraculous wealth,
health and fame for its followers. Such false teachings increase discontentment
and laziness; they cause many Christians to lose focus on eternity (Colossians
3:1-5), to live for material gain, and to seek money with whatever means. Under
a false prosperity gospel, unbiblical practices in churches including
distribution of anointing oil, hallowed water, stickers, etc. are accepted
deliberately to gain money and fame, not to help people (Titus 1:9-15,
Philippians 3:18-19). The love of money is the root of all such kinds of evils
(1Timothy 6: 3-10). Material possessions are not wrong as long as you gain them
in a right way, and use them for God’s glory. Living for the purpose of
material gain is wrong.
The influence of African traditions, the
ignorance of Scripture, and the pursuit of money fuel the acceptance of
unbiblical practices in African churches. In our efforts to address these
contemporary unbiblical practices and help the victims, it is important to
consider these three interrelated factors and address the unbiblical mindset
Dr. Conrad Mbewe’s sermon, “Are We Preachers or Witchdoctors?” is highly recommended on this topic