An examination of Prophets and their role in the development of African Christianity

An examination of Prophets and their role in the development of African Christianity “A case of Prophetic Crisis”

By Dr Augustine Deke, PhD

Dr Deke is a Professor at Team Impact Christian University and also lectures at Zimbabwe Theological Seminary, an associate college of Great Zimbabwe University.

Walter Magaya, Uebert Angel and Emmanuel Makandiwa
The Big Three in Zimbabwe: Walter Magaya, Uebert Angel and Emmanuel Makandiwa


The purpose of this paper is to examine and evaluate the role played by prophets within the context of African Christianity. The word Prophet means a lot in an African context. In so doing this paper will highlight the expected roles of prophets by both the hearers of the word of GOD and those in a cultural setting of animism in Africa. This paper will explore and evaluate how prophets have shaped and influenced African Christianity and society at large.

The general background and purpose of the study:

People generally want to hear from God, the same applies with those who claim to speak on behalf of God. Generally, the 21st century African theology and ministry at large is searching for the voice of God. Africans enjoy prophecy. Any voice that confirms their misery or good fortunes is respected. This has seen Prophets modestly and gradually contextualizing the gospel to meet the needs of the African hearers. African people have been socialized into African traditional beliefs which tend to encourage the spirit of leaving’ everything to the supernatural’. Consultation through foretelling or forth telling on spirit mediums is generally accepted as prophecy. The church in Africa however is failing to differentiate the difference between the message and the messenger based on biblical prophecy.

This challenge has been further acerbated by denominationalism. Denominationalism developed during the course of church history. Prophecy principles based on biblical foundations have failed to draw any meaningful discussion in Africa due to denominational boundaries and some traditional pot holes.

African theology is going through spiritual evolution. African Theology is Christian theology or black theology from the perspective of the African cultural context. Although there are very old Christian traditions on the continent, in the last centuries Christianity in Africa has been determined to a large extent by western forms of Christianity. This also means that the theology in Africa was strongly influenced by Western theology[1].

The first documented use of the term “African Theology” appeared in the context of a debate between Zaïrean theologian Tharcisse Tshibangu and his theological teacher Alfred Vanneste, held by the «Cercle théologique du Lovanium» at Kinshasa, Zaïre in January, 1960. The proceedings of this debate were published in Revue du Clérge Africain in that year[2]. Research spanning back to the sixties shows that African theology had three major developments namely; the adaption, the incarnation and cultural setting phase. The philosophy of the cultural setting was developed in the early eighties.

The First Phase: “Adaptation”

The major concern of those writing and directing the course of African theology in the first phase was “adaptation”. The thrust of this movement was to make Christianity adapt to its African environment. This was usually conceived of in terms of such practices as wearing African clothes, using indigenous African music in liturgy, and the indigenization of the clergy.  The work of evangelization and pastoral care was also shifted to Africans.

The Second Phase: “Incarnation”

The next phase of African theology sought Christianity more deeply and authentically rooted in African soil. One of the ways this task was undertaken was to research the traditional African religions of the various ethnic groups from which the African theologians arose. Since many of them were second or third generation Christians by this time, it necessitated a considerable adjustment process and the pursuit of research methodologies more familiar to anthropologists than to theologians. On the other end African theologians had the advantage of knowledge of the indigenous languages as their own mother tongues.

The Third Phase Cultural Setting

By the early 1980s it was apparent to some African scholars that out of the process of revaluation of African traditional religion (ATR) a certain tension emerged. Some have begun to voice concern that much of the work is being done in a vacuum, for it does not fit the every-day context in which most Africans now live or experience in ministry. The modern African reality is one in which many traditions and customs have died out to the extent that they cannot now be properly recovered, while “modern” and western ways have not been fully established. In a context neither wholly modern nor wholly ancient, a majority of Africans live with economic misery and a daily reality of grinding poverty.  In this context, many a people are seeking for answers or to hear what God has for their bleak future. Additionally, Africa is now much more urbanized and educated than it was in 1960.

The theological literature written by African scholars today is usually not in the highly refined modes of discourse one finds in the academic theology of the European university. They are writing to a more general audience whose primary concerns are often very different from those of Europeans and Americans[3]. Many books today for the African Christian are on church management, spiritual enlightenment or devotional. Little attention has been given on Africans in search of Christianity.

This paper investigates the role of a prophet and the dilemmas of African theology within the context of African religion. There are many voices claiming to be from God in the African church. Advocates of these many voices are prophets. The various mode of African communication to and from God has been imported into African theology. Soothsaying, divination, sorcerers, fortune telling and spirit guides have been accepted and embraced in African theology under the banner of prophecy and faith healing. Do Africans understand the meaning of salvation through Jesus Christ? If so why is there rampant spiritual tourism in the African church as members seek for divine intervention from prophets? Why do we have repeated deliverances on those claiming to have received Christ as Lord and savior? This paper also seeks to uncover the missing link in the concept of the much hyped sought after deliverance.

The voice of God and Old Testament prophets within the context of ministry:

In the Old Testament, a prophet (or seer) is one inspired by God through the Holy Spirit to deliver a message for a specific purpose. God’s calling as a prophet is not to elevate an individual for their own glory, but for the glory of God and to turn people to him.

Some   would limit that and exclude those who receive a personal message not intended for the body of believers, but in the Bible on a number of occasions prophets were called to deliver personal messages.

The reception of a message is termed revelation and the delivery of the message is termed prophecy[4].

Old Testament prophets were not interpreters of God’s will; they uttered the actual words which God gave them. The major two aspects of their work covered forth telling and foretelling[5].

The Old Testament Prophets gave direction to the nation of Israel. Their role was not only limited to matters affecting the congregation or individuals only. To a great extent, the prophets suffered for the truth (Jer 20:1-3). The national agenda was set by prophets in the event people lost direction (2 Chron 12:5). Besides providing with direction, prophets also acted as encouragers or rebuked and corrected people when necessary (Judg 6:7-9).

History shows us that Prophets originally were made to be representatives of God.

Then the Lord said to Moses, “See, I have made you like God to Pharaoh, and your brother Aaron will be your prophet. You are to say everything I command you, and your brother Aaron is to tell Pharaoh to let the Israelites go out of his country (Ex 7:1-2). This does not mean that prophets are small gods but literally meant faithful representatives (Num 12:6-7)

 At one point prophets became the go between the congregation and God due to the fear of God people had. Deut 18:17-18.

Misleading Prophets

When a different way of worshipping God replaces the word of God the hearers tend to be misled. Prophets in Africa have introduced different ways of worship associated with animism. The bible attests to this truth.

If a prophet, or one who foretells by dreams, appears among you and announces to you a miraculous sign or wonder, and if the sign or wonder of which he has spoken takes place, and he says, “Let us follow other gods” (gods you have not known) “and let us worship them,” you must not listen to the words of that prophet or dreamer (Deut 13:1-3).

That prophet or dreamer must be put to death, because he preached rebellion against the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt and redeemed you from the land of slavery; he has tried to turn you from the way the Lord your God commanded you to follow. (Deut 13:5).

In this respect, we find out that Prophets are prone to speak on behalf of other gods and not God the creator.

A prophet who presumes to speak in my name anything I have not commanded him to say, or a prophet who speaks in the name of other gods, must be put to death. (Deut 18:20). At times prophets spoke presumptuously (Deut 18:21-22).

Also to take note of is the role which was played by priests in the Old Testament dispensation. For the atonement of sins, various animals were slaughtered by the priests on behalf of those in need. In some portions of the bible, we read of needy people offering incentives to prophets as with the case of Elisha.

Then Naaman and all his attendants went back to the man of God. He stood before him and said, “Now I know that there is no God in all the world except in Israel. Please accept now a gift from your servant.” The prophet answered, “As surely as the Lord lives, whom I serve, I will not accept a thing.” And even though Naaman urged him, he refused (2 Kings 5:15-16).

This passage shows that true prophets of God never attached any commercial value to their service to the people. God cannot trade His services with the subject of His creation. The other school of thought justifies the concept of business prophets by quoting the story of king Benhad who sent a gift to Elisha in exchange with healing  (2 Kings 8:8). We are not told of the results. The same Elisha who had refused Naaman’s gifts could not have accepted Benhadad’s gift. The story of Saul looking for the lost donkeys further clarifies on this analogy. Saul said to his servant, “If we go, what can we give the man? The food in our sacks is gone. We have no gift to take to the man of God. What do we have?” The servant answered him again. “Look,” he said, “I have a quarter of a shekel of silver. I will give it to the man of God so that he will tell us what way to take.” (1 Sam 9:7-8).

An examination of prophets and the development of African Christianity points to a concept of offering gifts to prophets as a form of appreciation of the service rendered. This has resulted in siphoning of unsuspecting masses of their resources. The case of Saul and Samuel shows that Samuel did not exchange his gift with shekel of silver.

Samuel said to the cook, “Bring the piece of meat I gave you, the one I told you to lay aside.”

So the cook took up the leg with what was on it and set it in front of Saul. Samuel said, “Here is what has been kept for you. Eat, because it was set aside for you for this occasion, from the time I said, ‘I have invited guests.'” And Saul dined with Samuel that day (1 Sam 9:23-24).

Saul had a shekel of silver to give to Samuel and reading further the same passage, we not that Samuel had reserved meat for Saul and his servant as God had directed him. Prophets who ignored the will of God perished (1 Kings 13:23-24).

In other instances it was the followers who persuaded prophets to speak what people wanted to hear about. This resulted in prophets lying in order to meet peoples’ needs. These are rebellious people, deceitful children, children unwilling to listen to the Lord’s instruction. They say to the seers, “See no more visions!” and to the prophets, “Give us no more visions of what is right! Tell us pleasant t hings, prophesy illusions (Isa 30:9-10). When people chose not to listen to God’s instruction, they began to manipulate prophets.

The vicious circle resulted in further exploitation of people by the prophets as proved by the following passages; A horrible and shocking thing has happened in the land: The prophets prophesy lies, the priests rule by their own authority, and my people love it this way. But what will you do in the end? (Jer 5:30-31). When wrong was supported by followers, it became difficult for outsiders to differentiate the difference between true and false prophets.

When these people, or a prophet or a priest, ask you, ‘What is the oracle of the Lord?’ say to them, ‘What oracle? I will forsake you, declares the Lord. If a prophet or a priest or anyone else claims, ‘This is the oracle of the Lord,’ I will punish that man and his household. (Jer 23:33-35).

“I have heard what the prophets say who prophesy lies in my name. They say, ‘I had a dream! I had a dream!’ How long will this continue in the hearts of these lying prophets, who prophesy the delusions of their own minds? They think the dreams they tell one another will make my people forget my name, just as their fathers forgot my name through Baal worship. (Jer 23:25-27, 32. (27:10,15). Continuous abuse of people by false prophets tend to drift the hearers of the word away from God into idolatry. God called for such false prophets to be reprimanded. The word of the Lord came to me: 2 “Son of man, prophesy against the prophets of Israel who are now prophesying. Say to those who prophesy out of their own imagination: ‘Hear the word of the Lord! (Ezek 13:1-2,17).

The Old Testament prophets of God were meant to be the mouth piece of God. However counterfeit prophets were there so as to mislead the children of God. God’s prophets performed miracles so as to bring people closer to God and not man (1 Kings 18:36-39). Focus was on God and not selfish ends (Ezek 34:1-3). Jeremiah best summarised the abuse of power and character of Old Testament false prophets. The [ prophets] follow an evil course and use their power unjustly. “Both prophet and priest are godless; even in my temple I find their wickedness, declares the Lord. Therefore their path will become slippery; ( Jer 23:10-12). The Old Testament shows that true prophets preached repentance and directed people to obey the laws of God and not mankind ordinances. (Jer 23:22).

 I have sent also unto you all my servants the prophets, rising up early and sending them, saying, Return ye now every man from his evil way, and amend your doings, and go not after other gods to serve them, and ye shall dwell in the land which I have given to you and to your fathers: but ye have not inclined your ear, nor hearkened unto me. (Jer 35:15). Failure to observe or to be consistent with the dictates of the word is one of the signs of false prophets. African prophets seem to be embracing and importing more of their cultural norms in their discharge of duty without biblical backing. (Isa 8:20).

The economic condition of the continent has immensely contributed towards the evolution of African Christianity within the context of prophets and their subjects. In Africa this false –theology has created a new breed of selfish Christians, prophets and pastors, a tribe which operates within the unholy trinity-me, myself and I[6]. The message and theology has been shaped around people’s quest for economic emancipation.

Each time people seek divine intervention for social and economic justice, such tend to be vulnerable to abuse. The leaders will judge for a bribe, the priests teach for a price and the prophets tell fortunes for money. People are given hope where there is no hope. (Micah 3:11). The motivation of false prophets is wealth. There is a conspiracy of her prophets in the midst thereof, like a roaring lion ravening the prey; they have devoured souls; they have taken the treasure and precious things; they have made her many widows in the midst thereof. (Ezek 22:25).

The word prophet means many things in Africa. The thin line between prophets in African religion and African Christianity has further raised questions in orthodox Christianity in Africa. Can Christians in Africa understand prophets from a biblical point without traditional magnifying glasses? As African Christianity generally loves prophecy (Isa 30:10-13). The prophets prophesy lies, the priests rule by their own authority, and my people love it this way. But what will you do in the end? (Jer 5:31). Big crowds and a large following have emerged on African Christianity mostly driven by prophets due to the true predictions and outcome of prophecies. Prophecies of false prophets do not always fail and this has and is the key to the growth of the prophetic churches mostly in Africa. (Deut 13:1-2).

Divination and Prophets

African Christianity and the growth of the prophetic churches are failing to define the thin line between biblical prophecy and divination. Divination is a common practice in African traditions. The word divination comes from the Latin divinare, meaning “to foresee” or “to be inspired by a god.”

To practice divination is to uncover hidden knowledge by supernatural means. It is associated with the occult and involves fortune-telling or soothsaying, as it used to be called.
From ancient times, people have used divination to gain knowledge of the future or as a way to make money.[7]  African Christianity has celebrated the uncovering of hidden information by supernatural means and has not bothered to investigate the source of information. Identification of problem sources has become the norm of African churches. Some diviners charge for their service as now a common feature in African Christianity.

This evil practice dates back in the Old Testament. The elders of Moab and Midian left, taking with them the fee for divination. When they came to Balaam, they told him what Balak had said. Spend the night here, Balaam said to them, and I will bring you back the answer the Lord gives me.” So the Moabite princes stayed with him. Num 22:7-8.

Divination can be seen as a systematic method with which to organize what appear to be disjointed, random facets of existence such that they provide insight into a problem at hand. If a distinction is to be made between divination and fortune-telling, divination has a more formal or ritualistic element and often contains a more social character, usually in a religious context, as seen in African traditions.[8]

God tells us His view of divination in the Bible; “There shall not be found among you . . . anyone who practices divination or tells fortunes or interprets omens.” compares rebellion to the “sin of divination.” Practicing divination is listed as one of the reasons for Israel’s exile. Jeremiah spoke of the false prophets of the time, saying, “They are prophesying to you a lying vision, worthless divination, and the deceit of their own minds.” So, compared to God’s truth, divination is false, deceitful, and worthless.  Divination leads to those practicing it benefiting in the process. As Luke traveled with Paul and Silas in the city of Philippi, he recorded an encounter with a diviner: “We were met by a slave girl who had a spirit of divination and brought her owners much gain by fortune-telling” The girl’s ability to penetrate mysteries was due to a demon that controlled her. Her masters received “much gain” from their slave. Paul eventually exorcised the demon. Diviners work for a gain as they exploit their unsuspecting hearers at any particular point. (Acts 16:16-19).

African Christianity is failing to justify the biblical basis of some prophetic practices common in their worship. Divination has become prevalent and accepted in their worship.

“The nations you will dispossess listen to those who practice sorcery or divination. But as for you, the Lord your God has not permitted you to do so. The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own brothers. You must listen to him” Deut 18:14-16. The bible here acknowledges divination used in as prophecy. In African religion divination is also a common practice through witchdoctors. The transition of usage of divination from African religion or animism to African Christianity is a thin line.

This development has been motivated by the need to know the source of problems by those who have moved to Christianity. African Christianity has not enquired the source of prophecy during the discourse of worship. This deficiency has led to divination being embraced in African Christianity. The focus here as already mentioned is not the source but information unveiled, in view of presenting problems.

The case of Laban gives a good example of how animistic philosophy uses divination for enquiry. Laban said to him, “If I have found favor in your eyes, please stay. I have learned by divination that the Lord has blessed me because of you.” He added, “Name your wages, and I will pay them.” Gen 30:27-28. This case study shows that animism uses divination for spiritual direction and social deficiencies.

They practiced divination and sorcery and sold themselves to do evil in the eyes of the Lord, provoking him to anger. 2 Kings 17:17.

Prophets working under the influence of divination are spiritists as noticed by sacrifices their members are subjected to in all their church services. They sacrificed their own sons in the fire, practiced sorcery and divination, and consulted mediums and spiritists. They  did much evil in the eyes of the Lord, provoking him to anger. 2 Kings 21:6 (2 Ch 33:6). As already mentioned under this discussion, Prophets practicing divination tend to bondage people. Ezek 13:23. History proves that after a certain season, false prophets cease to function due to a number of economic, social and political reasons. Their operations are motivated by social need of a particular time.

“Therefore night will come over you, without visions, and darkness, without divination. The sun will set for the prophets, and the day will go dark for them. The seers will be ashamed and the diviners disgraced. They will all cover their faces because there is no answer from God.” Mic 3:6-7.

Sorcery and prophecy and idolatry (Deut 27:15).

One of the major trade marks with Prophets and African Christianity is the high usage of the combination of sorcery and fortune telling. Chronomancy: by determination of lucky and unlucky days. Chairvoyance : by spiritual vision or inner sight. Objects ranging from anointed water. Lithomancy: by stones or gems. Necromancy: by the dead, or by spirits or souls of the dead. Numerology : by numbers. Onomancy: by names. Anointed towels, anointed bangles, anointed grass, anointed rings, anointed portraits of the prophets, talismans, oils and all forms of objects has become a common feature in prophets and African Christianity. The biblical basis of usage of objects by Prophets falls under sorcerers.  Pharaoh then summoned wise men and sorcerers, and the Egyptian magicians also did the same things by their secret arts: Each one threw down his staff and it became a snake. Ex 7:11-12.

Ancient products used in traditional rituals have been modernized by prophets. Objects such as talismans, charms and amulets have a modern appeal. From the historic age, the early men wore certain bone, wood, gem stone, skeleton etc as a protective symbol or to ward off evil forces or to attract success.

 This belief for protection also applies with plants. Certain plant parts, seeds or flowers are also worn or kept in a certain strategic area. The belief is that these objects would help with protection and also attract good influence; sometimes it is worn as a symbol of power or intended for that. Indeed some objects are naturally or even scientifically proven to possess some magical powers.

Some gemstones are used to power wrist watches, some plants repels or attracts evil or harmful animals like snakes, wildcats, etc. Plants and woods are used for healing and for making incense and oil, which purifies the atmosphere.

Those who practice yoga at times do meditate on a Lotus position on a deerskin in the wilderness. This keeps them safe from certain wild cat such as Leopard and Tigers since the smell of a dead deer repels the cats.

In medieval time the occultists and mystics have done a thorough research and sort out means of magnetizing certain objects to carry some spiritual virtues as thought in great books of the world. This is done under a kind of ceremonial rites to imbue in the object with a Spirit, planetary and elemental powers. The symbol will then attract spirits (regarded as angels) to carry out specific desires of an individual. The misconception of this practice was taken Exodus 12. “The Blood on the door post will be a sign to mark the houses in which you live. When I see the blood I will pass over you and will not harm you when I punish the Egyptians”Ex12:13
This scripture is misquoted and used to support the doctrine of objects usage. This has led the 21st century generation shift from usage of skins and bones to modern objects such as gold, silver, copper, steel, stones and plants. Modern generation needs objects which are modest and not antique in appearance.

It is however good to note that some metals are known to be a better conductor of electricity so also as to spiritual forces. The above metals are listed according to their degree of conductibility of forces, but do remember that some objects even though not metal are naturally endowed with spiritual potencies. For this reason God denounces use of metals for spiritual purposes.

Lev 19:4 “‘Do not turn to idols or make gods of cast metal for yourselves. I am the Lord your God. NIV.

Spirits can dwell or be transferred through Idols, gods or images. It is in this respect God hates idol worship. Lev 26:1. “‘Do not make idols or set up an image or a sacred stone for yourselves, and do not place a carved stone in your land to bow down before it. I am the Lord your God. NIV. Furthermore, the spiritual effects of serving idols are mentioned up to verse 19 of the same book. Laban was disappointed when his cast idol was stollen, he had to pursue Jacob in a bid to recover his idol. Genesis 31: 30. Exodus 34:17.

Idols opens up doors to curses. “Cursed is the man who carves an image or casts an idol — a thing detestable to the Lord, the work of the craftsman’s hands — and sets it up in secret.” Deut 27:15.NIV. Prophets in the African church have become the vehicle for heresy too. Ezekiel 13:1-20. This paper has already shown that the gift of God cannot be exchanged with any reward. It is a blasphemy to do so. Acts 8:18-21. People who exchange the gift of God with money have no place in the ministry.

Holy oils, Perfumes, Powders and Holy Waters.

Holy oil or Mystic oil has been in use from time antiquity to attract favorable results for the need communities.  Holy men, Bishops, Clergy, Pastors, and Spiritual Masters are reputed to carry these oils in their pouches.  When confronted by the suffering masses, they would bring out the appropriate oil and anoint the person wishing him or her good luck and blessings. 
It is often used for Baptism, Initiation, Anointments, Exorcism, House Blessings, Consecration, Healing, Massages, Prophecy and General Ritual Magic’s. 
These oils are now made public through the grace of Dr Jaffa. 

The oils are prepared in the innermost temple of Dr Jaffa according to the highest formulas of the Great Books of the world.  The oils are alleged to work according to the name designated to it[9].

enome mystic seals, talismans, Charms magic necklaces, bangles, wristwatches and pens; money saving purse, energy belt, colored candles, magic mirrors and incenses; rings for success, good luck and protection etc, for the various purposes mentioned above. Highly perfumed mystical oil and powders for every spiritual purpose; incenses, true Love oil, life protection patchoulis oil, good fortune sandal, wood oil, exam success oil, attraction oil, good luck oil, money drawing oil, holy water, beauty powder, Florida water and witch expeller and bath mixture are also availed for the desperate seeking supernatural intervention[10].                         

All the above mentioned products are distributed by diviners as well as prophets in the church hence creating a thin line of distinction. 1 John 5 : 21.

The real objective in fortune-telling is the disclosure of future events. Quite often, though, to inspire confidence, the fortune-teller will communicate bits of information about a person’s past that would be naturally unknown to anyone else[11]. This helps in furthering manipulation on the congregants. The title of prophet in African Christianity means a lot. Utterance of the hidden things concerning peoples’ lives does not justify or let alone make one a genuine prophet (Dan 2:1-2). False prophets do not speak the will of God. “So do not listen to your prophets, your diviners, your interpreters of dreams, your mediums or your sorcerers who tell you, ‘You will not serve the king of Babylon.” Jer 27:9. In the process of sorcery the desperate followers tend to be defrauded.

“So I will come near to you for judgment. I will be quick to testify against sorcerers, adulterers and perjurers, against those who defraud laborers of their wages, who oppress the widows and the fatherless, and deprive aliens of justice, but do not fear me,” says the Lord Almighty. Mal 3:5.

Sorcery is an attempt to bypass God’s wisdom and power and give glory to Satan instead. God has no tolerance for sorcery. In the book of Deuteronomy, sorcery is listed among the sinful practices of the nations surrounding Israel. God calls it an abomination: “There shall not be found among you . . . anyone who practices divination or tells fortunes or interprets omens, or a sorcerer or a charmer or a medium or a necromancer or one who inquires of the dead, for whoever does these things is an abomination to the LORD. And because of these abominations the LORD your God is driving them out before you.”[12]
Prophets as advocates of syncretism

Prophets and the development of African Christianity seem to have promoted a new culture of syncretism. The African constituencies of the church do have a non-Christian background. This alone has a bearing on the epistemology of religion. In this case the temptation to add Christianity to the former traditional religious system is high. At the end, the new believer is forced to mix the two belief systems. When people mix two or more religious belief systems this is called syncretism.

The reasons why Africans practice syncretism are not hard to understand. Culture renewal in Africa has caused many people to try to rediscover their past. Since culture and religion are closely related in Africa, this has led to a return to traditional religious practices[13].

Challenges of modernization coupled with globalization of culture have too contributed to the development of African Christianity. Prophets of this new dispensation faced by the African church substitutes the primitive methods African religion used to contact the spirit world. A new approach which appeals to the modern context of African religion has been adopted and ushered in the church by prophets.

Mediators play a big role in African tradition. On the other hand the advent of globalization and its impact on today’s African religion is yet to be researched fully by theology scholars.  Globalization of primitive traditions and culture has brought new challenges to the old practices of consulting traditional mediums.  Prophets fill this gap very well[14].

The new culture of mediation by prophets as seen in the development of African Christianity has also been driven by the economic miasma faced by the continent.

In African religion mediators on spiritual matters are compensated with animals or anything equivalent to livestock as the medium of exchange. However prophets as mediators have placed monetary value or modern resources on their services.

This has become phenomenally successful global religious movement par excellence throughout post colonial Africa…this approach creates modern consumers through a ritual of prayer…” The atonement for our sins which leads to our reconciliation with God is interpreted to include the alleviation of sickness (including incurable diseases such as AIDS and cancers), poverty, misfortunes and other challenges in life which are viewed as curses to be broken by faith. This is said to be achieved through visualization and positive confession, and is often taught in mechanical and contractual terms[15]. These rituals have shifted from the traditional norms of witchdoctors hence creating direct competition with old forms of spirit mediums within African society.

Deliverance challenges in African Christianity

Do those purporting to be Christian in Africa understand what they mean by saying Jesus delivered them. The Deliverance agenda began after the fall of mankind in Genesis 3.However, the term deliverance has been limited to mean casting out of demons only. When a person shifts from the kingdom of darkness to that of light, one is said to be delivered too. The question the church in Africa should be searching for answers is how often should African Christians be delivered from demons? Daily deliverance vigils by prophets have become good marketing ground for prophetic merchandise. The products lose power if certain spiritual rules are broken. The same products increase in value each time there is a new challenge which calls for deliverance.

The question of deliverance has seen a culture of spiritual tourism developing in the African church. People naturally face problems in life but their understanding of Christ as the savior is shallow, taking into account how they seek for prophets for solutions. The economic problems have also contributed to the dilemma faced by the African church. This has seen the entry of miracle moneys and other unorthodox practices meant to empower the unsuspecting followers reeling under economic pressure.

The Old Testament picture of deliverance

The priest was the focus for the atonement of peoples’ sins (see books of Leviticus, Deuteronomy) and on the other hand false prophets rose abusing people.  Prophet Ezekiel also warned the prophets of the day who used objects and abused people. Ezekiel 13:1-7,10,20-21.

The historical lessons

Towards the end of 2nd century – Montanous movement proclaimed that the office of the Prophet was the most important in the life of the church as they claimed to be in the era of the Spirit. Deliverance and the restoration of the gifts was the order of the day. Most Christian movements of this period enriched themselves by exploiting the unsuspecting masses.   Cardinal Newman- a Catholic, questioned how things were done in the course of deliverance. Miracles must confirm Christian faith, he said. The 6th and 7th century saw the use of consecrated oil, amulates and incantations on the sick[16].

Authority over the Bible.

Most of the prophets are authors of sources, which, according to them, have more authority than the Bible. The Bible is to be understood through these sources. Some prophets claim that their sources are the direct word of God and should not be questioned.

When a prophecy is made and turns out to be false, it can be explained away by saying that the “new light” which amends the previous prophecy has in the meanwhile been received.

A different way to salvation.

The idea of salvation is taken from the Christian faith, but is changed. New conditions for salvation are given, such as purchase of anointed products, allegiance, the use of certain sacraments and commitment to the organization. Members are thus obliged to fulfil these claims before they can be sure of salvation.

Devaluation of Jesus Christ.

This new crop of prophets devalue Jesus Christ and His role in salvation. Firstly, the person of Jesus Christ is degraded. They hardly point people to Jesus (Matt 11:28) as the savior. All glory and credit is given to the prophet. Secondly, the work of Jesus is devaluated.

As explained above, the atonement sacrifice of Christ is necessary for salvation. Complete atonement comes only when members of the church pay what the prophets could have instructed. The “Jesus” of these prophets is always someone less than the Bible’s eternal God who became flesh, lived here on earth, died for our sins, and arose from the dead.

Closed community

The emerging African church has developed a closed community. Members are not permitted to have friends, associate with other Christians or even excommunicate with family. They are encouraged to talk only to “outsiders” when the outsiders are potential members. This leads to isolation from the world, but also insulation as a group. They claim they are the only ones with the truth.

However, the Bible teaches that Christ is all sufficient to make every person complete (Col 2:1-10). It is only the scriptures which equips and enables Christians to do every good works without enslaving people into human rituals (2 Tim 3:16-17). Any reference to the word of God is not mentioned but to the prophet. They believe that the Bible must be supplemented with new revelations that they give.

Uncritical thinking

The new crop of the emerging prophets in Africa calls for uncritical thinking among its followers coupled with brain washing techniques meant to control the members. Control of life and environment: This is the purposeful limitation of all forms of communication with the outside world (newspapers, radio, books, television) Only the materials produced by the prophet are to be used by the members. Manipulation. Here the potential convert is convinced of the higher purpose within the special group and is shown his individual responsibility in the attainment of that goal. Failure to meet prescribed goals might lead to one opening up doors for spiritual attacks. Staying within given parameters will on the other hand cover the members from spiritual attacks. This manipulation strategy has instilled fear in the followers and kept them under control.

Moral perfection: The prophets demand moral perfection from their followers as prescribed by the and not according to the word of God. This perfection is determined by the Prophet’s view of goodness as per revelation.

Doctrine over persons: The new developing African theology through these Prophets teach that their doctrine always takes precedence over everything a person has learned in life and it becomes the new reality in which to function. People live according to the leaders strict standards, telling them when they can sleep or eat, and whom they can date or marry. The value of an individual member is insignificant compared to the value of the group, its work and its beliefs. They have gone further to demonstrate their powers by making people sleep during church services, turn snakes into chocolates, foretell people’s cell phone numbers, blowing people, oils and water for specific exorcism and the list is endless.

Interestingly the new dispensation ushered in by African Prophets into the church seems to be a sharp contradiction of what the Orthodox Church in Africa had rejected. The next question therefore is; if members of the Orthodox Church are moving to the prophetic ministries for recycling and later return to Orthodox Church after being tired of recycling, what then is the missing link in African theology?  To answer the above questions we must first answer the questions below.

Who Delivers?

The African Prophet has given an impression that he holds the keys for humanity to be saved. The message preached and the programs designed for the followers point to none other than the man of god. People are hardly pointed or grounded in Jesus. The Bible is clear on the issue of deliverance. It is the use of the name of Jesus which delivers and restores the lost relationship between mankind and God. Jesus is the one who delivers. John 1:12. Prophets focus on the individual as the deliverer. Failure to understand or let alone accept the biblical basis of deliverance has led to those who claim to have Jesus move from one church to another seeking deliverance. This challenge means African theology has left an opening for traditional religion to co-exist with Christianity.

The new theology developing in the African church seems to be welcome by the hearers because it specializes in prophecy and deliverance; two of the driving forces of African religion (1 John 4:1-2). This has caused people to fall under a cycle of deliverance time and again hence opening up to host of demonic forces. This alone reveals the absence of the knowledge of Christology in the new developing theology in the continent.

Another question which needs to be answered under this study is of anointing.

Who is anointed?

Anointing is power or the presence of God in a Christian’s life (Eph 3:20). The African church is struggling to understand the definition of anointing. The prophets have monopolized the anointing. Who is anointed in the body of Christ? (Wrong conception has been developed by prophets). 2 Cor 1: 21-24. All who have received Jesus as lord and Saviour of their lives, automatically receives the anointing from God. Ignorance of this truth bondages people into manipulation. If Christians develop their faith in God, they cease to put their trust in human beings. If the church in Africa develops the right knowledge base for its followers, the future confusion the church might find itself in might be minimised.

What should happen with deliverance?

The future of African theology must ensure that people must understand the work of Jesus Christ and full Christology. This will minimize spiritual tourism by those seeking deliverance. The following biblical steps have to be followed in order to develop biblical based Christians.

Accept Jesus.  This obviously involves repentance and coming to the place where one totally belongs to the Lord.  Therefore one must decide to change their ways, be sorry enough to quit. (Col 1:13-14). We are to be delivered from the power of darkness and translated into the kingdom of God. 

At this point we have the right to call ourselves the children of God (John 1:12).  If one has done this then affirm our faith in the Lord Jesus.  The current position of the church developments in Africa reveals a deficiency of Jesus in its so called followers as indicated by the prophecy euphoria. If Jesus is ingrained in people’s hearts the conscience of who to follow becomes automatic. The knowledge to discern right and wrong tend to prevail.

Confess (1 John 1:9).  In confession a major requirement is honesty and willingness to admit that the problem exists. It is not the confession to the prophet or man of God. It is that personal conviction and individual agreement with God.  It is also important to call our sin by its name, it will not shock God.  With confession there must be repentance of all sin (Prov 28:13). We must learn to hate all sin as God does. This stage helps develop solid foundations based in God and not on denominational doctrine but in the word.

Forgive (Matt 18:34-35). This is an act of the will and not emotion.  It is a decision of the will expressed with the lips.  It is going beyond self centeredness and choosing not to hold things against anymore.  It is releasing, not necessarily forgetting. This stage helps one break from past experiences and curses (John 20:21-23). Going for prophetic deliverance without having fully worked on forgiveness is like building a house on send.

Renounce.  It must be understood that on most occasions the door into one’s life for demonic oppression was opened through the act of one’s will by choosing to be involved in some sinful activity.  Now by the act of the will the door must be closed. Failure to renounce the past has caused and promoted many to be abused by the prophets. Past problems not renounced open doors to evil spirits. This cycle has seen people seeking deliverance regularly in a bid to break from a cycle of curses.

Prepare to be released from every curse over your life. Curses are like dark shadows over our lives that prevent us from experiencing deliverance from evil spirits and physical healing. 

Some problems that indicate a curse at work are:- mental and emotional breakdown; repeated or chronic sickness (especially if hereditary), barrenness, a tendency to miscarry or related female problems; breakdown of marriage and family alienation; continuing financial insufficiency; being “accident prone”; family history of suicides or unnatural or untimely deaths.

Ask God to deliver.  That is basically simple prayer (Joel 2:32).  Taking your stand with God.  Then expel or cast out the demons. After this stage one has to walk by faith in the new life in Christ Jesus.

This is very important, possibly more so than everything else that has been covered. (James 4:7-10). It is the individual’s responsibility to resist the devil.  This important phase in a Christian’s life seem to have been hijacked by the prophets. Again a major requirement to successfully do so is to humble oneself under God’s hand i.e. come under God’s realm of authority and protection, from there one can resist the devil. All this will remove dependence from human beings but to God.

To avoid a life of seeking deliverance from people

The church must teach the followers of Jesus to resist the devil.

Christians must deliberately yield every area of their lives to Jesus. Submission to His Lordship (Matt 12:43-45) will bring the necessary covering for protection. If the house is not filled with something else demons will return.  People must not be central but Jesus has to be kept central in believer’s lives. Nothing new must be used as substitution of the name of Jesus.

The church must submit to the work of the Holy Spirit (Eph 5:18).  This must be a continual thing.  The Holy Spirit will expose and force demons out.  He will guide the church in all the endeavors. The living waters must be allowed to flow out of every believer’s life

(John 7:37). This will also enhance growth of the believer.

The Christian must develop the fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22-23).  These are very powerful attributes in the Christian’s life and can counteract the attacks of the devil e.g. Love vs. Hate, Joy vs. Depression, Peace vs. Anxiety etc. Note especially temperance through which by learning self control new “Brain Creases” can be developed, keeping our spirits intact. (Prov 16:32; 25:28; 1 Cor 9:27), with the wrong reaction we lose our protection.  Thus we must learn to develop the right kind of character. The Fruit of the Spirit counteracts and protects from unlawful attitudes and actions.

Stay in the word (Matt 4:4) Live according to the word.  The new church developing in Africa is discouraging people to read and understand the word on their own. This has helped prophets manipulate their followers with their new revelations. Most of the abused are those who live by feeling, tradition or what people say. 

People’s lives must be put on truth. The correct order of things should be FACT, FAITH, FEELING.  Being spiritual does not mean the absence of reason. Many people put their feelings first, thus they are unstable in their faith and convictions pertaining to God.

Put on the whole armour of God. (Eph 6:10-18).  It is important to keep it on.  Many Christians ignore this principle. The end result is seeking human protection through amulets and other objects as prescribed by prophets. This is where the major part of spiritual battles takes place (Phil 4:8). The mindset must change if Jesus is to reign in Christian’s lives. We must continually renew our minds and cast our anchor into our future hope (Heb 6:17-20). This is our helmet which protects our minds (1 Pet 4:1-2). Any other forms of protection outside Jesus as mentioned in the bible are human philosophies.

The African church must teach Christians to develop right fellowship, relationships and ministry.  Life is made up and consists of relationships.  We must develop positive attitudes; stop living in unbelief and bad feelings.  Learn to empower people to minister to others. In so doing you allow the life of God to flow through the body of Christ and beyond.  Jesus continually taught on relationships as enshrined by the Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5-7).  We are encouraged to seek love, unity and humility (Phil 2:3-4). It is interesting to note that the evil works of the flesh such as lust, fornication, adultery, anger hatred, jealousy, envy, bitterness etc are all relationships gone wrong.

Members of the body of Christ must go through water baptism. This is symbolized by Noah and Israel passing from God’s judgment through the water and pharaoh’s armies at the Red Sea.  Israel had two phases of deliverance, first in Egypt saved from God’s judgment by putting faith in the blood of the Passover Lamb which was a type of Christ.  Secondly they were delivered from Egypt by passing through the Red Sea. Baptism further empowers Christians to live a victorious life under protection of God.

In conclusion, prophets have played a big role in shaping and developing African Christianity of modern times. The usage of objects, manipulation and commercialization of the gospel has left more questions than answers for the world. However this paper is not suggesting that there are no true prophets used by God.


[1] Evers, Georg. “African Theology.” In The Encyclopedia of Christianity, edited by Erwin Fahlbusch and Geoffrey William Bromiley, 30-31. Vol. 1. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1999.


[1] The Compact Bible Dictionary,(1967) Zondervan Publishing House, p476

[1] Solomon Izang Asholms, Why Christians Shouldn’t be rich, Daily News, July 2, 2015, p10.




[1] Ibid



[1] Wilbur O’ Donovan Jr, Biblical Christianity In African Perspective, New Life Literature, Sri Lanka, 2006,p268

[1] Ibid, p268

[1] Meyer, B (1998), Commodities and the power of Prayer: Pentecostal Attitudes towards Consumption in Contemporary Ghana. Development and Change. Vol.29, (1998), Pp 751-776

[1] A. C. Gaebelein, The Healing Question,1925.p52-57.

[1] Evers, Georg. “African Theology.” In The Encyclopedia of Christianity, edited by Erwin Fahlbusch and Geoffrey William Bromiley, 30-31. Vol. 1. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1999.

[2] Ibid

[3] Ibid


[5] The Compact Bible Dictionary,(1967) Zondervan Publishing House, p476

[6] Solomon Izang Asholms, Why Christians Shouldn’t be rich, Daily News, July 2, 2015, p10.




[10] Ibid




[13] Wilbur O’ Donovan Jr, Biblical Christianity In African Perspective, New Life Literature, Sri Lanka, 2006,p268

[14] Ibid, p268

[15] Meyer, B (1998), Commodities and the power of Prayer: Pentecostal Attitudes towards Consumption in Contemporary Ghana. Development and Change. Vol.29, (1998), Pp 751-776

[16] A. C. Gaebelein, The Healing Question,1925.p52-57.