AFM Pastoral Letter 3rd Quarter 2023_
Dear AFM Family,
I am very thankful that our National Conference (7-9 September 2023) was indeed not just another meeting, but a time of refreshment, fellowship and real upliftment. We have been reminded that we are the light of the world. That this light should never be hidden but must be like a lamp on a lamp stand, and a city on a hill – a light visible to everybody.
“We have been reminded that we are the light of the world. “
Our light must shine in such a way that people will see our good deeds and glorify the true God in heaven. Our light must so shine so that it will have a generational impact, passing on our faith and our DNA as Pentecostal believers to our young people and children. We, like many others, used to be in the darkness, but since we became the Lord’s people, we are people of the Light and must live purposefully like people who belong to the Light. Our light must never reflect the changing cultures and circumstances around us, instead, just like the moon, which has no light of itself but only reflects the sun, we must always reflect Jesus.
Several people described the conference as “powerful and memorable”, “a supernatural encounter” and “full of the power of the Holy Spirit.” I especially noted the comment of someone who said: “Our identity has been reaffirmed.” My prayer is that we will not just move on to the next, or another conference and experience, but that we will take the time to reflect on what God through His Holy Spirit shared with us during this conference. May we then not be like the person who sees him/herself in a mirror, go away and forget but may we really do in practice what we have heard.
During the PCD (Pastors Continuous Development) sessions which were well attended, two very relevant subjects were presented. One was on mental health and how we can proactively address it, and the other on a Pentecostal perspective on the phenomenon of “fake” prophets. For this Pastoral Letter, I have requested our PCD speakers at the conference – Hermann du Plessis and Dr Daniel Andrew – to each write an article that will further develop our understanding of these two topics. I trust that it will be a blessing to you.
Ten years ago, “The Institute for the Future” made a statement that the biggest challenge for leaders in the next decade will be to stay healthy. Many frowned, but today the reality is that we are facing a challenge to keep leaders in businesses and churches from derailing. The facts have stacked up and are screaming at us to pay attention to the current mental health of our leaders. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has conducted recent studies to figure out how to deal with the current mental health pandemic, because quite frankly it could have a catastrophic impact on the global workforce and economy – especially leaders who deal with high levels of stress.
Since 2016 we have seen the rise of “diseases of despair” as coined by Princeton academics. In the United States (US) the life expectancy has declined for 6 straight years due to the rise in suicide, drug and alcohol related illnesses. People have lost meaning and hope in the US. People have lost their ability to cope with high levels of stress and anxiety and as some would acknowledge – the American dream has become the American nightmare. Placing the individual at the centre of life and personal fulfilment leads to Narcissism and eventually high levels of competition and selfishness. But not only in the US, across the world levels of anxiety have risen consistently. Commentary on the latest anxiety statistics is concerning and the reality is that 17-year-old kids in high school have the same level of anxiety than people admitted to mental institutions during the 1960’s.
“People have lost their ability to cope with high levels of stress and anxiety…”
In South Africa, one-third of our workforce suffers from severe anxiety and/or depression. That also means that one-third of leaders struggle with mental health. The impact of this one-third on the other two-thirds of your leaders and workforce could be severe. They (the healthy two-thirds) will usually pick up the additional work not performed by the one-third suffering from mental illness. Over the long term, this will lead to burnout and the mental deterioration of the two-thirds of your workforce doing additional work to help your business succeed. This is a vicious cycle that needs to be managed proactively.
How do you go about doing this? Here are some practical steps for local congregations:
Break the stigma. Talk about mental health. Inform people about it. Give them the facts. Understand that there are various causes and that we need to be open about it.
Preach about it. What does the Bible teach about our mental health? If we look at Elijah in 1 Kings 19, what do we see and what do we learn? How do we offer Biblical wisdom and assistance to people on how to develop their mental strength? Talk about lifestyle issues that severely impact mental health.
“How do we offer Biblical wisdom and assistance to people on how to develop their mental strength?”
Learn with your people. Speak to people in your congregation who struggle with mental health and try to learn and understand how they feel. Listen to them!
Deliver courses. Get wise, pastoral psychologists to teach your congregation how to build their mental strength. Help people to pro-actively take care of their mental health.
Invite people to get assistance. Encourage people to seek counselling. Pastors should guide people to find good therapy if needed.
Build a network of professional people. Work hard to meet therapists and counsellors and find out what their methodology is to assist people in sessions. Find good counsellors that you can refer to, who will make sure your people get the right and appropriate help they need.
“May God use us to be a light that drives away the darkness of all these mental health challenges.”
As a church, we can reach out to people in this challenging time. May God use us to be a light that drives away the darkness of all these mental health challenges. In addition to this article, also make sure to access the following resources as presented and live-streamed from the ABLAZE AFM National Conference:
A PowerPoint Presentation:
A Live Stream Recording:
Fake Prophets Phenomenon and Other Related Issues
The Apostolic Faith Mission of South Africa forms part of the Classical Pentecostal Movement that originated at the beginning of the 20th Century and includes several Pentecostal churches that trace their roots to this group. Prophecy and prophetic ministry were never difficult or strange to this group of believers, because they believed the church is built on the foundations laid by the apostles and prophets. Some of the so-called Neo-Pentecostal prophet movements in independent Pentecostal Churches embraced certain elements of the “prosperity gospel” or “wealth and health gospel” which led to profiteering – meaning that the “prophet” has now become a “profiteer”.
Madzokere (2018: 281) divides the pastor as profiteer into five major categories: (1) as empire builder and not builders of the kingdom; (2) as profiteers based on anointing gimmicks – whereby items like oil, clothes, pencils, etc. are anointed; (3) the disguise of religious tourism – whereby people travel as individuals or groups for pilgrimage, missionary or leisure purposes; (4) the nepotism argument – whereby relatives and friends are employed without regard for merit in the ministry; (5) the blind nationalistic personalities of pastors that preach peace while there is unrest – becoming catalysts to the impoverishment of the people.
In some cases, these beliefs led to harmful practices that were criticized and led to proposals by the government to regulate churches in South Africa. Most church groupings resisted this because freedom of religion is enshrined in our Constitution. Some of these practices included but were not limited to what Dube (2019:25) call “the modern-day flamboyant prophets” that propagate a kind of gospel that departs from basic Christian teachings, enriching themselves, using unorthodox means to “heal” people and conduct their businesses. The various kinds of abuses committed to followers are public knowledge – some of them included spraying insecticide on people; eating of rats, grass and drinking petrol; touching females inappropriately and even abusing and raping them; and profiteering (Dube, 2019:29).
Fake Prophets Depart from The Biblical Meaning of Prophetic Ministry
They are departing from the traditional Christian values in ministry like humility, compassion, selfless service and servant leadership. Instead, these values are replaced with a pre-occupation with image consciousness, self-aggrandizement, and the enlargement of personal ministry at any cost. It is damaging to the image of the church in the public square in Africa and although the phenomenon is not peculiar to Africa, it has become prevalent here (Owojaiye, 2019).
The English word prophet is from the Greek word “prophetes” – taking on a mediating role between the people and God. Another meaning is the Greek word “nabi” which means someone who can speak of the future or speak before things happen. “Someone who proclaims” to the people, priests and kings, “thus says the Lord” (Exodus 4:22; Isaiah 48:10; Jeremiah 12:14) Prophets were persons called by God; who acted under divine compulsion; were having personal integrity; gave prophecies that included both “forth-telling” and “fore-telling”; exposing false ideologies; truth-telling; and function alongside kings and priests.
In the New Testament, the prophetic tradition of proclamation and prediction continued in the early church (John 1:29; Acts 13:1-10). Later in the New Testament, followers are encouraged not to despise the words of the prophets (1 Thessalonians 5:20-22) and still to test the spirits to see if they are from God or false prophets (1 Peter 2:1-3; Revelations 19:20-21).
The testing of prophets and discernment of prophecy was not something new as it is often quoted in both the Old Testament (Deuteronomy 13: 1-10; Jeremiah 23:1-4, 10-14, 16-17, 25-32) and in the New Testament (Matthew 7:15-20). True prophets turn the people back from their evil ways to God (Deuteronomy 13:22), speak the truth, glorify God, benefit the community (John 16:13-15, 17:13-26; 1 Corinthians 14:3-5) and be validated by others (1 Corinthians 14:29-33). Paul encourages the believers to prophesy (1 Corinthians 14:1; Romans 12:4-7; Ephesians 4:11-16).
Guidelines to Discern Prophets Today
The criteria for distinguishing between false and true prophets in biblical prophecy are as follows:
The call of the prophet.
The call narrative of the prophet plays a definite role in the bible and normally follows a certain structural form which includes theophany, resistance from the prophet/ess, pressure from the deity, acceptance by the prophet/ess and commissioning of the prophet/ess by the deity (Madzokere and Machingura, 2015:57-58).
Called the hallmark of prophecy with some having a pro-ecstasy and others an anti-ecstasy stance. Pro-ecstasy means that the mental condition of an individual occurs in a way that consciousness is wholly or partially suspended, thought and volition cease, and the person is controlled and subjected to the Spirit of God. Anti- ecstasy on the other hand is against the suspension of your mental faculties during prophecy, seeing it as a sign of false prophecy, as seen in the clash between the Baal prophets and Elijah (1 Kings 18:2).
The criterion for true prophets is that they view their call as a vocation and not a profession associated with payments or rewards. The criterion of remuneration is based on the assumption that if the prophet is paid, he/she will seek to please the client as seen in Micah 3:5.
Performance of miracles.
Contemporary prophets are associated with the performance of miracles and the title carries a sense of power with it – giving publicity, recognition, status and financial proceeds.
Prediction and fulfilment.
True prophets are distinguished from the false ones because their predictions have come to pass. Historically as understood in Deuteronomy 13:1-5; 18:21-22 the prophet should be stoned to death if it is not fulfilled. In some cases, like in Elijah’s prophecy over the house of Ahab (1 Kings 21-29) it was fulfilled after his death (2 Kings 9:14-10:36).
Morality and teaching obedience to God.
Morality is a virtue expected from prophets and religious believers, so when a prophet leads an immoral life such a prophet is branded as a false prophet.
As Pentecostals, we believe that we should strive to prophesy, that the prophetic ministry is part of the five-fold ministry that can give guidance and direction to the people of God and that a church that walks in the fire of the Holy Spirit is the best antidote against fake prophets and their “miracle gimmicks”. Let us test the spirits and see whether it is from God but let us be careful not to quench the Spirit in easily denouncing prophecy and prophetic ministry. In addition to this article, also make sure to access the following resources as presented and live-streamed from the ABLAZE AFM National Conference:
A PowerPoint Presentation:
A Live Stream Recording:
Madzokere, N. 2018. Prophets or Profiteers? An interrogative study of the selected contemporary Pentecostal prophets in Zimbabwe in the context of Development. Journal of Sustainable Development in Africa 20 (1): 276-289.
Dube, E.E.N, 2019. Desperation in an attempt to curb modern-day prophets: Pentecostalisation and the Church in South Africa and Zimbabwe. Conspectus: The Journal of the South African Theological Seminary volume 27: 25-34.
Owojaiye, M. 2019. The problem of false prophets in Africa: Strengthening the church in the face of a troublesome trend, Lausanne Global Analysis 8(6).
Madzokere, N., Machingura, F. 2015. True and False Prophets/esses in the light of Prophets/esses and Wonders in Zimbabwe, Journal of Critical Southern Studies volume 3, Winter (2015).
During the conference, and as part of the church’s 115th Birthday Anniversary, “The Story of John G. Lake – the first General of the AFM of South Africa” was launched. Authored by Past. Linda Marx, Prof Marius Nel and Past. Johan Klopper, this book is now available from the Amazon platform in a Kindle format: https://a.co/d/gVDvqdW. The story of John G. Lake will inspire, encourage and remind people that the Promise of the Father and the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit, is available to every believer. I encourage you to read it and trust that you will be blessed by it!
I thank everybody who were part of the organization to make the conference possible, as well as all who were part of the daily program and every individual who made the effort to attend. Some people travelled far – and for more than one day – to be present. We experienced the diversity of our church in worship, in the program and in attendance. Many people testified about the spirit of unity and peace amongst all present.