(LWI) – Lutheran churches in Africa have underlined the urgent need to address “the pervasive and abusive nature of false teachings and misleading theologies.” The focus, they said, must be on sound theological education and formation that brings about transformation in people’s lives and society.
Leaders of The Lutheran World Federation (LWF) member churches in Africa named this as one of their priorities as they reflected on a keynote presentation on misleading theologies at the bi-annual Africa Church Leadership Consultation (ALCLC), held 27 June -1 July in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
In his presentation, Rev. Dr Fidon Mwombeki, General Secretary of the All Africa Conference of Churches (AACC) referred to a survey by the continental body that identified three types of misleading theologies—heretical, mystical and syncretic— that are increasingly becoming mainstream even in well-established churches. He went on to discuss the four themes that project these theologies, namely wealth and poverty, health and healing, power and authority, and the role of government in regulating religious affairs.
Mwombeki pointed out that while misleading teachings are not new and they affect all churches and world regions, their impact on people’s lives is catastrophic. They offer false hopes and promises of wealth and health, enslave people’s minds, and disregard the role of science and readiness to reason, all of which drive many people into destitution and some to death, and a return into superstition.
Proper teaching and doctrine
The effects of these theologies on mainline churches include lack of focus on proper teaching and doctrine. “Everybody is trying to be more charismatic and inspire people, but real solid teaching of what we believe and why is less.” The AACC general secretary spoke of the changing ecclesial structures that include ministries that are not constitutional, such as the function of “a prophet.” There is also a change in the style of worship, and one cannot help but “ask if this is the death of liturgy or the development of new ones.”
But what is even more catastrophic, Mwombeki went on, is the changing image of the pastor or bishop. “When someone tells you ‘I am a bishop’, do you know any more what that means?” People are calling themselves pastors and claiming the same authority and legitimacy as those educated and formed as clergy. “Is there a difference between a pastor and traditional doctor claiming to cure COVID-19? Or, between a conman [or conwoman] and a pastor who demands money promising good luck and nothing happens?” Mwombeki asked.
Citing simplistic biblical interpretations of Jesus’ teachings such as the Sermon on the Mount, he encouraged churches to be conscious of signs of the wrong prosperity theology. These include an absence of doctrine normalcy when it comes to explaining suffering and pain, self-prominence and incomprehensibility of God, lack of serious engagement with complex scriptural interpretation, and a preacher’s extravagant life style and demands.
Christ’s teachings have not changed, Mwombeki said. The duty of the church against misleading theologies, must be centered on the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Strengthen Bible study
In group discussions, the ALCLC participants said the proliferation of misleading theologies stemmed from the churches’ failure or incapacity to reach out to people with a prophetic message that engages them in interpreting the Bible message from a perspective of their daily realities. “Our people just accept things as said by the pastors and leaders. They need to be liberated and allowed to ask questions for clarity,” noted one participant.