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I am not sure when I first thought of the idea for making the two documentaries that I produced and directed. I am aware that it was either before or during 2012. But I do remember the catalyst. My good friend Mujuru, a Shona from Zimbabwe, visited us in the northern part of the South African province, KwaZulu-Natal. At the time we lived in a homestead belonging to the Mthembu family. Every so often, we had people visit, and Mujuru was one who visited and stayed with us numerous times. We had a mixed-race Bible study that was hosted in the home of an Afrikaans farming couple. We took Mujuru and others to visit their farm and there was a lady who embraced Word of Faith theology. Mujuru confronted her beliefs with the truth of God’s Word, but we found out later that she had dismissed Mujuru as somehow a tool of Satan. On a later occasion Mujuru, and the home church to which he belonged, would visit again. I asked the local independent Baptist pastor in Vryheid whether he would like Mujuru to share his testimony and how God saved him from ancestral traditions. I suggested that it might be helpful for people who are not from that background to understand some of the issues and difficulties for Zulu people in accepting the Gospel. The pastor was very happy, and we publicized the event. We drew a small crowd and Mujuru started his testimony by explaining African Traditional Religion. He cited examples of what his family did when he was growing up. I won’t share the details at this time as they are depicted in our first documentary, “Allegiance: Walking with the Dead.” But, to my surprise, after explaining the occultic beliefs and practices he grew up in, Mujuru flipped the narrative around to state, “Then I came into the church, and it was the same thing.” Mujuru was saved into a charismatic word of faith church called “The Church of the God of Ezekiel.”

For example, he said that in ancestral traditions, there is always a spiritual reason behind every disaster. He told the story of when his brother was murdered and the father, who was a medium for their ancestral spirits, convened a meeting. He said, “I want to know what caused my son to die.” Mujuru interjected that he knew how his brother died. The father was shocked. “How do you know?” Mujuru answered, “Someone picked up a gun and shot him.” This was not the answer that his father was looking for. In his traditions, people will blame it on a curse. In their thinking, the universe runs according to spiritual laws. If something tragic occurs, then somebody causes it through spiritual means.

Mujuru then explained the similarities he was seeing:

“And then I came into the church, and it was the same thing! You have a curse that needs to be broken. You have a curse that came from your father’s father.”

Another of the numerous parallels he gave was that of securing good fortune. If you have a problem, you visit the Sangoma (diviner), and he/she will tell you your problem. Then you pay money for Muthi (traditional medicine), and you apply it to change your fortunes. So, it was with the church. You go to the prophet, he prophesies over you, you give your seed faith offering. You may receive some anointing oil or, in some cases, an object that has been prayed for. Apparently, the same lady who previously dismissed Mujuru as being an instrument of Satan turned up to this meeting and heard his testimony. Without realizing that it was the same person, she remarked that Mujuru was amazing. This got me thinking, what if we told people’s stories in two films? The first, we would tell stories of people coming out of ancestral traditions, and the second would be a documentary about people who came out of Word of Faith churches. Mujuru was one of the connecting factors between those two films.

I recently saw an advertisement for “Magic Rings” on LinkedIn, marketed for “wealth pastors.” The seller claims the “magic rings” are jewelry that has the blessing of ancestral spirits that can bring about protection, fertility, wealth, and success. A few years ago, I heard that some South African pastors were visiting Sangomas for such Muthi. Sangomas are traditional diviners who are believed to be called by the ancestral spirits through an inexplicable long period of physical or mental illness. They are then trained in divination by other Sangomas. If they pass their tests they will be inaugurated as Sangomas. A bond between ancestral spirits and the Sangoma is made through the use of blood sacrifice.

The affinity towards Word of Faith theology in Africa may be due to the way that Word of Faith theology is seen as relevant to the needs Africans feel they have. There is certainly much poverty in South Africa, which undoubtedly serves as a factor in the equation. But why would some of these Word of Faith pastors follow practices that scripture clearly forbids (Lev. 19:31; 20:6; Deut. 18:9-14)?

Maybe we should begin by describing some aspects of the African worldview and then proceed to weigh in on how this affects the proclivity to Word of Faith. Africa never experienced the widespread effects of the Enlightenment on the sociological fabric of society. Western culture has been permeated by the indoctrination that reality is determined by what can be measured in the physical world. Prior to the Enlightenment, there wasn’t much of a separation between the supernatural world, occult arts, and the sciences they pretty much co-existed. But with the Enlightenment, things of spirits, angels, pixies, fairies, heaven, and hell were seen as vestiges from an infantile naivete about the world. Mankind had come of age. The effect on academic theological circles was that Biblical miracles came to be regarded as mythical, and aspects of scripture could not be believed.

Africa did not experience this shift in worldview, and currently, the belief in spirits and spiritual reality is widespread. Thus, from an African viewpoint, God’s existence is often taken for granted. In his book African Christian Ethics, Samuel Kunyihop states it well when he writes:

Africans regard debate about the existence of God as ridiculous. They take it as a given. God is the foundation and explanation of all creation and existence. If he did not exist, nothing else would exist.1Samuel W Kunyihop, African Christian Ethics, Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2008, p. 16

In the African worldview, because God is the ground of all existence, there is an interrelatedness of existence. It is believed, therefore, that the spiritual world and the material world are intertwined. Because there are spiritual forces that can imperil us, people look for protection against such evil. There is a fear of witchcraft and the pursuit of powerful means to gain protection. It has also been noted that African culture is community-orientated, whereas Western culture is far more individualistic. Descartes reasoned that the only way we can know that we exist is because we are conscious of it. “I think, therefore I am.” If the post-modern woke crowd muses, “I feel, therefore I am”, African Culture says, “We are, therefore I am.” African people are deeply religious and the religious and the secular intertwine. That makes it difficult to swim against the cultural tide. There is an integration of all spheres of life. There is a lack of compartmentalization. This has positive elements, where God is not forbidden from the public square. How can He be regarded so when He is the very foundation of existence?

Nevertheless, African religion is less about creed than it is about one’s temporal concerns. Kunyihop continues by saying:

In Africa, knowledge of God is never sought for theoretical reasons or to satisfy intellectual curiosity. He is sought for practical reasons, and the appropriate response to him is practical devotion shown by living in the way he prescribes.2Samuel W Kunyihop, African Christian Ethics, Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2008, p. 16

African worldview is rooted in the soil and is little interested in mere abstractions and debates about doctrine. It focuses on getting good fortune, putting food on the table, eradicating illnesses, and seeking a better life in the here and now. If there is a quick method to gain these temporal blessings the method is attractive. John Parratt, Professor of Third World Theologies at the University of Birmingham, draws on the work of John S Mbiti in commenting upon the African view of eschatology. The African view of the afterlife is seen as consisting of two main dimensions, the present and the “long past.” Belief in the afterlife is not so much about looking for another world at the end of time but is still focused on temporal needs. The spirits of the dead3In our documentary, Allegiance: Walking with the Dead we point out that there is a strong belief that the spirits of deceased family members guide and assist them but the spirits are demons impersonating family and ancestors are seen as guardian spirits for the living of his/her family. As Parratt quotes Mbiti, “the main feature of the idea of time in Africa is the virtual absence of the future”.4John Parratt, Reinventing Christianity: African Theology Today. Grand Rapids, MI/Cambridge, UK: Eerdmans, 1995, p. 99

In part two, I will explain how syncretism is a major danger that confronts and attempts to redefine the faith anytime the Gospel penetrates a cultural context.Ω

Salvador Ung Hayworth (BA, B.Th, Cert. Tesol, M.Th), was truly born again in 1998. He has served as a missionary in Gauteng and KwaZulu Natal with his wife Dianne. He has produced and directed two documentaries. The first is a drama/documentary called “Allegiance: Walking with the Dead” about four people saved out of ancestors and necromancy, and the second is a documentary called “Seeds of ‘Faith’” exploring Word of Faith theology in the South African context. They are currently ministering with Kokstad Family Evangelical Fellowship (KwaZulu Natal, South Africa), where Salvador serves as a founding pastor.

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