March 30, 2009

Branham, Moreau, and East Africa

A. Scott MoreauWe’re continually on the lookout for existing resources on cults in East Africa. Recently I came across A. Scott Moreau's article on the Branham movement in the East Africa Journal of Evangelical Theology (April 1989). Moreau was a missionary in Africa and now serves as Professor of Intercultural Studies and Missions at Wheaton College and as editor of Evangelical Missions Quarterly. He writes:
Almost every Kenyan student at the Nairobi International School of Theology has had encounters with a Branhamite and found them to be extremely difficult to talk to without having to engage in a defense of the traditional Christian doctrine of the Trinity or of the baptismal formula “in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.”
Moreau first summarizes the history of the self-proclaimed prophet William Branham (1909–1965) and the movement that grew from his international healing ministry. Then he details the Branhamites’ core beliefs, especially that 1) while the Bible is inerrant, we need Branham’s gift of prophetic revelation to fully understand God’s message, and 2) God is not a Trinity; instead, the Father, Jesus, and the Holy Ghost are different manifestations of a single divine person. After mentioning several other doctrinal deviations, Moreau provides a basic evaluation of Branham’s ministry and teaching, concluding that Branham was a false prophet and his end-time message was in serious error. He concludes by classifying the Branhamites a theological cult and gives several suggestions for how to approach the movement’s followers.

There’s such a wealth of information in this brief article that I barely know where to begin. I especially appreciated Moreau’s practical emphasis. He wasn’t simply an academician dryly describing another religious group; he was an evangelical Christian on the front lines recognizing the need to more effectively engage this cult in Africa. For this Moreau deserves our sincere thanks.

Still, his article is twenty years old. Not only does this render his research somewhat outdated (William Branham Ministries is now deeply entrenched across the continent), but the lack of related research since then is a sad indication of how little has been done by serious theologians in East Africa to address harmful groups of this nature.

May God help us to build on the work of such scholars and equip East African believers with the tools and training they need to effectively refute those who follow false prophets—and share the true Gospel with them in love.

March 28, 2009

Weekly Round-Up

Here's the latest for this week's round-up:

1) Michael Mubangizi, "Fire in the name of God" and "Cult leaders were caught having sex, which was forbidden" in the Weekly Observer newspaper, and "Kanungu massacre: Why govt must rein in cults" in the New Vision newspaper (both papers come from Uganda). I wrote of the anniversary of the Kanungu tragedy last week, but newspapers are continuing to report on the this tragic end to the Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God. These are three more informative articles.

2) Josephine Maseruka, "Born-again churches reject federation" in the New Vision newspaper (Uganda). Here we see some courageous Ugandan pastors standing up against false teaching in the formation of a new "born again" united federation. Unity must never come at the expense of truth!

3) David Gibson, "Is One Man's Faith Another's Superstition?" in the Wall Street Journal newspaper. This one is an opinion piece reflecting on Pope Benedict's time in Angola. Yet again we see the danger of witchcraft and syncretism in Africa.

4) "The New Apostolic Church of East Africa soon to become independent" in the New Apostolic Church International News. The success in Africa of the New Apostolic Church, a Swiss-based cult, has been so dramatic that they are restructuring. Chief Apostle Wilhelm Leber, the international church leader, will be conducting a service in Kampala, Uganda today.

March 25, 2009

ACFAR on the Radio

By God’s grace, we’re continuing to spread the word about the Africa Center for Apologetics Research on the radio!

Today we’re scheduled to appear on “Live with Jeff & Lee” on KKMS in metro Minneapolis (6:00 pm Eastern, 3:00 pm Pacific)

And here are two upcoming shows to check out:

Saturday, March 28th: “The Pastor’s Study” with Pastor Tom Brock on KKMS in metro Minneapolis (12:30 pm Eastern, 9:30 pm Pacific)

Monday, March 30th: “Total Impact” with Kurt Goff on KSOS in Las Vegas (5:00 pm Eastern, 2:00 pm Pacific)

If you’re in the area, please tune in! If not, you can stream the shows over the Internet live. And if you’d like to talk to Paul Carden and me tonight or this Saturday, be sure to call. In the meantime, pray for us!

March 23, 2009

A Few Thoughts While Staying Busy

This past Lord’s Day I had the privilege of worshiping with a church that’s considering supporting our ministry in Africa. While our family always enjoys fellowship with our home congregation, we’ve come to appreciate the opportunities that God brings to meet other church families. Why?

First, I meet many Christians who love and serve our Savior. I’m reminded of the diversity of the body of Christ when I worship at other churches. People from different social and ethnic groups come together to worship our Savior. What a glorious sight!

Second, I meet brothers and sisters in Christ who are dedicated to the Word of God. It’s refreshing to stand in the midst of other congregations as they read the Scriptures and submit to the Bible as it’s proclaimed from the pulpit.

Third, I meet other believers who care deeply about African Christians and their need for biblical discernment. Rarely have I left a church discouraged after telling them about our ministry. Many of our most dedicated prayer partners have joined us through the time we’ve spent in their churches.

Raising awareness and support is a challenge, but when I reflect on the blessings the Lord gives in the process, I can only thank Him for the opportunities He brings. I’m not the same man I was when I first decided to become a missionary. I pray that, by God’s grace, His refining process will continue!

March 20, 2009

Weekly Round-Up

Here's the latest for this week's round-up:

1) Steven Candia, "Kibwetere arrest warrant still on," Josephine Maseruka, "Pastors call for probe over sodomy," and Frederick Kiwanuka, "Luweero cult members arrested" in the New Vision newspaper (Uganda). I wrote of the anniversary of the Kanungu tragedy earlier this week, but many newspapers included several articles related to the cult that tragically ended nine years ago. Here are three from one of the main national papers in Uganda.

2) Joyce Namutebi and Catherine Bekunda, "Govt officials involved in witchcraft, says Kivejinja" in the New Vision newspaper (Uganda). Uganda's internal affairs minister has accused some senior government officials of practicing witchcraft. I have mentioned the need to take witchcraft seriously before, but this report is an important reminder of the challenge it remains in Africa.

3) "Irony in the Big apology" on GetReligion.org and "HBO’s Mormon Temple Ceremony Scene" on the Mormon Coffee blog. If you haven't heard about the recent controversy surrounding the HBO series Big Love portraying portions of the temple endowment ceremony, then be sure to read more and even watch the clip online. It was surprisingly accurate.

March 18, 2009

Viral Video: The International Adventist Challenge

Paul Carden, the Executive Director of the Centers for Apologetics Research (our parent ministry), spoke at the annual Former Adventist Fellowship Weekend earlier this month. His message was a timely one: "The Apostolic Imperative and the International Adventist Challenge." Thankfully, his message has been made available online. Please watch as Paul explains the serious challenge that Seventh-day Adventism presents globally.

March 16, 2009

Remembering the "African Jonestown"

“There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death.” (Proverbs 14:12)

Can cults be dangerous?

You won’t have to convince Ugandans. Their recent history is enough to persuade them of the serious harm cults can bring.

Nine years ago this week, on March 17, 2000, a tragedy took place that has come to be known as the Kanungu Massacre—or the “African Jonestown.” Hundreds of men, women, and children perished in a southern Uganda town after being locked into a church building which was then set ablaze. The media called it a “mass suicide,” but the facts point to something quite different.

MRTCG LeadersSwiss scholar Jean-Fran├žois Mayer explains that the group first “emerged around [Roman Catholic] visionaries who shared their messages and were able to attract a following which even included a few priests.” Credonia Mwerinde and other local visionaries reported that the Virgin Mary told them the end of the world was fast approaching and that only those who had properly purified themselves would be prepared for Christ’s return. Joseph Kibweteere joined Mwerinde and other Catholics in spreading this end-time message, and in 1989 the two and several others founded the Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God (MRTCG).

The MRTCG grew as its doomsday message found a ready audience. Most scholars agree that political instability, corrupt Catholic leadership, and an AIDS epidemic led many Ugandans to believe in the need for moral renewal in the midst of global collapse. The cult eventually located its headquarters in what is now the Kanungu district, where Mwerinde’s father gave them a large area of land before he died.

Those who joined were required to surrender all of their earthly possessions and live a strict lifestyle of devotion to God. By submitting to the absolute leadership of Kibweteere, Mwerinde, and others they would escape the wrath to come. Sex was forbidden among married couples, and their children were moved to live elsewhere. At times, even speaking was forbidden. Living in the highly controlled compound separated them from the rest of society and made them dependent on the group.

The MRTCG leadership predicted that Jesus would return by the year 2000; questions and disaffection arose when January arrived and the prophecy failed. Leaders quickly set March 17th as the new date. Unknown to their followers, Kibweteere, Mwerinde, and their accomplices started planning the end of their movement before it could unravel completely. Much of the group’s property and livestock was sold off for next to nothing. A communal feast was held on March 15. And one leader was spotted purchasing sulfuric acid, which would intensify a fire.

KanunguAt the appointed hour the faithful gathered in the church to welcome their day of deliverance, perhaps not noticing that the doors and windows had been boarded up. In the midst of their singing and prayers, a loud explosion was heard, and fire ripped through the church.

Escape was impossible. No one survived.

In the days that followed, Uganda police investigating MRTCG properties discovered hundreds more of the cult’s victims in mass burial sites at four locations across the country. The death toll from the cult continued to rise until excavations were called off. The final official number of those dead reached 770, though other estimates range as high as 900 to 1,000, and the actual count will likely never be known. The cult’s leaders have never been apprehended.

Nine years ago, Uganda experienced an unspeakable tragedy at the hands of a cult. Since then, Christian leaders have demanded accountability and sought to raise awareness of the dangers such groups pose to the church and society, even as cults multiply and the government entertains proposals to impose tighter restrictions on all religious organizations. We have been asked to help the Body of Christ in Uganda to warn and train believers so they can recognize and resist deception—in hopes that many can be spared not only the devastation that cults can cause in this life, but the infinitely greater loss of eternal separation from God in the next.

Please pray with us that soon we can establish ACFAR in Kampala to equip African Christians for the vital task of discernment, defending the faith, and cult evangelism.

March 13, 2009

Weekly Round-Up

Here's the latest for this week's round-up:

1) Ruth Kang`ong`oi, "Is there a 'bright' side to witchcraft?" in the New Times newspaper (Rwanda). This report shows how ingrained witchcraft and sorcery are in Africa. I pray that living with such fear will be overcome with the gospel, bringing in Christ grace and hope to Africans!

2) Jamie Dean, "One-man war" in World magazine. World magazine is an excellent newsweekly which is rooted in the biblical worldview. Their latest issue has an article on Joseph Kony and the Lord's Resistance Army. Once again, we see how this spirit medium and his terrorist organization are wreaking havoc in East Africa.

3) "Episode 16" of the Persecution Podcast (MP3). As far as I am concerned, every Christian should stay informed and become involved with our brothers and sisters in Christ who are facing persecution all over the world. The latest edition of this Voice of the Martyrs audio podcast includes a discussion of the Islamic persecution against Nigerians.

4) Serious.Life magazine. The latest issue of Serious.Life was released this week, and African Apologetics is included in their Featured Blog Directory (on page 173). If you are interested in learning more, be sure to check it out. Subscriptions are free.

March 11, 2009

Book Notice: Brother to Brother

Rendell N. Mabey and Gordon T. Allred, Brother to Brother: The Story of the Latter-day Saint Missionaries Who Took the Gospel to Black Africa. Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1984; 161 pp.

Brother to BrotherOne of the greatest obstacles to the missionary advance of the Mormon church in the 20th century was its notoriously racist view of Africans. Beginning with Brigham Young, generations of Mormon prophets and apostles characterized blacks as inferior and deformed (bearing the dreaded “mark of Cain”). Young declared that “a man who has the African blood in him cannot hold one jot nor tittle of priesthood” and warned his brethren that “The moment we consent to mingle with the seed of Cain the Church must go to destruction.”

Not surprisingly, early Mormon proselytizing efforts in sub-Saharan Africa concentrated on white-dominated South Africa and Rhodesia. But after the LDS church’s 1978 “Official Declaration—2” granted Mormon males of African descent the ability to hold its priesthood, the cult has been spreading rapidly across the continent. According to the church-owned Deseret News, noted scholar Philip Jenkins predicts that “African Latter-day Saints will number between 3 million and 4 million in the next quarter century”—a trend that itself presents Christians with a new and growing missionary challenge.

Brother to Brother provides the story of the first Mormon missionaries to black Africa. Written by Mormons and for Mormons, this book offers invaluable insights into the early stages of LDS growth in Africa. Though it’s now out of print, it’s obviously an important reference for our ministry.

From the Inside Cover:
The call came from President Spencer W. Kimball in the fall of 1978: Take the gospel to Nigeria and Ghana. Two specially chosen couples were the first ones called on that demanding but exhilarating mission to Black Africa. This book tells their exciting story.

The welcome mat was spread conspicuously. Not only did they benefit from the widespread Christian beliefs; there were even groups awaiting conversion and baptism, and some of these had set up unauthorized “branches” of the Church. Now was the day of their deliverance. These fine people—unworldly, simple of taste but strong of faith—welcomed the missionaries with great joy, responded willingly and anxiously to their gospel message and counsel, and eagerly received baptism—by the hundreds. Branches and districts were then officially established, and the Lord’s kingdom set down its roots there.

This is the story of faith, patience, persistence, and the ultimate reward—the initial gospel ordinances and all that comes from membership in the true Church. Moving stories abound within the main story: Anthony Obinna and his thirteen-year wait for baptism; the dramatic conclusion to a twenty-four-hour fast; the first baptism; Sunday Ukpong and his bicycle; and always, in those “faraway places with strange-sounding names,” the story penned by faith and conviction.

Written in a flowing, pleasing, narrative style, the book is authored jointly by Rendell N. Mabey, the missionary leader, and Gordon T. Allred, well-known writer on Latter-day Saint themes. It draws heavily on the former’s detailed manuscript journal of over thirteen hundred pages.

For every reader whose heart is in the Lord’s cause of spreading the gospel worldwide, reading this book will be a moving and thrilling experience.

March 9, 2009

Sermon: "Spiritual Deception"

On February 22nd, I once again had the privilege of opening the Word of God before my home congregation at Parkwood Southern Baptist Church. Below is the audio and outline of my sermon. I pray that God will use this message for His gory!
I. Deceivers are Dangerous, vv. 15-20A. The Hidden Danger
B. The Exposing Test
II. Deceivers are Damned, vv. 21-23A. The Final Judgement
B. The Final Declaration

March 6, 2009

Weekly Round-Up

For this week's round-up, I am going to do some catching up:

1) "Membership Growth in 2008" on the LDS Church Growth blog. Would you like to read about the global success of Mormonism? This post summarizes last year's statistics.

2) Kanina Foss, "Court saves Jehovah's Witness girl's life" in The Star newspaper (South Africa). Yes, the Jehovah's Witnesses are very active in Africa too. Here is another example of the trouble caused by their distinctive beliefs.

3) "Church Struggling After Islamists Destroy Building" on Compass Direct News. A sad story about the all too common reality of Islamic persecution. What may surprise some is that this attack took place in East Africa. Let us pray for these Kenyan believers during this difficult time.

March 4, 2009

Ask Anything Wednesday

Welcome to our monthly feature Ask Anything Wednesday. While I am answering a question left for me earlier today, please keep the questions rolling in! Just submit your question--on anything!--in the comments section below and I'll consider answering it next month.

Question:
"I'd like to know if you are still on track to move to Uganda and have ACFAR be THE apologetics resource to that area."

Answer:
I appreciate the obvious passion you have for our ministry! Your encouragement is both encouraging and humbling. I pray daily that our East African ministry will glorify Christ through the defense of His truth. Lord willing, our center will be used mightily for the advancement of His kingdom!

But I want to make sure that I directly answer your question. Are we on track to begin? I really cannot give you a simple "yes" or "no" answer. The Africa Center for Apologetics Research is built on faith and trust in our Savior. Therefore, we don't have a number of defined intermediate steps which we "pass" or "fail." We have established our goal to launch ACFAR by the end of May. To reach our goal, we still need 275 prayer partners, $5,600 in monthly commitments, and $30,000 in start-up support. Yes, this will mean a lot of new supporters in the next few months. But we are trusting in God to provide. Is raising awareness and support difficult in our current recession? Of course! But it is nothing that Christ cannot overcome if it is His will.

I am excited to see what our Lord will do in the upcoming months ahead. We continue to build momentum, regularly establishing more contacts and developing new partnerships. There is one fact that I am absolutely certain of: the challenges facing Christians in East Africa will only be met by advancing biblical discernment and apologetics. May Christ use ACFAR in Uganda to help our African brothers and sisters in Christ defend our common faith!

March 3, 2009

Ask Anything Wednesday Tomorrow

Ask Anything Wednesday is tomorrow! Do you have any questions about the Africa Center for Apologetics Research? Do you have a question about witnessing to cult members? Do you want to know what I am reading right now? Anything is fair game!

Just ask and I'll try to answer it. The easiest way to submit a question for tomorrow is simply to post it as a comment below. I can't wait to see what you come up with!

March 2, 2009

Answering the Branham Challenge in Africa

Jesus’ warnings about false prophets in Matthew 7 are being played out all around us, and on a scale never seen before.

The question is, how will we respond?

Last week I gave you a glimpse of my recent visit to the international headquarters of William Branham Ministries (also known as Voice of God Recordings, or VGR). Today I want to offer a few more reflections on that unforgettable trip.

William Branham Ministries HeadquartersVGR headquarters draws a stream of Branham followers from all over the globe. On the day I went, a local member brought along a friend from Nebraska so she could see the facility firsthand. Just going through VGR with them was educational; I saw how intently they listened to the guide as he summarized the various stages of Branham’s life and gazed with wonder at the pictures and paraphernalia on display. As a former Mormon, I couldn’t help but be reminded of the exaggerated devotion many Latter-day Saints pay to their founding prophet, Joseph Smith.

Branham PulpitVGR displays (and actually uses) Branham’s original pulpit. His desk sits below a framed picture, along with sheets of his handwritten sermon notes. These and many other artifacts testify that, for his legions of devotees, Branham is much more than a gifted and anointed man; he’s God’s unique and final prophet, and one can be only be prepared for Christ’s return by believing and following his divisive “message.”

Something else stands out in my memory: Seeing racks and racks of Branham’s booklets in other languages on prominent display as I first entered. VGR prints in at least 16 indigenous African languages, plus some 60 others. Actually seeing row upon row of these booklets left a deep impression on me. These are the very booklets that are drawing men and women in towns and villages across Africa to another Jesus and a false gospel, booklets that spread Branham’s errors with little or no resistance from Christians equipped with God’s Word.

Branham Distribution CenterIt was deeply troubling to watch Branham’s disciples dispatch such vast quantities of false teaching from their distribution center. I watched in frustration as scores of pallets, filled with booklets, tapes, and other materials, were lined up and readied for shipment.

What can we do?

The answer is powerful, yet simple. ACFAR’s mission is to equip African Christians with tools and training so they can recognize and resist cultic groups like Branham’s—putting scriptural answers into the hands of thousands of pastors so they can warn their flocks. And the best part is that believers who know how to test the claims of false prophets like Branham can also lead his followers to a saving knowledge of the true Jesus.

You and I can answer the challenge of Branhamism—and we must.

Pray with me that God will bring the support we need to launch ACFAR in Uganda this year!