There has been significant abuse of religious freedom in our country, Kenya. Currently, we are battling with the sickening issue of Shakahola. Paul Mackenzie, now captured, brainwashed so many people with a false version of Christianity, leading to their death. The followers believed that fasting to death would unite them with their maker. Due to the brainwashing, Paul Mckenzie’s church members could not question why the pastor and his family were not fasting. Additionally, the congregants rejected any assistance and preferred to continue with the bizarre practices. Sadly, this is the case with many people around the country, especially those with undying allegiance to the so-called ‘men of God’. Let us look at some issues that may be wreaking havoc in our churches today.
The understanding of abusive pastors who claim to be mediators between God and humanity is based on scriptures such as John 10:1-2 and 1 Peter 5:1-4. Sadly, many pastors have misused these scriptures to exploit their congregation and exalt themselves to be like gods. Consider, for example, in 1 Peter 5:1-4, the pastors and deacons are called under-shepherds, and the congregants are the flock. Using John 10:1-2, pastors see themselves as the door to the sheepfold and protect their sheep from danger. The under-shepherd relationship of the pastor with the flock is similar to that of Christ and the sheep. The congregation must obey the pastor’s voice as the under-shepherd, as the sheep obey the voice of Jesus in John 10:3-5. The flock owes the same submission to the under-shepherd as the Chief Shepherd. Therefore, the flock must listen to the voice of their pastor only. Ignoring the voice of the undershepherd is seen as ignoring the voice of the Chief Shepherd. One cannot question the under-shepherd’s words; otherwise, they risk getting disconnected from the blessings. The pastor is only accountable to God and not to the flock or other leaders.
Abusive pastors are the critical mediators of spiritual guidance and divine blessing between God and the congregants. Otherwise, it’s believed that blessings won’t flow. The pastor is the ‘spiritual father’, and the church members are considered as their sons and daughters. Therefore, they must obey and honour their ‘spiritual parents’ failure, to which a curse is pronounced against them (Ephesians 6:1-4). They cannot question anything as that will be touching the Lord’s anointed one (Psalm 105:15). The flock is, therefore, rid of any mental ability to think or judge things correctly. The pastors define spirituality, and many Christians can be heard saying “my bishop or my pastor” says instead of “the Bible says“. This, sadly, is how most Christians have been enslaved to follow abusive pastors blindly, even neglecting to see the true Shepherd, Jesus Christ (John 10:11, 1 Peter 5:4).
No Need for Pastoral Mediation to Connect with God
Many believe that they can only reach out to God through their pastors. There is also a belief that these pastors have engrained in their congregants that they cannot go before God empty-handed. So they will usually carry an offering with them for the pastors when going to them for prayers. In these churches, nothing goes without a price attached to it, be it counselling, visiting, or even passing by to say hi.
In the Old Testament, God placed priests as mediators between God and the people. They offered sacrifices for the forgiveness of people’s sins. However, in the New Testament, Jesus is the new and ultimate High Priest (Hebrews 2:17, 4:14). Jesus atoned for our sins once and for all so that we may be accepted and have direct access to the Father (Hebrews 4:14-15). Due to the sacrifice of Christ, we can then, with confidence, draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need (Hebrews 4:16). For through Him, we both have our access in one Spirit to the Father (Ephesians 2:18). After the death of Jesus the curtain to the Holy of holies was split giving all believers access to the Father without the need for any intervention (Matthew 27:51). Therefore, we certainly don’t need a pastor to reach God (Hebrews 4:14-16). Instead, we need a pastor to help us connect to and worship our God and High Priest, Jesus Christ (Hebrews 3:1).
Lack of Spiritual Discipline Among Christians
Christians need to study their Bibles today more than ever and be vigilant about what they consume in church. We must be ready to question or critique the sermon of someone we respect. The Bible asks us to test everything, holding on to the good and avoiding all evils (1 Thessalonians 5:20-22). Unfortunately, our laziness has brought us back to the dark ages, when the Bible was left to the priests for interpretation. False prophets are not new to our age, but God anticipated them before any currently living person came into existence (Deuteronomy 18:20; Ezekiel 13:9; 1 John 4:1-6). Therefore, many Christians are caught of-guard due to a lack of spiritual discipline. The Bible has been treated like a challenging book to understand and thus left to a chosen few. We need to be like the Bereans, who, despite Paul’s renown, still counter-checked his teachings with scripture to confirm if what he taught was in line (Acts 17:11). Let’s avoid blindly following fallen men as though they were infallible.
Ignorance about The Nature of God
Religious extremism has thrived due to the church’s failure to administer the truth about God as expressed in the scripture (John 17:17). The Theology of liberation has been dominant in our communities; therefore, many people attend church to be liberated from poverty and life problems. Unfortunately, many evil preachers have used this premise and the Bible to offer false hopes. They demand offerings, in kind and in cash, to be given for people to be liberated. Out of desperation, many have fallen prey to these rogue preachers. When the false promises of these pastors fail to come true, many end up leaving Christianity, saying it is a false religion. This is sad since many of these people are leaving, yet they have been served with a caricature of the Christian faith.
Therefore, before one joins any church, it is helpful to confirm that it is a gospel-preaching church. Jesus warned us about an increase of false prophets who will be a snare to many in their false teachings as his second coming is close. Also, in 2 Peter 2:1-3, Peter warns us that false teachers will arise from within the church. Therefore don’t be ignorant about the truth in God’s Word. Never imagine that your pastor does not require salvation just as you do.
Abuse of the Freedom of Worship
Kenya has allowed people freedom of worship. This has encouraged the spread of the gospel in the nation, which is good (Philippians 1:15-17). But, unfortunately, the freedom of worship has attracted much trouble as much as it has had its benefits. These rogue preachers, who are actually wolves in sheep’s clothing, are sprouting quickly because of this freedom (Matthew 7:15). They have taken advantage of the freedom of worship to cause the death of many, as Paul Mackenzie in Malindi did. In addition, many gospel ministers called to preach rarely go for training. The fact that our government has not required a certificate of biblical or theological training has opened doors for anyone to start a church and enrich themselves.
Despite these many sad realities, we know that nothing can thwart the plans of God (Job 42:2). Christianity will still spread, albeit slowly but surely. May the true sheep of Christ hold firmly to his excellent Word. By the grace of God, through the power of the Holy Spirit, may we boldly expose the wolves in our midst.