The United Congregation Church of Southern Africa (UCCSA) Botswana has set up a commission of enquiry to determine whether Pentecostalism should be allowed or disallowed in the church.
The move that threatens to divide the church was taken in May this year at the church’s last synod in Lobatse, following frequent clashes between conservative and progressive members of the church.
The church has of late been experiencing an invasion of Pentecostal tendencies with some members breaking away from the culture of the church and displaying prophetic and miraculous healing tendencies.
The leadership, upon seeing this anomaly that was threatening to set the church apart, decided to open up the issue for membership to decide through a referendum.
“We decided to set up a four-person commission of enquiry to go around the country to get the views of the general membership on this important issue,” said Rev. Thuso Tiego who is the Chairman of the Synod Committee. He said the Bible provides that people’s gifts come in different ways.
Tiego said the issue will not divide the church as many might think, “as you may be aware times have changed and often you have differences in the church due to changing environments. Often when these changes take place they set people apart and education is important, at the end of the day we want the church to decide.”
Formed in 1967, the UCCSA is One Church in five countries: Botswana, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe. The church traces its origins more than 200 years back to the arrival of the first missionaries sent by the London Missionary Society to southern Africa. Today more than 500,000 members worship in more than one thousand local churches across the five countries.
The issue of Pentecostalism affects the entire part of the areas the church is found in, what is the situation in other countries with regards to the issue?
“We are a congregational church, the members run the church but we are autonomous from our friends beyond the borders. As you may be aware, the doctrine remains the same but practices may differ slightly, Tiego said.
It is understood that the decision was taken following mass exodus of the youth to charismatic churches whose pastors preach prosperity, healing and the new gospel. These churches continue to receive large numbers of mainstream church members who are looking for quick solutions to their problems. Others, particularly the youth are attracted by the flexibility and new practices of the churches.
A University of Botswana academic in the faculty of Religious Studies, Obed Kealotswe, said he interviewed UCCSA members who want prophecy and Pentecostalism in the church.
“The so-called prophets in the UCCSA are a group of young men whom I interviewed some years back when they had applied for the ministry of the UCCSA. Most of them had Pentecostal tendencies. Fortunately on the day of the interviews, the former President of the UCCSA was present on a visit to Botswana,” he said.
Kealotswe continued that when he mentioned to the church president that the candidates were Pentecostals, he stated that we should not see Pentecostalism as a threat to the UCCSA but an enrichment.
“But what I have seen with these so-called prophets is nothing else but an imitation of the Nigerian and Zimbabwean prophets who are preaching the gospel of prosperity. This gospel appeals to the youth of our church who are faced with problems of unemployment and other social problems.”
According to Kealotswe, the youth have developed a strong belief in miracles and believe that these emerging prophets in the UCCSA can help them solve their problems.
“From my point of view as a theologian, I do not see any threat to the life of the UCCSA because the people who are financially viable and run the affairs of the church are not happy with this youthful gospel of false prosperity,” he said.
The UB academic further said even the so-called prophets themselves cannot risk leaving the church because they know that their audience, who are the youth, cannot support them financially because they are unemployed.
“What I see by this rise in the gospel of prosperity is nothing but a marriage of convenience. Some of these prophets believe that they preach the gospel of prosperity because they want to keep the youth in the UCCSA rather than letting them go to the fire churches. To me this is not reason enough to depart from one’s faith and belief just for convenience,” he advised.
Kealotswe continued that right throughout church history, the church had always had these challenges but the orthodox beliefs and teachings of the Christian Church have always remained and this is the reason why Christianity is still a powerful religion today.
“The other weakness of these prophets is that most of them are not theologically trained,” he added.
He reasoned that the prophets just pick verses from the Bible which suit their ideas and interpret them the way they wish to achieve their goals.
“Some do not even know that Christianity is a revered historic religion and one has to be familiar with its history and development before interpreting the Bible in any manner,” he remarked.