Turning Water Into Paraffin: Towards a pentecostal theology of miracles
E. Munshya, LLM, M.Div.
From my upbringing as a child, to the present, I remain indebted to the nurturing I received as a member of the Pentecostal movement. I am forever grateful to my aunt’s church, which used to meet in a rented classroom at Chabanyama Primary School in Chingola. I learned to have faith in God. Pentecostalism’s greatest strength lies in its ability to help people believe that God is on their side, that he is working for their good, and that they will be used “greatly by God”. Critics of the Pentecostal movement miss an important character of the movement: its ability to create dreams and foster human imagination.
Even though the Pentecostal-charismatic movement has had a long history in Zambia, it remains only but a young movement. As such, just like any other movement, Pentecostals must have a conversation among themselves. They must create a dialogue. Unless we talk to each other, we might lose our impact. It is understandable that of all brands of Christianity, Pentecostalism is the closest to the African worldviews and mindsets. In fact, this is the reason why it is growing in Zambia: compatibility with African traditional religions and worldviews. It is this reality, taken together with current events in our movement that necessitate a reimagination of the Pentecostal theology of miracles.
A Pentecostal theology of miracles must be biblical. Simply quoting verses in the Bible does not necessarily mean that what someone is saying is biblical. It goes beyond that. The Bible must be interpreted as a whole. We must not just take a few verses here and there and make them suit our own explanations. We must look at it and let the Bible speak for itself. Those who teach the Bible, have a duty to rightly interpret it. From a biblical perspective, nearly each and every miracle Jesus performed was done to meet a need. Even when he was tempted to perform miracles as a show-off, our Lord resisted that temptation. It is to meet the need for social happiness, that Christ performed his first miracle, turning water into wine. Some preachers should refrain from purporting to perform miracles that have no semblance to meeting the immediate needs of the people.
A Pentecostal theology of miracles must have respect for human dignity. God loves people. God loves human beings. It is his love for human beings that he sent his Son to die on the cross. The idea that some prophets are using the anointing in ways that violate human dignity is repugnant to the Bible. It gives the good movement of Pentecostalism a very depraved image. We have seen it on video, where a preacher kicks into the tummy of a pregnant woman as a way of transmitting a miracle. Kicking a pregnant woman is a violation of human dignity and integrity. The practice of kicking people into miracles is indeed an innovation and departs quite significantly from the biblical imperative. Another video shows a preacher jumping on the bodies of people lying on the floor and is seen springing on the back and buttocks of a woman. The jumping on the bokosi of a woman is justified by the preacher stating, “all things are possible”. We cannot use the dignity of the anointing in ways that violate the integrity of people’s bodies. Regardless of how we spin it, kicking and jumping on bokosi does not add to the biblical cause.
A Pentecostal theology of miracles should be guided by common sense. Common sense is a gift of God. To say that God wants his people to discard common sense is actually nonsense. Faith does not mean we should abandon simple common sense. When Scripture says we can do all things, it is literally not “all things” that we can do. There are some things we should not do. While it is true that a barren woman can miraculously conceive, it is unbiblical to teach that the barren woman should get holy sperm from a prophet. Certainly, the statement that we can do all things has some limits. It is these limits that some in Pentecostal circles are daily blurring and expanding.
Being anointed is just one of the things that a successful church needs to have. In addition to the anointing, we need common sense and some exposure to an education. Education helps to preserve a revival. We can almost predict the future of any ministry by looking at their attitude towards people, towards common sense and towards education. It is through an education that you can know that the distinctions between “major” and “minor” prophets has nothing to do with the ranks of prophets but has everything to do with the size of a particular book in the Hebrew Canon. Isaiah’s book is “Major”, not because Isaiah is greater in rank than prophet Micah, but because Isaiah is a bigger book than Micah. Prophets Elias and Elisha never wrote a book, are they lesser prophets? Satan hates an anointed and educated people.
Some in our movement occasionally disparage education. Theological education is a frequent casualty. Ironic that some who oppose education go hunting for dubious honorary doctorate degrees and insist on being addressed as “doctor”. Leaders of our movement must go to school and stop the false security found in honorary doctorates. There is a good number who merits honorary degrees, but this should not be an excuse for the movement leaders not going to school.
I must state that only a few are spoiling the Pentecostal movement. Nevertheless, university campuses are now filled with educated and anointed Pentecostals, the future of our movement belongs to them. I know of a ministry started by a university graduate who is doing very well “winning souls” without resorting to magic shows. Genuine prophets and teachers are laboring in our compounds by spreading the empowering message of the gospel. Such need our commendation. Our movement is young. Our movement is growing. But it needs a conversation that is biblical, that respects human dignity, and has a dose of common sense.
Elias Munshya is an ordained pentecostal minister. He served as lecturer and principal at the Grace Theological College in Lusaka, Zambia from 2001 to 2007. He holds several academic degrees from seminaries in Swaziland, South Africa, the USA and Canada.