The role of the Christian leader
In an article that has been mentioned here before, Conrad Mbewe, a pastor in Zambia, argues that the role of the Pastor/Prophet in Africa looks suspiciously like the role of the traditional priest/jujuman/witchdoctor (http://www.conradmbewe.com/2013/07/why-is-charismatic-movement-thriving-in.html). He goes on to say that:
So, a person who is beset with perennial illnesses, failing to get a job, failing to find a spouse or to have children, whose business is failing to thrive, etc., simply goes to the witchdoctor who alone has the key to look into the spirit world. He is told that it is either a deceased person or an evil spirit who is frustrating him.
Sometimes the enemy is a person who is alive. However, the reason why this living individual seems to have a mysterious hold over your life is because he has plugged into those two layers (of either dead ancestors or evil spirits) and you have not. With the help of a powerful witchdoctor you can outsmart him in those two layers, and the blessings of God can once again begin to flow into your life.
Whichever way, the power of the witchdoctor is not in explaining truth but in mindless frenzy. His grip upon the popular mind is his eerie mysteriousness and his capacity to knock you out of your senses and then pronounce you delivered. Of course, this is never done by benevolence. You pay for his services.
If he is right in his analysis, it means that a wrong view of the role of the Christian spiritual leader, specifically the pastor or prophet, breeds an environment where con men can masquerade as legitimate men of God. In the article he is talking particularly about a view where the man of God is seen as link between the people and God. The people need him because without him that link is cut off and access to God is blocked from them. This places the pastor or prophet in a vital position in the lives of the people and can explain why some people are willing to do a lot of things which are seemingly unwise just so that the relationship is maintained.
The question is that is the role of our church leaders viewed in that light when we look at the scriptures? We are told a lot of things about what a pastors in the scriptures. From the character they should have (1 Timothy 3:1-7), to what they should teach and how they should live(1 Timothy 4), and the fact that they should refute false teachings(2 Timothy 2:14-26). Even with prophecy we are told what they effect of prophecy should be. But in all of this, the one who has restored our relationship with God, the one who has enabled us to be called children of God, the one who has sent his Spirit to live in us if we are Christian, the one who the shepherds in the church are supposed to guide us towards is the one true Shepherd, Jesus Christ our Lord. So the person who is sick can pray to his Father in heaven knowing full well that he will be heard. We are sometimes in danger of seeing the man behind the pulpit as the one through which we have access to our Father. An unscrupulous person can use that to his advantage.
The place of special prayers/items
There also seems to be a rising popularity in special objects, annointing oil (in various colours and types depending on your need), handkerchiefs etc. And if the item is coming from Israel then it is always more powerful. The question to be asked is what place do these items play in Christianity. Coupled with this is special prayers which sometimes go hand in hand with these items. I admit that I have more to study and learn about the doctrine of prayer in the Bible but I am quite sure of a few thing. The person we go to when we pray is our Father in heaven and the Bible teaches us how to pray for to our Father. I know we can boldly go to him because of our sins have been dealt with on the cross. I know that God intervening and answering my prayers is not dependant on anyone or any item but dependant on God. It becomes very easy to fixate on the items and people instead of on the all-powerful God.
This is not a new phenomenon. It was happening in the Corinthian church where the church was divided between the big church leaders of their day; Paul, Peter and Apollos. Having great influential leaders in the christian church is a blessing especially when they use their great gifts of teaching and wisdom to edify and build up the church. It becomes a danger when we forgot that it is the gospel that authenticates their ministry and not any supernatural manifestation. We know from scripture that many will come who will perform signs and miracles to deceive the masses. If the substance of their message is not the authentic gospel then we must avoid them. By the way it is quite possible to use all the christian phrases and verses and deliver a message that is devoid of the gospel. A message that makes us more reliant on the individual or ourselves rather than on Jesus Christ.
The celebrity status we sometimes give them makes it seem sometimes that their words cannot be questioned even when in some cases it clearly goes against scripture. It is difficult to be discerning when we have such a high view a person. All I am saying is that our view of scripture should be higher than our view of anyone and that will allow us to validate what they say with what scripture says.
The prevalent view of guidance seems to be around “hearing a word from God” which usually points to someone saying “God told me to tell you…”. I will share two qoutes that I think highlight the dangers of that view. This was during a discussion on a blog when this issue came up(http://thefrontporch.org/2013/09/the-bishop-and-the-filmmaker-what-t-d-jakes-and-tyler-perry-teach-us-about-the-black-church-black-elites-and-authentic-spirituality/).
Let me try to illustrate with a couple of questions why I think “God told me to” is a bad way of speaking about subjective guidance (having already admitted that I believe God can and does prompt us in various subjective ways). You mentioned that “God told you to marry your wife.” Let me ask: If you had not married your wife, would that be sin? If she had refused, would she have been in sin? Since you had that sense from God, does that also mean God had only one correct wife for you?
Do you see the problems these questions point to? Many Christians get paralyzed–especially in matters of Christian freedom–because they’re waiting for God to “tell them.” But, in the case of marriage, for example, God has spoken. In 1 Cor. 7 he says we’re free to marry or not marry. We don’t sin if we marry; nor do we sin if we do. To say “God told me to” in a way that feels like “Thus saith the Lord” is to adopt a view of guidance that inevitably brings us into tension and sometimes contradiction with what God says in His word. I know you would never advise using “God told me” as an excuse for contradicting the word. But you can probably also admit/experienced that there are tons of people who do exactly that. That’s why I think that’s a problematic way of speaking about God’s will.
The issue of “God told me” is problematic. It presents a non-negotiable engagement, that benefits the one uttering such. It may also give a false ideal that one has this ethereal communion with Christ that the other does not. … What is problematic in the pulpit is, scripture in many cases says what is worlds apart from the pulpit. Scripture says “He that findeth a wife findeth a good thing.” Biblical wisdom from within ones-self and the counsel of the “Godly” around you will help one choose a virtuous, prudent help-mate. As to giving away a possession, the Bible says it is, “better to give than receive,” or “Give and it shall be given thee.” The book of Acts displays sharing and “one-anothering” to meet needs, etc. We have multiple parables of how persons of “The Way,” ought to seek to meet needs by being good to all men and especially those in the household of faith. With these things in mind one does not have to live “listening” for a mystical voice from within or without. I believe the pulpit needs to stand firm on the five Sola’s and let that be the “guiding light” for the “pew.”
Whether you agree or disagree with the people speaking, I think their points have merit and many people have used the weaknesses of speaking like this to their advantage and keep telling people to do things that are clearly not from God.
In conclusion, there are probably more areas that need to be thought through but I think that in all this the faithful men and women who preach God’s word are a key to solving this problem. They need to teach, rebuke, correct and train us from the scriptures and also refute the false teachings that is going on by the authority of the Scriptures. “Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths” – 2 Timothy 4:2-4