One of the most famous ancient collections of stories in Western history is Homer’s Iliad (read it free here). By and large it is concerned with the Greek siege of Troy. After close to a decade engaged in this unsuccessful siege, the Greeks feigned their departure and outside the Trojan city left a large wooden horse.
A Trojan Horse implies a deceitful appearance that veils some sinister intent.
However this was no random token. Within the wooden horse were a band of brave Greek soldiers. Once the horse was taken into Troy, beyond the impenetrable city walls, the soldiers crept out, opened the gate for their compatriots and Troy was sacked. This is the famous Trojan Horse. But what does it have to do with deliverance ministries?
The Trojan Horse: A Great Danger to the Church
The story about the Trojan Horse has become a popular metaphor or idiom. To describe something as a Trojan Horse implies a deceitful appearance that veils some sinister intent. It refers to trickery that gets behind or beyond protection. In a word: subversion.
When I was recently given the opportunity to preach at a pastors’ retreat, I was tasked with addressing the issue of false prophets and teachers. Previously I would have had in mind a major Christian cult, like the Jehovah’s Witnesses. But this time, the extreme Charismatic deliverance movement came to mind. I am concerned that it poses a greater danger to the African church because it is a Trojan Horse.
Deliverance ministries appear harmless and appeals to great crowds.
During our discussion time it became apparent that I was correct. Although I did not mention the deliverance movement while I was teaching, almost all the questions were related to this phenomenon. It is a common vice.
Three Gaping Holes in Deliverance Ministries
Like a Trojan Horse, deliverance ministry enters Evangelicalism through the back door as it appears harmless and appeals to great crowds. But it lacks several biblical elements that any movement which wishes to call itself “Christian” ought to have. Under the three points below I will highlight three gaping holes in deliverance ministries.
1. The Loss of the Gospel
My chief concern about this movement is the loss of the gospel. In my personal evangelism, I often come across individuals who are members of these churches. Their talk is all about perceived miracles and “deliverance,” never repentance and personal faith in Jesus Christ. This is not right.
Their talk is all about perceived miracles and “deliverance,” never repentance and personal faith.
The regular content of preaching on TV confirms this. I never hear a straightforward sermon on the death of Christ as God’s atoning sacrifice for our sins. I never hear preachers calling for repentance and faith in Christ. Rather, whatever the passage the preacher is dealing with, he soon makes a beeline to felt needs.
Focused on Felt Needs
These typically include barrenness, lack of a spouse, marital infidelity, a “curse” in someone’s wider family, or lack of employment. The preacher then appeals to individuals experiencing these needs to “believe” as he prays for them.
Once we lose the gospel, we might have the crowds, but they will be without sanctified hearts.
The consequences of this loss of the gospel have been disastrous. Churches are filled with people whose lives are whitewashed tombs full of dead men’s bones. The gospel alone changes people’s hearts. Once we lose it, we might have the crowds, but they will be without sanctified hearts.
Their religion becomes a thin veneer that covers unbridled sinful passions (remember the image of the enemy inside the Trojan horse?). In the end, those who know the truth about the scandals and the skeletons in the wardrobes of churchgoing people blaspheme the Lord’s name. This should not be!
2. The Loss of Worship Services
In most cases, the deliverance supposedly takes place as the preacher is praying. This is not just a TV phenomenon. It is now the highpoint during church services. After all the singing and dancing, there is a sermon. It amounts to something like, “So-and-so came to Jesus or Paul for deliverance. And today is your day to be delivered. Just believe.” Then the invitation is made for those with any needs to come to the front for their “deliverance.”
They have turned a worship service into a ‘deliverance’ session
There is no doubt that this draws the crowds. However, it is not because there are any miracles taking place. Far from it! It is because of the phenomenon of people falling down and writhing on the ground.
It is precisely the same kind of phenomenon that draws crowds to the local witchdoctor. There is only one difference. While we are encouraged to believe that it is the devil who does these things at the witchdoctor’s den, we must believe that it is God who does them at the “deliverance” church.
The Biblical Purpose of Worship Sessions
The problem is that they have turned a worship service into a “deliverance” session. Every Sunday ends with people coming to the front to get their “deliverance.” Is this what was happening in the days of Jesus or of the apostles? Even a casual reading of the book of Acts does not give me that impression. It is clear that worship services were for singing and praying to God, and for the Word of God to be preached for the salvation and sanctification of the people.
3. The Loss of the Priesthood of All Believers
When I question the practices of this movement, some accuse me of not believing in a God who can still do the miraculous. That is not the point. My quarrel is not with a miracle-working God, but with the “man of God” who seems to have powers that ordinary Christians do not have.
The phenomenon is utterly unbiblical. For it steals away from the priesthood of all believers, reducing church to the priesthood of “the man of God.” His prayers and those of his wife are anointed while the prayers of ordinary John and Mary are not.
It’s Not All about Miracles
In the Bible, the phrase “man of God” was applied to prophets as vehicles of God’s self-revelation. While some of these men of God were miracle workers, that was not the essence of this phrase.
We find men like David being referred to as a man of God (2 Chronicles 8:14), though he never performed a single miracle. Paul was also able to apply it to Timothy in the New Testament (1 Timothy 6:11). But, as far as we know, Timothy did not perform a single miracle either.
We Don’t Need the “Man Of God” to Intervene
If, during a sermon, some demons manifest in an individual, the pastor can ask a few mature Christians in the church service to carry that person out to another room so that they can pray for him, and continue with his sermon. Why keep everyone waiting for the next hour or two while pandemonium breaks out in front of the pulpit, and while the pastor interrupts the teaching of God’s word to intervene with his supposedly superior prayers?
There are no special powers in the prayer of the preacher, which ordinary Christians do not have in their prayers.
There are no special powers in the prayer of the preacher, which ordinary Christians do not have in their prayers. It is the prayers of a righteous man that avail much and not the prayers of some anointed “man of God.” In fact, from the scandals filling up our history books, we are learning again and again that the so-called “men of God” are not worthy of the honour they are given.
Stop! Keep the Trojan Horse Outside the Gate
Although the movement does not stand apart like other major Christian cults, it is within it that we find the false prophets and teachers of our day who have come into Evangelicalism through the back door.
The loss of the gospel, the loss of worship services, and the loss of the priesthood of all believers are all matters of grave concern. If we do not arrest this trend and expose the “deliverance” movement for what it is, there will soon be serious animism and syncretism in the church, until there is no difference between what takes place in the witchdoctor’s den in the village and what is taking place in church.
God forbid that it should be so! Let us keep this Trojan Horse outside the gate.