I went to a mega-church last night with some missionary friends. I never knew such large churches existed in Beira. Well, I go past the Catholic cathedral everyday which is an enormous structure, and I’ve seen it overflowing with congregants at times. There is also another large church that I pass frequently which seems to have lively, full services every night of the week. I’ve been warned against that church, though, as it is known for its “health-and-wealth” emphasis. Every other church I’ve been to has had less than 100 people. In fact, 100 is large here. For example, my church, which is probably one of the better-known churches in town, has probably 50 people on a Sunday morning.
So you can imagine my surprise when I walked into an auditorium filled with about 400 people! Ushers showed people to their seats, a praise band performed on the flood-lit stage, and song lyrics were projected on a large-screen. This is a completely typical scene in America. I was honestly blown away by it in this context. Wow, a church that has enough money to run that many fans! A church that has enough money for a projector!
I was less impressed with the message, which was in English by a Paraguayan woman who has lived in Australia for 25 years, although I could barely understand her English. Apparently, there are many English-speaking African expats (e.g. Zimbabweans, Malawians, Nigerians, etc.) in the congregation, so sermons are often translated. In this case, it was my former Portuguese teacher who was translating into Portuguese, and sometimes the Portuguese was easier to understand than the English. But what didn’t impress me was that this preacher actually said at one point that God wants us to be happy and prosper. (I didn’t get a chance to ask my friends afterwards if this is a common message by the regular pastor as well.)
After the message, the pastor invited people with foot problems to the front for prayer. Apparently the Sunday evening services are typically healing services. I was intrigued. I’ve seen pastors pray for healing before, but I’ve never seen a pastor perform in such a dramatic way, causing people to tremble and fall. He also cast demons out of a few women. Some of them really fought back. What I didn’t understand is if the healing and the casting out were related. I mean, was the assumption that people were suffering from foot ailments because they had demons?
You can imagine I sat there quite skeptical of the theatrics being performed up front. But then I realized that I’m mostly skeptical because of the church culture I’ve grown up in. When was the last time anyone in my churches in the States had a healing service? Do we believe in laying on of hands for healing? Or do we go through the motions of praying for healing but trust that in the end the real healing comes from doctors? Of course we pray for sick people all the time, but it’s in a much different manner than what I witnessed last night.
Casting out demons becomes a trickier subject. I’m not even sure the churches I associate with in the States even really believe in demons. I mean really, truly believe in them. Demons that can possess people and need to be cast out. Yet Jesus cast demons out. Jesus healed people by laying hands on them. We read these stories and discuss them all the time, yet we’re skeptical of such occurrences in our own churches. And we still say we’re trying to be like Jesus?
I’m not saying that I’m now going to become a Pentecostal. I’m still not comfortable with that style of worship and definitely don’t appreciate any health-and-wealth gospel. But I am saying that I need to examine where my skepticism and discomfort really come from. How biblically-based is it and how culturally-based is it?