THE HERMENEUTICAL PROCESSES OF PENTECOSTAL-TYPE AFRICAN INITIATED CHURCHES IN SOUTH AFRICA

Allan Anderson

(unedited version, later published in Missionalia 24:2, August 1996)

 

Introduction

Very little has been written on the subject of hermeneutics and African initiated churches (AICs)[1]. Not being a specialist in biblical studies, I do not presume to offer more than a cursory treatment of this subject, arising from reflection on research conducted in Soshanguve, in northern Gauteng between 1991 and 1995[2]. Insights and remarks referred to in this paper were made by AIC church members during numerous interviews conducted[3].

The massive growth of the AIC movement in South Africa over the past four decades[4] has appeared to have been at the expense of older mission churches, which have declined dramatically in relative membership[5]. Various factors contribute to what amounts to a decline in mission church relevance in South Africa[6]. Whether the momentous events bringing political freedom in 1994 will affect this trend is uncertain, but if the decline continues, the mission churches might be only 20% of the population by the turn of this century, compared to 50% for AICs. These facts accentuate the need for serious reflection on the enormous contribution made by AICs to Christianity in Africa.

 

Hermeneutics and AICs

Bernard Ramm (1970:1) expresses a conservative definition of "hermeneutics" by saying that it is "the science and art of Biblical interpretation". By comparison, the Argentinean Severino Croatto (1987:1) includes "three aspects of interpretation" in a definition of hermeneutics. He points out that in addition to the "privileged locus" of "the interpretation of texts" (the first aspect), hermeneutics must also take into account that "all interpreters condition their reading of a text by a kind of preunderstanding arising from their own life context" (the second aspect), and that thirdly, "the interpreter enlarges the meaning of the text being interpreted" (italics in original). Put another way, Carlos Mesters (1993:14) says that when the "common people" (such as AIC members) read the Bible a "dislocation" occurs and "emphasis is not placed on the text's meaning in itself but rather on the meaning the text has for the people reading it" (emphasis mine). These observations from Latin America are relevant to our discussion.

For most AIC members, who rely on an oral rather than a literate understanding of the Bible, it is meaningless to discuss the interpretation of the text by itself (cf West 1995:195). This article will describe mainly how AIC members enlarge the meaning of the Bible for themselves out of their own context with its inherent presuppositions. In doing so, we should remember that AICs generally do not have a philosophical articulation of theological beliefs, including hermeneutics. Nevertheless, as is true of all Christians, AIC members' interpretations of the Bible are undoubtedly conditioned by presuppositions arising out of their life situation (Croatto's second aspect), and their understanding of how the Bible speaks into their life context inevitably enlarges its meaning (the third aspect). We therefore need to consider the contribution to the understanding of the Bible made by these AICs to the universal church of Jesus Christ.

Pentecostal-type African churches, which term was most recently discussed in a recent article (Anderson 1995)[7] generally may be said to have a literalistic or "concordistic" approach to hermeneutics (Croatto 1987:6), although we must immediately acknowledge the inadequacy of western categorising. The biblical literalism found in these churches is consistent with the fact of their roots in the North American Holiness, healing and pentecostal movements (Anderson 1991:26-29; 1992a:20-32). They may be said to have a concordistic approach to the Bible in that they take the Bible as it is and look for common ground in real life situations. On finding these "correspondences" they believe that God is speaking.

 

African hermeneutics

The similarities that exist between the different African pentecostal churches are evident in their hermeneutical processes. All these churches usually interpret the Bible in a way that makes use primarily of the normal or customary understanding of the literal words - most of these Christians use an African vernacular translation in so doing, that is, those who are literate. This is a "pre-critical" method of reading the Bible, common to all "ordinary readers" because "they have not been trained in critical methods" (West 1995:198). We should not see this fact necessarily as a disadvantage! This is not slavish literalism - the Bible is not usually read "in dissociation from a real-life community and concrete situation" (Mesters 1993:7) in these churches. Most members of AICs in South Africa belong to the underprivileged working class or are unemployed, and many of them are functionally illiterate. In keeping with the strong sense of community amongst African people, members usually read or rather, hear) the Bible in the community of the faithful, during celebrations of communal worship, where it is often directly related to real problems encountered by that community. This oral interpretation of the Bible as it is prayed, sung, danced and preached in the worship of these churches implies a hermeneutics from the underside of society, where ordinary African people, like people in the basic Christian communities of Brazil, have "found the key and are beginning again to interpret the Bible ... using the only tool they have at hand: their own lives, experiences, and struggles" (Mesters 1993:9). Thus Gerald West (1995:54), citing Mosala, says that AICs in South Africa developed "new ways of interpreting the Bible, which included trying to interpret the Bible in terms of African culture, and in terms of the black experience of suffering, insecurity, and oppression".

One presupposition that conditions this hermeneutical approach (paraphrasing Croatto's second aspect) is the emphasis on the experience of the Holy Spirit that is common to pentecostals, including African pentecostals. The Bible is used to explain the experience of the working of the Holy Spirit in the church with supernatural "gifts of the Spirit", especially healing, exorcism, speaking in tongues and prophesying - although there are sometimes differences between the churches in the practice of these gifts. But the significance of this pentecostal hermeneutical process is that a reciprocal relationship between the Bible and the Spirit occurs. Not only does the Bible explain the experience of the Spirit but, perhaps more importantly for our discussion, the experience of the Spirit enables people to better understand the Bible. And so, Anglican charismatic John McKay (1994:21), citing the apostle Paul (2 Corinthians 3:14-18), states that "the Spirit enables us to read the Bible with some new clarity that could not be possible without his aid". The emphasis on experiencing the power of the Spirit is a common characteristic in AICs, where the Holy Spirit is the agent of healing and deliverance for people. In this regard, the experience of the Spirit becomes a self authenticating key in the hermeneutical process. McKay (1994:38) describes most pentecostals, including Pentecostal-type AICs:

            Their conviction of their essential rightness is based on revelatory experience, the confirmation of the Word, and their own corresponding faith, not on experimental investigation or argument, and consequently is much more absolute".

In Pentecostal-type AICs, therefore, the experience of the Spirit becomes an essential and perhaps the most important key in the hermeneutical process.

The hermeneutical processes of members of Pentecostal-type churches are considered from the perspective of how members read and interpret the Bible in their daily lives. This brings us to Croatto's third aspect of hermeneutics, the enlargement of the meaning of the text. The attraction of the Pentecostal-type AIC hermeneutics for African people is that probably above all other considerations, these churches are believed to provide biblical answers for "this worldly" needs like sickness, poverty, hunger, oppression, unemployment, loneliness, evil spirits and sorcery. Church respondents in Soshanguve told of their healings, deliverance from evil powers, the restoration of broken marriages, success in work or in business ventures and other needs which were met, usually through what was seen as the supernatural intervention of God through his Spirit, including the use of agents of the Spirit: prophets and other gifted church leaders. All of these experiences were often backed up, either implicitly or explicitly, by scriptural support. The Bible in this way becomes a source book of supernatural answers to human need.

The Bible, however, is also understood in some AICs to be a rationale for practices which would not be considered biblical by other African pentecostals. Even though those with a western orientation may have difficulty with the way that the Bible is used to support essentially African traditional religious practices, the fact that African people are contextualising the Bible themselves is extremely significant in any evaluation of this uniquely African hermeneutic. An appreciation for the "African-ness" of their understanding of the Bible, and the fact that the churches are founded and led by Africans, who have read and interpreted the Bible for themselves, is very meaningful. AICs are specifically geared to fulfil African aspirations and meet African needs, and in this sense they have "enlarged" the meaning of the Bible to include this African-ness.

The Bible is also sometimes read as an ethical rule book conceived in a kind of fundamentalistic fashion, and members have definite opinions on biblical ethics. ZCC members, for example, said that the ethical rules observed by members were the most important teachings in the church, and that they were based on the Bible. One ZCC member said that his church was a place where people were at peace with each other, and where love, respect and honesty prevailed. These sentiments express the dignity and sense of self-worth that an African hermeneutic gives to South Africans who were long the victims of exploitation and personal affronts to their humanity. There are rigorous ethical rules in the ZCC, whose members, like those of most other Pentecostal-type AICs, are almost unanimously opposed to alcohol, tobacco and pork - these taboos are justified by referring to the Bible[8].

 

The Bible and African presuppositions

AICs have a unique contribution to make to understanding the Bible in Africa. Without doubt, the Bible plays a very important, although not an exclusive role. Pentecostal-type AIC members, in common with western evangelicals, generally hold a high view of the Bible as their ultimate authority for faith, practice and ethics[9]. It was very important to most respondents that their churches were established solidly on the teachings of the Bible - even if their particular understandings of the Bible's teachings differed. Members spoke of the importance of the Bible as God's message revealing both God and ourselves, a guide for life and a solution for human weal and woe.

Croatto's second aspect of hermeneutics becomes relevant in the AIC context, where the Bible is understood in terms of the presuppositions arising out of the African world view. The evidence of continuity with African traditional ideas that is sometimes evident becomes meaningful for African people searching to find their roots in an impersonal urban society. The source of revelation is therefore not always confined to the biblical record, and for some members the Bible is not the only ultimate authority. In this regard there is a departure from a western, "evangelical" hermeneutics and a reflection of the influence of traditional African holism. There is often no perceived contradiction between the authority of the Bible on the one hand and that of the ancestors or a church leader (whether living or deceased) on the other. Some respondents said that they were in a particular church, not because they heard a message from the Bible, but because it was the church revealed to them by an ancestor[10]. The conviction that a particular church was pleasing to the ancestors was sometimes very strong. Often this was accompanied by a toleration and accommodation of traditional African beliefs and rituals in that church. In these cases traditional spirituality has predominated in the hermeneutical process. It appears that for some AIC members, traditional beliefs are taken as the context in which the Bible is interpreted.

 

Preaching and hermeneutics

Croatto's third aspect of the enlargement of the meaning of the text being interpreted is illustrated in the preaching that occurs in these churches. It was important to members that the teaching of their churches and the preaching of their ministers were based solidly on the Bible. Preaching usually begins with a reading from the Bible. The preaching is often interspersed by phrases like "the Bible says" to reinforce the message. Although preachers sometimes do not always make a conscious effort to explain the Bible, the Bible is given pride of place. For example, ZCC preachers (several at each service) begin their sermons by reading a passage from the Bible. Sometimes the homily which follows the Bible text does not necessarily correspond with it, nor even refer to it. Many AIC preachers are lay people who are not concerned with biblical exegesis, but this does not detract from the emphasis on its authority.

Once again, the interpretation of the text (in this case the preaching) is conditioned by the context. And so, for a disadvantaged people, preaching often centres on salvation here and now, on material security which "embraced health, wealth, and influence in community affairs and occupations" (Lukhaimane 1980:58). Through the Bible people learn about God and his ways, and discover the means by which God speaks to his people today. The Bible provides the basis and the conditions for holy living, and those who follow its instructions will be enabled to overcome all kinds of difficulties, in this life especially, but not exclusively.

 

African interpreters

It could be argued that in some churches, it is not the Bible per se, but charismatic leaders who interpret it correctly and declare this interpretation to the faithful, who have ultimate authority. But even though interpreted for the ordinary members by the leaders, the authority of the Bible itself is unquestioned. Preaching must always be founded on what the Bible says, either directly or implicitly. Preachers use the Bible to exhort people to love one another and be faithful to the church, to be obedient to the rules of the church, and (in some cases) to confront some traditional religious rites and other churches. The International Pentecost Church (IPC) is one of the largest AICs in the northern provinces of South Africa[11] (cf Anderson 1992b). To some members of this church it seemed that the final authority was the word that their leader Frederick Modise heard from God and pronounced to his people[12]. In IPC services the Bible is read as frequently as in any other church; and Modise himself makes extensive use of it during his protracted preaching.

 

The Bible and healing

In Pentecostal-type AICs, the Bible is interpreted holistically to include all of life's problems, which has particular relevance to a society where disease is rife and access to adequate health care is a luxury. The prevalence of sickness and affliction therefore becomes a hermeneutical key with which the Bible is interpreted. "Salvation" is an all-embracing term in these churches, usually meaning a sense of well-being evidenced in freedom from sickness, poverty and misfortune as well as in deliverance from sin and evil. Healing from sickness and deliverance from evil powers are major themes in the lives of members, and become a very important part of the hermeneutical process. Healing is seen as part of the biblical revelation, and reference is made to Old Testament prophets, Christ himself and New Testament apostles who practised healing. This healing offered to people usually relies heavily upon various symbols, especially sprinkling by holy water, a sacrament in many AICs providing ritual purification and protection. In other pentecostal churches the emphasis is on the laying on hands with prayer[13]. Symbolism becomes another hermeneutical key with which the treasures of the Bible are unlocked for ordinary people. Symbolic healing practices are also referred back to the Bible, where Jesus used mud and spittle to heal a blind man, Peter used cloths to heal the sick, and Old Testament prophets used staffs, water, and various other symbols to perform healings and miracles. A person joins an AIC because felt needs are met - and this includes healing from physical sickness and discomfort.

Despite the liberation of South Africa in 1994, the majority are still underprivileged, which means inter alia that efficient medical facilities are scarce and expensive. The legacy of apartheid is still keenly felt by the poor and marginalised. As Bengt Sundkler (1961:223) put it, many people "receive the Zionist Healing Message as a gospel for the poor". The fact that people believe themselves to be healed means that this unique understanding of the Bible is a potent remedy for their experience of affliction[14].

The IPC is largely based on the healing power of Frederick Modise, which is the main reason people flock to this church. Indeed, it appears that people who receive healing from Modise face extreme pressure thereafter to join the church. The ability of Modise to heal the sick, coupled with a proclamation of the total inadequacy of all other healing methods offered by churches, prophets or diviners, form the core of the IPC's highly effective recruitment drive, particularly at the church headquarters, Silo. In the outlying branches of the church, visitors are urged to make the monthly pilgrimage to Modise, after which they are virtually assured of a place among the "chosen". Modise does not use symbolic healing such as that practised in the Zionist and Apostolic churches, but there is a strong symbolism associated with the healing rituals at Silo.

AIC members relate the Bible directly to their troubles. The hermeneutical process essentially begins in the context of felt needs[15]. The African world is filled with fearsome and unpredictable occurrences demanding a Christian answer. The hermeneutical process of Pentecostal-type AICs seeks to be relevant to the total existence, and to proclaim biblical deliverance from the very real fear of evil. Whatever the source - evil, misfortune and affliction are the experience of people everywhere. The Pentecostal-type churches in Africa are endeavouring to provide a solution to this compelling need. As Croatto (1987:50) observes, "what is genuinely relevant is not the "behind" of a text, but its "ahead", its "forward" - what it suggests as a pertinent message for the life of the one who receives or seeks it out."

The understanding of biblical salvation proclaimed in these AICs has to do with deliverance from the experience of evil forces ranged against people's existence. The methods used to receive this salvation and the perceptions concerning the means of grace sometimes differed. Nevertheless, members believe that the Bible reveals an omnipotent and compassionate God who concerns himself with all the troubles of humankind. Bishops, prophets, ministers, evangelists and ordinary church members exercise the authority that they believe has been given them by the God of the Bible, reinforced by the power of the Spirit, to announce the good news that there is deliverance from sin, from sickness and barrenness, and from every conceivable form of evil, including oppression, unemployment, poverty and sorcery.

 

Hermeneutics and prophetic healing

A discussion on hermeneutics in AICs must reckon with the very important fact of African prophets, who are seen as continuing in the biblical prophetic tradition, particularly that of the Old Testament. These prophets are an interesting example of the hermeneutical aspect of interpreting the Bible through the grid of presuppositions arising from the context. African prophets have arisen in the situation of the felt needs of African people, and provide an innovative alternative to traditional diviners. Their pronouncements are accepted as revelations from God, but they are not usually accorded the authority of Scripture. And so, a ZCC prophet who prophesied to me was chided by superior church officials for prophesying to a visitor without permission. The prophets are the ones to whom God reveals his will and through whom he manifests his power. Although sometimes the prophets are revealers of the will of ancestors[16], for most members the source of the revelation is the Holy Spirit. He is the one who gives the prophets the power to heal sickness and overcome evil generated by the deep-seated fears and insecurities inherent in the traditional world view. As we have already seen, this understanding of the present dynamic of the Holy Spirit, common to pentecostals everywhere, presupposes that there is a personal and omnipotent power who assists in the hermeneutical process, bearing witness to the word of God. In this regard, African prophets with their pronouncements of the Spirit demonstrate Croatto's third aspect of interpretation as they enlarge the meaning of the biblical text.

African prophetic practices must not only deal with the results of evil; they must also reveal and remove its cause. Sometimes the revelation of the cause is by itself sufficient to guarantee the solution to the problem, and the supplicant is satisfied. Diagnostic prophecy, therefore, is the most common form of prophecy found in Pentecostal-type churches. This is a clear example of the overriding concern of AIC prophets with the context of evil and suffering, their hermeneutical key, before any pronouncements are made. These revelations by the Holy Spirit become one of the major causes of attraction for outsiders seeking answers to their particularly African problems. Prophecy in Africa also often becomes an extremely effective form of pastoral therapy and counsel, mostly practised in private, a moral corrective and an indispensable facet of Christian ministry. It can become an expression of care and concern for the needy; and in countless cases, it actually brings relief.

Prophetic healing therapy in AICs cannot simplistically be equated with traditional divination. The fact that there are so many parallels between the forms of the traditional practices and those of the new prophetic ones does not mean that the content of prophecy is the same as that of traditional divination. The parallels are often the very features that make prophetic healing rituals so significant to so many people. That most members do not see it as the same as divination was illustrated in our research[17]. The similarities sometimes are the greatest strengths for people seeking meaningful African solutions to their problems. For many members, therefore, prophetic healing practices represent at the same time a truly Christian and a truly African approach to the problem of pain and suffering. Once again, this African context is the beginning of the hermeneutical process. Even in those cases where it was difficult to distinguish between prophecy and divination, or between the source of revelation as being the Holy Spirit or the ancestors, there remains the possibility that "The chief motive of the prophet is to respect the existential reality of the patient's thought world and confront it with the Christian message" (Daneel 1988:117-118).

The role of prophets and prophecy in Pentecostal-type churches is of great importance in understanding this African hermeneutical process. As revealers of God's will from the Scriptures and dispensers of God's power through his Spirit to meet human needs, the African prophets become agents of salvation. The Holy Spirit gives revelations and the ability to overcome many African problems, including sickness and all kinds of evil. This becomes salvation from pain, fear and suffering for many people. Of course, human error is inevitable in healing practices. In many pentecostal healing services, sick people have apparently gone away unhealed, and so-called "miracles" are claimed which eventually prove to be no miracles at all. This human failure does not mean that God's power and ability to heal is thereby negated.

 

Liberation and Zion

A concept that fundamentally affects the AIC hermeneutical process is that of liberation. In the context of recent African history, African people themselves, without the help of white missionaries (representing oppressive former colonial powers), have discovered in the Bible their own freedom from bondage. They have discovered that, contrary to previous assumptions, the Bible is not a "white person's book" providing answers to questions which African people are not asking. Particularly since the translation of the Bible into the vernacular, Africans are discovering that the Bible is relevant to Africa, that it does fulfil African aspirations and meet African needs, and that the Bible has much to say about issues that were largely left unaddressed in mission churches.

Because of this, principal leaders of Zionist and Apostolic churches are seen as Moses figures, bringing their people out of slavery into the promised land, the new "City of Zion". This reading of the Bible sees the Exodus event as a deliverance from the old life of trouble, sickness, oppression, evil spirits, sorcery and poverty. In this understanding of liberation, it may be too idealistic to suggest that paramount in the minds of AIC members are issues of socio-economic or political liberation. This prominent theme in South African Black Theology is usually implied rather than expressed in the AICs. The profound holism of Africa does not allow its exclusion, although the dominant idea is one of religious or spiritual liberation. The new Israel incarnate in Africa is moving out of Egypt towards the new Jerusalem, the Zion of God, where all these troubles will be forgotten. The people of God are the members of this new African church which has been able to discover its promised land for itself.

The concept of Zion, the new Jerusalem, the holy place which is not in some far off foreign land at some distant time in the past, but is present here and now in Africa, is a prominent hermeneutical key. Most Zionist and Apostolic churches in South Africa have a church headquarters where the founder or bishop lives, a sort of healing colony to which members must make regular pilgrimages on holy days for church conferences. This African Zion is a place of blessing, of deliverance, of healing - in short, the place where the closeness of God is keenly felt. It is also the place where the means of grace and the manifestation of God's presence in the sacraments are administered by the bishop. The conferences of the church at "Zion" are therefore of the utmost importance.

ZCC members are expected to visit their Jerusalem, Moria[18] at least once a year, either at the Easter conference or at the conference in September. This is a pilgrimage following the biblical tradition of the annual journeys of the Old Testament people of God at regular intervals to their holy place at festival times. Without such a pilgrimage, the hermeneutical process of receiving the message of God is incomplete. Through this journey members meet the bishop and obtain his blessing, especially through the sacrament of communion. The Easter Festival at Moria is obviously the highlight of the ZCC year. Literally hundreds of thousands of people, all dressed in ZCC khaki, gold and green, congregate there annually[19]. The highlight of the weekend's activities is when Bishop Lekganyane, resplendent in the green and gold bishop's attire, at the head of a brass band, takes the podium to address the assembled and expectant multitude[20]. Similarly, the IPC annual conferences take place at the church headquarters at Easter and in September, the month when Modise received his "anointing" by the Holy Spirit. The IPC Zion is called Silo (Shiloh) - like the ZCC Moria, this is a reference to the Old Testament holy place and priesthood. Before Silo was constructed, the church pilgrimage was made to "Jerusalem", the former church headquarters at a village near Pretoria. For IPC members, the monthly weekend at Silo is also a type of church festival to which they are expected to go.

The honour given to heads of churches must be understood in the African context to mean respect for leaders; and it cannot usually be assumed that this has gone beyond traditional esteem. The reverence for the principal leader of an AIC to the extent that he or she may have appeared on the surface to have overshadowed Christ may in fact be an attempt on the part of followers to achieve "the closest possible identification with biblical figures and the re-enactment of biblical events", observed Daneel (1988:300). For these reasons, most of the arguments for "messianism" are unconvincing, and it is only in the IPC where they might be pertinent (Anderson 1992b).

 

The validity of a hermeneutical process

A final question to be asked in this discussion is whether any one hermeneutical process can be regarded as more "valid" than another, and if so, what criteria are used to measure this "validity". Inevitably, researchers should nail their colours to the wall and state what particular presuppositions determine their assessments. Mine comes from an evangelical and pentecostal perspective which determines "validity" on the basis of a belief in the authority of the Bible and the experience of the Holy Spirit. A high view of the Bible means that a hermeneutical process which acknowledges the Bible's authority would be more "valid" for me than one which does not. For this reason I have a largely positive appraisal of AIC hermeneutical processes. The emphasis on the Holy Spirit does not result in a faulty hermeneutic for most Pentecostal-type churches. The Bible is the measuring rod by which most teaching, preaching and practice believed to emanate from the Spirit is conceived and continuously modified.

Anyone who tries to evaluate African phenomena from outside the cultural matrix in which those phenomena are found, may be making "foreign" evaluations which do not accurately account for the realities. To assume that the rapidly moving, fluid phenomenon of the AIC movement is static and in its final form is to start with a false premise. An essentially religious phenomenon cannot be judged as if it is static. Even though it may appear strange to our particular sensitivities, coloured as they are by our theological and cultural presuppositions, the AIC Pentecostal-type churches may be a dynamic and fluid movement that is a truly African expression of the Lordship of Jesus Christ. Any hermeneutical reflection has been made with circumspection and hesitancy. It can never be definitive when the phenomena under discussion are dynamic and under a constant process of change.

We may discern certain trends and common characteristics in the hermeneutical processes of Pentecostal-type AICs which can be described in terms of the three aspects model (Croatto 1987:1). The authority of the biblical text and its interpretation, the first aspect, is literal and assumed, but not emphasised. The second aspect, the preunderstanding that influences the hermeneutical process, includes a high view of the Bible that is overshadowed by the experience and interpretation of the African context on the one hand and the power of the Spirit on the other. The third aspect is that this uniquely African and biblical experience is taken back to the text, and there new and relevant meanings are found which enlarge the meaning of the Bible for us all.

 

WORKS CITED

Anderson, Allan 1991. MOYA: the Holy Spirit in African context. Pretoria: Unisa Press

Anderson, Allan 1992a. BAZALWANE: African Pentecostals in South Africa. Pretoria: Unisa Press

Anderson, Allan 1992b. "Frederick Modise and the International Pentecost Church: an African messiah?" in Missionalia 20:3

Anderson, Allan 1993a. TUMELO: the faith of African Pentecostals in South Africa. Pretoria: Unisa Press

Anderson, Allan 1993b. "African Pentecostals and the ancestor cult: confrontation or compromise?" in Missionalia 21:1

Anderson, Allan 1995. "Challenges and prospects for research into African initiated churches in Southern Africa" in Missionalia 23:3

Croatto, Severino 1987. Biblical hermeneutics. New York: Orbis

CSS 1992. Population census 1991. "Summarised results before adjustment for undercount". Pretoria: Central Statistical Service

Daneel, M L 1988. Old and new in Southern Shona independent churches: Vol III. Gweru: Mambo Press

Lukhaimane, E K 1980. "The Zion Christian Church of Ignatius (Engenas) Lekganyane, 1924 to 1948: an African experiment with Christianity". M A thesis, University of the North, Pietersburg

McKay, John 1994. "When the veil is taken away: the impact of prophetic experience on biblical interpretation", in Journal of Pentecostal Theology 5

Mesters, Carlos 1993. "The use of the Bible in Christian communities of the common people" in Gottwald, N K and Horsley, R A (eds). The Bible and liberation. New York: Orbis

Ramm, Bernard 1970. Protestant biblical interpretation. Grand Rapids: Baker

Sundkler, B G M 1961. Bantu prophets in South Africa. Oxford: Oxford University Press

West, Gerald 1995. Biblical hermeneutics of liberation. Pietermaritzburg: Cluster Publications

West, Martin 1975. Bishops and prophets in a Black city. Cape Town: David Philip

 

Missionalia 24:2, August 1996

ENDNOTES

    [1] An unpublished report of 1989 by Itumeleng Mosala, described by Gerald West (1995:193-198) is the only discussion of hermeneutics and AICs in South Africa that I am aware of.

    [2] The initial results of this research were published in Bazalwane (Anderson 1992a) and Tumelo (Anderson 1993a).

    [3] Altogether 1638 families were interviewed during this research. Some of the information recorded in Bazalwane and Tumelo will be repeated here to illustrate the more recent and specific insights upon which this article is focused.

    [4] According to census figures, AICs made up 46% of the black population of South Africa in 1991 (CSS 1992:121-123). One of the largest churches in South Africa is an AIC, the Zion Christian Church (hereafter ZCC), accounting for over 10% of the population of Soshanguve. All the Pentecostal-type churches together (mostly "Zionist" or "Apostolic" AICs) accounted for 32% of the total. Adding other pentecostal churches to this figure would mean that 41% of the people in Soshanguve belonged to African pentecostal churches of various types, all of which share a particular emphasis on a literal understanding of the Bible and a pronounced pneumatology.

    [5] Statistics suggest a decline from 70% in 1960 (West 1975:2) to 33% in 1991 (CCS 1992:121-123).

    [6] Some of these factors are the rapid increase in urbanisation among black South Africans and the insecurities inherent in this process, the rejection of "white" values and religious expressions, and the high birth rate.

    [7] My 1995 article and previous publications uses the term "Pentecostal-type" to refer to those AICs in Southern Africa which have their origins in the healing and pentecostal movements at the beginning of the twentieth century, and which are usually (but not always)  called "Zionist" and "Apostolic" churches.

    [8] A ZCC minister said that because Jesus Christ had cast out demons from a man and had put them into pigs, pork was therefore unclean and forbidden for church members.

    [9] Gerald West (1995:195) confirms that AIC church leaders in Speaking for Ourselves affirm their belief in the Bible's absolute authority.

    [10] The pattern for this response was usually that one of the family members was ill. The ancestor appeared in a dream saying that if they would go to a certain church, bishop or prophet they would be healed. They followed this instruction, and remained in that church thereafter, often believing that the continuation of their healing was contingent upon their continued membership of the church.

    [11] By "northern provinces" is meant the provinces that were part of the former Transvaal and Orange Free State.

    [12] One member said that Modise's teachings were not necessarily from the Bible, but were nonetheless words from God. Another said that Modise was the interpreter of the Bible for his people. When he explained the Word of God, his followers were helped to live in the right way.

    [13] This is one of the main differences between African Pentecostal-type churches and other pentecostals.

    [14] Bengt Sundkler (1961:228) wrote: "I have stressed repeatedly that prayer for the sick is not just a detail of Zionist church services, but it is their most important feature". Lukhaimane (1980:63) said that healing was the reason for 80% of Engenas Lekganyane's followers joining the church. It was "a faith healing and a miracle performing church (ke kereke ya Mehlolo)" (:46). Daneel (1988:90) wrote of the Zionist leader in Zimbabwe, Samuel Mutendi, that it was his "ability to heal the sick, exorcise the most powerful of evil spirits and even raise the dead which caused the people to flock to his Church".

    [15] Our respondents said that affliction and trouble came from various sources: from Satan, from failure to keep the instructions of the Bible or of the church leaders, from hatred and fear of other people, from witchcraft and sorcery, from the ancestors, and even from God. The solution was to trust in a power greater than the afflicting power. Most said that faith in God and his ability to bring deliverance was the prerequisite for salvation. To many this meant times of special or prolonged prayer, sometimes with fasting, and the reading of God's Word, the Bible.

    [16] In these cases, their source of revelation is not the Holy Spirit. The implications of this is discussed fully in Anderson 1993b.

    [17] One woman observed that unlike traditional diviners, the prophets do not seek to draw attention to themselves but to point the sufferers to God, who alone can bring healing. This was the reason why she had received healing through the prophets.

    [18] "Moria" (Moriah) alludes to the mountain where Abraham was to sacrifice his son Isaac, thought to be identical to "Mount Zion". The ZCC Moria is the church headquarters near Pietersburg in the Northern Province.

    [19] To experience this vast throng as I did at Easter 1992 is awe-inspiring. There are probably few Christian conferences anywhere that draw as many people as this one does.

    [20] Not even the presence of the political leaders Mandela, De Klerk and Buthelezi at the Easter 1992 festival detracted from the bishop's glory.

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