I first heard him in a cassette recording back in my secondary school days. Evangelist Reinhard Bonnke (pictured) had a message that was simple but extremely captivating. Though I was then not yet a saved Christian, I was intrigued by his extraordinary vision to reach the whole of Africa with the Gospel. He had a vision from the Lord to construct the world’s biggest tent that would seat 34,000 people – large enough to cover three football fields, and with masts as high as a six-storey building.
Several trailers would be required to transport the tent across the continent. Bonnke called it: God’s Combine Harvester – ready to move into the ripe harvest fields of Africa. Considering the technology of the time, this sounded like an impossible dream. Yet, the tent was actually built and hosted several crusades. But the crowds became too large to contain in a tent – no matter how big.
The passing of Evangelist Bonnke came as surprise to many in the global church who held him dear in their hearts – especially among Evangelicals in general and Pentecostals in particular. The curtain has closed on yet another great icon of faith and a model in biblical preaching. He joins a not very long list of great modern-day Christian generals that have remained true and faithful to the end.
Without a doubt, Bonnke is in the league of men like John Stott and Billy Graham who certainly touched millions of lives in unique ways. These men preached the Gospel in literally every corner of the earth and with unique zest and fervour. What set them apart, though, was not the large crowds they attracted or the high and mighty they influenced, but rather their commitment to the authentic word of God.
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While Stott expounded the word precept upon precept and line upon line, Billy Graham’s preaching was distinguished by his oft repeated phrase, “The Bible says…” that punctuated every other sentence in his preaching. These men had discovered the power of the sword of the Holy Spirit – the word of God – and used it to full effect.
Bonnke on the other hand was gifted in bringing the Bible to life with wit and pith. He once said, “The Bible is our fire-guard. Some read God’s Word critically, but the Word is their critic and by their own attitude towards the Word, they condemn themselves.” Furthermore, the focus of Bonnke’s preaching was the love and goodness of God.
“Every volcano is a powerful illustration of God's character. He is a Vesuvius of goodness, life, and energy,” he said of God. But what set the Evangelist apart was his focus and passion for the Holy Spirit. He was the first I heard describe the Holy Spirit as liquid fire – melting every heart, burning every dross. Even though at the time I was personally averse to matters of the Spirit, he made it sound so good that I wished I could experience this liquid fire baptism – I did several years later in a dramatic event.
What is so sad is that these great generals are departing at a time when the Church is not all too well – despite its exponential growth in Africa. The pure word of God has been replaced with strange personal stories of dreams, visions, and angelic visits that are mostly unverifiable. The preaching about a mighty God has been replaced by an unjustified focus on the devil and his demons.
Meanwhile, the fire of the Holy Spirit as preached today is no longer the liquid that melts the heart, but an ugly manipulative drama that is mostly repulsive to many. The building of the Kingdom of God is fast being replaced by the construction of the kingdom of the pastor. It is such reality that brings tears to the eyes of many mourners of generals like Bonnke.
But there is hope. In a recent development, a wide range of Church leaders have come together from across the denominations to develop a standards charter for the Church in Kenya. The voluntary charter will outline ethical conduct in various aspects of leadership, governance, and management of churches without interfering with their doctrinal beliefs and practices.
There seems to be great excitement among many church leaders that this will restore the dignity and credibility of the Church, especially for those who choose to subscribe to it. There is high hope that a new generation of preachers and teachers will yet arise as God’s New Combine Harvester – ready to move into the ripe harvest fields of Africa with the transforming power of the Holy Spirit.
- The writer is the presiding bishop of Christ is the Answer Ministries. [email protected]