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Bruce Wilkinson and Rick Warren in Africa

Written by Prof Johan Malan.

Two well-known American pastors have turned their attention on Africa and committed themselves to long-term humanitarian projects on the continent. They are Bruce Wilkinson and Rick Warren.

Bruce Wilkinson relocates to Swaziland

In an article titled, Best-selling American author tackles tough mission (The Sandton Chronicle, 1 July 2005), Gillian Redmond says:

“After three years based in Bryanston, best-selling American author and theologian, Dr. Bruce Wilkinson, is moving to the poverty-stricken kingdom of Swaziland to continue his life-changing work with HIV and Aids sufferers. To assist him in his mission, General Motors South Africa presented Dr. Wilkinson’s non-profit organisation, Dream for Africa, with a donation of ten vehicles, shortly before his departure last week.

“The vehicles, six Isuzu KB’s, three Chevrolet Vivants and a Corsa bakkie, will assist in transporting volunteers and equipment for the organisation’s Never Ending Gardens project. Families are taught by teams of American and local volunteers to make two gardens per household to sustain them with nutritious vegetables.

“Dr. Wilkinson is currently recruiting  10 000 volunteers from the USA to partner with an equal number of local volunteers to plant a million gardens in South Africa, Swaziland, Botswana, Zambia and Malawi by the end of the year. So far this year, Never Ending Gardens has planted 75 000 gardens in Swaziland and South Africa.

“Launched in 2004, Dream for Africa also runs a programme promoting abstinence before marriage, Beat the Drum, and a project to build orphanages for HIV/Aids orphans. The programme is named after the award-winning film, funded by Dr. Wilkinson, which tells the story of South African families ravaged by HIV/Aids. It has an all South African cast and was filmed in downtown Johannesburg and KwaZulu Natal.

“Swaziland’s adult population is being decimated by Aids and the number of orphans is increasing dramatically. The African Dream Village is a project aimed at building orphanages, each housing 10 000 orphans. According to Dr. Wilkinson, the number of Aids orphans in Swaziland will soon reach the 200 000-mark.”

Comments: The humanitarian aid given by Bruce Wilkinson and his teams is much needed and it certainly is a very noble effort to help the needy, the terminally ill and the destitute. Bruce alone knows whether the proclaiming and funding of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is still his first priority. As witnesses of Christ we are first and foremost called to evangelise the world. The unsaved must repent (Acts 17:30) and the saved must be sanctified and trained as disciples to go into Africa’s remotest villages to preach the gospel of salvation to the lost. Then, and then alone, will the lifestyles and morality of people change in such a way that they will not expose themselves to contamination due to immoral, sinful behaviour.

In terms of the Great Commission, evangelistic work and discipleship must always take precedence over humanitarian aid and social welfare. If evangelists get bogged down in social welfare projects such as gardening, healthcare, poverty relief and the running of orphanages, the burden on their shoulders will become so heavy that they will hardly have any time, energy or money left for evangelistic outreaches. Granted, there should always be a balance in meeting people’s spiritual and material needs, but the main responsibility of an evangelist always lies with the former.

If preaching the gospel is no longer the main objective, there is a real danger of pastors and evangelists becoming so involved with transformation programmes aimed at social change, job-creation, health services, care for the needy, and campaigns against crime, that the preaching of the gospel will be gravely neglected. Even if the gospel is preached by such people, it tends to become a kingdom gospel of material blessings and the meeting of social needs. Paul says: “If we who are [abiding] in Christ have hope only in this life and that is all, then we are of all people most miserable and to be pitied” (1 Cor. 15:19; Amplified Bible). A secular approach to human suffering undermines spiritual objectives as it does not prepare people to remain standing in a deteriorating world which lies in the sway of the Wicked One (1 John 5:19). The world is on a steep downward course to the great tribulation (Matt. 24:21), and people must be equipped to stand spiritually strong in a time like this, while preparing themselves to appear before the Lord to give account of themselves (Rom. 14:12). A healthy body without a healthy spiritual life is of no lasting value.

There are no social, economic, political or educational solutions to spiritual problems. Never-ending Gardens cannot be a substitute to the Never-ending gospel of Jesus Christ.

Rick Warren’s African project

Another high profile spiritual leader of the USA, Rick Warren, has pledged his support to upliftment programmes in Africa. He intends to apply his PEACE Plan to problem areas, which entails five programmes: P = Planting churches; E = Equipping leaders; A = Assisting the poor; C = Caring for the sick; and E = Educating the next generation.

Warren bases his ambitious plan on the capacity of the Christian church to change the world. He says: “I personally believe that the terrible problems of Africa are not solvable by governments. I believe that only the church can solve them, because only the church has the most distribution channels in the world. There are churches in villages where you don’t have schools or clinics or hospitals. We also have the biggest army. We’ve got a billion foot soldiers and we have the promise of the power of God. We have the biblical mandate and the command of God and we have the moral authority to do it.”

His immediate plans are focussed on Rwanda: “I’ve been in three different African countries already this year. I’ve been to Uganda, Rwanda and Kenya, and we are going back to Rwanda. The president, Paul Kagame, has invited us to help Rwanda become the first purpose-driven nation. We are going to go there for ten days and I’m going to do a day training for business leaders as well as training for the government leaders and the cabinet, and also a day of training for the religious leaders, Then, on the last day, on July 16th, we are going to a National Reconciliation Rally in Rwanda’s National Stadium to talk about reconciliation between the Tutsi and Hutu. It will be eleven years after the genocide, which took the lives of 800 000 people and orphaned 95 000 children.”

Warren was also asked what he thought of Zimbabwe, where President Mugabe has ordered the controversial slum clearing programme which has left an estimated 275 000 people homeless. He said: “I think it is really sad. When we talk about the five global giants that we are trying to tackle in our PEACE Plan, the second of them is the egocentric and often corrupt leadership. Often it is this corruption that has kept Africa in poverty. Africa has the resources… it should be an incredibly wealthy continent, but what has happened is that corrupt leadership has kept the continent in bondage in many places.”

Comments: Although we do not wish to discredit or discourage any Christian leader who wishes to solve the serious problems of Africa, there are a few facts which Rick Warren must face before tackling the giant problems of this evil world:

  • Christendom at large is a highly divided and for most a poorly motivated and self-centred resource. The doctrinal divisions in the structure are so deep and irreconcilable that one cannot refer to it as a unified body. The grouping together for operational purposes of all “Christian” denominations, including apostate Protestants, Roman Catholics, independent Christian churches and various sects, is untenable. Most of them lack the veracity in terms of biblical doctrine to be regarded as “Evangelical Christians.” In fact, all indications are that the evangelicals are far less than the nominal believers. How then, does Rick get to the figure of one billion foot soldiers that are available for mobilisation to advance the Christian cause in Africa and the rest of the world? Who are they and what are their real convictions and objectives?
  • Jesus Christ Himself said that those who will be saved are few (Matt. 7:13-14). Many of the people who want to be Christians do not succeed in their quest because they either do not fully understand the gospel of salvation, or they are not really prepared to part with al their sins by confessing and forsaking them. Christ says: “Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I say to you, will seek to enter and will not be able” (Luke 13:24). It seems that Rick’s vision for global action is so comprehensive and all-inclusive that he refuses to exclude or offend anyone who calls himself a Christian. Consequently, he has become renowned for his non-offensive gospel which is acceptable to the vast majority of denominations. Where in his books does he take an unequivocal stand for the blood atonement upon which our salvation is based? Where does he clearly explain the fact that Christ served the death penalty on behalf of all hell-deserving sinners? Where does he take a stand against those preachers who are offering cheap grace without repentance? Where does he clearly explain the need of self-denial and the taking up of the cross as conditions for sanctification? How can one offer a positive image of the Christian life in which many of the blessings of Christ are mentioned, but without clearly explaining the foundational truths? Isn’t it like building a very nice-looking house on sand?
  • The problems of the world will become more serious in the end-time, “for nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. And there will be famines, pestilences, and earthquakes in various places” (Matt. 24:7). “Men’s hearts [will be] failing them from fear and the expectation of those things which are coming on the earth, for the powers of heaven will be shaken” (Luke 21:26). There will be many false prophets who will deceive large audiences (Matt. 24:11,24; 1 John 4:1). Many believers “will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons” (1 Tim. 4:1). Moral corruption and selfishness will abound, resulting in millions of people only having a form of godliness without the regenerating power of the Holy Spirit (2 Tim. 3:1-5). Shouldn’t we explain this scenario to true believers and equip them with knowledge of the prophetic word so they can help others to understand the difficult times that are coming upon the world, and to stand spiritually strong during a time of a widespread falling away? How can we train political, business and church leaders without the perspective of a deteriorating world? How will they, without this knowledge, be able to handle the big problems and crises that lie ahead?
  • Shouldn’t we rather concentrate on training a smaller contingent of dedicated, evangelical leaders to work among the masses, without the grandiose kingdom vision of conquering and changing the world with a presumed army of one billion? Will the Lord get the honour for what we will achieve by our own ingenuity and human plans? “And the Lord said to Gideon, The people who are with you are too many for Me to give the Midianites into their hands, lest Israel claim glory for itself against Me, saying, My own hand has saved me” (Judg. 7:2). We must be willing and obedient servants who trust the Lord to work in people’s hearts with His Holy Spirit. Sinners must be saved like brands that are plucked from the fire. In this way, we will achieve our objective while always being strangers and sojourners in an evil world. There are many welfare organisations and governments who give poverty relief, treat the sick and develop the underdeveloped. Why should Christian churches and organisations drain their funds on these projects while millions of people are still lost and heading for an eternity without Christ?