The Daniel Kolenda Ibadan Crusade
by: Deji Yesufu
This morning I prayed for Daniel Kolenda. I asked that God will bless the efforts of this man and his team as they reach the city of Ibadan with the gospel of Jesus Christ. I prayed that as the gospel is preached, the Holy Spirit will take the preached word and cause for conversion to take place in the heart of sinners. The Bible says “…faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God…” This means that saving faith, the faith that converts a sinner, can only come as sinners hear the gospel preached and Christ takes the preached word and causes for regeneration to take place in the heart of the listener.
The only way anyone will be converted is when they hear the gospel preached, they understand that Christ died for them and they are brought to a place of repentance and faith. This is what I hope the Daniel Kolenda crusade will do to the people of Ibadan as they go to hear him preach. Unfortunately this is about all the hope I have in this crusade that is billed to begin tomorrow and conclude on Sunday. In this essay, I want to share a few reservations I have about a crusade like this and I will also be explaining why, although I wish the best for this mission, I will not be joining in the crusade efforts; nor will I be visiting the crusade ground.
Who is Daniel Kolenda? The Christ for All Nations website (cfan.org) describes Kolenda as an evangelist, a pastor, author and teacher. He is said to have led 22 million people to Jesus Christ. He is the successor of the late but very famous evangelist, Reinhard Bonnke. Kolenda lives in Orlando, Florida, where he pastors a church called Nations Church. Kolenda is married to one wife, Rebekah, and they are blessed with five children.
From this very short biography of Kolenda one can already spot a fundamental problem with crusade-like evangelism. This problem is the ability of evangelists and their organization to tell, with almost rock solid certainty, the number of people that have been converted as a result of their mission works. They are able to do this because crusades like these require people who have heard the word preached to them and who desire to be converted to “come forward”. In the process, they are led in a “sinners’ prayer” and they are declared converted. What follows is that some individual then writes down the names of these “converted” persons and they are listed. At the end of the crusade, the number of persons converted are counted and we have the millions on the list. The problem with this method of conversion is this: while the evangelist and his people rejoice over the numbers saved, heaven might not be rejoicing with them.
In my estimation, nineteen out of twenty people who go forward in a crusade, to receive Christ have not been converted at all (even this number is a very generous estimation). The reason is because Christian conversion is not as easy as it is suggested by many evangelists. The most difficult part of conversion is simply this: it is God that saves sinners – not the evangelist. The word that is preached on the crusade ground is only a means to an end. The real conversion happens when the Holy Spirit takes the preached word and uses it to birth understanding in the mind of the hearer. No one can tell when genuine conversion occurs; the only thing we see is that the converted person will have remorse for sin.
They will often find themselves seeking God in prayer and in his word, and someday such an individual will come to a settled conviction of their being forgiven. I am stating that genuine conversion is a process that often takes days, weeks, months and sometimes years. Finally, the person can say with confidence that he knows his sins has been forgiven and he is now a child of God. The problem with crusades like these is that they often do not give allowance for these long process of God working on the heart of the sinner. So that they will soon declare converted one who has not even understood the Christian gospel and they will confer a false sense of conversion on such an individual. This is one reason many so called converts to Christianity lack genuine fruits of conversion.
Incidentally, historically crusade-like missions started with the ministry of a man called George Whitefield. Whitefield was a Calvinist who lived in the 18th century. He was an ordained Anglican Priest but because of his unique preaching ability, he enjoyed invitations to many churches in England and the new colonies of the United States of America. Soon, and out of sheer jealousy and misunderstanding of his doctrines, many churches closed their doors to Mr. Whitefield. In holy vengeance, Whitefield declared that if the organized churches will not invite him to preach, he will preach to people in the open fields.
Whitefield did as he threatened and soon the open fields of London were filled with the locals, many of them farmers and miners, as they heard Mr. Whitefield preach. Unlike the evangelists of today, Whitefield did not give an altar call but it is on record that thousands testified to having been converted as they listened to Whitefield preach. George Whitefield soon co-opted his friend, John Wesley, into this style of preaching and because Wesley lived much longer than Whitefield, Wesley instituted this style of preaching into his burgeoning Methodist movement.
In the 19th century, a man called Charles Finney took crusade like preaching to the point that we have it today. Finney invented the altar call and often invited his listeners to the altar to seek God for conversion. Finney popularized modern crusades and it was further entrenched in Christian circles by the ministry of Billy Graham. When Graham went to London in the early 1960s to preach, Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, the minister at the Westminster Chapel, told him that he will not be working with him at those missions. Besides Graham’s aberrant ecumenism, he had also taken the practice of altar calls to a height that even Finney would have been ashamed of.
There is no doubt that some people were converted at Graham’s preaching, the trouble was that many more possessed a false sense of their conversion there. Lloyd-Jones’ argument was that the Holy Spirit did not need an individual to “come forward” before he converts them. He rightly pointed out that faithful preaching of the word, repentance and faith will do the magic. Lloyed-Jones, like many Christians before him, advocated pastoral evangelism. A system of outreach to the unconverted that required painstaking and long term preaching to the sinner, either through the ministry of the church or through personal interaction. The easy believism that crusade-like evangelism births in many has done more harm to the Christian witness than good.
There is a lot I could say about the problems with the Daniel Kolenda crusade but for the sake of brevity, I will just mention one more. There is also the challenge of insecurity in our land. Since the advent of the Boko Haram insurgency in Nigeria in 2009 and its many variants in the name of Fulani Herdsmen and Bandits, life has not been the same for Nigerians any more. In my recollection, this might the first major crusade in any city in Nigeria since the advent of Boko Haram. With the media flooded with news of the coming Kolenda, I envision that a mass gathering of Christians will be an easy target for terrorists. While we should never curtail the preaching of the word because of dangers to our lives, we also want to be security conscious.
Let me end on a positive note: Paul in Philippians chapter 1 told the story of how different individuals were preaching the word of God with different motives. The apostle of Christ said that he rejoiced over the fact that the gospel was preached – regardless of the motive with which it is preached. This is another reason why I prayed for Daniel Kolenda this morning. I do not know the motive that propels Kolenda and his team to Ibadan. It is possible that many of the reservations, regarding outreach styles that I have listed above have been reformed by them; etc. Whatever the case is, I rejoice that the name of Christ will be preached in this gathering and I am hopeful that at least one person will be brought to genuine conversion in all of these. If this happens, all the monies and effort put into making the crusade possible would have been worth the while after all.