Concerning Phaneroo (Part 1)

In my previous article entitled ‘Why Cults Thrive in Uganda,’ I highlighted the conditions that make it possible and easy for false teachings to prosper in this land. Notably, I made mention of the lamentable lack of biblical teaching on the pulpits, as well as media platforms.

I talked about the absence of individual consistent, prayerful Bible study, which is indispensable to spiritual formation. I also spoke of the people’s desire for quick-fix solutions to their immediate problems of unemployment and poverty, making them susceptible to every false doctrine that promises them swift answers with minimal input. I called this ‘promotional Christianity.’

But I also mentioned one of the fastest growing ‘Christian’ movements in Uganda, Phaneroo, and promised to dwell more on the specific doctrines it teaches, and why I find it contrary to the gospel of Christ.

The main characteristic of the charismatic movement in Uganda is the lack of proper biblical hermeneutics and exegesis. What results is improper and unbiblical soteriology (concerning salvation), ecclesiology (concerning the church), pneumatology (concerning the Holy Spirit), hamartiology (concerning sin), anthropology (concerning man), and eschatology (concerning the end times).

Proper biblical interpretation and systematic theology is an indispensable requirement for anyone called into Pastoral ministry, as well as every believer who desires to live a life for the glory of Christ. Jesus’ disciples sat at the foot of the Master, for three years, learning from Him all things that concern God’s redemptive plan and kingdom before they started out for ministry. We must as well sit at the ‘foot’ of those who have proven themselves to be proper handlers of God’s word, those known for good theology.

In doing this still, the Bible alone must be the foundation for our learning, not the Bible and what the ‘Man of God’ said. In most cases (and we will look at this more later), what the ‘Man of God’ says outweighs what Scripture teaches, so that many who claim to possess in-depth knowledge only rehearse what the Pastor said. But we must give ourselves to reading, of God’s word, prayerfully (1 Tim 4:12). Then we should, in a secondary way, read the works of those who have historically held to the core doctrines and traditions of the church, as it is relevant and proper for us to understand that we didn’t start Christianity, and we must not claim to be an authority in it.

The problem with Uganda’s leading Pastors is here: lack of proper hermeneutics (appropriate textual interpretation), and homiletics (good preaching). As we will notice, this is the greatest undoing, and indeed the genesis of all wrong teaching, with Phaneroo, as with every other false movement. This article will highlight just a few of the many examples of poor biblical interpretation that is at the core of Phaneroo’s teaching. Therefore, rather than zooming into their particular doctrines, I will highlight the clear contradictions between how they interpret any text and what the text says.

The Lack of Expository Preaching.

Expository preaching, according to Wikipedia, is ‘a form of (teaching) that details the meaning of a particular text or passage of Scripture. It explains what the Bible means by what it says’. Proper exposition is indispensable to biblical preaching. In preaching, we don’t just aim at repeating what the Bible is saying, but we seek to make sense of the text, to provide both clarities of knowledge in the mind of the hearers and practical instruction for living.

The book of Nehemiah, tells us that the Levites read distinctly from God’s word, and they gave sense to the text and helped the listeners to understand what the text means (Neh 8:8). That is the primary task of the teacher, namely; to explain the text. Not to introduce a new meaning to it, but to reveal the original intended meaning, with the best clarity as possible. God is unchanging, and because of this, His eternal word is unchanging. Having considered the proper textual, historical and cultural context of the text, the message that God gave them is the same message to us now, unchanging, equally powerful as at the beginning. When we change that message, we preach a changing god, rather than the God who ‘is the same yesterday, today, and forever.’

And yet, expository preaching is an Achilles hill for the evangelical movement in Africa. Everyone who knows what exposition is, and listens to ‘Apostle’ Grace Lubega will immediately see that this is not his strength. Within 10 minutes of every talk, he would have quoted about ten verses and provided no textual, or historical and cultural contexts for the scriptures he quotes.

For Example:

In his teaching entitled The Mystery of Manifestation, the ‘Apostle’ begins with 1 Peter 1:18-21. He reads as he tries to interpret the verses, (using KJV), replacing ‘foreordained’ with ‘existed.’ He uses the two as though they are synonyms when they are not. And this is significant. As we will see, he will use this same concept in his July 28th, 2017 Devotion, to teach that the predestination of the Elect means that they existed with God before they came to earth, a heresy taught by Mormons, championed by Socrates and Plato, in their Theory of Recollection.

But we should continue with the sermon for now. From this text, ‘Apostle’ Lubega concludes that he (and his followers) will begin to bring forth things that men never knew existed. How he gets this teaching from 1 Peter 1:18-21 is a wonder itself, but one may be tempted to say that in saying this, he has managed to get something out of the text that no one knew existed, not even Peter the Author!

When seen in textual context, Peter is saying nothing about bringing forth things that men never knew existed. To begin with, Peter has already mentioned in verse 11 of the same chapter that the Spirit of Christ was speaking through the Prophets of old. That Christ not only lived before the beginning of the world but revealed Himself to the prophets and forefathers is an open secret. What Peter is saying here is that God from before the world begun has pre-planned that Christ becomes man and dies for the sins of humanity (v18-23). But the Apostle thinks that Peter is saying that we will bring forth what people never knew existed, and he teaches that Jesus was just a prototype of those who will ‘make manifest’!

That is just the introduction meanwhile. In the next minute, the Apostle says that ‘Jesus could have done ministry continuously without manifesting’ in the flesh, which is an old Gnostic idea that denied the incarnation of Christ. Though he doesn’t go to this extent, he sows the seeds to the effect. We will give more treatment to the Gnostic ideas introduced by Phaneroo in the Ugandan Christian setting, later. But for now, it is quite helpful to remember that he uses 1 Peter 1:18-23 to suggest that Christ need not come in human form to achieve His redemptive purposes.

But, 1 Peter 1:18-21 speaks of the necessity and indispensability of Christ’s incarnation, as a necessary ransom for humanity. Without His death, there would be no reconciliation with the Father. But the Apostle suggests that Jesus could have continually done ministry (in the world) without ever becoming man and dying for our sins, and he supposedly gets that from 1 Peter 1:18-21. And these are two grave errors, in less than two minutes into the sermon. And the sermon is over fifty-six minutes long!

In one of his other sermons titled The Undefiled Conscience, he reads from Matthew 15:1-20. He begins by preparing the hearts and minds of the audience against being shocked by what he called a ‘new direction’ he wanted to take the scriptures. He says, ‘today I have come to bury a certain doctrine, somebody say he came to bury a certain doctrine, ’ and as the congregation begins to clap he says ‘halleluiah, clap your hands even before I bury it’! ‘Today I am going to use a few scriptures some of you are acquainted with, but I am going to take a certain direction, so you’re gonna hear certain things a whole new way, is that okay?’

Then he goes on to mention how Jesus rebukes the Pharisees, for breaking ‘the commandment’ of God, emphasizing that Jesus doesn’t talk of commandments as of many, but the commandment as of one. He then proceeds to teach how the things Christ commands are exclusive of the commandments of Moses, or ‘the Law of Moses.’ We will speak about antinomianism some other day, but suffice to say that the Apostle is using Matthew 15, and the word commandment in verse 3 to speak against the necessity of Law of Moses to a Christian.

We need to see that when Christ talks of the command of God in verse 3, He is so specific as to what it is in verse 4. It is commandment number five in Moses’ ten commandments, about the need to honor our parents. In saying this, Christ did not set aside this commandment, but He has rather rebuked the Pharisees for neglecting it for the commandments of men. Christ is not replacing the command to honor our parents with a new one, which the Apostle claims Jesus is doing.

In effect, the Apostle is using verse 3 to refute verse 4! Lest we are shocked, we need to remember that the Apostle promises at the very beginning of the sermon to take the hearers away from the traditional understanding and interpretation of scripture that has existed for generations. He came to ‘bury’ a doctrine, and to do so, he ignores the context of the passage and contradicts a verse next door. But the teaching he wants to bury is the usefulness of the entire Law of Moses for a Christian, which, as I mentioned, we will look at in more detail later.

The quoting of scripture out of context is characteristic, not only of his teaching but every one of his followers. Many of his fans will quote many scriptures without explaining the context of any. If you don’t do a personal, diligent Bible study of your own, you will be left confused and dumbfounded by the ‘depth’ of their knowledge. Every sermon/engagement builds on poor biblical interpretation, proudly embraced, with permission from the ‘Apostle’ to break from the traditional understanding of scripture.

There is also a manifested lack of patience in handling the text, and the desire to ‘bring into manifestation that which men didn’t know existed before’ forces him to twist scripture to appear ‘deep’ and ‘unique.’ And true to his word, many in the fellowship scream at such ‘deep mysteries.’

A repeated ignoring of the textual context is to do eisegesis rather than exegesis. Eisegesis is when we force our opinions on scripture, while exegesis is when we let scripture speak for itself. Many ignore Inductive Bible study, for men want to prove that they know. We must remind ourselves, however, that those who claim to have a new revelation of the old text often teach heresy.

Conclusion

As Christians, we must be careful to read the text in its textual, historical and cultural context. The text has one meaning and one only; that which the Author intended it to mean. We must not seek to be creative with God’s message. Our task as teachers is not to be unique but to be faithful. We are not called to change the direction of the text but to reveal the actual meaning of the text.

The text can have various applications depending on the audience, but it can never have different meanings for different audiences. Again, our task as preachers is to be faithful handlers of God’s word, ‘rightly dividing the word of truth’ (2 Tim 2:15).

We know what the text means by reading the book as a whole, the same way we read a letter from our friends. We don’t start it from the middle or the end, but from the beginning. We also try to understand the Author and His audience. Who is writing? What does the Bible say about him? To who is he writing? Why is he writing? Was he responding to a question? Was he clarifying a particular confusion? When did he write? What were the historical and cultural contexts of his times? What words does he use and why? Did the words change over time? How does what I read fit in the whole plan of God’s redemption? How does it relate to how I should walk now? All these questions must be addressed. Don’t open your Bible as if by accident, and then claim to be deep. It will land you in the dark bottomless pit, and forever.

In the next article, we will handle Phaneroo’s teaching on sin (hamartiology) and salvation (soteriology).