Inside Rhema — the most powerful church in south Africa

Jacob Zuma attends. So do many of the ANC’s most senior figures. But suspicion of Rhema’s materialist message has left outsiders worried at its growing influence.

Pastor Sifiso leans back into an ample leather armchair and prepares to explode what he sees as the misconception that a rich man cannot enter heaven.

Money, Money, Money…
If anyone teaches false doctrines and does not agree to the sound instruction of our Lord Jesus Christ and to godly teaching, {4} he is conceited and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy interest in controversies and quarrels about words that result in envy, strife, malicious talk, evil suspicions {5} and constant friction between men of corrupt mind, who have been robbed of the truth and who think that godliness is a means to financial gain. {6} But godliness with contentment is great gain. {7} For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. {8} But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. {9} People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. {10} For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.
– The Bible, 1 Timothy 6:3-10 NIV

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“Listen, the bible tells us that the streets of heaven are paved with gold,” he says. As the young preacher speaks there’s a glint of the precious metal from the jewellery under his shirt cuffs.

“Where there is Jesus, there is gold everywhere,” he insists.

We’re coming to the end of a religious induction at the headquarters of Rhema, South Africa’s most influential church, which has assumed a significant role in the country’s government since President Jacob Zuma came to power.

To its supporters, who include some of the country’s most powerful people, it is a welcome coming together of two of South Africa’s favourite pastimes, conspicuous consumption and Christianity. To its critics it’s a prosperity cult.


Set in an estate of it own in the comfortable Johannesburg suburb of Randburg, Rhema has a vast car park that is made to resemble the forecourt of a luxury vehicle dealership every Sunday. The charismatic Christian evangelical organisation goes out of its way to make the well-heeled feel comfortable, and so the pastor, who is dressed in a shiny black shirt with contrasting white stitching, is happy to boast of Rhema’s status.

“We are not an ordinary church. The president comes to us to ask for advice,” he says proudly. “We are very influential and very active on social issues.”

Those issues include abortion, the death penalty and gay marriages, he explains in a diplomatically roundabout fashion. The extent of Rhema’s influence is worrying an increasing number of South African liberals, who are concerned that the evangelical outfit is intent on overturning some of the more progressive aspects of the country’s constitution.

Rhema’s prosperity gospel, which preaches that “successful lives” are achieved through materialism, networking and faith, and characterised by conspicuous consumption and celebrity, is proving a powerful draw. It offers members the chance to network with insiders in the worlds of business, sport and politics.
[…more…]


– Source / Full Story: Inside the most powerful church in south Africa, Daniel Howden, The Indepent, June 21, 2010 — Summarized by Religion News Blog

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This post was last updated: May. 9, 2014