Was anyone surprised when a self-made New Zealand apostle Brian Tamaki sparked controversy and arrest as he recently participated in two isolation protests in Auckland? Or that during one of these events he declared that he would rather live in “dangerous freedom than in peaceful slavery” and compared the director general of health to Hitler?
After all, it was the same Brian Tamaki whose Destiny Church followers wanted to reclaim Christchurch “for Jesus” right after the 2019 terrorist attacks. And who blamed “gays, sinners and murderers” for the Christchurch earthquakes.
Those familiar with the branch of modern Christianity known as Pentecostalism would not be surprised. Church of Destiny Tamaki is part of the fastest growing religious movement in the world with about 500 million adherents.
The average Pentecostal today is as likely to be Nigerian, Fijian, Korean, or Brazilian as British, American, Australian, or Kiwi.
Aotearoa New Zealand is just one of many places where Pentecostalism flourishes. Apart from the most famous churches like Destiny, City Impact, Assemblies of God (AOG) and Elim, there are many small communities throughout the country.
Here and elsewhere, the Pentecostal’s unshakable assertion that the brute power of the Holy Spirit will defeat the powers of darkness is contrary to the cultural and environmental realities of the modern world.
This is most evident in their responses to COVID-19. When nation states began to take public health measures, Pentecostals seemed unwilling and unable to accept epidemiological explanations and strategies.
Tamaki’s actions are the tip of the iceberg of global resistance. Pentecostals were at the forefront of legal objections to meeting restrictions and insisted that only the second coming of Christ would force churches to close their doors.
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They stated that COVID cannot survive in the bodies of believers, announced a link between the virus and mobile 5G technology, and argued that the pandemic is God’s standard for distinguishing its faithful servants from pretenders.
While these statements and interpretations may seem outlandish and dangerous, they are not completely incomprehensible. Instead of seeing them as nonsense, it is much more useful to view them as a completely different meaning.
Miracles and wonders
In particular, Pentecostal values are a religious response to the pandemic, the spiritualization and demonization of the virus. This is directly related to the obsession of Pentecostals with the Holy Spirit.
Pentecostalism is defined primarily by its intense empirical approach. More than any other Christian version, he is concerned with saturating human existence with otherworldly power.
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The Pentecostal vocabulary is not ritual, liturgy, or structure, but words of ecstasy, wonder, miracles and miracles.
From this point of view, any restriction, rule, or earthly imposition that prevents life in the Spirit is by default suspicious and anathema. It establishes a general opposition between the spiritual and the worldly, which helps define the difference between good and evil or God and Satan.
Definition of Pentecostalism
For Pentecostal devotees, everything is either one or the other, and being on the side of the world means cooperating with the enemy. Several features of this theology directly influence the Pentecostal response to COVID-19.
Triumphalism: Pentecostals are fearless participants in the spiritual war against Satan. The Holy Spirit is the supreme weapon in this attack, providing absolute assurance of biblical victory. COVID-19, with its long shadow of disease and fear, bears the signature of the devil.
Designed as an active demonic force, a virus is something that should not – and should not – be feared. Triumphalism, defined by full faith in the Spirit to defeat evil, immediately sets up a spirit that rejects caution, regulation, and refusal.
Deliverance and Healing: The first expels demonic forces that threaten well-being, and the second cleans a sick body affected by the same forces. These religious tools are being used to fight the pandemic by warding off the satanic viral threat while simultaneously healing those who are suffering. Logically, vaccination becomes unnecessary, erroneous and a betrayal of faith.
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Sorrow: Pentecostals are deeply concerned with the end of human history as a harbinger of the return of Christ and the establishment of God’s heavenly kingdom. “Tribulation” is a seven-year nightmare of evil and suffering that characterizes the emergence of a nefarious “new world order.”
In this end-time scenario, all of humanity is branded with the mark of the beast, a process sanctioned by Satan. The apocalyptic plague and satanic vaccination prescriptions provide additional prophetic justification for the pro-healing and anti-vaccination stance.
Kingdom: Pentecostals are not big fans of worldly beings and human rules. They prefer divine authority, spiritual inspiration, and biblical morality. The kingdom of God is opposed to the humiliated platforms of government and capitalism (even if countless Pentecostals embrace God-approved materialism).
In the context of the pandemic, the government’s standing legislative and policy directives are tainted by lawlessness by virtue of their human origins. As always, you must first of all trust the Holy Spirit and the Bible.
Read more: Are you there God? Whether we pray harder or endure anger depends on the religious teachings of Providence.
Faith and Science
It may be tempting to view Pentecostalism as your worst enemy, denying science and leaving your followers vulnerable to epidemiological disaster.
But it is also a relatively young branch of Christianity, not necessarily uniform in its beliefs. As noted elsewhere, “medical science and divine healing […] were never considered mutually exclusive for the entire movement. “
Thus, the question arises, can Pentecostalism achieve detente in relations with the world, as did the main Protestant, Anglican and Catholic churches?
It would seem that the situation can be reversed, even if it is caused by tragedy. For example, following the death of a member, a Pentecostal church in the center of the largest sub-cluster of the current Delta outbreak in Auckland accepted the vaccine, initially denying its validity.
This pattern is now being repeated in many parts of the Pentecostal world, albeit within a church still fixated on spiritual dynamism and miraculous healings. For now, however, it may take more than a belief in worldly intelligence to convince Brian Tamaki and his flock that vaccines and quarantines are a blessing, not a curse.