At a time when gospel preaching has too often been neglected by the Church Reinhard Bonnke was undoubtedly one of the greatest evangelists of recent years, at times proclaiming the gospel to huge crowds of more than a million people, with signs and wonders following.
“Oh yes! God’s Word is still calling for them and the Scripture says that God has sent the gifts of the Spirit for ministry and the evangelist remains a part of it no matter what or how things are changing in the culture. I actually believe with all of my heart that the ministry of evangelism, of the evangelist, is the most important of all because he is out to rescue the perishing and to save the drowning. This is the heart of God. Salvation cost him everything – his only begotten Son.
“When God created the world, he didn’t sweat – not one drop of perspiration. But God was sweating blood at the cross. That’s what it cost him to save us. That’s not a small thing. So proclaiming the cross is not a side thought, an afterthought. It’s not on the back burner; it must be on the front burner. It stems from the greatest word that Jesus preached from the Cross: ‘Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.’ All these things stir my heart, and when I see how souls are coming to the arms of Jesus by the hundreds of thousands in my own crusades, I’m awed. And I know that there’s great joy in heaven.”
Bonnke has preached in just about every country in the world. Does the message change according to the culture or setting he is preaching in?
“To be honest, the gospel I preach in Africa is the same gospel I preach in America. I cannot use the same illustrations, maybe, because people may not understand things. But the message is absolutely the same. And I find I get the same kind of response from the people because we are all sons and daughters of God.
“I’m not coming with a different gospel but to different people. It’s the same message: Christ crucified, risen from the dead; we must repent and believe. Sin and salvation, turning from doubt and darkness to light, from the power of sin to the power of God – it is the same message and it has the same glorious effect.”
So how does Bonnke go about preparing to preach to these vast crowds?
“Well, I don’t deliver sermons. I deliver people. I’m an evangelist. I preach the ABCs of the gospel. I often say: ‘I preach the ABCs, my colleagues preach the XYZs, so between us we preach the whole alphabet!’
“I go into the jungle often. I go to remote areas where nobody else is going. They keep telling me, ‘You’re the first evangelist who has come into this area.’ With or without that, I have to repeat the ABCs of the gospel. I preach salvation always, so I am a repeat preacher. Like teachers at school, getting a new class and explaining the ABCs, that’s where I get it from. I’m a repeat preacher.
“A pastor cannot preach like that. He’s got the same congregation, and he comes with different subjects every Sunday – something else. I keep repeating the message of the cross and salvation again, and again, and again.
“Over the years, I’ve seen the response some of my messages bring and I repeat those messages that bring the greatest and the best response because I want to see people in Heaven. These people are being taken into the local churches and there they are being nourished in the Word of God but I am the ABC guy. I am the evangelist and I stick with that.
“Now I am not always satisfied by just preaching the ABCs, and preaching the ABCs does not mean that I don’t know the XYZs. I do. That’s why I’m writing books. My first book was published in 1989. There are now 180 million copies of my books in about 100 languages spread across the globe and I feel that’s my place where I can really communicate what else is in my heart.”
How does Bonnke see the role of the Holy Spirit in evangelistic preaching?
“He is the spark. The Holy Spirit draws us to Jesus. That’s what I feel. I very much rely on the Holy Spirit because it’s the electric charge, really.
“When I pick up the phone and I want to speak with someone in San Francisco, I’m not shouting into the phone, hoping he can hear me in San Francisco. It’s an electric charge. I can whisper and he will hear it. Shouting won’t help. This is what I feel at my meetings, although I love shouting all the same! It’s my character. You know, when I’m excited people will know that I am excited!
“The Holy Spirit is also authenticating the message I preach. It’s a ministry of preaching, teaching, healing as Jesus did. If you read Matthew 4 – preaching, teaching, healing; preaching, teaching, healing. I feel I’m obliged to follow that example and the Holy Spirit is the One who empowers that.”
The crusades have a phenomenal response. How are they organised to have the maximum effect?
“First of all, we work together with the widest spectrum of the Christian Church. Wherever we go, we break all records of church unity. I’m proud of that. So we draw counsellors from all those churches – 50 to 60,000 at each crusade. We had up to 200,000 counsellors for one crusade. In that week, 3.4 million people registered decision cards for salvation.
“A number of counsellors can handle it very well. It’s not a mass production – it’s a one-on-one process. It all works very, very well, so the churches are involved, which is important. They bring the lost – the Muslims are attracted, other religions are attracted. I think what makes us such a draw to Muslims, for instance, are all the miracles they receive. Let a blind Muslim receive a healing miracle in one of my meetings and generally what happens is he goes home to his family to tell them what happened. The next day, the whole family comes to the crusade and they all receive Jesus Christ as their Saviour and confess him as the Son of God. That might be where we start, maybe a hundred thousand, and then over the next few days the crowd grows to 500,000, to 800,000, a million, 1.2 million, 1.6 million. That’s what we have seen, and soon the crusade begins to influence the whole region.
“That is for the sinners. Then, in the mornings, I have conferences for the church workers. This is how it works and the attendance is super. It’s marvellous!
“We have had 42 million people complete a card that have come for salvation. These are decision cards to receive Jesus as their Saviour. They are being followed up, and I hear of great, great results. Great, great church growth everywhere.”
Although Africa has always been his chief focus, Bonnke leads crusades in other parts of the world. Where else has he been?
“I have lived many years in Africa. My own children were born in Africa and Africa is my focus. About 20 years ago, the Lord spoke to me and said I should not neglect the rest of the world. And then, you know, my eyes opened and I went to Southeast Asia. I went to Indonesia, to Malaysia, the Philippines, India. I really struck India a lot – there is a [spiritual] high tide there now.
“I’ve seen it in West Africa. The last few years, I felt I could not leave there because this time of high tide is always a limited period, with a beginning and an end, and you cannot say ‘I’m going to come back next year’ when the time is now. Next year may be too late. So I felt I had to home in on West Africa.
“My goal is that by the end of this decade we will have won, by crusades alone, 100 million people.”
Finally, what would Bonnke say to pastors and fellow ministers about evangelistic preaching?
“I hope I’m not coming over critically, but there have been occasions when I was sitting in a church, and it was like when I sat in a flight simulator with a student pilot, with everything right. It’s all on the screen and he feels he’s 30,000 feet up in the air, yet he is really still on the floor. I think we need to get out of this idea. We need to hit the streets again – the highways and byways. We have to go to find the Mary Magdalenes, from whom Jesus cast out seven demons. I wonder where he found her? Surely not at church. We’ve got to go out – go, go, go out!
“It struck me when I read Genesis chapter one, how the Holy Spirit was brooding over the chaos – in the darkness, brooding, hovering, hovering, brooding. Nothing happening. Absolutely nothing – until verse three. And then God said, ‘Let there be light.’ Suddenly I saw something I had never seen before. The Holy Spirit waited for the word. He couldn’t begin the miracle of creation without the spoken word. I think that connects with John chapter one. ‘In the beginning was the Word.’ Genesis and John’s Gospel have close links, but John takes it to a far deeper level.
“Jesus said go and preach the gospel. The Holy Spirit is hovering over the nations and is waiting for somebody to come and preach the gospel. And the moment the Word of God is spoken, the Holy Spirit rises on the back of the word and there is salvation. There’s deliverance. There’s healing. There is freedom. There’s joy.
“So we need to go and preach the ABCs of the gospel to those who don’t know it. The Holy Spirit is already waiting for us. Waiting for us to speak the Word. People are waiting for a preacher, for a witness, so that he [the Holy Spirit] can connect with that witness and the gospel becomes an event. And when it becomes an event, it is news. Good news.
“That’s how I see it.”
This article was taken from the October issue of Heroes of the Faith.