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History of prophetism in Ghana’s Christianity, beginning from 1914 to 2018’s
PHASES OF PROPHETISM IN GHANA
In Ghana, the prophetic ministries of Prophets William Wadẻ Harris (c. 1860-1929),
John Swatson (c.1855-c.1925), and Kwame Sampson Oppong (c.1884-c.1965) who
were founders of African Independent/Initiated/Indigenous Churches (AICs) have
attracted scholarly acceptance as forerunners of prophetic ministry or forerunners of
Pentecostalism in Ghana. The AICs were also referred to as Sunsum sorè (spiritual churches); their liturgy and beliefs were similar to the Aladura Churches in Nigeria,
and the Zionist Churches in South Africa.2 The Akan phrase, Sunsum sorè is
ambiguous and lacks precision.
The emergence of prophetism in Ghana’s Christianity.
It started in Axim, and Apollonia in Nzima in 1914 by Prophet Harris4
and was later supported by Prophets Swatson and Oppong after being influenced by
Prophet Harris. J. K. Asamoah-Gyadu postulates that this form of prophetism was
partly a reaction “against the over-cerebral and rationalistic nature of Western forms
of being Christian. The inability of Western Christianity to integrate Charismatic
experiences, particularly healing and prophecy, into worship in Africa, led in time to
the rise of a plethora of independent, indigenous church movements under various
local charismatic figures.”5 Ghanaian world-views such as language, dancing, among
others, were used in Christian worship services in the midst of pneumatic activities.6
J. Annorbah-Sarpei asserts that the prophetic activities of these prophets curtailed
the activities and popularity of Tigare shrines that were highly patronised in those
days.7 In other words, they served as Christian alternative for Tigare shrines.
Their activities were mainly concentrated in the rural areas. This may be due to
the low level of education by their leaders or the desire to eradicate idol worship,
which was more rampant in the rural areas. However, the pioneers of prophetism
in Ghana’s Christianity began to decline after about 50 years of existence and
popularity. Research in 1986 and 1991 by Ghana Evangelism Committee (GEC),
has shown that the AICs began declining in membership in the 1970s.8 There were
three main reasons associated with their decline: derogatory remarks; charisma and
succession; and hermeneutics.
(i) P. Mwaura asserts that in view of their rootedness
in African religio-cultural world-view, they were demonised by newer Pentecostal
Churches.9 Simply put, they were derogated as ritualistic and occultic
(ii) Asamoah-Gyadu postulates that in view of the fact that it was the charisma of the founders
that attracted members, the death of a founder without commensurate replacement
in the area of charisma contributed to the decline.10
(iii) Amevenku11 holds that leaders of the AICs perceive theological education as a form of Westernisation and therefore preferred a mentorship form of training over formal theological training.
This relegated biblical interpretation to the popular level. Hence the primary purpose
of hermeneutics, which sought to understand the original intended meaning of a
passage and delineate it to contemporary audiences, was not followed.
The leaders of the AICs were not theologically trained readers of the Bible.
They were ordinary readers of the Bible to empower and motivate faith in their
audience for miracles or to solve existential needs. Using the local language versions
of the Bible, they selected text(s) that have some parallels with the Ghanaian socioreligio-
cultural settings without exegeting to find what the text meant to its “original”
audience. It was contextualised and appropriated on the literal face. This art was
popularly understood as being biblical. It is the selection of text(s) and practices in the
Bible and its adaptation to produce solutions for existential issue. The interpretation
of the text(s) was based on the personal experience of the leader/interpreter, which
he/she claimed to have been received by the Holy Spirit. However, the canon of the
Bible was highly respected among the AICs and treated as sacred. This is due to their
rejections of critical reading and interpretation of the Bible.
Nevertheless, the contributions of the AICs to prophetism in Ghana’s Christianity
cannot be ignored. (i) The AICs considered gender issues in the clergy by involving
women among the leaders of the church.
The qualification was the exhibition of charisma. This has made way for women like Grace Tani to join the evangelistic team of Harris. (ii) They encouraged the use of indigenous mother tongue as the
main lingua franca in Christian liturgy, hence the use of local choruses, drumming
and spontaneous dancing in worship services. (iii) They encouraged pneumatic
Christianity that led to provision of existential needs of worshipers.
Neo-prophetism in Ghana started with the Classical Pentecostals (CPs) led by
Apostle Peter Newman Enim (1890-1984). James McKeown, Gilbert Ablorh
Lawson, and Prophet John Mensah were influential in this phase. Lawson and
Mensah later formed the Divine Healers Church and Church of Christ (Spiritual
Movement) respectively.14 This phase of prophetism emphasised divine healing. Too
much has not been heard of this phase of prophetism.15 Scripture interpretation in
this phase was also selective and directed towards this worldly hermeneutics. They
selected text(s) that border on God’s promise of healing and good health which were
interpreted from the world-view of the leader and the audience. Healing events in the
Bible were interpreted as proofs and examples for the leaders to exercise the gifts of
healing and the audience (sick) to have faith to be healed.
Revival of Christian fellowships in tertiary institutions expressed a certain level of
prophetism. A. O. Atiemo suggests that this prophetism was mostly found among
students who had experienced the fellowship of the Scripture Union (SU) at the
secondary school level.16 Reporting on prophetic activities of these fellowships at
Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST), S. Adubofour
postulates that “prophecy was the excitement of the day”.17 Emphasis was placed
on the prophet-hood of all believers. Although the leaders in this phase were quite
educated and could read fluently in English, they were not theologically educated.
Scripture interpretation was largely dependent on the experiences of the leader with
the Holy Spirit, with emphasis on lexical meaning of some key words in the text(s) chosen. The Bible was believed to have been written with the concerns of 21st
century Ghanaian Christians in mind.
The fourth phase of prophetism in Ghana’s Christianity was vivid in the prayer camps
of the Church of Pentecost (CoP). J. Quayesi-Amakye asserts that there were two
kinds of prophets in the CoP:18 (i) Grassroots prophets are untrained and not officially
recognised by the church. (ii) Conversely, the official or institutionalised prophets
are those trained and accepted by the church. These prophets have established prayer
camps where they operate. Examples include Prophetess Grace Adu’s Adumfa
Prayer Camp located in the Central Region, and Mama Grace’s Agape Prayer Camp
located at Ablekuma in Accra. These prayer camps served as a place for seeking
God’s intervention in existential needs.
Prophets in this phase were either semi-literate or illiterate in English language,
but they could read the version(s) of the Bible in local languages. Scripture
interpretation was at the mercy of the prophetic gift of the leader. He/she quotes a
scripture text(s) claimed to have been given by the Holy Spirit through dream and to
have been instructed concerning how it should be interpreted and appropriated for
solutions to existential problems.
The fifth phase of prophetism was begun in the 1990s by indigenous charismatic
Ghanaians. It is what Paul Gifford partly referred to as Ghana’s New Christianity.19
Many Christian programmes and statements were linked with the word “prophetic”
or “prophet” in order to attract and maintain members in the church. The word
“prophetic” means that members would receive personal prophecies. Apostle
Kwamena Ahinful suggests that many members were forcing their pastors to
prophesy.20 The powerful pastor was the one who prophesied and whenever he/she
laid hands on any member, he/she would fall under the anointing.
Although some of the programmes could be labelled as “prophetic”, Prophet
Bill Hamon noted that some of the programmes were only prophetic in name; the
organisers were only “interested in drawing people in to pay large seminar fees to
bolster the finances of their church [rather] than to minister prophetically to the people.”
Prophet Emmanuel Amoah, Prophet Bernard Opoku Nsiah, Prophet Christopher Yaw Annor, Bishop Elisha Salifu Amoako, Prophet Isaac Anto, Eric Nana Kwesi Amponsah, and Rev. Dr. Prophet Isaac Owusu-Bempah, among others, were progenitors of this neo-prophetism. They gradually positioned themselves as religious mediators
in the Ghanaian society.22 Biblical interpretation during this period was the selection
of related text(s) in words and acts to form a coherent whole. It is also referred to as
interpreting the scriptures based on revelation. Revelation here refers to the leading
of the Holy Spirit to select similar text(s) in the Bible to show progression to having
better and fast-track solutions. Although it was meant to activate the presence of the
Holy Spirit to solve the problems of the audience, the context of the text(s) was not
usually considered. GhanaChurch.com
There was re-emergence of a new form of prophetism in the 2000s in Ghana. The
prophetic ministries of some indigenous Ghanaians: Prophet Ebenezer Opambour
Yiadom, Bishop Daniel Obinim, Bishop Daniel Bonigas, and Prophet Gabriel
Akwasi Sarpong, to mention but a few, can be referred to as the sixth phase of
neo-prophetism in Ghana’s Christianity. Although many of them claimed to have
begun ministry prior to the year 2000, it was obvious that they gained popularity and
influence in the 2000s. They were the most criticised phase of neo-prophetism due
to: (i) the demand for money from members before accessing their services and the
sale of prophylactics at exorbitant rate;23 (ii) immoral acts; (iii) extravagant lifestyle;
(iv) and lack of financial accountability, among others. This phase of prophetism
is the loudest due to the use of the media. They have polluted the airwaves with
this worldly hermeneutics and are visible on giant bill boards in cities. Many of
them conduct services throughout the days of the week coupled with all-night vigils,
mostly on Fridays. Scripture text(s) that demand an act by the audience were usually
selected and interpreted to commit the audience to respond by giving to the prophet
to activate the power in the text(s) and on the prophet to cause a miracle. The context
of the audience is key to the interpretive process.
We can deduce from the burgeoning discussion that prophetism in Ghana’s
Christianity is a “perennial phenomenon”24 which seeks to replicate or re-enact and
maintain biblical prophetism – especially in the book of Acts and in the early church
in the context of a socio-religious world-view of Ghana. Each phase emerged at the time when the existing phase seemed to be losing relevance and members were looking for quick and better means of having solutions to their needs. Neo-prophetism usually promises better services than previous or existing prophetic ministries.
They have succeeded in making time to meet the pastoral needs of their members.
However, some members were not satisfied with the outcome of encountering a
prophet.25 Their teachings emphasised the work of Satan to frustrate the success of
believers and that the power of the Holy Spirit must be engaged through the charisma
of a prophet to destroy the works of Satan and his cohorts.26 Scripture interpretation
process took into consideration the context of the prophet and the audience. It is
usually the re-enactment of text(s) in the Bible without exegesis. This is generally
considered as being biblical or adhering to biblical principles.