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Church leaders decry unorthodox practices

Informal churches threaten unity, they claim

Church leaders decry unorthodox practices
The Pakistan Assembly of God Church in Lahore reporter, Lahore

January 23, 2013

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Church leaders from several denominations have issued warnings about a rise in the number of informal street churches that they say pose a grave threat to religious unity in the country’s few Christian strongholds.

The warnings came during a seminar marking the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. Organized by the Ecumenical Unity Committee and the Council for Inter-faith Dialogue, it was attended by about 70 priests, pastors and catechists.

Among the chief concerns were unorthodox religious practices, low levels of pastoral training and corruption among so-called street preachers.

“We denounce pastors that encourage praying in incomprehensible babbling. We reject seminaries that only teach Christ-centralized faith and that reject the concepts of God and the Holy Spirit,” said Reverend Emmanuel Khokhar, dean of the Central Cathedral of Praying Hands in Lahore.

“We are not against more Christian places of worship, but it hurts our mission when others twist Christian beliefs and doctrine,” he added. 

Khokhar was among several speakers who condemned what they called “mushroom churches” for sowing disunity among believers. 

The government only recognizes certificates of registration from the Catholic Church, the Church of Pakistan (a coalition of Anglicans, Methodists, Lutherans and the Church of Scotland), the United Presbyterian Church, the Salvation Army of Pakistan and Pentecostal churches.

But mainstream pastors have said that hundreds of “fake” ministries have sprung up, particularly in villages throughout the Punjab and in Christian ghettos in the past decade.

“Seven years ago we had more than 130 churches in Youhanabad, Lahore’s largest majority Christian area. Now there are about 250,” said Captain Yasmeen Maqsood of the Salvation Army in Pakistan.

“Evangelism has now become an industry.”

But some Christian groups have said that worship should not be restricted only to traditional forms of expression.

Pastor Walter John, who heads five Assembly of God churches in Karachi, said praying in tongues – which others have dismissed as “babbling” – was a personal experience of the Holy Spirit.

The Catholic Church is tied to directives from Rome, so they cannot innovate much. However many pastors in the Church of Pakistan follow this practice,” he said.

“The gospel-related truth cannot be refuted,” said Walter, who has a one-year diploma in theology from the Full Gospel Assembly Seminary.  

“Many young pastors in training pray in tongues in our church, which has about 200 members, and it can sometimes be criticized as babbling among illiterate people,” Walter added. 

Bishop Irfan Jamil of the Church of Pakistan admitted that Church leaders have to do more for their communities, adding that ongoing scandals have created a crisis of confidence and driven them to more unorthodox churches.

“Scandals among [mainstream] church leaders over women or money have demoralized people, and many of them have joined churches that are not recognized by the government,” he said.

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