Remembering Dr. Reinhard Bonnke

Dr. Bonnke - Apr 19, 1940 – Dec 7, 2019

“I want to see hell empty and heaven full!”

“I am a zero. But when Jesus is number 1 and he stands before me, I have already increased by factor of 10!”

"Africa shall be saved!!"

I remember the first time I saw Dr. Bonnke on television years ago. As a crusade evangelist, his messages were never complicated! For anyone who is involved the preaching and teaching of the Word of God, you know that this aspect is usually by design. A preacher has to take into consideration his audience and the facts about how much they know about the Bible and the Spiritual matter therein. But even more important is the inspiration and power of the Holy Spirit, and this is certainly important in regards to the size of the audience in front of you. In this particular case, this was a “smaller” crowd of between 100,000 to 200,000 people-in a morning service! Dr. Bonnke was preaching about the miracle of the feeding of the 5000 with the 5 loaves and 2 fishes. In his excited and joyful fashion (his translator joining in) he would animate his message. He would tell of how Jesus had been preaching and teaching for a three days and of how that multitude had been with him, and by now were feeling serious hunger pains. Children would be looking to mothers and father, who in turn would be looking at one another. The disciples seeing the situation of the crowd came to Jesus and asked him to disperse so that they can go to the nearby towns or villages and get something to eat but the Lord turned to the disciples and said, “You give them something to eat!”

Dr. Bonnke then would act out that incredulous moment when the disciples found that boy with his lunch box, and the even more stunning moment when the Lord Jesus took the boys lunch into His hands and told the disciples to get the people to sit down. “How did Jesus divide 5 loaves among 12 disciples? Each disciple would get 1/5 of a loaf in the empty basket he was carrying! The first disciple would look at the very first person he has to feed! He is the size of a football player! This does not make sense!” In that dramatic moment he would show how said individual was so hungry that he grabbed the whole 1/5 of the loaf of bread and gobbled it up looking up for more…”and that was the moment the miracle happened! The disciple thought he was putting his hand into an empty basket, but all of a sudden, there is bread in there for that man and then the next person and the next person!” Needless to say, there were no shortages of exclamations or excitement when Dr. Bonnke was preaching!

What was particularly interesting to me was that Dr. Bonnke was relating this in such a way as to make faith and believing God for miracles as something completely simple and possible for anyone. It was not some kind of special revelation unique or solely for him by a special visitation from God, it was for everyone or anyone who wanted it.

Bonnke had a very clear objective. Souls had to be saved and delivered from the power of darkness by the preaching of the Gospel and the demonstration of the power of the Holy Spirit. Secondly, he knew very clearly who the enemy was; the powers of darkness-namely anything and anyone that was not the rose up against the knowledge and power of Jesus Christ. Two things resulted from this. First it sharpened his message. Secondly, he avoided confrontations with other evangelists or ministries, unless it was impossible to do so. He readily fellowshipped with Kenneth Copeland, Benny Hinn, Pat Robertson and others while remaining silent on issues I’m sure he would have disagreed on-namely the prosperity gospel. There is something that Bible Schools, particularly the Pentecostal ones, used to instruct in the past, “preach what you know, not what you do not know.” Dr. Bonnke definitely did that.

Pentecostal to the hilt, Dr. Bonnke was never ashamed of the experience or demonstration of the power of the Holy Spirit. Pentecostalism for Bonnke, and others like him, was not an experience that was divorced from the Truth of God’s Word. Far from it. It came from the Truth alone and was filled with the expanse of God’s dynamic power in every situation or context. It was never a “different experience” or a “different gospel”, it was THE GOSPEL, one and the same. It was for this reason that he avoided ideas and practices that tended to extremes or fanaticism. And this was especially important in that the center of his ministry was in the continent of Africa. Among the many dangers that are still involved with the ministry of the Gospel in Africa is the masquerade of psuedoprophets and preachers. Recently, I read the account of a former ‘false-prophet’ (his own admission) who went around Africa to various witch doctors and PR actioners of black magic trying to “acquire more power to have a successful ministry”, by which he meant a megachurch and a large international ministry with all the “perks”. Dr. Bonnke was a wonderful breath of fresh air. By his ministry, the way that he functioned, not only lent credibility to the Gospel endeavor as a whole in Africa, but established the supremacy of the Word of God and in doing so, the idea of Holiness became the paramount objective for anyone who was going to make a decision for Jesus Christ in his crusades. From that idea he would preach how all of sinful humanity had to repent and turn to Jesus Christ. Dr. Bonnke mentioned an incident that took place after one of his major crusades in Africa. One young preacher (my guess would be that he was part of the planning committee of the Crusade) asked him which hotel he was staying at. Bonnke told him the hotel, but the fellow continued his inquiry-he wanted to know which room! Dr. Bonnke asked him why he wanted to know. The fellow said it was not for anything else nefarious. All he wanted was for Dr. Bonnke to leave the room as is so that he could come and lie on his unchanged bed and “get the impartation of your anointing.” Dr. Bonnke’s response was classic: “Are you crazy?!” A question that should be asked to many “preachers and prophets” today.

“We do not first acquire the faith that we bring to Scripture. Scripture encourages faith. “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Romans 10:17).” ― Reinhard Bonnke, Faith: The Link with God's Power

Dr. Bonnke’s life in the ministry was not an easy trek. One can read his autobiography, Living a Life of Fire, and find out that faith in God was not automatic nor was it easily achieved. Bonnke was born in the beginning year or World War 2, in Nazi Germany. According to his testimony, the miraculous healing of his grandfather from rheumatoid arthritis is what brought this family into the faith, and in particularly to Pentecostalism. One tends to have the idea that Adolf Hitler’s Germany, at the onset of World War 2, was a well-developed, technological, industrial nation with highest of education and culture. There may be some facts to this idea, but it is hardly the truth. The truth of the matter was that the rural outlying places, particularly toward the eastern side of Germany, could be considered backward, as it was in many of the rural places the United States at the time. Bonnke said that in their farm at Konigsberg, East Prussia, they were very much in the poor side to the point that they had rarely, if ever seen automobiles. “And so it was one day, it was a shock for the whole village when we saw a brand new Mercedes Benz come driving in! The driver was a German-American who got lost and had stopped to ask for directions!” Most people would say that it was a mere coincidence, but the Bonnke family would never make such a claim. “The screams of my grandfather from the pain of arthritis could be heard by the whole village.” The German-American was more than just a fellow who had become wealthy in America and was back for a visit in his native country, he was believer in Jesus Christ who had been touched by the Pentecostal Experience that had been permeating throughout the United States after the Azusa Street Revival. This fellow was an Assemblies of God missionary. Hearing the sounds of the screams, he came toward the Bonnke house and knocked on the door. This was certainly not the time to visit a family, especially as a stranger, but instead of an introduction, the man asked if he could pray from the man who was crying out. According to Dr. Bonnke, “the man put his hand on my grandfather and in the name of Jesus commanded that arthritis to leave him! That very moment, for the first time in years, he was completely healed and free from the pain. Also that very moment, my entire family came to the Lord!”

That missionary introduced that family to Salvation and the Baptism of the Holy Spirit, but he could not stay with them for very long-something that Dr. Bonnke expressed regret about in his book. The organized Church in Germany was very cold and formalistic and Nazism had manage to subvert it. Other Christian sects were barely tolerated let alone the Pentecostals. They were for the most part in the shadows and corners and denied any kind of fellowship with any of the larger denominations and it wasn’t long before the inferno of World War would test the fledgling little group’s faith as it destroyed their home country of Germany. Bonnke’s father had joined the German army and served as a logistics officer in the duration of the War. Though their home in East Prussia was a small farming village with little interest or outlet into the outside world, it would end up on the frontline of the war as the Soviet Red Army invaded into Germany. Not knowing anything else that they could do, the Bonnke family along with rest of the villagers ran for their lives to the trains on the railroads that would take them somewhere else-hopefully somewhere safe. Red Army soldiers had already taken the area and as people were running for their lives, the abuses began. One of the victims was Reinhard Bonnke’s grandfather who was repeatedly beaten up and died just as the family had entered into the train. The other passengers in the train held back his wife as they picked up the dead body and hurled it out the window.

Bonnke his mother and brothers made their way to the no-man’s land in northern Germany to the coast on the North Sea from where they managed to board a crowded ocean liner to Scandinavia, and ultimately to a refugee camp in Denmark. That harrowing sea journey was made more terrifying by the aerial attacks from Russian bombers and fighter. By a miracle the ship they were traveling reached the port in Denmark while many others were hit. The family were in Denmark for couple of years until his father was released from the German army and was able to locate his family via the Red Cross. One of the happiest days of his life, he later remembered was the day that his father met them at the refugee camp to bring his family back to what was now West Germany.

Bonnke’s father had come back as a new man. He had made a commitment to Jesus Christ himself and felt the call of God to become a Pentecostal Pastor. The change was a new one for his wife and kids, but Bonnke’s mother would join her husband in that commitment and experience.

As said before, Pentecostalism was a new experience for the German church, and perhaps they were a little embarrassed by their charisma of their experience. In his book, the Bonnke shared that the German version of the old time “tarry meeting” was something that was closed to children who were “not of age”. That’s what he was told the first time he asked his parents if he could come to one to receive the Baptism of the Holy Spirit-at the age of 10. (This was after he accepted Jesus Christ as his personal savior in one of his father’s services.)

From many of my friends, I have heard that Europeans (at least the adult generation) are very reserved people. Germans were known for being especially reserved. Imagine trying to be reserved with euphoria of being filled with the Holy Spirit! Yet that was what the adult generation of the Pentecostal Movement in Germany-particularly in the Bonnke household-was attempting. Thankfully, Bonnke’s parents finally gave into his pleading.

Reinhard came for that late night prayer service in which he not only received the Baptism of the Holy Spirit with the initial evidence of speaking in other tongues, but also a vision of the continent of Africa and a future life of ministry that he would do there. Nothing could divert him from that vision for the rest of his life. Shortly thereafter, he took water baptism. His zeal for God was incredible, however, this did not mean that everything was so successful from that point.

“Through many dangers, toils, and snares I have already come…” those lines were only too true for Dr. Bonnke in regards to his ministry. Bonnke went to the Bible School of Wales (now Trinity School of Ministry) in the United Kingdom for his Bible Training. Unlike most other German preachers, Bonnke did not aspire to be deskbound theologian. He was called to be an evangelist and his focus was solely on preaching the Gospel in the fullness of the power of the Holy Ghost. He understood that to be able to do that, he had to-like so many other evangelists in the past-to make a CHOICE OF FAITH about his stance on the Bible. Bonnke did not have any doubts-he believed the Bible was God’s Word 100%. He did not have time to delve into the specifics or the apologetics of it, in his mind he reasoned that the power of God demonstrated would be proof enough! He finished his studies came back to Germany.

In the subsequent years, he would enter the ministry in the ACD (the German Assemblies of God Fellowship-it is now called the BFD), gain a reputation as an evangelist who would be invited increasingly for tent meetings and revivals all around West Germany, pioneer a church in a place called Flensburg, get married and be a father to two children-and this was when he was in his twenties!

It has been said that behind every great man is a greater woman. Bonnke would have been the first to say that in his life, and he did in his autobiography. Her name is Anni Sulze. She would never come to the spotlight but she shared his call to Africa no less. Together, the continued to focus on their missionary call to Africa. In the 50 plus years of ministry that God gave them, she “watched over the home front”. God blessed this family with one son and two daughters who were reared up in the mission field of Africa. That life was not without sacrifices, something that was true not just for the Bonnkes but also many missionaries who went to the Dark Continent. There was not a lot of financial resources, nor could they afford to send their children to the best schools available-nor did they want to because it would mean sending them to another location far from their station. They did the best that they could with what they had trusting that God would take care of the children in the future. In the meantime, Dr. Bonnke engaged in ministry.

No success in the ministry happens without years of preparation-preparations that are usually years of trial and error. There were many successes but also plenty of disappointments and painful experiences. And the ‘free flow of the anointing’, signs and wonders, and souls did not automatically happen in the beginning. Like any other preacher or missionary in the Pentecostal Movement, preaching the Gospel and saving souls was the objective-by any or every available means. Christ For All Nations was the name of a publishing house endeavor started by Bonnke while he was working under the world missions of the BFP Church (the Assemblies of God in Germany) to print gospel material and correspondence course curriculum for the work he was doing in Lesotho. He had started something like a Bible Study program to supplement his street preaching in this country. When he first came there, there were but three churches-and that itself could be considered an understatement. Bonnke wrote in his biography that one church had but 5 people. In one, the people were so dead spiritually they could not even see the point of the need to bring new souls. The third church practiced ancestral worship! And these were technically “Pentecostal Churches”! And to make matters worse, when God started to move through the new methods and endeavors, there were misunderstanding with other missionaries and preachers in that fellowship to the point where Bonnke was almost fired from that denomination! While that did not happen, the prevailing opinion of many in that fellowship was expressed in the statement that the world mission director of that fellowship expressed in the open in denominational meetings: “We have one Reinhard Bonnke and stand with him, we don’t want a second one!” Well, I suppose that they got their wish. Two things resulted: first, the Bonnkes moved from Lesotho to Johannesburg, South Africa. Secondly, Bonnke started CFAN as an independent ministry to continue his evangelistic efforts in Africa without adding any pressures to the denomination he was part of not to have the constraints that they mandated.

Those constraints had nothing to do with issues of doctrine or theology but rather with practice. In this case, the BFP was working in close alliance with the Apostolic Faith Mission fellowship headquarter in South Africa. These were the years of the infamous Apartheid government system, which even affected the Pentecostal Churches to such an extent, they operated with a parallel system to the government. Driven by the vision of God from childhood, Reinhard Bonnke could not operate that way. He moved to Lesotho for this reason and forever after in his ministry in and from South Africa, it was a stumbling block. One cannot miss the irony of a white man from Germany preaching to Africans. He could as a matter of fact be “revolutionary” and resist the government system of South Africa as well as the denominational pressures of his fellowship to a certain extent. His main objective was to preach the Gospel in the places where he could do so with freedom with the help of anyone who would feel the touch of the Holy Spirit to help his efforts. He would work with local African churches and ministers as well as many white brothers and sisters and churches to carry out that mission. In the end, when apartheid fell, Bonnke was one of the few church people who was not tainted by its dark past within the church world of Africa.

Those events happened with in the early 1980s. One can only marvel at the way that God took this man to shake a continent with the Gospel and the power of the Holy Ghost in the subsequent years. CFAN began taking statistics via decision cards from 1987 onwards. These cards are not just something filled out by people at a crusade, it is an effort with local churches for discipleship. According to their statistics, over 77 million people have signed decision cards indicating their decision to follow Jesus Christ. To put that number, and the scope of Dr. Bonnke’s ministry in perspecitive, the current size of the BFP churches in Germany is 56000 people.

There is much that I can say but time and space will not permit me. I must include a personal reflection. I personally met Bonnke one time-I managed to get an autograph after a ‘small’ (it was a seminar on missions which brought together 3000 people!) service he preached at in the Calvary Temple Church in Dallas. What overwhelmed me was the way he made people feel that all that God did through him was possible for anyone if only they would believe the Lord Jesus and be led by His Holy Spirit. “I will preach. It is the Lord Jesus who does the miracles!” He was unashamedly Pentecostal, never making secret of the fact that all that God was able to do through him was done by the dynamic power of the Holy Ghost, and the results are undeniable to the Church world (as a whole) and the secular world as well. (The BBC announced the news of his death on December 7). Why did I get attached to him?