A controversial pastor in South Africa who claimed to have performed an “astounding miracle,” resurrecting a dead man in Jesus’ name, has retracted his story after undertakers threatened to sue him for “malicious damage to our image.”
Congolese televangelist Alph Lukau, pastor of Alleluia Ministries International church, made headlines over the weekend after footage of a funeral he officiated went viral.
In the video, a man dressed in a white suite can be seen lying still in a coffin, surrounded by dozens of people, as the pastor prays over him. After the pastor calls out Jesus’ name and waves his hands, the man, identified as Elliot, bolts upright, looking astounded by what had happened. According to the family, Elliot had died two days prior to the incident.
At the time, the pastor insisted the resurrection was real, declaring: “An astounding miracle took place in the House of God this morning. A dead man came back to life as the church of God prayed.”
But the stunt sparked backlash, with Kings and Queens Funerals, the funeral parlor which transported the man’s presumed dead body at the time, vowing to take legal action.
“We would like to distance ourselves from the supposed resurrection of a deceased man by Alleluia Ministries who allegedly was at our mortuary,” the company said in a statement, Daily Mail reports.
“We did not supply the coffin neither did we store the deceased at our mortuary and no paperwork was processed by Kings and Queens Funerals,” the parlor said. “As a funeral services provider we do not offer services without documentation neither do we repatriate bodies without any paperwork. We are in the process of taking legal action for this malicious damage to our image.”
At the same time, the Commission for the Promotion and Protection of Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities also said it would be investigating the incident.
"As a commission, we need to get to the root of this. Unless we do that, South Africans are taken for a ride and their intelligence is insulted,” the commission's deputy chair David Mosoma said, according to EWN Eyewitness News.
Amid criticism, the church's spokesperson Busi Gaca claimed that Elliot’s family had noticed movement in the coffin after stopping at the church while on their way to Zimbabwe for the burial.
"Before Pastor Alph (Lukau) was informed, the family already confirmed that there was movement in the coffin, which the family said was noticed immediately when they drove onto the premises of the church,” he said, according to JacarandaFM.
"By the time Pastor Alph got to the hearse, and the coffin was opened, he saw and mentioned on camera that the man in the coffin was breathing. We could all see that his chest was moving up and down. His mouth wide open and tongue moving as he was gasping for some air. Whether his mouth and eyes were wide open while he was in the coffin or not, we don't know. We only saw him once the coffin was opened," Gaca said.
“This was a spiritual instruction from the prophet of God, not an indication of raising up someone from the dead,” he concluded. "Pastor Alph (Lukau), never claimed to have raised him from the dead. He said God has answered the faith of the family and raised their loved one from the dead. We all celebrated the testimony of the family.”
Established in 2002, Alleluia Ministries International “houses thousands of people across the country, the continent, and the world,” according to the church website, with branches in various parts of South Africa, Zambia, Namibia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Angola, Europe and in South America.
The Sunday Times notes that Lukau, who claims to possess the power to heal HIV/Aids, TB and other illnesses, has previously come under scrutiny for his lavish lifestyle.
In addition to wearing Armani suits, the pastor owns a 12-seater jet, Range Rover, a Bentley, a Lamborghini, a Rolls Royce, a Ferrari, and a three-wheeler custom bike. A “prosperity gospel” preacher, Lukau regularly flaunts his wealth on his Instagram page.
Two other South African pastors who also promote the prosperity gospel, Prophet Shepherd Bushiri and Timothy Omotoso, have faced criminal charges for profiting from so-called “miracle healings.”
Last year, Pastor Lethebo Rabalago was found guilty of assault for spraying his followers with a household insecticide which he falsely claimed could heal cancer and HIV.
In 2013, South African pastor Thuso Kewana told The Christian Post that the prosperity gospel is not only unbiblical, but it is also used by wolves in sheep's clothing to prey on vulnerable Christians desperate for a better life. Such pastors, he added, take advantage of those in their congregations who cannot read and "really depend on the person behind the pulpit." According to statistics, about half of the country's residents are illiterate.
"The greed for worldly wealth, huge church membership numbers, and fame form the cornerstone of such dissatisfaction engulfing the congregants and encouraging them to leave the church of God. Pastors are involved in all sorts of ungodly behaviors,” he said.