I was scandalized the other week when a friend told me that the most popular American televangelist and noted “miracle worker” Benny Hinn’s wife had filed a divorce against him, siting “irreconcilable differences” just this February or so. My immediate reaction like most Christians was how could she even be contemplating divorce? Doesn’t she know that Christ stands against it? Upon further contemplation, it brought into sharper focus our own star-studded case of Duncan Williams and his wife Francisca’s divorce a couple of years ago. Coupled with the case of a high profile Methodist church leader being accused of rape a few months ago, it is very obvious that we are overlooking many fundamental things which when properly applied, could minimize the occurrence of such extravagant failures in our faith. I believe that like in most crisis that confront contemporary Christianity, we tend to focus on an immediate fix to the problems or castigate the guilty one as if they were the latest leper in town. In effect, we are good at providing medicine to fight the symptoms, but never confront the disease itself.
Character Over Charisma
When I was at PENSA-KNUST, an alumnus and friend of mine Kwame Pipim came to deliver a sermon to us about the importance of charisma and character in the work of the Holy Spirit. It was one sermon that I will never forget, for as I’ve grown in my own life and in the Christian faith, I’ve seen the importance that Christ places on the transformation of the character and attitudes of the individual Christian as well as the assembly of Christians he calls his “ecclesia” – his church. He reminded us of the fact that the Holy Spirit was supposed to give us both the power to do Christ’s work (known as the gifts of the Holy Spirit or charisma – 1 Cor 12), as well as the transformation of our lives into one that is Christ lived (known as the fruits of the Holy Spirit which is evidence of the transformation of our character – 1 Cor 13; Gal 5:22). Therefore when the abundance of the Holy Spirit’s presence does not lead us to begin to exhibit a transformed character, there are questions to be asked.
This is exactly what Paul wrote about in Chapters 12 and 13 of his first epistle to the Corinthians. He talked about a diversity of gifts, and how they are all from the same Spirit and given for the benefit of the body. If you read this as a letter and not as a book with chapters and verses, then you’ll understand that after describing these gifts, he purports to show in chapter 13 “a most excellent way”, as I described in my previous post on “Falling In Love With the New Testament”.
“Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? But eagerly desire the greater gifts. And now I will show you the most excellent way. If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing” (1 Cor 12:30 to 13:2).
In this exercise, Paul only further underscores the unmovable importance of love as a proper display of Christ living and working in and amongst us. And this clearly buttresses Christ’s only new command to the disciples:
“A new command I give you: love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (Jn 13:34-35)
The only yardstick that Christ himself has determined by which a people may be measured for true discipleship of Christ is not the abundance of healing and miracles that they have performed. It is not the number of “souls” that they have won. It’s definitely not about being invited to give a sermon at the Independence Square on Ghana’s Independence Day, or saying the opening prayer at Obama’s inauguration ball. Christ measures our love, and even more striking, He measures it relative to others i.e. have YOU loved ONE ANOTHER?
I, like my brother who gave us the sermon, cannot understate in the slightest the importance of the transformation of individuals from a people who only care about “God has blessed me & my family”, to a people whose daily worry is about each other – because that is the only way in which the world would see us (and I mean the corporate us) as the body of Christ, as the expression of Christ. This is why Paul says that before the foundation of the earth God had determined that the church that gathers at any location, will be a display of the “manifold wisdom of God” to the rulers and authorities in heavenly places (Eph 3:10-11). Of course, if the heavenly places will see the wisdom of God, how much more the earthly people themselves.
However, placing the gifts above the fruits leads to the classical case of the Corinthians – baby Christianity. Paul noted the abundance of spiritual gifts in these people, but called them babies in 2 different sections of 1 Corinthians. Because in their pursuit and practice of these gifts, they had forgotten what the outcome of these should be. Interestingly, the NT especially in Hebrews shows us how God has always intended to train us into sons through suffering, not babies. For no kingdom is ever inherited by a child. It is always held in trust until the child is matured into a son, and God’s kingdom is no exception.
In fact, it is for this reason that Christ said even though we lose brothers and sisters for his sake, we shall gain more ON THIS EARTH and in the life to come (Mk 10:29-30). The church is where we are to find these brothers and sisters (and I do not mean rainy day “brothers & sisters”), and if we are not finding them, it raises questions about whether we truly are in the right environment. And I believe that this trait of a strong love bond between people who are not blood brothers and sisters but who have become more than so is the reason why the Antioch assembly was first named Christians, and not so much because they individually behaved like Christ.
In the light of the above, I ask a few questions of people like Susanne Hinn (and in effect, Benny Hinn). Did all the two decades of Christianity not lead to the transformation of their character so that they ceased being just two individuals who have been wed together to actually become one flesh? With all the flair that they both exhibited in the individual “Holy Spirit focused” ministries (they actually both claimed spiritual giftings and sometimes organised programmes independently), how come their Christianity has been bankrupted to the point of a divorce? Were they actually being led by the Holy Spirit in the first place?
I did a little bit of research on the Duncan/Francisca Williams case. Apparently one daughter of theirs granted an interview to Joy FM back in the day about how she supported the divorce for various reasons. Among other accusations, one of them was that her mother had been very abusive of her husband. You can do a google search about this and you’ll find the old article (I think 2008) on MyJoyonline.com just to get where I’m coming from. The question I ask then is that for all the decades of Christianity that Mama Francisca (and again in effect, Duncan Williams) practiced, did it not lead to a transformation of her character? Were they all about “what I want”, not what we together ought to be doing to display the love of Christ abundantly planted within us?
I do not purport to justify these divorces, neither do I want to pour judgement on them for it’s occurrence. In fact, the facts I have presented here about what could have led to these divorces could be false for all I care. I’ve gone past the days when I focused on the symptoms of the disease. I prefer to deal with the disease itself.
The Disease: Lack of Submission to One Another
Yes, that is the disease. A simple lack of submission to one another under the headship of the Lord Jesus Christ. And though I’ve put it this simply, it is a problem of unimaginable proportions in Christianity today.
You see, there are 58 verses in the NT that talk about ONE ANOTHER or EACH OTHER (and that is more evidence for submission to each other than there is for the existence of the contemporary “Pastor”, which occurs only once). I’ve already given one example above from Jesus Christ’s only new commandment, the one Paul calls the Lord’s commandment in Gal 6:2. I’ll quote that, along with a few “one anothers”.
“Carry EACH OTHER’S burden, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” (Gal 6:2).
“But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve ONE ANOTHER in love” (Gal 5:13)
“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish ONE ANOTHER with all wisdom …” (Col 3:16).
“Be devoted to ONE ANOTHER in brotherly love. Honour ONE ANOTHER above yourselves” (Ro 12:10).
“I myself am convinced, my brothers, that you yourselves are full of goodness, complete in knowledge and competent to INSTRUCT ONE ANOTHER” (Ro 15:14).
“Therefore encourage ONE ANOTHER and build EACH OTHER up, just as in fact you are doing” (1 Th 5:13)
Well, I’m running out of space to quote them all, so I’ll leave the rest for your own research. However, the most loaded ONE ANOTHER is perhaps also the most misused and misquoted in Christianity.
“And let us consider how we may spur ONE ANOTHER on towards love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together … BUT LET US ENCOURAGE ONE ANOTHER …” (Heb 10:24-25).
The above is the favourite quotation that a Christian uses to remind their brother to come to church. However we see the reason why we should not neglect the gathering of the brethren so clearly stated here, but so painfully ignored – to encourage one another. It is to strengthen one another, to build one another up, to correct one another. We do not gather for one person, i.e. the pastor or the music choir to build us up. The responsibility of strengthening each other does not reside in the clergy. It resides in the assembly of people. And therefore every individual must be empowered to be a source of correction, encouragement, strengthening and enlightenment in any way that they feel they can contribute to doing so.
This is our priesthood as Christians. Because in Christianity we are all priests, our responsibility as priests is to one another. Therefore any system that purports to take this responsibility and put it in the hands of a certain few is a system that stands against the express purpose of God. A brother of mine said at our meeting last week that the “clergy” has done a lot of harm to us, because it has taken up all the responsibility of priesthood that everyone has to be actively involved in, and has left “us” (the laity) with nothing for which we may receive a reward in Christ’s kingdom. Whether they will indeed receive a reward for lording it over their brethren like the Gentiles do is not for me to decide, but the eminent New Testament scholar James D. G. Dunn put it best when he said that the clergy-laity tradition has done more to undermine New Testament authority than most heresies (Dunn, New Testament Theology in Dialogue).
And So What?
And why is lack of submission the disease that is affecting the body of Christ? Well, first of all it is well established that Christ himself had never liked the hierarchical leadership style of the Gentiles (see Mt 20:25-28). And neither has God (1 Sa 8). It is quite obvious to us all who have seen the practice of bureaucracy (in schools, offices, governments etc) that it always tramples on the needs of those who work under it for the purpose of self-perpetuation. But what is less obvious is that this system does not lead to a people being introspective about their own motives, or allowing others to correct them when they are going wrong. It doesn’t have to be a conscious decision. Its just the nature of the beast. Hierarchy tends not to help in changing character. It only brings our un-Christlike nature into further view and the room for correction is very little.
Let me make my argument more down to earth. Assuming for the sake of the argument that the Duncan Williams/Francisa Williams story I gave above was true. Do the members of Action Chapel who are close to them mean to tell me that they’d never seen the purported character trait of lack of respect for others in Francisca (or maybe in Duncan)? What opportunity does a common church member who notices this trait in Francisca have to go and admonish her about it, without getting hounded out of the church? But moving away from this very specific (and probably judgemental/prejudicial example), how often do you have the opportunity to correct your pastor about what he does that you feel is wrong (and I mean publicly if it’s that grave)? What about your fellow Christian with whom you sit in church with? Today, everybody is a law unto themselves. Church is just like a show, a performance – no wonder we call it “a service”, not a meeting. We come and sit down, sing with the choir, listen to a sermon (dull or pimped up), shout some prayers, pay the ticket for the show (i.e. collection) and pack our baggage back home to live our individual lives.
But it is not about “each one for himself God for us all” (thank God this statement is nowhere found in the Bible). I’m sorry to disappoint you, but God is not interested in your individual salvation, if it does not add to make a certain assembly of people a reflection of the manifold wisdom of God. Our salvation is so that we are added to the Lord (Ac 5:14 KJV,NKJV), not just added to the number. It is a people willing to challenge each other, strengthen each other, annoy each other, forgive each other, argue with each other and most of all, love each other. Because although we are saved by Christ, we are transformed into his likeness as we together look at him with one face (2 Co 3:18). His likeness is a likeness of love without restraint, and if we haven’t got the message that we together should depict that likeness yet, then I beg to differ. The character is infinitely more important than the charisma.
Therefore the only tool of transformation that Christ has got is submission to each other, and allowing the Holy Spirit to exhibit the fact that Christ in us is the hope of glory.
For those of my friends who don’t understand why some of us are so critical of the clergy/laity distinction, it is simply because it does harm not only to the so called “laity”, but to the “clergy” itself. How long will it take us to realize this basic truth that the further away you are from a people you claim to serve, the less likely it is that you will look like them and truly appreciate their needs (as well as your own need)?
For those calling on the Christian Council of Ghana and all the parachurch orgranisations to do something about the falling standards of christian leadership today, ranging from cases of divorce, to amassing of wealth, to duping people of monies and deception, to child molestation and incest and the like, time will only tell if these efforts do not end up as window dressing. The disease still remains. Like they say in America, “It’s the system, stupid!!”.
But to conclude, I’ll throw this in the works. Maybe we ought to start thinking of church like we do of our extended families in Africa. God is our ancestor through whom we were all born into the family. Jesus Christ is the family head (Abusua Panin in Akan) and we are all family members. In this system, no one has more right to the family land and other property than the other. Let me know what you think, because I believe this is exactly the model that the NT expects us to think of when we talk about the church.