Why Ghanaian Christianity Will Die A Slow Death … Like is Happening in the West

Iconic Frauenkirche Church of Munich
Iconic Frauenkirche Church of Munich

I know that this is a provocative headline, and I have no qualms in putting it this way. I’m forced to pause my next post in the series “Understanding the NT from the OT” because certain recent events seem to have conspired to put this post on a higher priority.

I have at least traveled to or lived in 4 European countries for various short times. And in all that time, I’ve always noticed something that saddened me – the blatant disregard (and sometimes downright ignorance) of Christianity. I remember climbing up a small hill to go into the magnificent Lincoln Cathedral opposite the Lincoln Castle, one of the most majestic medieval church buildings in the UK (and for about 2 centuries, the world’s tallest building in the world). I remember a trip with my friend Gerhard to the Frauenkirche Cathedral, one of the landmarks of the city of Munich (in fact a lot of gifts from Munich feature a picture of that church with it’s 2 beautiful domes, and by law no building within the area can be taller than Frauenkirche’s domes). Whenever I visit these places, I’m struck by the beauty and meticulousness of the work, but I’m also saddened by what they have become today – tourist attractions during the weekdays, and attended by only a few old men and women on Sundays who were probably born into the church and have no other place to meet their old friends. Today Christians in Europe are in the minority, and a small one at that. In the US, the same is happening, though the rate of decline is slower. The interesting thing though is that survey after survey has shown that the majority of people still believe in God, they just don’t believe in the church as an agent of his anymore.

Therefore the people who brought us Christianity are now in need of evangelism. I know that our leading men of God do travel and therefore know of the receding numbers of Christians in these places, but I wonder how many of them have done any analysis of the problem and strategized on how they and their church may act to prevent this inevitable decline that will come. Because if we sit here thinking that we are fine, I can confidently tell you that we are heading in the same direction in Africa and Ghana in particular (you can call that statement whatever you want, and quote me anywhere as well).

This state of affairs in the West has now lead to a resurgence of interest in a particular kind of Christianity which has been in the minority for a very long time in the hopes of learning lessons from them on how to live faithfully as a witness to a world that no longer believes in the church. I’m currently on the last chapter of “The Naked Anabaptist – The Bare Essentials of a Radical Faith” by Stewart Murray. Last week, New Testament scholar Scott McKnight posted on Anabaptism here (he self identifies as one, though he’s not in any of their congregations). Other evangelical and emergent church thought leaders have identified with or stated that there are huge lessons to learn from Anabaptism to navigate this difficult time for Western Christianity (Brian McLaren, Frank Viola, Greg Boyd, David Fitch, Alan Hirsch, Howard A. Snyder, Shane Clairborne, etc. etc.).

The question therefore is who were/are the Anabaptists, and what lessons could the church in the West have learnt from them to prevent this drastic decline, or the Ghanaian church learn from them so we don’t have only 20% Christian population in Ghana in the next 50 years, mostly populated by old men and women from our generation?

 

A Short Historical Survey

Before the 16th century in Europe, everyone was or assumed to be 1) A Christian 2) Could only attend the Roman Catholic church. However, in 1517 the German priest and academic, Martin Luther, posted a document on a church door in Wittenburg (called the 95 Theses) , criticizing some of the practices of the Roman Catholic, and thence began the struggle for the soul of the church in what is now called the Protestant Reformation (or simply the Reformation). This struggle spread all across Europe due to the recent invention of the printing press and the ability to quickly circulate subversive printed material easily (including copies of the Bible, previously only available to priests). In Switzerland, John Calvin and Ulrich Zwingli picked up the fire of rebellion and spread it, and when the dust finally settled Europe had been split between Roman Catholic cities or countries, and Protestant cities or countries.

However, some of the followers of the Protestants, began initially criticizing Ulrich Zwingli for certain beliefs that they felt that the reformation should have also placed on high priority. This new protest spread again back to Martin Luther’s Germany, and the group of people in this protest are those referred to as the Anabaptists. Their fellow Christians in the Catholic and Protestant camps however couldn’t understand them, and so feared their impact that Martin Luther, John Calvin and Ulrich Zwignli themselves are on record for ordering the execution of these Anabaptist “heretics”. As Stewart Murray records, the Catholics did so by burning at the stake, and the Protestants did so by drowning or decaptitation. Fearing for their lives, most Anabaptists fled from mainline Europe into the US, and those who remained went underground and lived their Christian lives in the quiet, for the last 500 years.

What were they protesting about that the Protestant church didn’t want to listen to (and mostly haven’t listened to since then)? And how is that related to the decline in Western Christianity, or ours? Well, it will surprise you that these are not any far fetched accusations, but it’s implementation and prioritization is where the meat is. Here are some of them

 

Jesus Is Not Only To Be Worshiped, But Also To Be Followed

One of the cardinal characteristics of Anabaptism was an insistence on discipleship. To them being a Christian meant one was turning away from the world and it’s standards, and living by following Jesus. Not only was Jesus the saviour, he must be followed as an example, teacher and friend. The Anabaptists accused their contemporaries of reducing Jesus to just some remote Lord which people go to worship on a Sunday morning, but who has no impact on the rest of the 6 days of the week left. As a result, they placed a very high premium on how they can follow Jesus in every situation, and the Gospels (Mathew, Mark, Luke, John) was their beloved yardstick, as opposed to the Protestants who loved to quote and debate Paul’s epistles (with much misunderstanding, as today’s knowledge is showing).

In fact this insistence of theirs on whole life transformation by following Jesus, not just worshiping him was evident even to their enemies. Hear Franz Agricola, a 16th century Roman Catholic priest express his befuddlement:

As concerns their outward public life they are irreproachable. No lying, deception, swearing, strife, harsh language, no intemperate eating and drinking, no outward personal display is found among them, but humility, patience, uprightness, neatness, honesty, temperance, straightforwardness in such measure that one would suppose that they had the Holy Spirit of God”

Of course they had the Holy Spirit in them, he just couldn’t believe it of such “heretics”.

The Church Was Where the Action Was

The Anabaptists believed that the church must be a community of disciples, a place of friendship, a place of accountability and a place where everyone was allowed to speak what the Spirit of God had put on their hearts, as per 1 Cor 14:26. To them church wasn’t just a place for people to come and watch the showmen (musicians and preachers) perform a show and go home to live their lives as they pleased. Church was the place where they ate together, encouraged one another, struggled together, helped one another, learned from each other, queried those that needed to be queried and corrected. It was the place to display a foretaste of the kingdom of God to the rest of the world around them.

The bible was primarily supposed to be read, shared and interpreted by the church together, preventing one person’s personal interpretation from dominating the community. Leadership was not hierarchical, leadership was multiple and accountable to each other, not just to one “founder/head pastor/general overseer”. Teaching in the church was to be multi-voiced, so that others could also share their thoughts on the subject, ask questions or bring in something totally different, allowing the Holy Spirit the opportunity to interject whenever he so desired.

Because of this high level of commitment that was required of each disciple, one had to declare their intent to be submissive to these requirements through the action of baptism (and not the saying of a “sinner’s prayer”). This is where the Anabaptists gained their names from (the word means “re-baptize”). Both the Roman Catholics and the Protestants baptized babies because everyone was assumed to be a Christian. But Anabaptists insisted that being Christian was a conscious choice one had to make because of the commitments involved, and decried any attempt to force people to be Christians by birth through the practice of pedo-baptism (“child baptism”). We have the Anabaptists to thank today for sowing the early seeds that led to our modern insistence on freedom of religion and association at a time when such freedom was frowned upon at the pain of death.

In contrast, the Protestant/Roman Catholic churches seemed the Anabaptists to be just a voluntary association of the saved. People were born into the church, and there was very little insistence on discipleship – on following Jesus and not just worshiping him. Church activities were dominated by the “clergy”, and all that the rest of the church did was just to follow their lead. There was very little concern for the needs of members, and therefore comparatively poverty abounded much more in those churches as compared to the harassed and persecuted Anabaptist churches. To the annoyance of his accusers, when Menno Simons, one of the Anabaptist leaders was arrested and accused of insisting that all Christians must forcibly share their goods (based on Acts 2), he corrected them by saying that it was supposed to be voluntary, and that though they (the Anabaptists) have been able to do this to reduce poverty amongst them, the same could not be said of the churches of his richer accusers who had much more access to money.

 

The Church’s Constant Desire for Wealth, Status and Power is a Snare

The Anabaptists decried any attempt to use the church in support of the state’s agenda, and refused to be just another department of the state’s governmental arms. To them, the church was called to be a witness of the fallenness of human governments, and so they totally rejected any loyalty to any political leader. Theirs was supposed to be a counter-cultural community of people who were good news to the poor, the powerless and the persecuted (as per Jesus in Luke 4:16-21), and who were willing to die in defense of the lives and well-being of others. They refused to focus their energies on being the dispensers and enforcers of moral platitudes to the rest of the world, but rather focused on their communities being the light, showing the alternative way of being human beings in any society.

Again the same could not be said of their Protestant/Roman Catholic brethren, who are on record all throughout history of compromising the witness of Jesus by aligning themselves with one political institution or the other, even against their own fellow Christians at home or abroad. One of the means by which they did this was by finding support for their activities from their flawed interpretation and application of the Old Testament, which is where they could find examples from the kings of Israel and the prophets who prophesied to them. They tended to forget that the Church was now the expanded Israel, and that it’s king was already declared (Jesus Christ) and that prophecy must be targeted at improving and correcting the church, not the world.

As for the desire for wealth and the display of it – culminating in the accumulation of wealth by the church institutions and the use of such wealth in such beautiful buildings as the Lincoln Cathedral that I mentioned above, it is evident for all to see. It is on record that in centuries before the Reformation, when a certain king of France was abducted and ransom was demanded, the treasury of France (a whole country) was so broke at the time they had to fall on the mercies of the Roman Catholic church to be able to pay the ransom. Now that is what I call wealth – and yet the poverty in medieval Europe was phenomenal.

Spirituality and Economics are Inter-connected

I’ve said enough about wealth already in the context of the church as an organisation. In the individual context as well, the Anabaptists insisted that a person’s attitude to personal wealth reflected on a person’s attitude to Jesus. To them, Christians needed to place a high priority on helping others, not accumulating wealth. They placed high premium on the sermon on the mount in this regards, so they might help bring relief to others.

Their accusers on the other hand encouraged the hording of wealth, mostly because the church institutions (not the church members) would then be able to benefit from it through “tithe” and all sorts of cajoling on “giving” to extract money to run it’s agenda of further display of wealth. To soothe their consciences, passages like the sermon on the mount were either spiritualized, or placed on a pedestal for when Jesus returns.

 

Conclusion

There are more accusations I could give than these, but I’m running out of space already. Suffice it to say that the Protestant/Roman Catholic brothers in the 16th century persisted in the activities of which the Radical Reformation (Anabaptists) protested about in Europe, and we see the end results today. Economic and intellectual empowerment meant that people began to ask serious questions of the church in Europe, and it didn’t seem to have the answers to these questions. Most people saw through the hypocrisy and a departure began which still continues today.

Anabaptism was itself not perfect (after all, they are also human beings), but throughout history it has been very difficult to accuse them of not desiring to pursue Jesus authentically, with their life, their wealth and ultimately their blood. Even if you disagree with their methods, their conviction was palpable.

I shook my head when the head of the Presbyterian church in Ghana (a historically Protestant church) was lamenting the abundance of Christianity but persistence of corruption. Maybe he needs to learn from the mistakes of his own tradition, as pointed out by the Anabaptists.

Because a time will come when many will see through the hypocrisy, and that will be our death knell. As a neo-Anabaptist, I implore the church to learn from history because as the famous Spanish philosopher George Santayana said

“Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” – Jorge Agustín Nicolás Ruiz de Santayana y Borrás, known as George Santayana

Understanding The NT from the OT – Pt 1 – What the Jews Believed

Praying at the Temple Mount

Photo Credit: Robert Croma via Compfight cc

Christianity has existed and thrived for the past 2000 year since Jesus death in many shapes and forms. And in that period it has striven to achieve God’s purposes for humanity with very little understanding of the people to whom God first gave the commission to be his people (some of which has been intentional, but also because we simply didn’t have the tools for such understanding in the past). But since the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls in 1946, further scholarly study of these scrolls has shed great light on the elder brother of Christianity i.e. the form(s) of Judaism that existed during Jesus’ lifetime, and is helping us understand Jesus even better. So I want to begin a series of posts that will shed much more light on how this knowledge is being brought from the scholarly field to strengthen the church and its obedience to Jesus Christ. We will focus on 3 thematic beliefs of Judaism: creational monotheism, election and eschatology and will draw parallels between these beliefs and how they should be the bedrock of Christianity.

Creational Monotheism

One of the core beliefs of Judaism which modern Christians now take for granted, but which was a very serious issue in Jesus time was the belief in only one God – YHWH. This was in opposition to other nations that surrounded them, who believed in other gods (like Baal) and some who belived in more than one god. For example the Greeks and Romans had a god of war (Ares/Mars), a god of travel and trade(Hermes/Mercury), a god of the sea (Poseidon/Neptune) and one who was the king of all gods (Zeus/Jupiter). This is where monotheism comes in – a belief in one supreme being only, summed up in Deutoronomy 6:4 – “Hear, O Israel; The Lord our God, the Lord is one” encapsulated in the most important Jewish prayer – the Shema.

Not only was YHWH the only god, he was the god who both created the world and was still in charge of it and ordering it’s activities (here comes his “creational” nature). This is why the Psalms are so full of praises not only of how God created the world, but the fact that he was still actively involved in it, nourishing and tending it, and giving every creature food in its season (eg Ps 104). This was in opposition to other nations who believed their gods to be busy doing their own thing and not caring about the people or their suffering (e.g. the Greeks believed the gods lived in Olympus and cared little for the people, so they better fend for themselves. Interestingly this is very similar to how western culture now see God today – a vacant landlord at best).

And because YHWH created everything, Judaism believed he cannot be represented by an image, because he created the wood, stone or clay that one may use to create a symbol of him. Therefore the Jews never believed in creating any idols which could be worshiped. In contrast, other nations who had different gods for different issues/concepts of the world, created images to model who and what kind of god they were (e.g Ares/Mars with his shield, helmet etc. representing war).

Thirdly, because YHWH created the world, he cared about every little bit of it, and even when evil seemed to be thriving for a while (whether through human activity or spiritual activity), YHWH will bring justice to this world and restore it to order. The Psalms speak in many places of God’s justice for this reason (Ps 72).

Note that to the rest of their neighbours, these believes were diametrically opposite what they believed, and caused some offense. But wait till we talk of the greater offense next.

Election

Judaism believed that YHWH was not just the only god, but more importantly, Israel’s god. Yes, he was the god of the whole world (because he created the whole world of course), but YHWH had chosen them for a special purpose, through their father Abraham. In Genesis 12, 15 and 17 YHWH had made many promises to their father Abraham about his special relationship with him and his descendants, that through Abraham the world may be blessed. This notion of election of Israel as God’s special people was further strengthened and solidified in the minds of Jews by God’s might works in saving them from Egypt, crossing the Red Sea, protecting a whole nation as they moved in the desert and went past or through other nations (which could and did attempt to destroy them) for 40 years, and bring them to Canaan – the exact land promised to their father Abraham. The Christian traditions who speak of “promises of God” may need to pay much more attention to what they actually mean, not what we’ve turned it into – name it and claim it statements.

This belief in their election out of all nations not only runs through the Old Testament, but is the background to a lot of what Jesus and the Apostles says in the New Testament. Modern Christianity doesn’t appreciate how ingrained such a belief can be in a nation and people, when they and their forefathers experienced and passed on all these stories to them. But we can begin to see the impact of this belief by simply comparing the impact of 400 years of slavery on both Africans in the diaspora, and native Africa, vis-a-vis poverty, deprivation and injustice. This sense of identity and election was further re-invigorated by the continuous observance of their festivals, most glorious of which was the Passover and the rites that each individual family was supposed to perform in celebration of it

YHWH sealed his relationship with them by making a covenant with them – not as individual people, but as a nation. He gave them the Torah (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy) that they may observe their part of the covenant even as he remains faithful to his.

It is worth noting at this point that this covenant above is predicated by the fact that YHWH had a special relationship with their forefathers, not because the nation Israel itself was any more special. In fact, I dare use the word “grace” to describe YHWH’s election of Israel – because he loved them and their ancestors. This is well stated here.

Deut 7:6-8 “For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you out of all the peoples on the face of the earth to be his people, his treasured possession. The Lord did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. But it was because the Lord loved you and kept the oath he swore to your ancestors that he brought you out with a mighty hand …”

Other relevant passages are Deut 10:15;14:2 and Isaiah 41:8-9.

Therefore the giving of the Torah (what Christians refer to as “the Law”) by YHWH was a means of ensuring two things 1) that the nation Israel stayed faithful in the relationship with him 2) that the rest of the world may see and be drawn the the God of Israel. This is further captured here

Deut 4:6-7 “Observe them [the Torah] carefully, for this will show your wisdom and understanding to the nations, who will hear about all these decrees and say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people’. What other nation is so great as to have their gods near them the way the Lord our God is near us whenever we pray to him?”

Deut 5:1-3 “Hear, Israel, the decrees and laws I declare in your hearing today. Learn them and be sure to follow them … it was not with our ancestors that the Lord made this covenant, but with us …”

This brings into serious question the traditional negative light in which Protestant Christianity has spoken of Torah and Judaism in general. To most Jewish scholars, Protestant Christians have always accusing them of the wrong thing, because the Torah also stated clearly that their election was by favour (I prefer to use that rather than grace) i.e. by virtue of YHWH’s love for their fathers, and not by their own doing. To them, they way we Christians claim our salvation by the love and mercy of YHWH and not by our “works”, but insist that every Christian must follow and obey Jesus, is the same way they also view their relationship to YHWH and to Torah.

A last note is to be made here. It will be observed throughout books like Deuteronomy that YHWH’s election of Israel was a corporate choosing. His covenant was with Israel, yet it was important that every Tom, Dick and Harry observe the Torah not just for personal benefit sake, but because doing so meant that God’s promises for his nation Israel through their ancestors, will indeed come to pass. Moses further explains need for individual obedience so the corporate goal will be achieved in Deut 29:19-21.

Again, another challenge is thrown to modern Christianity, which places the individual’s “salvation” and personal desires above the corporate intent that God has had for his faithful Israel – Jesus and his church – an intent which as Paul says in the Ephesian epistle was “before the foundation of the world”. In fact I draw a direct parallel here from Deut 4:6-7 about how Israel’s observance of Torah will lead to the other nations seeing the wisdom of God, and Paul’s statements in Eph 3:10 about how the many fold wisdom of God will be made known through the church.

Election therefore meant that Israel were YHWH’s special people, and the rest of the world was not. This obviously infuriated every nation around them, and Israel didn’t stop reminding them everyday, as again explicit in the Psalms and throughout the OT. Even when things were not going too well for them, their election was one thing that they never forgot.

Eschatology

Eschatology is a big word that Jews used to refer to things that will happen at the end of this age (not at the end of the world as is commonly translated).

Moses had set before them the blessings and the curses that will attend them if they observe or break the covenant with God in Deut. 28. I know Christians love quoting the blessings part, but if we are going to be a people who take God’s word seriously, we need to pay attention to the curses as well. Because one will observe that the most disastrous of the curses was exile – their enemies will defeat them and carry them away. And as if Moses knew that they were going to fail in the task of being obedient to YHWH through the Torah, in Deut. 30 he assures them that “when you and your children return to the Lord your God and obey him with all your heart and all your soul … then the Lord will restore your fortunes … and gather you again from all the nations where he scattered you.” (Deut. 30:2-3).

He even goes further to say that “the Lord your God will circumcise your hearts and the hearts of your descandants, so that you may love him with all your heart and with all your soul, and live”(Deut. 30:6). Do we see where Paul got this from? “A man is a Jew if he is one inwardly .. and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code” (Romans 2:28-29)

Further on God gave further prophecies about how he intended for his own appointed king to be the carrier of his vision of Israel being a blessing to the world and the world coming under the authority of Israel. These he expounded to David through the prophet Samuel (2 Sam 7), and became known as the expectation of the coming of “the kingdom of YHWH”.

Thirdly there was there were some questions of human nature and the world they lived in that didn’t make sense. If YHWH was the one who created a good world, why does he allow evil to exist (i.e. both human sin and natural disasters)? Why does the wicked sometimes flourish, and the righteous perish? Why do seemingly innocent people die from earthquakes, typhoons etc?

The answers they came up with were that because YHWH is a righteous God, he will not abandon his creation to be overtaken by evil, and will one day return to restore this world into the good nature he intended. This hope of God remaking this world to correct what evil has brought into it is what is typically captured by the term “new creation” by both Judaism/early Christianity. These kinds of hopes are littered throughout the Psalms and prophets.

Later on, when the exile did happen, the prophets began to not only prophecy the return of Israel back from exile as stated by Moses, they also prophecied that this return will be accompanied by the announcement of the “kingdom of YHWH” and his work in bringing judgement to the world, so he can cleanse the world and bring in his new creation. Isaiah expounds it better, by saying that God will make a new heaven and new earth (Isaiah 65:17;66:22).

It is based on this that Revelations says not only will he make the new heaven and new earth, but God will bring his dwelling place (heaven) and mix it with our dwelling place (earth) into one (Rev 21;1-4).

Conclusion

These 3 themes: creational monotheism, election and eschatology are the main themes that drive everything else in the Bible, both Old Testment and New. As a result, they led to the creation, adoption and attachment to certain symbols, and we will look at those symbols in Part 2.

Of Faith, Death and Komla Dumor

I’m sure by now that the news of the death of Komla Dumor has reached far and wide across the length and breadth of Ghana. The grief at such a young promising journalist’s demise has been palpable, and the eulogies have already been flowing thick and fast from the 4 corners of the earth. I myself find it hard to take, for having achieved what he did in Ghana and was achieving at the BBC, I looked forward to even greater heights of achievement from him. But alas, death has it’s own plans, and we will mourn his departure.

But I do not write this not to eulogize him, for many who are better qualified to do so already have. I write this reluctantly, knowing that I had a long list of other things I had been planning to write on, but certain reactions from some Christians to Komla’s death have foisted this need on me. The matter is made worse by the fact that this is not the first time I’m noticing this behaviour.

The Faith Framework

Over the past few 5 decades or more, a certain wind of teaching has become ingrained in the mindset of Christians, which never quite existed in the mainstream of Christian history before the last 100 years. That wind of teaching has taught us certain ideas about faith, and how a Christian’s “success” in life is determined by how strong their faith is. As a result, the one who has the right kind of faith would never see suffering come their way, or will simply ride roughshod over it.

This teaching says that what one needs is to look through the bible like a treasure hunter in search of what it calls “the promises of God” and claim them for oneself. Inevitably enough, these promises always seem to center on health, wealth and prosperity. The key to receiving these “promises” is the measure of your faith. If your faith is “strong” or “high” enough, then you will indeed receive it. And if at the end of the day one doesn’t receive such “promises”, then there could only be 3 conclusions – first, most likely you have not exercised enough faith; second, that there is some secret sin in your life preventing you from receiving such a promise; third, that the devil or his agent(s) are working against you. This kind of faith leaves no room for questions, nor for tension. It claims to know all the answers and reduces everything into a person’s individual ability to make it work for them.

This framework of faith has become the defacto means by which a lot of Ghanaian Christians, especially those of the Charismatic fold, interpret everything that happens in this world. To such Christians then, it is very easy to associate someone like Komla Dumor’s meteoric rise to fame only in the scheme of God having prospered him. Such Christianity therefore always measures people by their earthly achievements, but fail miserably at the most important measure of both the OT and the NT – character development.

In their pursuit of such achievements, they ride roughshod over people (mostly poorer people), and take very little notice as to how they treat their fellow human, despite all that both Jesus and Paul says about how we treat others. Trust me, I know this failing, because I know many people who live by this framework, from family to friends, whose behaviour as Christians I sometimes shake my head woefully about.

Death

And therefore the death of a “prospered” or “blessed” person like Komla is very, very hard for such a faith framework to swallow, since it leaves very little room for God to do what he desires to do, or for the fact that we human beings are not in control of this world. Having associated Komla’s rise to fame with “God’s promises of blessings and prosperity”, they then have to answer the question of why such a person will suffer cardiac arrest at age 41 and die. The only answer that this faith framework can produce is exactly what Mr Duncan Williams can produce – “this is not of God”, i.e. answer number 3.

The question one asks then is that in 2000 years of Christianity, has it always been the case that the Christians who warm the church pews regularly every Sunday, read the bible (or their pastor’s devotional) and pray 5 times a day, give their tithe faithfully (mostly without asking for an account of it’s usage) and holds hands and sings kumbaya with their fellow Christians lives to a ripe old age of 41 (sorry, 90) and has all the material blessings in the world?

Wow, what has Bill Gates been smoking all this while that’s keeping him alive and on top of the world’s rich list, when he’s not demonstrated any Christian belief? Or has he received some charms and amulets from the devil? What about the other billionaires in the Forbes rich list, who don’t even care a hoot about a church building, much less the message that emanates from it. Why are they still alive? They must be dead by now. This framework of faith expects it, even demands it if I dare say.

What about Keith Green, that wonderful Christian musician who sang the great song “There is a Redeemer” we used to sing a lot more when we were young in church, yet died at 29? What about Murray M’Cheyne, who also died at 29 himself, and yet did such wonderful missionary work in Palestine for the Church of Scotland? Did they not have faith? Were they not serving God? Were they smoking the wrong stuff (not Bill Gates’ stuff I guess)? I could go on citing examples of great Christians who died seemingly unfulfilled, but I guess the point is obvious.

And Yet, There is Hope

And yet in recent times I’ve been reading up on the Psalms and the background behind them, and I can only admire more the faith of both Judaism and early Christianity each day (hopefully I’ll write more on this background in the coming weeks). For the Psalms reflect the constant tension, ranging from disappointment in God for his seeming disappearance from the scene to praise of him for his wondrous deeds. But the one thing that Israelites always kept to, again captured in the Psalms, was that YHWH was a faithful god, and will bring his promise of redeeming the world through the nation Israel to pass, even when a large number of them had died in the exile to Babylon and all hope seemed to be lost.

And this belief is what lead to the hope in the resurrection of the dead. I intend to write much more extensively on the hope of resurrection in the coming weeks (I just received another 800 page book on it, so I have no choice), but I’ll give a small bit of it here by saying that their means of dealing with death and with the injustice of the world was the theology of resurrection. It is the background to what Paul says in 1 Thess 4.

Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope” (1 Thess 4:13)

Why does Paul says the rest of mankind has no hope? It is because the Jewish/early Christian ideas about resurrection of the dead was unique to them. Neither Stoicism nor Epicureanism which were the dominant worldviews of Paul’s time had a good answer for the righteous dying, nor in fact did Judaism/Christianity. But the one thing that Judaism/Christianity had was hope – hope that God will remake the world and bring heaven and earth together, and will resurrect the righteous to joyous living in that new world, and the unfaithful to judgement. And that is the right framework within which faith must work. Not in faith that says “I can control the world by my level of belief”, but one that says “I will be faithful to God in pursing his kingdom and his righteousness, and he will provide, in this life or the next”. (Mt 6:33)

Conclusion

Death is painful. Death is cruel. Death is an enemy and not a friend. And yet death is a tool, both in the hands of the creator God, and at the disposal of the devil. Let us be busy in being faithful about the work of the master, that we might participate in the resurrection of the righteous. When death will come, how it will come and through whom it will come is secondary.

The question is whether we are busy about his kingdom, or busy about ours?

Komla Dumor, rest in the father’s bossom, until we meet on that day. I wonder if we’ll need news in that new world, but you’ve certainly given us your best in this one.

The Kingdom of God And Education–Questioning The Ghanaian Church’s Perspective

Three weeks ago I attended the funeral of a cousin of mine in my hometown Gbi Kledzo, one of the towns of the Gbi Traditional area whose capital, Hohoe is currently under seige by communal violence. But don’t worry, today’s post is not going to be about the raging violence. Someday I will have something to say about that, but the time is not today. I’m currently reading JH Yoder’s “Body Politics: Five Practices of the Christian Community before the Watching World”, and his thoughts have resonated with something that bothered me at my hometown, and I can’t rest without writing these down. So here I am this evening, goaded on by Yoder to address the attitude of the church towards education and ultimately towards poverty alleviation.

I attended the Sunday memorial service for my cousin held at the local “branch” of one of the most influential churches in the Volta Region, and I did enjoy the vim and vigour with which members sang so many theologically sound and deep songs in worship of God. In spite of the conditions of poverty that abounded in their midst, their attitude of praise was indeed miles ahead of many mega churches, I must say. This church tradition’s music is something I do admire a lot theologically, but music does not make the kingdom; actions do. And I do have a lot of friends who are members of this church so I’m not mentioning names. The point however is that this problem really goes beyond this church I attended alone.  And so, I digress.

In the sermon, the preacher urged the members to be faithful in giving their weekly donations towards the building/funding of a university being built by the leadership of the denomination, as God will indeed bless them in this wise. Of course he made the usual run-around about offering and tithes, but that is a moot point if you are familiar with my view on these matters. Though this was not the greatest sermon I’d ever heard in my life, that was my point of departure, and my deviously fertile mind began to ask questions.

Seriously?

Seriously? Given the levels of poverty in this town, how many members of this church can actually be able to pay for their children’s education all the way to the university level? How many children graduate from the local primary school and even advance to SHS? What is the quality of education being received by the children of these church members to be able to compete with their colleagues in the big cities? Are these church members by virtue of their contribution to the building of this university going to get free tuition if by some miracle their children are able to make it past JHS? Is the church more interested in the empire building antiques of having a university in it’s name, or are they actually concerned about breaking the vicious cycle of poverty through education?

I listen to the political elite spew all sorts of propaganda about education, from making SHS education free to increasing enrollment through increasing capitation grants and school feeding programs, and none of them is tackling the cold hard issue – the quality of our education, whether free or not, abundant or few is simply going down the tube. And yet it is a universally accepted fact that it is better to have a smaller number of highly skilled people who are able to turn around and create wealth for the lower skilled people to benefit from, than for everybody to be illiterate. At the pace at which the world is advancing today, we must invest in bringing higher quality education to our children to be able to compete, to be able to break the cycle of poverty that exists in our communities. Instead today, quality education is the preserve of the rich and middle class, and that is the end of the matter. As usual with politicians, they have simply lost the plot.

Top Down, or Bottom Up?

And so when I see our Archbishops, Moderators, Presidents, General Overseers etc busily competing with each other to also build universities so they can put their church’s name on it, I’m indeed saddened. Are we interested in dealing with the problems at the root, or do we want to continue with the superficial window dressing, all in the name of empire building? If we are, then we must not be tackling the problem from the top (university level where it is always the easiest to do and we can make the most money to continue feeding the church elite) but rather begin to focus on the weak foundations (which admittedly is harder to do and will cost us more in time and energy, but whose effectiveness is well proven). If not, then I wonder what difference there is between the church and the political structures of the day?

Because as Jesus showed in Lk 4:18-21, his coming is the source of good news to the poor, the oppressed, the destitute and the imprisoned. Our unfamiliarity with the history of the times of second Judaism clouds our ability to understand Jesus in these texts. For his coming was supposed to break the oppression that was being meted out by the rich Jew on his fellow Jew who was in debt and had sold himself into slavery to repay the debt. As Ex 21:1-11 and Lev 25 showed, after 6 years of service, no matter how high the debt, people were to be set free. And after 50 years, all property sold as a result of poverty is to returned to the poor. But then as it is today, the heart of the rich in this world has not been very open to obedience to the word of God regarding how to treat the poor, and it’s not about to change anytime in this age and in this worldly kingdom.

And so if Christ’s coming is good news to the poor, how is the church using education as a tool to uplift the poor? How is building a university good news to the poor and oppressed in the Kledzo church, when their children will never be able to progress academically to get there? And who says that until a person is able to attend the university, they don’t have enough education to make a change in society? As my sister Priscilla put it at our church meeting this morning, “if Jesus is the head and we are the body, then we the body act out what the head has thought up. If not, we have become dysfunctional, and might end up in a mental institution, or at worst in the mortuary.”

And So

And so I draw on a familiar story around me to make the point as to the Church’s ineffectiveness and lack of imagination when it comes to being the bearer of good news;  I refer to the ability of someone from Norway to make millions from his business and give back to society not by donating to charities unknown or giving to the corrupt politicians in the government of Ghana to fill their pockets, but actually building a school to train software entrepreneurs in Africa. I refer to Jorn Lyseggen and to the Meltwater Enterprieneural School of Technology model only because here is a person attempting to deal with problems the hard way, but definitely the more effective way. In this particular circumstance as the popular saying goes, he has been more Catholic than the Pope, an effort worth commending.

The church has the greatest capacity to bring change in EACH COMMUNITY in which it is found, if it is minded to be faithful to its king and to his kingdom agenda. This is why Jesus said he will build his church, and the gates of Hell will not overcome it. The kingdom of God is amongst us, and we must not collect people to fill up our pews only to build empires to fill up the elite leadership’s egos of importance. The Messianic age has already began now and the violent enter it by force (Mt 11:12) – we must not tell the poor to wait till they go to heaven to experience it. That theology is totally pagan (i.e. Greek) and has no Jewish underpinnings whatsoever.

Are we building up those whom God made in his own image and has rescued with his own blood, or are we creating empires for self-glorification?

The Kingdom of Jesus and National Politics

Ghana is approaching elections again, and guaranteed the airwaves and all other forms of media will be filled with campaign activities, as well as propaganda everywhere in a bid to win the populace’s vote. Of course in Ghana the campaigning and politicking seemed to have started right from the end of the last election, and we seem to be in a perpetual campaigning mode. But just before we everything swings into full gear again, I’d like to share a few thoughts with fellow Ghanaian Christians who will be participating in this election. And my thoughts stem from a phrase I intentionally introduce in my last sentence – “Ghanaian Christians” – because that is the pivot of what I believe to be a problem.

 

Questions of Allegiance

And the problem is the placing of the word “Ghanaian” before the word “Christian”. If Jesus Christ is truly our king by virtue of being saved from the kingdom of darkness into his light (Act 26:20), then we owe our allegiance first to Jesus before we do to Ghana. I do hear many Christian friends of mine engage passionately in political debate and express such disappointment to the point of heartbreak when the politicians fail to live up to our ideals of them.

To some of us Christians, we take our political party affiliation to the point where these parties can do no wrong. Our standard of judgment is not by the standards of the one to whom we owe our primary allegiance to, which is Jesus Christ, but to our political party. Whatever our party leaders say is sacrosanct, and we must always defend them, whether we know what they say to be wrong or right.

Unfortunately matters are made worse when Christian leadership jumps into the fray and refuses to state the king of the world’s stance concerning these issues, but rather let their tribal, political lineages and sentimental attachments drive the witness of the Christian body in addressing topical issues.

 

Learning from World History

And yet this kind of posture – of letting “kingdom of the world” lead instead of the “kingdom of Jesus” – is not new. The German Christians (again putting nationality before faith to emphasize the point) did it in the Second World War, supporting Hitler in his quest to “clean out the misfits”, either by keeping quiet, or by actively supporting the political structure of the day in their quest. Of course we can all pretend that the 1 million Jews that died in the Holocaust subsequently were never arrested by the church and handed over to be persecuted, but when the hue and cry arose against the Jews, they never said a word. Alas how could they, when even some of the high ranking Nazi party members were also prominent church members and leaders? And they even gave up some of their own congregants who were Jews to show how “German” they were in their loyalty. Christian Germans (change in my emphasis) like Dietrich Bonheoffer stood no chance in drawing the attention of the church to the simple maxim of Jesus – love your neighbor as yourself, whether Jew or Gentile, Chinese or German. To this day Bonheoffer and those who followed him have become identified with peace churches, preferring to die for the Kingdom of Jesus, than to live to fulfill party or nationalistic desires.

 

And so we ask ourselves whether we are Christian Ghanaians, or Ghanaian Christians? As we have in the case of American Christians who see no wrong in anything their nation does in the name of policing the world, and who have no qualms when Israelis attack Palestinians but will shout on the rooftops how demonic the Palestinians are when they retaliate, how different are we when we value party loyalty more than loyalty to Jesus Christ? Do not a large number of our political leaders claim to be Christian? Ah, I forget. They must be NDC or NPP or CPP Christians.

I find the rhetoric about “peace” in this country quite boring, and the organization of abundant prayers “To avert impending disasters” as a lot of window dressing, to be charitable. Because if we took our king and his kingdom – which is in this world but not of this world – seriously, then with over 50% of the population laying claim to Christianity, this should be a no-brainer. There will be no need to foul our airwaves with all this attempts at preaching non-violence, because our King has demonstrated his non-violent stance in more ways than one. There will be no need to preach against hate speech, because we know that by calling a person “Raca” i.e. fool (Mt 5:22) we are already condemning ourselves.

 

Living out our Loyalty

So, refuse to be co-opted into the insults, acrimony, name-calling, herd mentality and the like. You are a Christian, before being a Ghanaian, Ga, Ewe, Dagomba or Akan. Judge the politicians by the standards of Jesus Christ, and not by the political ones of the day, whether they belong to a party you identify with or not. Remember, democracy is a good system, but only as good as man can make it. When we substitute the kingdom of God for democracy, it will become our new idol. And trust me; contrary to what your mother told you, the voice of the people is NOT the voice of God.

Oh and by the way, if the church were busier spending its money on its members than it was collecting it to build universities that most members will never be able to afford to send their children to; we will complain less about poverty and unemployment in our nation. The church will indeed have less and less a reliance on the governments of the day, if we took Jesus Christ’s maxims of caring for one another in community seriously, instead of giving to our churches to build inaccessible and unaccountable empires. This should be our pursuit if we are to make the future kingdom of Christ visible in the current age, whiles we wait for the final and full revelation of that glorious New Jerusalem coming down from above. The simple truth is that the more a people care about the kingdom of God being made manifest amongst men, the less they will care about political systems and who is at the helm of affairs. The last time I checked, Christians were supposed to live above the law (by the Spirit), not by the law (including the laws of the nation).

Indeed, we need to question our loyalties.

Of Theologies, Songs and Mantras

Last  Sunday at our meeting, we found ourselves questioning another song that we Ghanaian Christians sing and take for granted every day, and also reflects a general trend which we believe is worrying. The song is recorded below, with its English translation alongside it. Please forgive my translation if it’s not too exact, but I think we all get the drift of this song.

Ye beyi Yesu aye (We will Praise Jesus)

Wo odo a odi ado yen (For the love he has for us)

W’ama ade pa akye yen biom (For he has made us wake up in health again)

Ye beyi n’aye daa (We will praise him forever).

 

Our beef was with that third passage which talked about Jesus waking us up in good health (or something to that effect). I know most people have not given much thought to that sentence in the song, but I believe it reflects the general malaise that has eaten into the Christian message and witness in our times, especially in the Ghanaian context. So please stick with me a while and you’ll get the point I’m driving at.

 

Thinking Globally

There are 7 billion citizens of this world. The Indians hold 1 billion of that, and the Chinese close to 1.5 billion. Statistically then, these 2 countries alone constitute 28% of the world’s population. Yet the majority of these people are either Hindu or Buddhist in one form or the other. In fact according to Wikipedia, 82% of Indians are Hindu, so that makes that 820 million Hindus in India alone. And these are people who may have not even heard about Jesus Christ, or may have but don’t believe in him. And yet, China’s economy is the fastest growing economy in the world, and we in Africa are importing their products by droves. India is coming along just nicely after China economically. I have not even begun to talk about the Buddhists/Hindus outside of Asia, much more the abundance of Muslims all over the world.

All of these huge masses of people have something in common – the live and breathe and have their being as Paul put it, but it’s not because they believe in Jesus Christ. It’s simply because God has allowed it to be so.

 

 

Marriage

The Indians, with all their Hinduism, have the lowest divorce rates in the world. Contrast that to America with all its “Christianity”, where according to the pollster George Bana, 50% of specifically Christian marriages (not American marriages in general) have led to divorce. Again, this figure is not general American marriages, but Christian American marriages. And yet we kid ourselves with the notion that “If Jesus is in our marriages, they will be successful”. Of course, nobody actually stops to think that the standards that Jesus sets for our marriages are far higher than those of the general public. Jesus himself is not the guarantee of a successful marriage – learning to live a life of love, respect, humility and self-sacrifice for one another in marriage is the guarantee, and Jesus gave no other standards.

 

Wealth

The wealthiest people of this world are not Christians. And I don’t mean people who have Christian names or believe in the existence of God (we seem to confuse a belief in God with a belief in Jesus), neither do I mean Jews. I mean people who believe in Jesus Christ as the son of God and the savior of the world and who are part of a community of saints, spending their time and lives with them. It is universally self-evident that if a Christian wants to be the most prosperous man in the world, he probably is in the wrong religion. Just go make your money and spend it, and forget about being a Christian. Alternatively start up a church, and find ways to justify collecting money from the members in the name of “God blessing a cheerful giver” and “doing God’s work”. Obviously not all of us Christians can be “pastors”, so this wealth is even segregated. Hmm, remind me if we are still running a priesthood of all believers.

 

Long Life

The oldest living human beings in the Guinness book of records are not in Christian dominated countries, but in Asia, specifically Japan. Yet most Japanese are either Buddhist or Shintoist. Again, both the Bible and science have shown us the keys to long life. When we are busy NOT living a healthy life, but rather damaging ourselves and expecting God to miraculously give us good health, we have none to blame but ourselves. And even when through no fault of ours we are struck down by disease and are not healed by God, we do not see how our sickness may be a means to an end, and either point fingers claiming “you don’t have faith”, “there is sin in your life” or some other judgmental mantra.

 

In Short

Afterall God gives everybody life, and takes as he pleases. The bible says God supplies rain to both the good and the wicked as well. Waking up to a good day has got nothing to do with believing in Jesus Christ. The 820 million Indian Hindus woke up this morning, and some of them have 1 million dollar weddings to attend this weekend, if my Indian friend Himanshu’s statements are anything to go by. Being wealthy has got nothing to do with believing in Jesus. In spite of our plenty Christianity, we are borrowing a paltry 3 billion from the Chinese with plenty political hoopla and I don’t need to remind you what they believe in.

 

Surprised By Hope, Ignited by His Kingdom

And so I wonder why we do not sing and shout about what makes us unique in this world. I wonder why we sing “God has been good”; when it should be “God is good”. Was there ever a time when God was not good, or are we only talking about when times were good for us? Has our theology become so warped that we uncritically accept any song labeled “Christian/gospel”? I wonder why our “Double Doubles” and confused gospels are all about how me and my family have woken up to good health, how God is going to “change my destiny” (wonder where that is in the bible?), how what God has said about my life he will fulfill (when He has said all He will say about his church already, and we are only part of that communal vision), how God is going to “butter my bread” and “sugar my koko”, giving me double houses and double cars? What about the days when we wake up with malaria and can’t go to church on Sunday? Or when because of persecution, our brother is killed for their faith in Jesus (as is happening in Asia & Middle East)? Can we still sing “W’ama ade pa akye yen biom” sincerely? Can we still sing “Your house na double double” when by no fault of ours the house we’ve sweated to build is burnt down in a fire? Or is it because we’ve believed Jesus Christ because of what we think we will get from him in this material world, and not his mission for us on this earth?

 

Because if that weren’t the case, our songs will be more about Jesus and his call to us as a people to be the expression of his nature – a nature of love. Our songs will express eternal truths about his coming to die to bring us cleansing and salvation. Our songs will galvanize us to build his kingdom on this earth, through love and devotion to one another, and through a dedication to see the destitute, hopeless and lost feel and see that the coming Kingdom of Jesus Christ “go be keke”. Our songs will reflect that joy is found in Christ and his community, even when the world is pressing us on every side. Our mantras will be about how through our faith in Christ we are able to galvanize our resources towards meeting our own needs, as well as those less fortunate around us; that we are the bearers of good news, bringing hope to both the rich and the poor, the lonely and the famous; that there is something unique about us as a people of Jesus, something that neither sword, nor persecution nor riches nor poverty can take away from us.

Let us leave the songs about daily bread to them that have not the hope of Jesus, and let our songs tell what kind of people we are that the rest of the world isn’t. If not, let’s stop kidding ourselves, become Japanese so we may live long, marry an Indian so we have blissful marriages and become American Wall Street brokers, so we can become wealthy.

In the end, we changed the words from “W’ama adepa akye yen” to “W’aba be wu agye yenkwa” (He has died to bring us salvation). So don’t be surprised if you hear me sing it differently then.

We have a kingdom to build, and we cannot waste time.

Vicit Angus Noster Eum Sequamur – Our Lamb has Conquered, Him Let us Follow 

Character over Charisma

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.

Conclusion

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.

How Prophetic are our “Prophetic Messages” ?

There has been a general increase in the use of the word “prophetic” in the diction of the contemporary Ghanaian Christian, and the tentacles of prophecy are stretching from football predictions to 31st night watch services prophecies of “dominion” in the coming year. It seems your everyday Christian is ready to swallow hook, line and sinker any such “prophetic” message, without a whiff of suspicion or a finger lifted in questioning. However, to say the prophetic gift and working of the Holy Spirit in our times is highly misunderstood and wrongly applied is quite an understatement. And all the while, the actions of our so called “prophets” are justified by an appeal to the prophets of the Old Testament (OT), an appeal which when one takes a very critical scriptural look at, will keel over.

This is because though the principle is the same, there is a fundamental and monumental difference between the application of the principles of the Old Testament and New Testaments, and if you’d take the time to read my post on “New Wine, Old Wineskins”, you may find a lot of education on the differences. But I will limit my discussion to the topic of prophecy and it’s application to the contemporary church.

Having learnt from Paul’s attitude of stating who Christians are in Christ and what makes them different from the Jews & Gentiles, I’ll start off by making this distinction of the OT and NT with regards to prophecy as apparent as possible.

OT – God Calls a People

From the time of Abraham, God had been interested in not him alone, but his descendants that will come after him. And this fascination with Abraham’s “people”, is made very obvious in the exodus of the Israelites and his dealings with them afterwards. God has always been interested in a people and a nation – a distinct people who are set apart for his own purpose. As a result, the OT depicts an attempt by God to preserve the sanctity and establish his possession over the Israelite nation, and half the time that effort was frustrated by the same people.

This is what you are to say to the house of Jacob and what you are to tell the people of Israel: ‘You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’” (Ex 19:3-6) – [God speaking to Moses]

You are to be holy to me because I, the Lord, am holy, and I have set you apart from the nations to be my own” (Lev 20:26) – [God speaking to Moses]

From the rocky peaks I see them, from the heights I view them, I see a people who live apart and do not consider themselves one of the nations. (Nu 23:9)” [from Balaam’s First Oracle]

As a result of this special relationship with them, God provided prophets, who served two basic purposes – foretelling and forth-telling. The former concerns things that will happen in the future, the latter is an explanation/exposition of what is happening now. Except in very few cases, and this is the important part, their work was targeted at the nation Israel, and not at individuals. The notable individuals who received instructions from prophets were the kings or leaders of the Israeli people, who were simply the embodiment of the people themselves. After all, from all biblical examples whenever a king began following false gods, the people also followed suit (in some cases they actually forced the people to do so). Therefore, prophecy directed at a king is ultimately aimed at preserving the sanctity of the Israelite nation. This is the case for the work of Samuel towards Saul and David, Nathan towards David, Elijah towards Ahab etc.

It is abundantly evident from scriptures that the majority of the work done by these prophets was towards the nation and it’s tendency to rebel towards God, and not towards individuals, granted though the examples of Naaman etc. Just look at the book of Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and the rest, as well as the lives of Elijah and Elisha as documented by the books of 1 & 2 Kings. Add to this the fact that God actually grudgingly agreed to the Israelite nation having a king of their own because he wanted to be their God and King, and there is no need to stretch the point further.

Also worth noting are prophecies to other nations. Here again, these are not prophecies to individuals.

NT – Again, God Calls a People

Just as I stated that the principle was always the same, in the NT God again begins the process of setting apart “a people for himself”. That work began with Christ’s promise, which is not to build individual super disciples, but to build a church, an ekklesia, an assembly. That ekklesia is made up of a combination of Jews and Gentiles, not either alone. This is captured in Paul’s statement to the Corinthians.

“Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God” (1 Cor 10:32

Nothing could be a stronger statement of the nature of the church. In the dispensation of the NT, everyone could only become a part of Christ by submitting to membership of his body (e.g. Ac 5:14 should correctly be translated “added to the Lord” not “added to their number”). To God, there is no longer a Ghana, Nigeria, Israel or China. There are three nations: Jews, Gentiles (here referred to as Greeks because of the context of the letter) and the church of God. Again, this conglomeration of all sorts of people into one nation before God is reiterated in these passages below.

You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal 3:26-28)

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God …(1 Pe 2:9)

It is obvious from an examination of the OT and NT in the light of God’s desire for a people that the church of Christ has become the God’s Israel – God’s covenanted nation. God’s desire to extend the Godhead to encompass a people special and separate unto him is finally achieved in the NT – and it’s achieved through Christ and in Christ’s body. Interestingly, these are a people who according to Rev 13:8, have their names written in the book of life before the creation of the world. I’ll leave that for you to ponder on your own.

This setting apart of the church as God’s nation is the reason why it is quite futile for us Christians to be busying ourselves claiming our physical nations for God. God is not interested in America being a “Christian” nation, neither is he interested in Ghana being one. He has already determined who his nation is, and it encompasses all who through Christ have come into fellowship with him. This is a fundamental difference between Christianity and other religions like Islam which Christians in our ignorance try to fight.

NT Practice of Prophecy

There are various men & women mentioned in the book of Acts as being prophets. These range from the 5 prophets and teachers of the Antioch church recorded in Ac 13 (including Paul and Barnabas), Judas and Silas from the Jerusalem church (Ac 15:32), Agabus, the four daughters of Philip who prophesied (Ac 21). It is interesting to note that in all the instances where the prophetic gift was used, it was intended at directly building the members of the body of Christ together up in their knowledge, faith and perseverance in Christ – not in prophecies of a personal nature. Indeed, one might want to use the example of Agabus prophecy to Paul concerning what would befall him in Jerusalem as an example of personal prophecy, but this is a woefully inadequate one, given that the prophecy was in relation to suffering as a result of Paul’s ministry to and for the body of Christ, not to his personal life’s circumstances (i.e. business, marriage etc).

Paul’s overriding concern whenever he wrote to any of the churches was that they would be granted further knowledge and depth of insight into Christ. This is evident in almost all the epistles to the churches, where he always offers thanksgiving for their current display of faith and love, and goes on to pray for them to further grasp the “unsearchable riches” of Christ. This same principle applies when Paul talks about the gifts of the Holy Spirit in 1 Cor 12 and how to use these gifts in 1 Cor 14.

Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.” (1 Cor 12:7).

What then shall we say, brothers? When you come together, everyone has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. All of these must be done for the strengthening of the church” (1 Cor 14:26).

In commending prophecy over the speaking of tongues in the meetings of the brethren, Paul encourages the Corinthians to excel in gifts that build up the church (1 Cor 14:12).

Paul always had in mind the work of the Holy Spirit in the church corporately, not individually. And his belief reflected what Jesus said to his disciples concerning the Holy Spirit, that He was to lead us into all truth, which truth Jesus said was himself.

Therefore in keeping with the principle that the gifts of the Spirit are targeted at building up the body, it is so starkly obvious the lack of personal prophecies in the NT church. Interestingly there is a full book of prophecy called the Revelations which buttresses this lack of personal prophecy

Nonetheless, I believe this does not preclude personal prophecies – they should be seen as an exception rather than the norm. In addition because prophecy is primarily targeted at building the body of Christ, it should be an exception rather than the norm for this spiritual gift to be applied to the benefit of them that do not belong to the body of Christ.

The Modern Prophetic Movement

Having established the NT practice of prophecy, I’ll like to reiterate some of the points we have tried to establish as the principle which drives prophecy, whether OT or NT.

  1. Prophecy is primarily targeted at God’s nation, which in the OT was Israel, and in the NT is the church.

  2. Prophecy is meant to provide guidance to the church for the future, or to explain to and encourage the church in current happenings.

  3. Personal prophecy is an exception and not the norm. In fact, there is no example of personal prophecy in the NT church’s experience as recorded in the Bible.

  4. Again, because God’s nation in our dispensation is the church, prophecy targeted at nations e.g. that Ghana will win the World Youth Cup or who will win the next presidential elections should also be an exception rather than the norm. In fact unless under matters of extreme urgency, such prophets should be treated with a large dose of suspicion.

Coming from this background, it is saddening the contemporary Christian’s attitude to prophecy. Having already come into the church through an emasculated gospel which targets our personal needs rather than God’s need (the kind Paul calls “no gospel at all”), we then come to our “clergy” with the clarion call for prophetic messages. Interestingly all these messages are only about how “God is going to open doorways” for our businesses, marriages and personal pursuits, how He’ll make us a success and cripple (sorry, kill) our enemies.

Sometimes I really feel like crawling into a hole and hiding and denying Christianity when I hear all the adverts on radio and TV about “prophetic” services and sermons. From the whole TB Joshua saga concerning our current president and his predictions on football, to the most recent craze about 31st December watch night services being places to “expect prophetic messages to enter into the new year and grasp our destinies”, this whole yearning for the prophetic has become farcical. In fact, if we truly understood what prophecy was about, I believe some of the notable preachers of our times who have the title “Prophet” appended to their names would have removed them long ago. I honestly wish I could name some of them, but I might offend some sensibilities.

There is a phenomenon in Ghanaian Christianity today which I think most Christians are not realizing. Our preachers preach more from the OT than from the NT, and yet we claim that we are liberated from the law. Are we not rather being made slaves to the law? Is it not the case that it is very easy to use the OT to support every action that we take, from calling curses on our enemies to the practice of investing in magnificent church buildings and paying exorbitant monies to our pastors? Don’t we realise that there is now very little difference in principle and practice between a fetish priest and a modern day “prophet”?

Is the New Testament standard now too hard to live by?