Disagreeing Well.

Here below is a video that has been really helpful to me in doing conversations with people I may disagree with particularly on theological issues.

Clearly, the three people in conversation here i.e. Michael Horton, Matt Chandler and Tim Keller are in what some would imagine to be in very different worlds. Yet, that is what makes this conversation very useful because they are essentially coming to an agreeable set of “house rules” as far as conversation is concerned especially in the age of the internet.

The conclusions they arrive at are especially helpful for Christians in conversation with each other who may not see ‘eye to eye’ on what one party within the dialogue may consider a critical issue.

I especially enjoyed Michael Horton’s application of the 9th commandment because it is essentially a Reformed approach to the Decalogue in the life of the Christian i.e. The Third Use of the Law.

Much Ado about…Evangelicalism, Denominations, Non-Denominationalism (?)

 Church-christian-world-denominations

There was a time when I really hated denominations. I was at one time firmly planted in that stream of thought that considers the term ‘denomination’ to be a dirty word and denominations themselves as ‘man-made’ and dangerous preferring to stay within that sphere dubbed ‘Mere Christianity’ or “non-denominational evangelicalism”. Yet today i stand on the opposite side of that sentiment or at least an inch or two closer to that denominational side. Interestingly enough, even C.S Lewis who wrote that famous book; Mere Christianity, would have abhorred such a category even going so far as to say that one can’t live in the corridor of a house, but rather it is the rooms of a house where lives are lived.

Probably being ‘burned’ by a denominational church caused me to hate all things denominational at some point. Most certainly I DID hate all things about that particular denomination I was raised in as a child. More often than not, I’ve found that many who disagree with denominations have been ‘burned’ by a denominational church in one way or another and usually what attracts people like the old me to non-denominational churches is what said churches are assumed to stand in opposition to, rather than what they stand for.

In my own experience, I was attracted to my current local church because of what they stand for though I must confess that what initially made me stay there was because I assumed that they opposed many of the things I opposed. Lately I’ve come to realise that I had set up straw –man arguments against denominations. Arguments that tied denominations to strife, bureaucracy, a ‘Spirit-less’ life and the list goes on and on. Nevertheless, it is still worth considering why many of us understand the term to imply division rather than diversity.

Truth be told, denominations can not deliver us world peace neither are they the pristine, sanitized habitats that some may think they are. In fact, even orthodox and once orthodox denominations have produced their fair share of weirdos e.g. Harold Camping, Robert Schuller and Norman Vincent Peale were/are members of Reformed Presbyterian denominations (R.C.A and C.R.C) and Harry Emerson Fosdick as well as Fred Phelps were Baptists of some kind. Not to mention that some denominations such as the E.L.C.A and the United Church of Christ have committed and in fact encourage what any right thinking Christian would clearly see as outright heresy within their ranks.

 

What Makes a Denomination?

So why bother anyway? What is it about denominations that irks some and make others gleeful? Probably what we ought to be asking first is, what is it that makes a denomination or at least a Christian denomination? A layman such as me would assume shared ideals; ideals concerning God’s word spoken and presented in a type of tradition. Also, not every denomination begins ‘squeaky clean’ but they should at least attempt to continuously be shaped by scripture on all things, changing their minds where necessary on non-essential issues that may be the outworking of a particular socio-cultural setting. The exception to the Establishment Principle in The Westminster Confession of Faith by some Presbyterians is one such example.

In 2nd Timothy 1:13-18, we see Paul exhorting Timothy to preserve the ‘pattern of sound words’ given to him. As some theologians have pointed out (and i agree with them) this is the precedent for the formation of expressed orthodoxy i.e. creeds and confessions. Basic Christian orthodoxy to my mind ought to be found at the very least within The Apostles Creed, The Nicene Creed and The Athanasian Creed. Others would go further to say that the various historic Protestant expressions of faith such as The Westminster Standards, The Three Forms of Unity, The 1689 Baptist Confession, The 39 articles, The Augsburg Confession etc ought to be a standard of orthodoxy and i would agree with their right to say so even if i disagreed with the particulars of some of those expressions of faith. Nevertheless, they are all attempts to express what it is that Timothy received; which we too received i.e. Christian orthodoxy. I would also go so far as to say that statements of faith and/or church constitutions that Christian churches make are a valid attempt at phrasing the apostolic faith that binds us all to each other and goes beyond likes, dislikes, or vague shared ideals such as the colour of the carpet in the church or the inherent value of ‘spaghetti western’ movies. In order to notice deviations from orthodoxy, we need to have a recognised orthodoxy that can be (unfortunately and dangerously) deviated from in the very beginning..

 

Non-Confessional Evangelicalism/Non-Denominationalism: A View from the Pew.

In recent decades, the biggest threat to Christian orthodoxy has been postmodernism. Defining postmodernism is a problem because it refuses to be defined. Yet at the heart of it has been the recognizable denial of certainty, the denial of absolute truth.  Truth be told, I can’t help but wonder to what extent postmodernism has affected Christianity as we know it.

Much of modern day American evangelicalism and its urban Kenyan cousins represented majorly by non-denominational churches seems to be averse to certainty and I can’t help but wonder if this has its roots in postmodernism if not the seeds of postmodernism itself. Would the early church fathers or any other faithful Christians in the ages prior to our own have had any notion of the the unique distinctions that define non-denominational evangelicalism whatever those may be? Is there any correlation at all between non-denominationalism and postmodernism given the aversion to certainty in both or is it simply a ‘coincidence’ that they seem to exist within the same time frame?

I recall watching a video of Prof. Ali Mazrui the African Islamic scholar speaking about how Africans uncritically take up everything from ‘the West’ without considering the dynamics of how those appropriated things should work. And therein that statement is where this African finds a reason to reconsider what evangelicalism nay non-denominational evangelicalism has to offer us as Africans.

 

What We Are Is What We Are Not?

For whatever reason many (though gladly not all) of our brothers in The West decided to abandon distinctives for the sake of socio-political unity, the consequences have not been good. Sadly, the refusal to state what people actually do hold onto for the sake of a vague form of unity has seen heresy and heterodoxy run amok. As a result, we had the ridiculous notion that moralism (teetotalism anybody?) was worthy glue with which to bind Christian unity. Here is where evangelicalism and especially the non denominational version of it has failed as Anthony Bradley points out. It is well worth noting how he connects the pursuit of political mileage, with the American culture wars and the fact that many young people have left the church. And in case you think this is irrelevant to Kenya, all I can say is watch Binyavanga Wainaina’s ‘Coming Out’ interview on N.T.V where he blasts the Southern Baptist Convention; a major player in American evangelicalism whose churches do not all subscribe to a uniform confession of faith.

Additionally, without stated orthodoxy, criticisms also become flippant and majorly based on power grabs and preferences thus causing unwanted strife and division within the church. I recall listening to a lecture by a Presbyterian musician about how music in today’s church is changing and he happened to mention a past scenario in which he enjoyed working with a Methodist church. He went on to say that ‘denominationalists’ prefer to work with each other instead of with ‘non-denominational’ musicians because the latter tend to be hostile towards them and therefore difficult to work with! He and the Methodist church he was working with knew beforehand that he wasn’t coming in as a maverick to convert all of Methodism to Presbyterianism despite his self-conscious Presbyterian convictions. Hearing that, a light bulb was lit in my mind: where you don’t have your church identity sorted out in light of all of God’s word and then progressively  communicated clearly, eventually everything from the colour of the carpets to dietary preferences to even differing theories on economic policy will soon become a ‘gospel issue’ and people will eagerly get into fights over all manner of trivial nonsense. Sadly, I’ve seen it happen too often and the hostility tends to be all too real though veiled behind pretenses. A hostility that is symptomatic of the fact that we have forgotten that we are a ‘Gospel People’ first and foremost.

This is the unfortunate ‘pick and choose’ mentality that is a prevalent characteristic of much of the non-denominational world. In this world which I happen to be a part of, the church is always being built from the ground up under the assumption of hermenutical neutrality and a sort of optimism that despite its ‘Spirit-led’ undertones, more often than not ends up in the long run to be inappropriate if not foolhardy.

 

The Way Forward?

Movements by definition are constantly in motion and seldom take the time to develop healthy roots. Non-denominationalism as a movement, is not an exception to this reality.  Who knows what our non-denominational churches may look like in 25 years? Will they have kept the faith or will they have abandoned it under the influence of a great persuasive leader? Furthermore, the very term ‘non-denominationalism’ is a negative definition in the sense that it really aims to say, “We’re not like that church on the other side of the road,”- in fact in order to define itself as a movement, it needs to establish what it isn’t before anything else is done.

And yet the kind of distinctions that automatically give rise to denominations will always be there and many partners of the same mind on critical Biblical issues will find some form of consensus concerning soteriology, eschatology, polity, sacraments etc. These same parties may very well lock hands in ministry functions and inadvertently form…you guessed it…denominations! This may come as a surprise to you but guess what…HillSong, Calvary Chapel, Sovereign Grace Ministries…Mavuno, Nairobi Chapel are all denominations! At least functionally speaking and you know what? That’s not a bad thing at all. No one denomination will be the same as another and yet that’s fine. Even Jesus in Luke 11:23 recognized another as one of his own even though they weren’t traveling together with the apostles. Unity is not necessarily physical. But take notice…it is Jesus Christ who confirms who is on his team. It will do us well to go back to scripture and hear his voice giving us directions on who we can partner with or affirm as he himself would.

I do believe  that we need to start going back to the drawing board on absolutely everything as Christian ‘non-denominational’ congregations. We need to be as orthodox as scripture would have us be and leave the outcomes with God. The truth of the matter is that at the end of the day, we will always make up our minds about what we believe God is saying even if we only articulate our convictions in privacy, and it will be an expression of either true or false orthodoxy. Thankfully we can have certainty about what God has said because God has spoken and all things are measured against HIS orthodoxy not our preferences. If God can and does speak through his word, why remain silent concerning the things he has said? He alone can govern the consequences whether it means either turning into new Baptist or Presbyterian etc congregations or joining such presently existing churches. It ought not to frighten us. If anything, an act of obedience to God’s word will only ever ultimately lead to a fruitful life worth living.

That Eery Silence. (Or a Few Thoughts on That Pothole in the Sanctuary)

Sometime in early 2013, a Copernican shift began in my mind and that monumental revolution is hardly concluded. I began reading a rather popular book on the church (this book is actually very prominent in the ‘church growth’ sub genre) and I was startled in the end not by the objections themselves, but rather by the nature of my objections. Ever since, I’ve realised that my mind really does need to be shaped by scripture continuously because I had not expected it to be so negatively influenced by modern thought. Someday I’ll write a book review about it and then I won’t need to be so cryptic but till then, you’ll just have to wait.

For some reason I’ve been thinking about the theology of the church and by that I mean all those questions that deal with ‘what the church is and how it should be governed’ i.e. ecclesiology and I’m pretty sure those thoughts will still be streaming through my mind for some years to come. One of those many thoughts seems to have reached its conclusion and that is concerning the gaps/potholes in these sort of books and a rather specific pothole at that. In many of the books in the church growth genre, you will notice that there’ll be a great emphasis on what can be done to ensure numbers without compromising on the message and yet that ‘message’ i.e. the gospel is never defined. Sure you can say your message should be ‘Biblical’ but if say I started a church whose attempt at ‘relevance’ produced a vision statement that actually read: Delivering Blows to the Posterior and Taking an Inventory of Names for the Kingdom’ with a quotation stuck at the bottom from Psalm 3:7 to prove that our penchant for violence is in fact not as a result of a peculiar eisegesis, then who’s to say we’re not being ‘Biblical’?

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‘Could have, should have watched out for that pothole,’

Then again, that too is for another blog post. That’s not the one i’m writing about today. It seems to me that the very reason why books in this particular genre have fallen short at least to me, is due to a gaping hole in our ecclesiology; one that I’m surprised has not been noticed, and that hole goes by the name; the church triumphant.

Sadly, to many a modern Christian, pagan infringements on our understanding of what happens to us when we die have crept into the church. Whether it’s a notion of ‘soul sleep’ or the idea that we somehow become vapours akin to ‘Casper the Friendly Ghost’ once we die…..

Image‘Is that you Martin Luther?’

And yet, it wasn’t’ always this way.

The Westminster Confession of Faith drafted in 1646 says this of what the church is:

“The catholic or universal Church, which is invisible, consists of the whole number of the elect, that have been, are, or shall be gathered into one, under Christ the Head thereof; and is the spouse, the body, the fullness of Him that fills all in all,”

-Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter 25.1

Joel Beeke in his commentary on this section of the Confession rightly points out:

“The word “catholic” comes from a Greek word meaning universal or international, and does not necessarily or exclusively refer to Roman Catholicism. Some of the church’s members are already in glory (the church triumphant). Some still fight the good fight of the faith on earth (the church militant). But all are one people called out of the world into holy union with Christ (1 Cor. 1:2). When we meet in local congregations, we join with saints in heaven and throughout the earth to worship God through Christ as one great assembly (Heb. 12:22-24).”

In the age of the pragmatic, the ‘results based’ and the relevant, we for the most part  engage in some form of collective navel gazing on the Lord’s Day and every other day besides it, sadly this hardly crosses our minds when we meet in our congregations to worship God. Sadly, we do not consider that the object of our worship; Yahweh has indeed saved his own, and that his own still do worship him. After all, is it not Jesus Christ who said that Yahweh the God of Jacob, Abraham and Isaac is the God of the living?

It is essential to not only know that the church triumphant IS, but to also know why the church triumphant is relevant for our day. I’ll give at least three reasons why we need an understanding of the church triumphant today:

1. To protect the gospel from heterodoxy and heresy.

As Jesus spoke to his questioners, we see that he is clearly confronting the mistaken notion that there is no resurrection for the dead; no eternal life. He is out rightly combating heresy and heterodoxy. The reason why we need to know the true composition of the church is so that we may realise that the salvation that we are given is a very real one and not a metaphorical one. For all the heresies and heterodoxies that may creep out of the materialist stew, our understanding and defence of the fact that there IS an eternal life that we are called into out of darkness will prove to be a great buttress to our defence of orthodox Christianity.

2. An Answer to the Question of the ‘Vacant’ Apostolic Office.

It seems too many of us, me included sometimes assume that what we produce with our effort, that which can be seen and felt by others immediately around us is what really matters for the church. And yet sadly we seem to forget the achievements of our brothers and sisters now in glory. True, they have been documented in scripture and elsewhere but because of so many worldly influences, we seem to forget that the church is compared by Jesus to a building with foundations. Our brothers the apostles and prophets have built foundations for us and as a result we continue to build upwards. Nowhere else is this seen clearly in scripture than in Ephesians 2:11-22.(N.I.V)

We are saved and united to each other. Not only that, but the foundation; built on the effort of the apostles and prophets is firm. Just as a wise builder works masterfully on the foundation so that the rest of the building may be built up splendidly, so does Jesus Christ build up his church. The fact that the church in all the centuries gone by has not fallen is because HE built the foundation. I exhort us to not commit to futility; trying to rebuild the foundation and all that is unique to it that Christ has built himself through the work of the saints gone by. Saints who now are parts of the church triumphant and a part of us as a complete church. Many a time, you hear of churches and individuals trying to work up miracles and signs to attract people to the message of Jesus Christ. If people could only see ‘wonder and miracles,’ they might say, all would believe. No my friends. It is through the foolishness of preaching that Jesus through the power of the Holy Spirit has seen fit to build the church and the Holy Spirit in his wisdom grants us gifts necessary for building up the church appropriately till our Lord’s return. By disregarding the church triumphant, we inadvertently deem insignificant the efforts of our brothers and sisters now deceased and in glory, and we end up spending too much time on non-essentials when we should be preaching, evangelizing, serving and doing all that our Lord requires us; his church militant to do.

“If the temple of God’s truth is ever to be completely built, we must not spend our efforts in digging at the foundations which have been securely laid in the distant past, but must rather give our best efforts to rounding out the arches, carving the capitals, and fitting in the fretted roof. What if it is not ours to lay the foundations? Let us rejoice that that work has been done! Happy are we if our God will permit us to bring a single capstone into place!”

-B.B Warfield

3. Perseverance in Suffering.

This should be a no-brainer. Our light and momentary suffering as Paul puts it, are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs it all. Death is not the end! Hallelujah! And not only is it NOT the end, but what awaits us; eternal communion with God our redeemer and everything that will necessarily result from that communion will make all our anguish, all the terrorism, all the suffering PALE in comparison! Knowing that we will be sentient in heaven and that the saints long gone are now experiencing what we shall experience should be a great comfort to us. And yet, as we see in Revelations 6:10-11 their joy is not complete until we too are joined with them in eternal joy. If they; the church triumphant is waiting to be united to us shouldn’t we too anticipate eagerly to be united with them in the eternal worship of our God? Lord haste the day but let us enjoy you even today through our suffering.

It is my hope and prayer that someday, sooner than later, we may realise who we really are as the universal church and what our mission is so that we may forge ahead in the power of the Holy Spirit in the work assigned to us. To God alone be the glory for all the things he has done and will do for us, in us and through us his complete church now and forever more.

A New Year, A New Day.

Happy New Year folks! This should obviously have been posted on the 1st but hey, the week isn’t over right? And besides there’s that thing about African timing…

2014 came like a Concord jet (if you remember those) and frankly i’m not quite sure what it has in store. What i do know though is that we ought to make the most of every opportunity while we can. Seeing another day let alone another year is a providence of God we should not take for granted. Do we always get it right? No. We don’t. But we don’t stop trying to ‘redeem the time’ as the phrase goes.

I for one have many things planned for 2014. Lord willing, i will be sharing them with you.

All the best as you start a new year. 

“So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God,”1st Corinthians 10:31 (N.I.V)

A Time to Mourn

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The 21st of Spetember. Many will remember where they were on this fated day. I was at church having a conversation with a friend concerning an event we were about to take part in. I got a call from my sister at the time of the siege – she was asking where i was. Westgate was being robbed…or so we thought. The 21st of September was the day the dreaded Al-Shabaab chose as the day on which to attack at Westgate Mall in Westlands. I’ve been there. It was surreal. It was shocking. My belief in this narrative i was now hearing was suspended.

Today is the third of October; 12 days after the attack and still we mourn. Yesterday was the day of national prayer as held every year here in Kenya and still we mourned long after the official days of national mourning were over. Somehow this event touches home more than any other story. This is a place i have frequented. My friend posted on Facebook how she was hiding under a table as gunshots and explosions rent the air. I could have been there that day.

Even as we mourn, many questions are being asked. Some questions are either being asked too soon to reach a logical conclusion, or too late to make amends: personal questions, theological questions, all manner of questions. What remains certain is that grief and suffering cannot be handled artificially; as though after the official days of mourning we would all go about our business as though we were ‘over it’ already.

When the dust settles whenever that may be we will need to ask ourselves some very important questions such as: what happened to our security apparatus, why do we suffer and grieve more when the victims are more like us and much less like ‘the other’, where was God in this, many questions indeed and i am yet to even scratch the surface.

We shall all have to ask the hard questions and seek the right answers. I choose to trust in Jesus Christ the sovereign Lord of all, the prince of peace, our ultimate comforter. Even in these times he is far from absent. He is there and he is not silent. HE will comfort and hold up the broken hearted as he always has.

Peace will come, comfort will come. That time will come, when it may and we will find that we were never alone even in this grief and suffering but for now, we rightly mourn because it is indeed, a time to mourn.

“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens:

a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,
a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,
a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace,”

Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 (N.I.V)

A Natural Seduction

No idea is without a context and it is in the context of the 2013 Kenya elections that the ideas in this entry will be spoken of. I must however disappoint you sorely and say that this is by no means a political commentary but a social one, and I believe a necessary one. Something interesting has been happening and has happened in conversations within which ideas have been traded about. And the ideas traded about have alerted me to something I cannot help but address and has at many instances piqued my senses. Hopefully, you may at the end of reading this be made aware of the forces competing with Jesus Christ for our minds and our very lives. Hopefully, you will have already suspected what I’m trying to get at and if not I hope this entry will alert you to it.

The Question of Justice

As the 2013 presidential elections ‘hotted up’ as Kenyan media would put it and as the proverbial ‘date with destiny’ approached, people on the streets, in bars and other meeting places were having conversations covering a wide range of issues. This election would not be without its fair share of controversy considering the fact that one of the parties had in its tow two I.C.C suspects running for president and deputy president. Given the perceived progress in democracy and free speech, it would only be natural to expect that this would form the subject of many conversations and indeed it did. Here however is where the problem kicked in: the matter of justice in many conversations I heard was either evaded or in the name of ‘prudence’ shut down not by external forces but by more than one if not more of the participants in the conversation and the self-censorship complied with by the rest of the participants in the conversation.

Why point this out you may ask? I do so because this is to be expected in opportunistic societies but unfortunately, this occurred in a society that claims to have their identity centred on the risen Jesus Christ of Nazareth; these conversations took place among self professed Christians, in a country where the population claims to be 80% Christian. Much has been said in ‘serious’ Christian circles about the sovereignty of God and the way of life that exiled Israel was called to by God through the prophet Jeremiah however it would seem that there is a strain of deceit running its course in the back of our minds implying that the sovereignty of God negates human responsibility. In times fraught with indecision and anxiety, the bride of Christ and its members ought to speak plainly about the things that God considers dear to himself. We need not endorse a candidate with every breath we take, but at the very least speak plainly about the things that God is concerned about; the principal concern being the gospel of Jesus Christ and secondarily among many others, justice. Do not be fooled my Christian friend. God is indeed concerned with justice. So much so that Jesus Christ castigated Judas for claiming to be considerate of the lowly when in fact he was using them as an excuse to rob the coffers. (see John 12: 3-8) So much so that God says, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay,’-he does not say, ‘vengeance is ours, let us see if I might repay,’-so concerned is he with justice that when he sees injustice taking place on mankind, he calls it an assault on himself and that he shall rightly repay. (see Romans 12:19)

Allegations of injustice levelled at individuals have in numerous conversations been recast as merely obstacles to individual advancement as though human lives; the multitudes of imago dei (images of God) lost or disenfranchised are merely a rapidly depreciating currency with which our consciences are bought. I fear many of us have red in our ledger and are soon to be bankrupt. To this the church should speak clearly of God’s final and righteous justice while contrasting it with man’s inability to mete out true and lasting justice. And as it does so, it should also without fear or reservation, speak of why God prohibits man taking up vengeance upon his fellow man only to take it up himself.  “So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them,” (Gen 1:27)

I would encourage us to seriously reconsider any attempt to disregard speaking plainly about IDP’s who were displaced in 2007, and the numerous other historical injustices that deserve righting when it is in our power to do so appropriately. Doing so would be tantamount to plotting to ‘rob’ God of his vengeance. He shall in addition hold us responsible for deliberately silencing the cries for justice in the pretence of ‘prudence’ and shall see through our charades clearer than we possibly can. Cowardice as well on our part is uncalled for especially because of the consequences he has spoken of plainly in Revelation 21:8. For your sake, repent if you have been party to encouraging these shameful things and turn again if not for the first time to Jesus Christ. Be renewed in your mind and propelled by Christ and his desires for you and I, and for this world that desperately groans for rebirth.

The Central Issue

As I listened in on conversations, it seemed to my estimation that there was a unique perspective brought to the fore by a particular worldview that I was shocked to find prevalent not just in the ‘secular’ world but in churches as well. Much has been said of ‘western influences’ and their so called ‘corrupting capability’, however, I am reminded of old ‘Looney Toon’ cartoons where in a bid to lock out the wolf at the door, Porky Pig would take the brick from the back wall and use it to cover up the door…leaving a gaping hole in the back through which the wolf could saunter in.

Before I mention it, I’d like to articulate as accurately as I can the essence of the many voices I heard and this is it: ‘The matter of justice is neither here nor there, the truest reason behind injustice if you wish to call it so, is not that we are naturally bad people. Besides, I/we deserve to get such and such because of such and such. Let me add that a threat to my own/my people’s economic or social wellbeing demands pre-emptive self-defence to kick in,’

Another sentiment I noted was: ‘Let us not talk about these things. There will be trouble and people will fight. And if we must, let us delay and stall the conversation at every available turn and in the end, ‘our people/we/I’-  might just get away with this by the skin of our teeth,’

I do not for a second believe that this creature has reared its ugly head now because of politics but rather, this is the way the Kenyan society at large thinks even regarding ‘small issues’ such as bribery when you run past the red light in traffic or ‘kitu kidogo’ – given to the meter inspector who threatens to disconnect your water supply. I hope you see the creature for what it really is. This creature says ‘if it comes instinctively and will work to your benefit, then do it’ or ‘if it adds up then pursue it regardless of what others may say,’

Do you see its name in bold? Do you see it as I do slithering about and reaching for what it chooses with its tentacles into our minds? I shall name that which does not wish to be named: naturalism. Naturalism is the creature’s name. Naturalism dictates that there is no real supernatural phenomenon and that all can be explained by the hard facts, by the hard science. It is all evidentiary. As such, there is no sin and the consequences can be explained away rather simply via psychology, economics, sociology or some other study of man and by those same means and solely by the abundant acquisition of their knowledge, the problem of evil can beultimately solved. It’s not that people are bad. They just don’t know, so it goes.

Not all that is natural however, is right nor should it all be regarded as normative. The inherent problem of naturalism is that it is a closed system and is incapable of accounting for what evidence cannot grasp. It can only offer approximations, possibilities but never absolute certainty even though it tries to raise probabilities to the very level of certainty. This is the problem that we face at the street level and the academic level. How do we account for the qualitative because as much as we may try things aren’t really relative at every level? Can we truly grasp the intangible or is there another means with which to grasp it with? These are the kind of questions we should be grappling with as we encourage others to do the same. On the road to our destination, these and other questions serve merely as signposts.

Though the prevalent spirit of this age has revealed itself in this way (naturalism) it indeed has many other masks to wear and names with which to go by, and many roads on which to lead us to dissatisfaction. As believers in Jesus Christ, we ought to consider that naturalism is by no means the preserve of a particular people nor was it always waiting to be defined by academia before it could wreak the havoc that it inevitably does.

This is an issue is because it is not an issue.

The real problem for the church in Kenya is that this deception has crept into the church via the gate of tolerance and prudence. The church has unfortunately been seduced by naturalism and reared for it within its borders its unsightly brood e.g. pragmatism and a slew of other problems. Consequently in this political context and I’m sure in many others, voices within the church have elevated peace and unprincipled cohesion to the level of idols and upon their altars have been sacrificed truth, justice, honour and all manner of virtues. In not being wary of this, the church has acted in agreement with the world hence the absence of furore directed at the collective church in Kenya, from social activists this election time around. This time, the church found a way to play nice and safe by pointing the public in the direction of issue-based politics (an umbrella term defined by groups outside the body of Christ that ironically did not cover the issue of justice alongside infrastructure, food security etc) Essentially members of the body of Christ in Kenya said with secular voices, that ‘issue based politics’ is a worthy substitute for justice which these bodies outside the church for the most part offered as a talking point to replace the volatile issue of justice. And this i am afraid is just a symptom of dare i say, a greater disease.

The leaning towards the variant faces of naturalism and its displacement of Holy Spirit led conversations and decisions, is an issue because it not an issue. The church in Kenya as we know it save for a few faithful witnesses is not speaking about this where appropriate and in the future, from hindsight, Lord forbid we may be seen as a people who en masse either do not know the God they serve or do not understand  what he expects of his followers individually and corporately. As the church of Jesus Christ and specifically its members in Kenya, we need an inward retreat and re-evaluation of who we are before we declare to the world what business we are to be about.

A (rather odd) Lecture on Indigenous African Christianity.

(For the sake of honouring an older man whose views i do not agree with, the seminary at which this lecture was given as well as the name of the man are withheld. But if you were there then you know all about it.)

Last week, I received an sms from a friend at a local seminary in Nairobi, informing me about an open lecture to be given by a world renowned professor whose name didn’t immediately ring a bell I must admit, but after a bit of prodding, I realised that I indeed had encountered his work in my ‘Communication and Culture’ lectures at university. The lecture as my friend said in the sms would centre on the relevance of the Jewish bible to African independent churches. I figured, ‘Cool! A free lecture on Valentine’s Day. Not doing anything really so why not go,’

Arriving at the lecture hall, I saw the place packed but managed to get a good seat in spite of having wasted a bit of time at the seminary’s library looking up books by John Owen and B.B Warfield. Theological eye candy I tell you! Everyone inside seemed eager to hear what this sage of African philosophy and Christian theology would say. Little did I know that my friend had inadvertently misled me – I believed that it would address the relevance of the Old Testament to ‘modern urban non-denominational churches’ …either that or I’m getting a bit rusty upstairs…Instead, the lecture addressed the role of the Old Testament in the spiritual life of African Independent Churches (A.I.C’s) and if you’re unfamiliar with A.I.C’s then by a brief way of introduction; they are religions that blend African customs with Christianity.

In attendance were students from other tertiary institutions who belong to a few A.I.C churches in Kenya. His lecture was very informative and for the sake of brevity, I won’t go into it though my intention is indeed to give an overview of it.

He gave loads of insight into how Africans struggled to  accept Christianity wholesale and thus blended their customs with Christianity – the impetus for this being their reading of the Jewish Bible i.e.  Old Testament and realising that animal sacrifices and and a connection to atonement similar to their own, were found therein. Unfortunately, the term syncretism was never brought up as it rightly should have, and to a large extent, many of the perspectives that resulted from this syncretism were praised in the name of finding an authentic faith that spoke to the African heart.

Throughout this lecture I must admit I was a tad bit uncomfortable. There is another oft-ignored level at which all of mankind throughout the ages have been considered equal and it is summed up with this statement: for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. Rather than point this out as a respected theologian, the good professor did not seem to consider equality at this level worth speaking about. Besides our common anthropology as members of the human race whose father is Adam, the fall of mankind through the fall of Adam as our federal head is one of the truest statements of equality. As a theologian he should know this intuitively.

In as much as I happened to fidget within, the lecture was indeed helpful. When a reference to the pagan syncretism of a Nigerian sect was brought to light that involved the psalms repeated a number of times as some kind of verbal talisman whilst urination occurred within a circle of lit candles…seriously… I remembered what Pastor Conrad Mbewe said when he spoke of how wary we ought to be of what he called ‘Nigerian nonsense,’- As he explained the intricacies of this ritual, people in the hall broke out in laughter but a casual look around made me realise that to some, and rightly so, it was a grim and saddening revelation of what the word of God had been reduced to.

As I mentally made notes of what I agreed with and vehemently disagreed with, the Q&A session began and as expected, the endorsement of this syncretism was questioned indirectly. Two questions that were quite significant touched on hermeneutics and its usage if at all within these A.I.C churches. Another question was raised that cited Tertuallian and the notion that the usage of the Old Testament exclusively was in fact a truncation of the Bible. (At this point I realise that I must explain that within A.I.C’s the New Testament is not rejected but is considered to be so insignificant compared to the Old Testament that the entire N.T is simply regarded as one book within the Old Testament)

I must admit that I was glad to hear this last question because as the lecture seemed to espouse an ‘African hermeneutic or interpretation’ the people that came to mind who already contributed to historical Christianity were Origen, Tertullian and Augustine; three African theologians who today still have had an immense influence on Christianity.

Trends come and go. They always do. And I must be honest and say that the oncoming one (if indeed it is on its way) that seeks to ‘Africanise’ Christianity with no respect for what the Bible is, nor accept or tolerate a basic understanding of how to approach the Bible, will also come and go. With the lecture over, I spoke to my friend outside the lecture hall and compared notes with him on the lecture.

Here are a number of rough thoughts regarding what I believe we ought to consider as African Christians in light of the challenges that may face us in the future:

  • Cultural Christianity will not do:

It’s always hard to shoot a moving erratic target. Culture acts in such a way. It is always changing and what may seem to be familiar on the aesthetic level may very well be antithetical to the Christian faith on a deeper albeit seemingly imperceptible level. It would seem that on the sole basis of the lecture, A.I.C churches do not understand that animal sacrifices were a shadow of what was to come; the ultimate atonement through Christ’s death. If we are to be true Christians who make a mark on the earth, we need to realise that ‘Christianese’ or whatever other pseudo religious ‘dress-up game’ we play will not work, and we will fail embarrassingly. Let’s get our message right, then let the message dictate how we create and shape culture; building from the inside out. The message we need to get right as African Christians is about what Christ has done for us in his death and resurrection and not what we can do for ourselves.

  • A robust understanding of God’s sovereignty in African history is desperately needed:

The hand of God was and remains present within history; African history included. Unfortunately, as Africans we tend to only see the evil that resulted out of colonialism and not see whatever good came from that period thus throwing the baby out with the bath water. Whatever good that came from this period ought to be rightly attributed to the faithfulness and providence of God when many Christian missionaries failed to be faithful in many ways. God did not cease to be God because of the partitioning of Africa. The African on the pew on Sunday needs to know this and know it well. And he needs the preacher on the pulpit to faithfully exposit the word of God so that the message affects him/her appropriately by the power of the Holy Spirit.

  • Faithfulness not relevance should be primary:

In a bid to look relevant, many have gone astray from their moral and theological centres. As Christians we ought to take heed of them such as the emergent movement and treat religious trends here in Africa that do not centre on the gospel, with the same degree of suspicion that we do the emergent movement. Same wolf, different fleece; and by this I mean that the devil is as culturally savvy if not more so than any of us could ever be.

  • The Universal Church. We need to understand what this means for us as Africans:

We must remember that the faith of saints long gone is the same faith that we received. We ought not to sing hymns and upon seeing words like ‘winter’ begin to assume  that it is at the sensory level at which we connect with the saints long gone who are now present with the Lord. It is the Lord Jesus Christ who connects and builds up his church through the various timelines and nations. Unfortunately, I have learned from experience that many African Christians are not taken to engaging theses matters at the intellectual level I must regretfully say. This must change.

  • Discipleship. It’s a must, not an option:

Unfortunately the Bible [in a sense] did come with the gun to Africa. This is something we need to face but that’s not where the story ends. What was meant for evil, God used for good and drew unto himself a great number of people from this continent. And he will continue to do so. Though the early missionaries strived to share their faith and many died for this and have since gone on to their reward, it is not well known whether they also shared their lives with the Africans they proselytized. As African Christians we have the opportunity to do so as we share our faith, even now.  And as we do it, we ought not to despise our brothers in the faith from the past; African or Caucasian who had yokes upon them that we are incapable of understanding in this present age.