Polarity: Kenya’s 2017 Elections, Identity Politics & The Fidelity of the Kenyan Church.

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(Photo Courtesy of The Standard Media Group)

On the 8th of August, Kenya went to the polls and voted. Three days later on Friday evening, the incumbent Uhuru Kenyatta was officially declared the victor. The opposition coalition N.A.S.A refused to be a part of the final process and its candidate Raila Odinga refused to concede defeat seeking instead to fight the ruling at the Supreme Court and finding a historically unprecedented victory there on the 1st of September. The country seems to be putting much on hold and waiting for the outcome of the new election to be held on October 17th. This is the context we are living in; in a state of angst and as the Waswahili say, “Fahali wawili wakizozana, nyasi ndizo huumia,” [Translation: When two bulls fight, it is the grass that hurts]

Throughout our history as a country, we have been fixated on an ongoing drama between the Kenyatta and Odinga family dynasties despite alternative voices in the political sphere seeking equal attention; a drama that has become imbued since independence in 1963 with a litany of shifting ideologies: socialism, democracy, liberation theology, Marxism, Rogue Capitalism, negative ethnicity…the list could go on and on. After all, our literacy rate for Kenyans over the age of 15 lies at 78% and with access to an innumerable number of ideologies for the literate populace to pick from and absorb in an attempt to understand itself, the drama goes on.

In this ideological environment, Kenya’s greatest asset; an eclectic population (40+ tribes as well as Caucasian and South Asian ethnicities) has not been fully brought to bear in attempts to mitigate the negative effects of this ongoing drama and has instead been perverted. This is often seen in the subsuming of ethnic identities into either side of the Kenyatta/Odinga narrative and the subsequent sociopolitical outlooks either side adopts on the day whilst seeking to negate its ideological opposition. One such example of this is the GEMA outfit. Unlike the sort of harmony expected of relations that begin from a position of mutuality e.g. inter-ethnic marriage or enterprise that includes ethnicities across the Kenyan spectrum, this particular melding eventually harms. The harm is further fostered by historical revisionism, unsubstantiated claims as well as the “requisite” denials, assertions and deliberate instances of silence when speaking is preferred. The August 8th elections were no different. However, the brazenness with which new lines were drawn by both sides of the Kenyan election especially on social media was uniquely startling:

  • The assertions that 9 year old Stephanie Moraa shot on her balcony was in fact protesting; thus a subconscious attempt to cut the flow of empathy towards her grieving family.
  • That the police was not at all acting recklessly; a denial easily refuted by the instance of tear gas canisters lobbed inside an SDA church.
  • The deliberate silence that was a response in several circles to the clubbing to death of 6-month old Baby Pendo.
  • Unsubstantiated claims from opposition supporters that the election was rigged through a collusion between the IEBC, Electoral Observers and Multi-National Corporations with ghoulish intentions.
  • The initial boycott from the opposition to take their issue to the mandated governing authorities for election disputes where objectivity rather than sentiment is to be the rule i.e. the courts despite some of its players having played a part in the past in the fight for stronger public institutions. (The question may very well be asked, should we only support our governance institutions when we think it will go our way?)

The Kenyan church in its overall ethos of social and ethical transformation, has more often than not assumed that it could neatly excise itself from this context it inhabits while in practice rather than in doctrine, denying that our fight remains against the world, the flesh and the devil. The pervasiveness of this error runs so deeply that within the theological systems of some sects and African Christian theologians, can be sensed the unchallenged assumption that within our “Africanness” lies an immunity from particular ravages of the devil as far as our perception of reality as God has decreed it to be is concerned.

With these standpoints, implicitly yet firmly in place, it now surprises the church in Kenya that the same denials, assertions and deliberate instances of silence when speaking is appropriate are also to be found within its walls and not simply from all sides outside of it. As Christians, we often speak of the importance of our worldview being shaped by the word of God. What we really say in another way is that, our reality is always being reshaped, modified if you will and that it is to be appropriately modified by the word of God. The question then is, are we aware of this and the standards by which our reality is modified throughout our lives or will we be surprised as we are now when we realize we have been modifying our reality on false assumptions? On this point, Carl Trueman’s lecture below at Westminster Theological Seminary on Martin Luther is strikingly relevant. Here he describes Luther’s commentary on Genesis 3:1 in which Luther considers the temptation of Adam and Eve by the serpent and his conclusion from that passage that in speaking an untruth, the serpent essentially presents to our first parents a “false reality”.

Carl Trueman: “…With a word, it attacks “The Word” – The word which the Lord had spoken to Adam was do not eat from the true of the knowledge of good and evil. For Adam, this word was Gospel and law. It was his worship, it was his service and the obedience he could offer God in this state of innocence. These Satan attacks and tries to destroy. Nor is it only his intention as those who lack knowledge think to point out the tree and issue an invitation to pick its fruit. He points it out indeed but then he adds another new statement as he still does in the church.”

What Luther is saying there is that sin involves an alternative reality. But what Satan does, he doesn’t just point to the tree and say ‘Go on, have a go. Eat it.’ Satan re-describes reality. And because Satan re-describes reality in a way that is false, ultimately you can never make sense. The world is a certain way because God has decreed it to be that way. When Satan sets up an alternative reality, it is inevitable, it is inevitable that the world no longer makes sense. Death invades. Death is senseless for Luther. The world no longer makes sense because it no longer runs along the lines of reality that God has established in his word.

As lovers of truth which the Christian is to be we should furthermore recognize without partiality, the thoroughly inappropriate hijacking of religious themes by both sides i.e. the naming of the current government as the Jubilee Coalition in 2013 with reference to the Biblical concept of “Jubilee” as well as the self-identification of Raila Odinga as “Joshua” attempting to lead Kenya into a “land of prosperity” as it were. It should not come as a surprise that this hijacking would occur; as a matter of fact the people of Kenya themselves often eagerly ascribe these Biblical themes and messianic identities to politicians. These abuses and the deliberate silence from many Christian clergy in response to them clearly shows that much of the Kenyan church has no clue whatsoever when it comes to rightly dividing the word of God. The Bible for many in the Kenyan church is not immediately understood as a book containing significant, historic, at times unrepeatable events but is rather overall, a collection of aphorisms that can be appropriated for selfish gain in whichever way the reader of the Bible deems appropriate. As for the history in it, that kind of Kenyan reader might very well say albeit implicitly, “That is neither here nor there,”

In this way, the Biblical narrative is re-shaped. Uhuru Kenyatta becomes the kingly Christ-figure whose sinlessness is attested to by several of his supporters denying any allegation of corruption or other wrongdoing on the part of the Jubilee government in the last few years. They then term them all (the allegations) as mere propaganda and attempts at “economic sabotage” whilst denouncing those who would call for this “sinlessness” to be critiqued i.e. civil society. In this narrative, Raila Odinga and his followers with his frequent “scandal revelations” becomes the accusatory anti-Christ figure in need of final vanquishing.

On the other side, a similar plot plays out this time with Raila Odinga appropriating the identity of Biblical Joshua; another Christ figure whose task is to lead Israel i.e. his followers, into “Canaan”; a corruption free, virtue-laden prosperous Kenya for all ethnicities, whose eyes are trained on the lawless residents of Canaan due for judgment on account of their evil deeds as well as a siege and subsequent transformation of that land from a Kenya where privileged tribal elites play carrot and stick games with their own tribesman whilst recruiting more into the ranks of their corrupt cabal. This quest apparently ends in creating a utopia on earth worthy of the world’s admiration.

With the Kenyan church – except for a few faithful Christians and churches, clearly incapable or unwilling to address these pertinent issues outlined above, it ought to be clear to any right-thinking Christian that the fidelity of the church to Christ on this issue is not really a matter of defense i.e. prevention, but rather a matter of offense and retrieval. Which is to say, we must modify our reality in accordance with the word of God, arrive at the proper judgment that we are overall compromised and then proceed to do what needs to be done to rectify the problem. What the political elite have done in appropriating Biblical themes and messianic narratives is that they have entered the house of Christianity under false pretenses. They have then proceeded to demand that we re-arrange the furniture in accordance to their whims and are now insisting as all Kenyan squatters tend to do, that their ancestors were buried somewhere on our property and they are now laying claim to our history for their own purposes.

May I suggest that by tolerating the false realities presented to the Kenyan church and resorting to silence for too long when speaking was preferred, that what we as Kenyan Christians were really preferring and seeking out was the comfort of pretended social cohesion over the peace that God himself supplies? In doing so we have opened ourselves to at least these two specific challenges to Gospel witness in Kenya:

  1. The silence of numerous Christians and churches in appropriately talking about historical injustices as well as the two currently prominent false realities; the socially destructive doctrine of Uthamaki and the nascent, inevitably inadequate “Luo Messiah Narrative” for lack of a better term – the attempt to weaponize the Luo tribal identity into a social justice vehicle and its subsequent appropriation by all and sundry, says loudly to non-Christians that for some reason, the church is inherently incapable of speaking to these things. Thus, the logic on the ground may flow in this way – the church is silent therefore it has nothing to say. It has nothing to say because it’s scriptures do not speak on these things and therefore the (supposed) insufficiency of scripture to speak on all of life here in Kenya is evidence of its total bankruptcy. And because the Christian scriptures cannot be trusted, either its God is false or does not exist. In this way, we who know that scripture really does speak to these things cede ground to competing worldviews who claim to extensively address these issues that the church is too bashful to acknowledge. It would not be a surprise to me to hear that the conversion of many in Kenya to Islam is due to the Sharia system’s claims to extensively address justice issues. These “alternatives” are further emboldened in their assertions when we limit our strategy for addressing issues in the civic sphere not immediately from the Bible but rather to ministry blueprints from other countries e.g. America and as a result address only the issues that for example American churches address. Hence perpetuating false assertions that Christianity is alien to the African continent and that its appropriation in African countries serves only as a power game for the goal of moral policing.
  2. The constant revisionism of objective historical facts trickles down into a lack of objectivity in general as far as the relationship between history and logic is concerned. As J. Gresham Machen taught in his seminal work, “History and Faith”, the student of the New Testament is primarily a student of history. Without the objectivity of historical facts, we will eventually find it incredibly difficult to proclaim the giving of the son of God as a substitute for our sins and the subsequent giving of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost as objective historical facts. In its toleration via silence concerning revisionism and subjectivism, the church becomes complicit in aiding the enemy to destroy the context for our Christian witness throughout the ages. In this context we are unwittingly complicit in destroying, The Law of Non-Contradiction is made obsolete.

Even more chilling is the future of our present Kenyan youth who we expect to pass on the faith to in this context we are creating. The Aga Khan University in its recently conducted research on Kenyan youth culture has arrived at the conclusion that Kenya is headed for an economically prosperous yet morally dubious future thus complicating further the Kenyan Gospel witness for the future. Having painted such a bleak picture what is the Christian to do, what is the church to do when the foundations are broken?

Well, it ought to be categorically stated that having realized the present precarious nature of our foundations, the necessary process of retrieval in the Kenyan church is in fact nothing short of the retrieval of Biblical redemptive history and its implications within the Kenyan context. Primarily at a corporate level through Redemptive-Historical preaching from the pulpit and Holy-Spirit empowered ‘love of neighbour’ at the individual Christian’s level across all ethnic lines. This retrieval of redemptive history in our churches would proclaim our common anthropology and that our need and solution as a human race regardless of your ethnicity is one and the same as that of anyone from another ethnicity.

Such a statement of our common anthropology through Adam; humanity’s representative, the fall of humanity in him, and consequently all of humanity’s need for Jesus Christ; the second Adam, entails in practicality, rejecting the Judaizing walls reminiscent of the Galatian heresy such as those implicitly embodied within the Uthamaki doctrine and the Luo Messiah Narrative. Adam not Uhuru Kenyatta or Raila Odinga is the representative of every Kenyan all of whom are born into sin. Jesus Christ and not Uhuru Kenyatta nor Raila Odinga is the head of the church; a church in which Kenyans from every ethnic community are found. We are as Christians to modify our view of the world not on the social-political claims of either Uhuru Kenyatta or Raila Odinga but on the timeless and trustworthy word of God.

Furthermore, it entails celebrating our ethnicities rather than being bashful of them or deliberately and destructively subsuming our ethnicities into the socio-political constructs of the players on each side. As Revelations teaches us, we need to arrive at an understanding that at the end of human history as we currently know it and long past the time when the names Raila Odinga and Uhuru Kenyatta have faded into memory, we should expect to hear in heaven the languages of the Kikuyu, Luo, Abagusii, Kamba, Pokot, Ogiek, Mijikenda, Arabic, Indian, Pakistani communities as well as the tongues of every other community under the sky. Though we should strive for social cohesion as much as is possible, we also need to have a reasonable end view of things and understand that ultimate peace will not be eternally secured without the prince of peace at the end of human history as we now know it. Like Abraham our patriarch, we are not as Christians to seek out an earthly abode and become “kingdom financiers” or anything of the sort rather, we are to look for that city whose architect and builder is God as we love our neighbours at an individual level no matter the cost to ourselves.

In this appropriate modification, we are to in all situations to set apart Christ as Lord in our first act and from that act, appropriately and within our relevant spheres and degrees of influence see to it that we live in a manner that honours God and appropriately loves our neighbours and in doing so, bear witness to the fact that as a church we are a tapestry of many ethnicities brought out of the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of light.

In ensuring that this is portrayed, the manner of preaching in our churches must also drastically change to reflect the reality of the working of the word of God throughout human history in the hearts of all mankind. The sort of heart-changing and world-turning preaching necessary for this task at hand is expository preaching in the Lectio-Continua tradition that proclaims in its methodology the centrality and supremacy of Jesus Christ in scripture and history whilst accompanied by much prayer. To ensure that the word of God is unhindered in its work, we shall also need healthy churches governed by elders as well as ordained deacons who see to it that the material needs of its parishioners are not committed to the realm of theory but instead proclaim in action, that the Christian faith is a tangible faith rather than a Gnostic faith.

There is much else that could be said and that needs to be said, but at the end of the day, Christian faithfulness in a polarized Kenya can only be achieved by a process of retrieval at an individual Christian level as well as at the institutional church level. May God help us to realize the sheer magnitude of this necessary task at hand and our dire need for the work of the Holy Spirit whose strength is the only sure help towards the accomplishment of this crucial work.

Further Resources

 

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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 (?)

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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.