A peep into life in Africa, through the eyes of an African Reformed Baptist pastor.

Water, water, water, everywhere. What else do you expect? I am a Baptist, and I live in the land of the mighty Victoria Falls!

Monday, July 14, 2014

Seven 9Marks Books On Building Healthy Churches

I do not normally take up a whole blog post on book reviews, and so when I do so it is because I think that the books being reviewed are worth the effort and time. That is the case with the seven books I’m about to briefly review in this blog post.

9Marks has produced books that are roughly 100 to 150 pages long on subjects that are vital for the health of our churches in any cultural context. If you are a fast reader, you can read each one of them in one sitting. It is worth the effort.

In this blog post I summarise the contents of each one of these books in about 100 words. I hope that this will whet your appetite for more. If you are already well-equipped with your own library, I would urge you to consider sponsoring a set of these books for pastors (especially here in Africa) who cannot afford them.

Here in Africa, our greatest need is not about how to catch the rarest deep-water creatures on the ocean beds but simply how to swim. Hence most “how to” books coming off the Western press are too complex for us. These seven books are not!

The Gospel by Ray Ortlund (Foreword by J I Packer)
The author says, “This is a book about the gospel, yes. But more specifically, it’s about how the gospel can shape the life and culture of our churches so that they portray Christ as he really is, according to his gospel.” Ray expounds John 3:16 showing God’s love in redemption. He proceeds to apply this to the church and to all creation. The rest of the book deals with the deeper implications of “a gospel culture”, which is produced by a church permeated with gospel doctrine. I can only say that I wish every church pastor would strive to achieve this today.

Evangelism by J Mack Stiles (Foreword by David Platt)
This is a book about developing a culture of evangelism in the whole church. Mack wishes to see less evangelistic programmes but more individual involvement in evangelism by church members. This involves intentional evangelism, life-styles shaped by the gospel, personal evangelism as a spiritual discipline, etc. To get us thinking, Mack begins with what most of us consider evangelism, i.e. the altar call system. Showing how it falls short of biblical evangelism, he proceeds to give us a positive dose of biblical teaching.

Church Elders by Jeramie Rinne
This is a book about “lay elders”, i.e. those who are elders in the church but do not serve as paid pastors. It answers the question, “Now that I am an elder, what next?” The author writes, “This books is intended to provide a concise, biblical job description for elders. I want to create an easy-to-read, inspiring summary of the elder task that could be given to a new or potential elder who needs to know what an elder is and does.” Like any good book on eldership, Jeramie begins with eldership qualifications and then goes on to look at the work that elders must do.

Sound Doctrine by Bobby Jamieson
Each chapter in this book begins with the words, “Sound doctrine is for…” The reason for this must be obvious. Too many people believe that doctrine is divisive and must thus be set aside. We must instead only emphasise love. The author, therefore, labours to show that sound doctrine is for our good as individuals and as churches. “Doctrine isn’t just for a statement of faith that’s hidden away on the back page of a church website; it’s for sermons, small groups, personal conversations, prayers, songs, and more,” Bobby asserts.

Expositional Preaching by David Helm
Once upon a time, topical preaching was killing the churches. Today, it is motivational speaking passing under the guise of preaching that’s doing it. We need to get back to expositional preaching. David defines this as “empowered preaching that rightfully submits the shape and emphasis of the sermon to the shape and emphasis of a biblical text.” This book is all about how to do that. So, this book is more like a workshop manual (with diagrams), which you use while your hands are on the tools of the trade. Is that not what we preachers need?

Church Membership by Jonathan Leeman (Foreword by Michael Horton)
Jonathan begins by showing us how we often approach church membership wrongly (as a club instead of an embassy) and then he delves into Scripture to show us the right approach. He then defines what the local church is and what church membership should be. With that out of the way, Jonathan delves into the practical subject of responsibilities of church membership. This book ends with what to do when members stop fulfilling their biblical roles. As you can see, this is the kind of book you want to put into the hands of all church members.

Church Discipline by Jonathan Leeman
If you are a church leader, this is the kind of book you wish you had read long ago! Jonathan gives us a biblical framework for church discipline so that we understand its basic principles. He then applies those principles to different case studies to help us see how they work. Finally, he takes us to the starting line and shouts, “Ready…steady…go!” In other words, this is a subject to be engaged in and not simply learnt about. I have no doubt that our churches would bear better fruit today if only we understood and applied the teaching in this book!

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Charismatic teaching is breeding spiritual havoc

The Zambian government is concerned about the many cases of pastors defiling girls, impregnating female church members, swindling church funds, causing the death of congregants by advising them against medical treatment, etc. At their level, they are seeking to address this matter because it is conspicuously getting out of hand. We wait to see what wisdom God will give to “the powers that be”! Other countries, such as Botswana, have already started clamping down on such pastors (see here).

However, as a church, there is an elephant in the room that we seem to be failing to see—namely, that this scourge is almost exclusively among our Charismatic friends. Notice, I said “almost exclusively”. So, put those guns back into their holsters! I agree that once in a long while you hear of a pastor in other Christian circles being guilty of these misdemeanours. However, for every one of these pastors there are ninety-nine Charismatic pastors wreaking spiritual havoc. Am I the only one seeing this discrepancy in numbers on the two sides of this fence?

Also, in other church circles there seems to be self-regulatory methods that quickly kick these wolves in sheepskins out of the sheep pen. Disciplinary measures are undertaken and the individuals are speedily expelled. Across the fence, in the wider Charismatic world, these self-regulatory systems seem to be almost absent. Partly, it is because the pastor and his wife are normally the owners of the church’s name and the church’s assets. Hence, they have the audacity to tell those who point out their wrongs that the whistle blowers are the ones who must leave. Or, if they are ever expelled, they simply cross the road and start another Fimo-fimo [i.e. Something-something] International Ministries. And the rot goes on! Isn’t this ridiculous situation staring all of us in the face?

I have been told on many occasions that when I lump the bad guys with the good ones under the umbrella of “the Charismatics” I do a great disfavour to the good guys. I should perhaps use the term “prosperity gospel preachers” or “health-and-wealth preachers” in order to point out who the bad guys are.

Two vital concerns
Two issues concern me here. Firstly, why is it that almost all of these heretics are being nursed in Charismatic circles until they are weaned and ushered upon the world’s stage as full-blown heretics? Does this not suggest that there is something intrinsic in the Charismatic milk, which, once sucked for a number of years, tends to lend itself towards these heretical views? I am simply asking.

For instance, there is the view that God still speaks to us independent of the Bible. Drink this milk for a number of years and you will soon be attributing to God the inner voices coming from your fallen self. Then there is the view of “the man of God” who is a cut above everyone else in the church. Again suck this for a few years and, before you know it, you want to be a bishop, an apostle, and God-knows what other ecclesiastical titles are being forged in this factory of madness. You also close yourself off from peer accountability structures. You are a chief!

What about the emphasis on miracles, signs, and wonders? Again, does it not make sense that once this becomes a regular diet, all that people will want is health and wealth at the fingers of ecclesiastical witch doctors? Even the blood of Jesus is no longer about appeasing the wrath of a sin-hating God but instead it is about sprinkling on cars (for safe travel), hospital beds (for healing), and wallets (for more money). This is such an obvious continuum that I am amazed that we are not seeing this. Charismatic teaching is breeding these spiritual mavericks!

That does not mean that everyone who holds on to Charismatic views will end up tipping over the cliff edge. I have many Charismatic friends who I deeply respect and so far they are keeping a safe distance away from the edge. Many of them, for instance, are concerned about the Nigerian religious junk that is engulfing the continent. However, I am still asking the question: Can’t they see that intrinsic in their doctrinal position are the seeds leading to the disaster we are currently facing on the continent? This question needs to be faced honestly.

Secondly, I am very concerned about the failure of acknowledged leaders of the Charismatic movement on the continent of Africa to address this matter because to me it is a very serious issue. Behind closed doors, with a volume that is just slightly louder than a whisper, they assure me that they are concerned about it and are addressing it. But I never hear their voice in the growing chorus of condemnation at the havoc being caused by these health-and-wealth preachers.

A creepy similarity
There is a creepy similarity between this phenomenon and what is happening in Islam. There seems to be a fear by many people to state that Islam is the cause of the current mayhem in the world. They would rather we just call the people who are doing all this simply as terrorists. However, why is it that Al-Qaeda, the Taliban, Boko Haram, Al Shabaab, etc., comprise people of Islamic belief? Could there be something in Islamic teaching that fosters the belief that Allah rewards you if you thrust your religious convictions down the bloody throats of other people?

Notice also that behind closed doors, Islamic leaders are willing to tell us that they are equally opposed to these militant terrorist groups. They assure us that Islam is a very peaceful religion. But even before they finish giving us these assurances, these Islamic terrorist groups are reported to be blowing up civilians on every side and we do not hear any loud condemnation from their lips. CNN, BBC, or Aljazeera is not quoting any of them issuing clear condemnations against these perpetrators of mayhem. Instead, they are conspicuously quiet.

These assurances from both Charismatic and Islamic leaders—while the world is going up in flames—remind me of what my late dad used to say when you wake up with a wound on any of your toes or fingers. He would say, “It was the work of a rat.” When you would ask how come you did not feel pain while the rat was nibbling your flesh away, he would say, “The rats blow on the wound each time they nibble. Thus you do not feel the pain. And that way, they can eat away your entire toe or finger.” Although that may not have been true, it was enough to keep me checking my limbs in the morning when I slept in a rat-infested place.

I fear that although the story of blowing rodents may be untrue, Charismatic and Islamic leaders are fulfilling this story in the world of humans. Their assurances are numbing our nerve-endings while rebels within their ranks wreak havoc. It is time they admitted that their teaching is fundamentally flawed at a very crucial point and is a nursery bed that is breeding these dangerous religious fanatics!

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Parenting in the age of the smartphone

One of the greatest challenges presented to parents today who are trying to bring up their children in a godly way is the advent of the smartphone. It has opened doors into the lives of our children that we certainly did not have when we were growing up.

To begin with, if we had any phone at all in the home, it was the only one for the whole family to use and it was in a place where we could all hear the conversation. It never received text messages and it was locked so that you could not ring out without permission.

Once upon a time, it was also almost impossible for young people to lay their hands on pornographic materials. It was only available as hard copies through very rare magazines, which had to be smuggled into the country and kept under boys’ mattresses.

That has completely changed. Our children are now going around with smart phones, which are certainly a thousand times smarter than their parents. Those phones, which they keep with them wherever they go, give them access to virtually anyone and anything.

This ought to be a blessing—if only we were not living in a world of sin. The blessing is that as parents we can access our children at the touch of a button wherever they are, and they can access us too. But, that is probably as far as the blessing can go.

As I have said, we live in a world of sin. For every responsible parent there are tens of thousands of immoral men and women who are preying on the lives of our children. Thus, through those same smart phones, our children are being sent every form of corrupting junk.

Only a few years ago, as long as your son or daughter did not give their number to a stranger, they were relatively safe. No one could call them or send them text messages. Then the Internet became accessible via smartphones and everything changed.

Now, parents can be sitting in the living-room, and in their bedroom the children are being wooed by wolves through what is called social media on their phones. They could be accessing pornographic sites anywhere in the world at the click of a button. It is terrible!

What should we do as parents? Firstly, if we are going to bring up godly children, we will need to educate them about the fact that they are not in a playground but in a battlefield, surrounded by ferocious wolves. These wolves will use their smartphones to destroy them.

Secondly, as we slowly allow our children to have their own smartphones, we must work around the clock to ensure that they come early to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Only when Jesus changes their hearts spiritually will they deliberately choose to use their phones to the glory of God and not to feed their fallen appetites. So, parents, wake up!

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Watching Soaps Corrupts The Mind

[I have received numerous complaints about the lack of updates on my blog. I think that I have concentrated too much on Facebook. I plead guilty. I am back! I hope that this renewed commitment will last, after the number of rebukes I have received. Let us wait and see. So, here we go!]

I am concerned about the number of soaps that have invaded our television channels. I have no doubt that they must be popular. Otherwise, why would the owners of television stations multiply them so much? They must be bringing in stashes of cash for the shareholders.

My concern is with the moral effects of these soaps, especially on the minds of the young and impressionable. Young people easily believe what they watch on television. Thus even if they go to church on Sunday, the soaps end up dictating their views of life.

The result of this is that even if the Bible clearly teaches that sex must only be left to married people, many Christian young people have their views of love and romance moulded by the dirty and immoral programs that they make their daily evening diet on television. 

They soak themselves in the mucky sewer waters that gush out of those programs until their very lives also begin to stink in the same way. They forget that the movie directors are mostly godless and care nothing about the Bible and its Ten Commandments. 

Hence, the very thread on which the soaps move from one episode to another is one adulterous affair after another. This one is having an affair with that one, but he does not know that that one already has an affair with that other one, who has a child with the first one, and that child who is now an adult is having an affair with that other one’s father, and…the sordid details go on ad infinitum, ad nauseam!

It is basic computer language, “Rubbish in; rubbish out.” You cannot continue watching sexually explicit movies with an immoral bias without awakening sexual appetites with an immoral bias within you. It is simple common sense.

The Bible says, “Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm” (Proverbs 13:20). By watching those blue movies, you are making yourself a companion of fools and so do not be surprised when you finally suffer harm.

The Bible also warns young people, saying in Song of Solomon 2:7, “Promise me, O women of Jerusalem, by the gazelles and wild deer, not to awaken love until the time is right.” When you are watching those blue movies as young people, you are awakening appetites within you when there is no way in which you can righteously satisfy them. The time is not right! Therefore, you end up satisfying those desires outside marriage. 

So, the way forward is: Do not watch those movies, they are poisonous to your soul! If you have already polluted your soul with the rubbish that comes from there, go to Christ and ask him to cleanse your soul with the blood that he shed on Calvary. He will do it.