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!

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

The priesthood of all believers and its relevance to Africa today

In a previous blog post, I argued that the modern popular view of the pastor within Charismatic circles is simply another form of the traditional view of the village witchdoctor. It is full-blown African traditional religion that has returned dressed with a thin veneer of Bible verses made to say what the Holy Spirit never intended them to say when he first inspired the biblical writers to pen them.

In this blog post, I am answering the question, “How can we bring down this popular unbiblical view and chase African traditional religion out of the church in Africa. How can we restore true Christianity to the African church?” It seems to me that this will only happen when we restore the New Testament teaching of the priesthood of all believers to the place it once held within Protestantism.

The priesthood of all believers in history
“The priesthood of all believers” is a teaching that was particularly popularised by Martin Luther, the great reformer of the 16th century. Prior to the reformation in the church that he is known for, there was a very thick divide between the clergy (who were called “priests”) and the laity (the ordinary church members).

The priests were a specially trained and appointed group of people in the church who claimed to have special dealings with God. They alone could handle the Mass (an unbiblical form of the Lord’s Supper), baptism, weddings, and even prayers for the people of God. They mediated pardon too, and so God’s people came to them to confess their sins in order to receive God’s pardon. Through their mediation, the people of God could get their relatives who died outside Christ to cut short their period in purgatory (an unbiblical form of temporal hell).

In this way, the laity was totally dependent upon the priests in the church for everything…until Martin Luther came around. He showed that, according to the Bible, all Christians have equal access to God through prayer because all of them come to God through the mediatorial work of Christ. “For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 2:5). Through the death of Jesus Christ, he has paid for the sins of all his people and so God accepts them on the basis of Christ’s merit alone. Christians do not need a human mediator to receive any blessing from God—none whatsoever!

The results of the loss of this teaching today
These biblical truths are what Christians on the African continent today need to hear. Those who claim that we need to go to them to get a “breakthrough” or “deliverance” in whatever situation we are going through are impostors, cheats, and swindlers. There is no longer an altar in the front for you to go to in order to be prayed for. The brothers and sisters sitting next to you in church—indeed you as well—have the same access to God as those charlatans calling you to the front.

It is because we have lost this truth of the priesthood of all believers that we have now created a very sleek class of “men of God” in Evangelicalism. In the name of having special spiritual powers (which they call “anointing”), these guys are milking the church of its money and sexually abusing its women. They wear costly designer suits, drive the most expensive cars, and own property that even chief executives of our biggest business corporations only dream of. They do not even carry their own Bibles. Like chiefs, they have henchmen to do it for them.

Every weekend and during conferences, they invite us to go to them for spiritual breakthroughs and deliverance. As Johan Tetzel told the people in Luther’s day to buy indulgences by putting money into his tin box and once coins hit the bottom of the box the souls of their dead relatives would spring out of purgatory, today’s “Tetzels” claim that your socio-economic breakthrough will be bigger if you give them more money. Thus the poor are getting poorer as they give them their earnings, while they are getting stinking rich. This is daylight robbery!

The last two lines in this German poem read
"As soon as the coin in the coffer rings
The soul at once into heaven springs"
The one difference between the priests of the medieval era and today’s “men of God” is that the former often falsely promised a heaven after you die while the latter falsely promise you a heaven on earth while you still live. They invite you to their meetings in order for them to pray for you so that you get married or you get your loved one back who has run away with another man/woman. They say they will give you a breakthrough so that you get a job or a promotion at work. They claim that through their prayers you will get delivered from your persistent sickness or failure to conceive. They prey on the souls and wallets of men and women through the door of human greed. And thousands are falling for it.

We all have access to God through Christ
Yet the apostle Peter declared to all Christians, “You yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ…. But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellences of him who called you out of darkness into his marvellous light” (1 Peter 2:5,9). In other words, if you have been saved from sin, i.e. brought out of darkness and into Christ’s marvellous light, you are part of a royal priesthood that has direct access to God. You do not need someone else to act between you and God. No, you can go and talk to God yourself. Period!

Every Christian is a priest to God. He has access to God the Father through Jesus Christ. The only barrier that any Christian can have in terms of his access to God is his own sins. If you are living in sin the Lord will not hear you. We read this in Isaiah, “Behold, the LORD’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save, or his ear dull, that it cannot hear; but your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear. For your hands are defiled with blood and your fingers with iniquity; your lips have spoken lies; your tongue mutters wickedness” (Isaiah 59:1-3).

In this matter, there is enough evidence in the media today that these “men of God” who are claiming the powers to bring breakthroughs and deliverances in our lives are as steeped in sin and iniquity as the Herods of the Bible. As their wives sue them to court for divorce, we are discovering that while they were laying their hands on the innocent and unwary—and making them pay for this service—their wives were often catching them with their pants down behind closed doors. In outrage these women are now saying, “Enough is enough!” and letting the skeletons fall out of the wardrobes. Alas, these “men of God” are as corrupt as the Roman Catholic priests were in Martin Luther’s day—if not worse!

Thursday, August 28, 2014

The Zambian Reformed Conference—The Third Day

Today (Wednesday) is the third day but the second full day of the Zambian Reformed Conference. I missed the opening day and the first full day (Monday) as Felistas and I crossed the Atlantic from the USA.

Dr Voddie Baucham preaching
Dr Voddie Baucham took the first session this morning. He was handling the theme: “Running Forward.” His task was to challenge us on the subject of missions. Today, he expounded the context of the Great Commission, i.e. the claim by Jesus that “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (Matthew 28:18).  He had this authority first of all as God and then in the second place he earned it as man. Using passage after passage across the New Testament all the way to the book of Revelation, he showed us the victory that Christ has won for us. He also showed how Jesus fulfilled ALL the promises of the Old Testament as the promised and protected seed and as the true Israel.

Part of the congregation listening to Dr Voddie Baucham
Dr Voddie Baucham then also showed the content of the Great Commission. Our first responsibility is “Go”. This is a global commission. The pattern of the apostles was that they went to the nations. This was a multi-ethnic commission. One of the demands of this is to translate the Bible into the various languages of the earth. This also implies church planting. This is an evangelistic commission. It demands that individuals abandon their previous allegiances and commit themselves to the triune-God. This is also a comprehensive commission. You need to teach them all the commands of Christ. We must make disciples. It is a doable commission because Jesus will be with us to the end of the ages.

Part of the congregation listening to Pastor Ken Jones
Pastor Ken Jones took the second session. He was handling the theme: “Remaining Faithful.” His task was that of preaching on the doctrines of grace. Today, he handled the doctrine of election. Before the foundation of the world, God knowing that Adam would sin and bring condemnation on his offspring, God sovereignly chose to save some of Adam’s posterity. It was not based on any good in them. This was a free and sovereign choice.

Pastor Jones then took the meeting through various passages of Scripture beginning with the Old Testament and all the way to the New Testament (e.g. Deut. 7:6-8, Rom. 9:6-21, Eph. 1:3-6, 2 Thess. 2:13-14). From these passages he showed that God chose sinners in spite their sin. The purpose for God’s choice is that those that he chooses would be holy and would love him. Whereas in our creation God puts us in Adam, in election God chooses us to be in Christ (the last Adam). The means us by which he brings us into Christ is the message of the gospel. It is imperative that we get that message right and we get it out! The motive for God choosing one sinner over another is the pleasure of his good will.

Pastor Ken Jones preaching
Pastor Jones made it clear that unconditional election is consistent with God’s attributes and character. He also postulated unconditional election does not violate human free will. Unconditional election does not negate evangelism but fulfils evangelism. Unconditional election lets grace to be grace. It shows that God’s favour is unprovoked favour. God freely chose to save sinners.

I missed the afternoon as I was battling jet lag. Hopefully, I will report on this tomorrow when I will participate in the afternoon 25th anniversary panel.

Dr Voddie Baucham preaching in the evening meeting
In the evening, Dr Voddie Baucham began by quoting John Piper’s statement that “Missions exists because worship does not.” He then went on to assert that if we are to understand missions then we must understand true worship. We must worship God only in the way that he has specifically instructed (the regulative principle in contrast to the normative principle).

Dr Voddie Baucham attempting to preach with a megaphone
during a power outage. In the end he preached without amplification.
Dr Baucham then went on to use the Decalogue (the Ten Commandments) to show how true God himself delineates worship. The first commandment gives us the object of our worship. It must be the triune God and not what we want. The second commandment sets the limitations of our worship. Sincerity is not enough and innovation is not acceptable. Rather, we should aim for faithfulness. (At one stage there was a powercut and Dr Baucham preached in darkness).

Part of the congregation attending the evening meetings
The third commandment demonstrates the reverence that we are to have in worship. This refers to the attitude of our hearts. Everything that we do has consequences. We must ask ourselves whether what we are doing is reverent before God or just feeding our passion. The fourth commandment gives us the regularity of our worship. We are to worship God on the seventh day after six days of work. We do so because he says so. In missions, we are calling all human beings to participate in this worship. Missions exists because worship does not!

Another part of the congregation attending the evening meeting

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Why should I not get married to someone who already has children?

[Disclaimer: This blog post is for young adults asking themselves this question. It is meant to give them a peep into the minds of their parents to understand why they give a vehement “No!” when they announce to them that they would like to get married to someone who has children. It is not meant to justify the reasons. It was written because of a query that I received from a young person in Zambia.]

QUESTION: Morning pastor. I have a growing concern that I seek clarity on. If possible, please answer it through your blog. I would like to find out: Is it right to get into courtship with a man/woman who has a child with a different person? They could be living with the child or not but you are well aware of this child's existence. I would like to know the pros and cons of this.

It is something that we youths would want to hide from parents and friends for fear of how we will be judged. Please, shed more light on this. How are we supposed to inform loved ones—assuming that courting someone with a child is right—without them having to second guess our decision? I await your response.

ANSWER: One of the hardest pills to swallow by parents is when their child comes home with the news that he or she is in love with someone who already has children. Of course, this is usually only the case if their child is a young adult who has never had any children.

This is why many men who have children outside marriage will hide them when they start courting a new suitor. They fear that once the new girl finds out she will break the relationship. Hence, these children tend to only come out of the woodworks after the wedding day.

Of course, there is no chapter or verse in the Bible that states that a person without children should never get married to one who already has children. However, there are a number of human reasons why most parents will do everything to stop this from happening.

Reasons for parental reluctance
All parents dream that their children will arrive on their wedding day as virgins and will get married to individuals who themselves are also in the same state. A suitor who already has children outside marriage says to the would-be-parents-in-law that they were already “sleeping around”.

This feeling is exaggerated in parents when it is a son who wants to marry a girl who already has children. Since a man is a proposer, they often wonder how their son could have bypassed all the virgins in town and ended up choosing a “used” woman. Was he given love portions? Hence, it often takes a very long time for the man’s parents to stop visibly resenting their daughter-in-law if the marriage still goes ahead.

What if the children were born when that person was in a previous marriage? Is that okay? Most parents still worry because they realise that their child is getting married to someone who is coming into the marriage with extra baggage. This brings some challenges with it.

Let me explain. If the person is a divorcee, their child will have to reckon with the on going presence of their in-law’s previous lover. The other parent of the children will often want to see the children or buy them things, which will always be seen as a threatening intrusion.

Even where the marriage ended with the demise of the other parent, the challenge often due to the different levels of attachment to the children. The biological parent is often more attached to the children than the one who inherited them as part of the marriage package.

It is not uncommon in such marriages to find situations where the biological parent is accusing the other one of lack of love for the children or the one who inherited the children through marriage accusing the biological parent of spoiling the children too much at his/her expense.

These accusations of bias tend to be worse when other children are born into this marriage. The victim of these accusations, rightly or wrongly, is the parent to whom some of the children were inherited through marriage. It is hard raising kids who are not your own!

Children also feel as if the person their parent has now fallen in love with is an intruder who has come to take away the attention and love they were enjoying from their parent. They tend to resent this. It takes quite some time and tact to change this strong negative emotion.

This only gets worse when children enter their teenage years. They seem to realise that this is a trump card they can use to get what they want from their biological parent. Hence, when their inherited parent denies them what they want, they scowl at him/her, and out comes this card!

Sometimes the victim is not the parent but the siblings who are half-brothers or half-sisters. Remember how King David’s family fell apart in 2 Samuel 13 when Amnon raped his half-sister Tamar, and later Absalom the full-brother to Tamar murdered him? Things like that can happen.

It is because parents know all this, either from their own experience or from the experience of others whom they have related to (see some of it here), that they kick and scream when their child tells them that they have a suitor but that suitor already has children. It is far from good news to them.

So, these are some of the reasons—whether spoken or not—that cause parents to dig in their heels and say to their child, “What on earth has gotten into you? Is this the only person you can marry? Be patient. God will bring the right person along without all this baggage.”

What should your response be?
How should young adults respond when they meet with this blockade? To begin with, they need to sympathise with their parents rather than immediately get into counter-attack mode. This was not their parents’ dream. In fact, it was probably one of their nightmares.

Young people should give their parents time to digest all this. Once tempers and emotions have cooled down, they should get back to their parents with tangible assurances that will show them that they respect them, and are going into this marriage with both eyes wide open. Saying, “But we are in love!” is not enough. Talk about how you feel God has prepared you for the complications ahead.

It is often wise to bring in other elderly people in the wider family and in the church who can listen to the anxieties of the parents with true understanding but who can vouch for the character of the father/mother of the children and testify to how the children have already emotionally bonded with the person who may soon be their step-parent. This goes a long way to calm parental fears.

The two individuals planning to get married should also take time to talk with older couples that entered into marriage in similar circumstances, especially if they are Christians. They need to hear what challenges they should expect—and how they can best overcome them. The person inheriting children through marriage must face the fact that there will be times of serious friction ahead.

Finally, the two individuals must hand over this matter to God in prayer, asking that his will should be done. It is rarely ever wise to go against parental guidance. Where parents continue to adamantly refuse to bless your marriage plans, the wiser route is that of waiting in prayer.

Often in the waiting, the Lord finally opens a door that you least expected. I wish I could say that he finally causes your parents to let you go ahead, but that is not always the case. However, the Lord finally gives you a sense of peace about what you must do.

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!