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!

Friday, February 27, 2015

Does God really exist?

(Every day on Thursday, soon after the 13.00 hours Main News, I do a brief commentary on social issues affecting the nation on Radio Christian Voice in Zambia. I have decided to blog these commentaries here for the benefit of a wider audience. Here is the 8th one this year.)

I hear that a Zambian in Livingstone who is calling himself an atheist is challenging Christians to a debate on the existence of God. He wants us to prove that God exists. He reminds me of a philosopher called Mercutio who used to issue out similar challenges.

I normally do not spend time on such matters because the Bible does not try to prove the existence of God. It simply says in Genesis 1:1, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” So, why should I spend my time doing what the Bible does not do?

Also, when I became a Christian, no one proved to me the existence of God. I knew he existed instinctively. I was taught the evolutionary theory throughout my school days but somehow even as a child I could tell that this was a theory that had no leg to stand on.

Mind you, I was not even a Christian at that time. I was still steeped in sin. I was simply being honest with myself. When I sinned, my conscience told me that God was not happy with what I had done but I used to harden my heart so that I could go on sinning.

Yet, for the sake of youths who listen to people like the Livingstone atheist, from time to time I explain the existence of God from the premise of Genesis 1:1 itself. “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” In other words, God is our Creator.

Every creation must have a creator. Every design must have a designer. A big bang could not have produced something as complex as this universe. As a mining engineer myself, I can tell you that explosions do not produce order. They produce total chaos.

Look at the human body, for instance. It has many systems—the skeletal system, the muscular system, the digestive system, the nervous system, the blood circulation system, the immune system, the waste management system, the reproductive system, and so on.

All these systems are so intricately balanced that the moment you disturb one you disturb so many others. Anyone who looks at the human being, therefore, is looking at a body that is better designed and more multifaceted than the most complex computer on the planet.

Would you agree if someone said that a computer was produced by a big bang many years ago? If that is laughable, why should we believe that the human body and other equally complex parts of the universe were produced by a big bang? Oh, please, give us a break!

The reason why people want to have this well designed universe without recognising its divine Designer is because they want to continue living in sin. The moment you admit that God exists you have to obey his commandments. Let’s face it: You don’t want to do that!

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Repentance—The Missing Note In Today’s Preaching

John the Baptist preaching to Herod
I have observed with a growing concern how repentance is no longer a clear call in much of today’s preaching. This may not necessarily be true all over the world but as I listen more and more to various preachers on African soil this is certainly true here on our continent. The vast majority of preachers treat sin more like a disease than a state of rebellion. Hence, the remedial approach is that of “deliverance” rather than a call to repent. Was that the prevalent view in the Bible?

Repentance in the New Testament
Let us look at the New Testament preachers. The preaching of John the Baptist is referred to this way: “In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand’” (Matt. 3:2). What about the preaching of Jesus? It was exactly the same: “From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand’” (Matt. 4:17).

How does the Bible describe the preaching of the apostles in the Gospels? When Jesus called the apostles and sent them out to preach the gospel, Mark describes the event in this way: “So they went out and proclaimed that people should repent” (Mark 6:12).

By the time we get to the book of Acts, it is as if the floodgates are opened.

On the day of Pentecost, when the apostles were asked by those under conviction as to what they should do in response to Peter’s sermon, he (Peter) replied, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:37-38).

After the healing of the cripple at the Temple, Peter told the gathered crowd, “And now, brothers, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did also your rulers. But what God foretold by the mouth of all the prophets, that his Christ would suffer, he thus fulfilled. Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out” (Acts 3:17-19).

When Simon Magus tried to increase his witchdoctor powers through bribery, Peter did not tell him that he needed deliverance. Rather, he said to him, “May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money…! Repent, therefore, of this wickedness of yours, and pray to the Lord that, if possible, the intent of your heart may be forgiven you” (Acts 8:20-22).

That was Peter. What about Paul? When Paul was preaching on Mars Hill in Athens, his sermon ended with a powerful appeal: “The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent” (Acts 17:30).

Later, towards the end of his ministry, this is how Paul summarised his entire ministry: “Therefore, O King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision, but declared first to those in Damascus, then in Jerusalem and throughout all the region of Judea, and also to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds in keeping with their repentance” (Acts 26:19-20).

As the New Testament was coming to its close, Jesus sent seven letters to the apostle John to be sent out to the famous seven churches. Five of the seven included a very clear call to repentance. The very first one was, “Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent” (Rev. 2:5).

Repentance in history and today
Evidently, repentance was not a side issue for the New Testament preachers. It went on to characterise the most powerful preaching of evangelical ministers right across the ages. Read the preaching of the early church fathers, the Reformers, the Puritans, the preachers of the Great Awakening, etc., and you will see that it invariably included a call for sinners to repent. To their minds, sin was primarily a state of rebellion and not merely a disease or enslavement that people needed to be delivered from.

Why should we, as preachers in the twenty-first century, still preach repentance? Will it not simply alienate people from us and thus empty our churches?

Repentance is a condition of the heart when a person admits their error and turns away from that error. It is best summarised for us in Proverbs 28:13, “Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy.” So, repentance is both the confession and forsaking of sin that comes from a heart that recognises its own failure to comply with God’s lawful demands.

With respect to salvation, repentance is simply the other side of the coin of faith. That is why sometimes the appeal of the apostles in Acts was simply summarised as, “Repent…for the forgiveness of your sins” (Acts 2:37-38), and at other times it was summarised as, “Believe on the Lord Jesus and you will be saved” (Acts 16:31). These are not two ways of salvation. The summaries only mentioned one side of the coin. Thankfully, there were times when the apostles summarised their preaching in a way that captured both sides. Paul said, “I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable…testifying both to Jews and to Greeks of repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 20:20-21). The two invariably go together.

Why repentance is missing today
Why then are we not preaching repentance today? I think that the first reason is our unbridled quest for numbers. If you preach repentance you will only keep those who repent, while if you stop preaching repentance and instead major in motivational speaking everyone will want to come and hear you. Do the maths and you will see why self-help sermons have become the primary diet of many pulpits today. They draw and keep the crowds. And with the crowds come the money. This is the first reason.

There is, however, a second reason and I have already alluded to it. There is a growing view in today’s evangelicalism that sin is primarily a curse people are victims of and so they need to be delivered from it. This has become the dominant view across the African landscape. Chronic adulterers, for instance, are being invited to deliverance sessions instead of being called upon to repent. That is wrong. If John the Baptist had such a view, he would not have called upon Herod to repent of his adulterous affair with his brother’s wife, Herodias. Rather, he would have asked him to attend a deliverance session in the desert and thus he would have spared his own life from an early grave.

The main difference between the new “deliverance” movement and the old evangelical “repentance” movement is that the latter assumed human responsibility for sin. A sinner is not a victim of a generational curse from which he needs to be delivered. He is a rebel who needs to give up his guerrilla warfare against God. He needs to come out of the bush with his AK47 in the air and become a law-abiding citizen in God’s kingdom.

The failure to understand this difference has filled the church in Africa but it has filled it with goats! Men and women are not being confronted with the sinfulness of their sin. They are not being caused to see that they are rebels against God’s majestic law. They are not coming under Spirit-born conviction of sin and so they are not coming to the crucified Saviour in repentance and faith. Instead, they are coming to the preachers with their problems of debt, failure to have children, joblessness, anger, illness, etc., in order to be delivered. Everything is being blamed on some generational curses or demons.

The fruit of preaching repentance
Let us remember that salvation is a work of the Holy Spirit. He will use our message of faith and repentance to bring souls to himself. Those whom God wants to save will not run away once they are confronted with the fact of their rebellion against God. They will know that it is the truth and the Spirit of God will draw them to the Son of God for salvation. They will come repenting and believing in response to our gospel message.

There is a coarseness to the gospel message. Yes, it is good news because it speaks about a Saviour that has been sent from heaven who rescues us freely from our sin. However, at the end of that good news comes the condition of benefitting from it. That condition includes a call to repentance. People do not become Christians while they are whistling and feeling nice about themselves. They must be broken by conviction of sin!

Do we want to see churches across Africa filled with truly converted people? Then let us restore the preaching of repentance to its biblical place. Yes, to begin with it will empty our churches but that will not be a real loss. People will simply go where they truly belong. However, as we faithfully maintain the message of repentance towards God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit will begin to draw his people to himself in true conviction of sin and conversion. Our churches will begin to fill up with people who are truly saved and going to heaven. Our worship will become truly spiritual because it will be coming from hearts that know and love the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit!

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Is the evangelical church in Africa really glorifying God?

As 2014 draws to an end, my heart aches. I am deeply burdened about what has become the dominant characteristic of evangelical Christianity in Africa. I have tried to wrap my mind around this by simply asking an honest question “Is this Christianity that has become pervasive across the African continent really glorifying God?”

1. Are we glorifying God when we claim that we are experiencing miracles that are actually not happening? When miracles were happening in the Bible, the blind were receiving their sight, the lame were walking, those with leprosy were being cured, the deaf were beginning to hear, and the dead were being raised to life (see Luke 7:22). Today, the land is littered with posters of miracle crusades but we all know that none of this is happening. Are we glorifying God by cheating people this way?

2. Are we glorifying God when we speak in “tongues” that cannot be interpreted? In the Bible, tongues were unknown languages that could be interpreted (1 Cor. 14:27). Today it is nothing more than a few syllables that are repeated at machinegun speed: “Kakaka filolololo wandarakawandara, etc.” It is not surprising that whereas churches are full of tongue speakers, there is not a single interpreter. Can anyone interpret this? Yet, I am asking a more fundamental question: Are we glorifying God by behaving so senselessly?

3. Are we glorifying God when we reduce the benefits of salvation to more wealth and better health? In the Bible, the main message of salvation was the forgiveness of sins and moral transformation (Luke 24:47). Today, the main message coming from Africa’s “evangelical” church is the ending of personal poverty and the healing of all kinds of bodily ailments (as can be seen from the above banner). Salvation is under “any other business”. Again, I am asking, are we truly glorifying God by this deathly substitute?

4. Are we glorifying God when we abandon the preaching of repentance for motivational speaking? John the Baptist and Jesus and his apostles preached repentance (see Matt. 3:2, 4:7 and Acts 2:38, 26:20). The growing view today is not that men and women are fallen and responsible for their sin and thus must repent of it. Rather, it is that they are victims of wrong thinking and evil powers, and so they need deliverance. Hence, the sermons are nothing more than motivational talks followed by hours of deliverance sessions. I am asking: Are these messages and methods producing God-glorifying lives?

5. Are we glorifying God when we hide the rot of spiritual wolves preying on vulnerable souls? In the Bible, Jesus warned about wolves in sheepskins (Matt. 7:15). I recently received a text message from a lady in Lusaka who was taken into the bush and asked to take off her clothes by a pastor/prophet claiming he would cure her of the “disease” that was causing her husband to be unfaithful to her. Only witchdoctors did this once upon a time but it has now become common fare among “evangelical” pastors/prophets. The tragedy is our grave-like silence about this rot. Is this silence the way to glorify God?

6. Are we glorifying God when we reduce truth to a minimum for the sake of Christian unity? When I read my Bible it is adamant on the necessity of teaching and knowing the truths of the gospel if men and women are to be saved. From there, the gospel rays shine throughout the Scriptures, demanding holy living from God’s people. Today, we want to hold hands in the dark. We want fellowship with anyone claiming to be a Christian without asking questions about what they believe. Holy water and oil, Jewish prayer cloths, etc., are being sold and bought among evangelicals. And anyone who raises questions about this is shouted down. Is this new stance really glorifying to God?

7. Are we glorifying God when we reduce worship to senseless dancing to sensual music? Look at the psalms of the Bible and the worship songs that we have inherited from a previous generation and see how rich they are in expressing the faith of God’s people. Each sentence is pregnant with Scriptural truths. Today in Africa, intelligent professionals leave their brains outside the church door as they gyrate to songs that repeat one sentence over and over again. What matters is the music, the sensual music, as the worship leader shouts, “Glory to God!” Are we sure this is glorifying to God?

8. Are we glorifying God when commanding, declaring and decreeing replace humble petitions in prayer? I read the prayers of godly people in the Bible and they are full of humble pleas to the sovereign God of the universe. I then listen to the prayers of today’s men and women of God and they are full of declarations, decrees and commands “in Jesus’ name!” Is it not the height of arrogance that a person should command God to do his bidding? Can these prayers be glorifying to God by any stretch of our imagination?

9. Are we glorifying God when we fill our church membership rolls with goats and kick out church discipline? My Bible teaches that church leaders must be careful about who they allow to enter and stay in the church’s membership. It must only be those who have repented of their sin and trusted in Christ, and who show this by the way they live. If they don’t, they must be excommunicated (1 Cor. 5:9-13). Sadly, our churches today are full of members and leaders who are drunkards, fighting, living sexually immoral lives, stealing money, etc., and no one is dealing with this. Is this glorifying to God?

10. Are we glorifying God when we have women preachers while men sit in pews and listen to them? The Bible teaches male headship in both the home and the church…all the way from Eden. The Bible teaches that the work of preaching must be carried out by mature and tested males (1 Tim. 2:11-14). Sadly, the number of women going around as pastors in Africa (while their husbands call themselves bishops or prophets or apostles) has reached epidemic levels. Are we sure God is being glorified by this kick in the face?

I doubt it. Yet, these ten traits have become very dominant characteristics of African Christianity. I honestly wish this was a description of some extreme cult that can easily be separated from evangelicals, like the Jehovah’s Witnesses, but sadly this has become the most common “evangelical” Christianity in Africa. It is the one representing us on television and radio. It is the one on the billboards and posters in the streets. It is the one that fills up the rolls in our evangelical associations and pastors’ fraternals.

I wish that all the noise I am hearing and the dust being raised across Africa were God-glorifying. But it is not. It is man-centred and not God-centred. We want the numbers at any cost and we are getting them. Hardly anyone is asking the question, “Is not this thing in my hand a lie?” (Isaiah 44:20). It seems to me we are glorifying a false God—and not the God of the Bible. We have set up our own twenty-first century idol and are bowing down to it. This is not Christianity. This is not the way to heaven. No, it is not!

Hence, I end the year 2014 with a very burdened heart because of all this.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Pastor Chris Oyakhilome “the man of God”

Of the many scandals involving some high profile church leaders in Africa, the one of Pastor Chris Oyakhilome tops the list. His wife is suing him for divorce. Whether he is guilty of the wife’s allegations or not will depend on the court’s findings and ruling.

However, Pastor Chris (as he is more popularly known) has spoken out recently to address these allegations. His speech is on the Internet for anyone to hear what he says in his defense. At the least, he said that the allegations were crazy and stupid.

Pastor Chris' main argument
The main rebuttal he uses is to argue that he is a man of God, and as a man of God he could not have done the kind of things he is being accused of doing by his wife. He said, “No man of God does something against the Lord. Are you hearing me?”

“A man of God is not just someone who worships God or who preaches God. A man of God is directed by God, set on course by God. If you study the Scriptures you will not find one man of God going against God, sinning against God,” he said.

Pastor Chris lists only two men of God in the Bible who, in his understanding, made some small but costly mistakes—Moses and an unnamed young man—but they never obstinately went against God’s calling on their lives nor did they sin against God.

He asserted, “But a man of God setting himself in defiance to the word of God and living like they are writing those stupid things that I did this and I did that...You don't know what a man of God is. I don't go in that direction. That's crazy!”

Pastor Chris then argues that the fact that a woman is married to a man of God does not make her a woman of God. That is why the wives of men of God are not listed in the Bible. In other words, whereas he is insulated from going astray, his wife is not.

He is certainly very clear that Christians should not take each other to court or go for divorce. However, once sued, he knows he is obligated to appear there and defend himself. Thus he appeals to his hearers and followers to pray for his wife, Rev. Anita.

He ended with, “We are not walking in sin and living in sin and hoping we can mix sin and righteousness together. No! We are the manifestations of his righteousness. We walk in that light only, and that is the way it’s gonna be! Glory to God!”

A false view of "man of God"
Okay, so why have I gone into all this trouble of reporting on Pastor Chris Oyakhilome’s self-defense? It is because it is a perfect illustration of one of the issues I have talked about again and again; namely, the false view of “the man of God”.

As long as we think that there are “men of God” out there who are reeking with power and thus cannot fall, we will continue to have these scandals with us. We’ll continue to keep them above accountability structures until they come crushing down!

The best biblical proof that “men of God” also have clay feet and are as prone to sin as the rest of us lesser mortals is the story of David. He is called a man of God again and again in the Scriptures. Nehemiah calls him as such (see Neh. 12:24 and 12:36).

We read in 2 Chron. 8:14, “According to the ruling of David his father, he appointed the divisions of the priests for their service, and the Levites for their offices of praise and ministry before the priests as the duty of each day required, and the gatekeepers in their divisions at each gate, for so David the man of God had commanded.”

We all know what happened to David, “the man of God”. He lusted after Bathsheba who was Uriah’s wife. He had sex with her. When she told him she was pregnant, David “the man of God” conspired against her husband and got him killed in warfare.

King David then married Bathsheba, thinking that he had covered all his tracks and no one was going to know. Hence, for a long time he continued in silence with blood on his hands. It took Nathan the prophet to open the door for the skeletons to all fall out.

David “the man of God” confessed his sin against God. That was when Nathan told him that he was pardoned. Later, he wrote, “For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me…[I have] done what is evil in your sight” (Psalm 51:3-4).

The obvious contradiction
Pastor Chris Oyakhilome says, “If you study the Scriptures you will not find one man of God going against God, sinning against God.” Well, here before our very eyes is a very prominent man of God who went against God and sinned grievously against him.

Pastor Chris Oyakhilome says, “No man of God does something against the Lord. Are you hearing me?” Well, we must now choose between hearing him or hearing what the Bible says. The Bible shows us that men of God also do things against God.

Pastor Chris Oyakhilome says, “But a man of God setting himself in defiance to the word of God and living like they are writing those stupid things that I did… That's crazy!” According to the Bible, it is not crazy. All men can do those stupid things.

I am very concerned about this. I have asked before, “Could it be that one reason why 95% of all these scandals are taking place among Charismatic leaders is because of something in the teaching itself?” I am told that it is not. Here it is in the teaching.

Pastor Chris Oyakhilome, one of the foremost Charismatic leaders in Africa, teaches that men of God cannot do something against the Lord, cannot sin against God, and cannot do any of those stupid things he is being accused of doing. That is a total lie.

The Charismatic world will continue to suffer hemorrhage among its top leaders as long as the views expressed by Pastor Chris continue to be pervasive among them. Sadly, the way they treat their pastors like demigods only sets them up for a loud fall.

The apostle Paul wrote thus about himself, “I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:22-24)

I will be the first to confess that I am a fallen creature in constant need of careful watch over my own soul. I need the careful watch of my wife, fellow believers, and my elders. “I’m prone to wander. Lord, I feel it; I’m prone to leave the God I love!”