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, December 31, 2008

Reformed Christians—Where are you?

“You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people's feet. You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:13-16).

As we enter into 2009, I have been doing a lot of thinking. When the Reformed Baptist movement began in Zambia in the late 1980s, the scare crow used against it was that the churches would shrink because that was the effect of the movement in other parts of the world. “Your churches will die!” our members were constantly warned. Those of us who were pioneering this movement put on our thinking caps and found that this was going to happen if we did not put the evangelistic machinery in our churches at white-hot heat. This we did, and the effect is that a number of our churches are experiencing sitting space problems. Kabwata Baptist Church has recently had to bring down a few walls to accommodate its ever-growing Sunday attendance. Apart from that, our conferences and camps are now full to overflowing. For instance, our recent KBC youth camp had well over four hundred youths, mostly teenagers, in attendance (see picture below). And the advertised theme was not “How to be successful in life” but “The Final Judgment”! We as Reformed Baptists are also the only Baptists in Zambia running regular television and radio programs. Talk about the internet, and again we are the only Baptists in Zambia with church websites that are active. And we are multiplying. Lusaka alone now has no less than ten Reformed Baptist churches. Whatever you may want to call this, it is not “shrinkage”—and certainly not “death”!

However, instead of basking in the warmth of these achievements, I think we need to address the challenges that still lie ahead of us as a Reformed Baptist movement in Zambia. One of them is that of permeating society as salt and light. I have no doubt that Reformed theology, with its emphasis on expository and applicatory preaching, has produced Christians of very high moral fibre in our society. The grace of God in the truths of Scripture have taught us how to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this same present wicked world (Titus 2). Thus our homes are definitely not a representative sample of the homes in our society. The Scriptures have educated us about marriage and family life, and we are seeking to implement its norms. Also, in our work places, once the initial persecution has been weathered, our members are experiencing unprecedented promotions into higher offices. This can only be because employers are appreciating their dependability, integrity and hard work. That is how it should be!

My concern, however, is the almost total absence of Reformed Baptists when it comes to those areas where volunteerism in society is needed. Think of areas such as local government—and even state government. How many of us are thinking of getting so involved in our communities that we can stand for elections at local government level and the people in our community will know us by our deeds? Our children go to various schools in our neighbourhoods, but how many of us serve on the various boards of our children’s schools on a volunteer basis so as to improve those institutions? Our nation is fighting for its life because of HIV and AIDS. I have no doubt that within the four walls of our churches, our message is loud and clear—“Abstinence outside marriage and faithfulness in marriage”. But again I ask, how many of our members are actually involved in HIV/AIDS mitigation programs in our immediate communities?

Then all you need is to go into the townships and rural areas and you will find abject poverty staring you in the face, with widows and orphans not knowing where their next meals will come from. What are we practically doing about all this? A lot of donor funding is being poured into the country, but a lot of that money is going into the pockets of the rich who are now building mansions through attending sponsored training workshops, training of trainers workshops, training of trainers of trainers workshops, etc. Only biblically taught Christians can break this vicious cycle and ensure that the much-needed help reaches the people it is intended to reach. They will also ensure that the vulnerable are being helped in such a way that they can start to help themselves, and not reduce them to life-long beggars waiting for the next hand-outs. But, I search in vain to find Reformed Christians giving of their time for this kind of work. Many who are doing this are in it because it is the source of their bread and butter. The NGO world pays well!
Are we not guilty of lighting a lamp and hiding it under a basket? Why is corruption so endemic in all spheres of our society and how do we hope to defeat it? I do not doubt that it should be primarily through evangelism. Without changed hearts, we cannot expect changed communities. However, to stop there is to suggest that only when everyone is converted by the power of the gospel will we find our communities changed. That will never happen. Biblical prophecy does not even remotely suggest 100% conversion in any society. However, what ought to happen is that those who are converted should not shy away from entering into the shop-floor of their community life. They should be there where the ideas and actions of the world matter the most—in the arts, in the media, in the corridors of power, in civil society, etc. As they express their well-informed and God-centred convictions, the world soon begins to listen to them and a new day dawns for the entire community and nation. Even an atheist who recently visited Africa acknowledged this (http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/columnists/matthew_parris/article5400568.ece).

Where would we be if Christian men like William Wilberforce did not ply their trade in the corridors of power? The cursed slave trade would still be alive and well on planet earth! Where would we be if Christian women like Florence Nightingale (see picture below) did not give themselves to the plight of the sick and suffering in their society and beyond—much to the dismay of their affluent families? The whole practice of medicine, especially nursing care, changed for the better because Florence lived. Where would we be if Christian men like Robert Raikes and George Williams had not taken it upon themselves to improve the livelihood of children and youths in their communities who were remaining uneducated and thus giving themselves to the vices of crime, drunkenness and prostitution? It was because of these men that movements like the Sunday School movement and organizations like the YMCA were born and have done much good for our entire world.

These men and women were not just interested in being responsible Christians within the four walls of their homes and in their working places. They saw the needs of society around them and decided they were not going to close their eyes to these needs but instead were going to give themselves to do something about them. It was not easy for them. Society was not willing to help them. However, they gave of their time, money and energies to turn their world around. Today, we read their biographies and since their praises; but once upon a time they were vilified because they dared to stand up for the truth and for the downtrodden until the tide turned in their favour.

Look at the dilapidated state of our schools! Look at the broken-down condition of our health facilities! Look at the moral degradation in our townships! Look at the levels of corruption in high and low offices! Look at the number of orphans and widows that HIV and AIDS are producing every day! Look at the endemic poverty all around us! Look at the greed of our politicians and the waste of donor money by the NGOs! Look at the breakdown of family life in our cities. Look at the indifference to basic issues of hygiene and a clean environment by our people. Look at the post-modern mindset that is being piped into our country through the electronic and print media! We cannot afford to perch ourselves and our children up on a well-insulated tree and let the world go to the dogs. This is God’s world and he has placed us here for a purpose. He has taught us his Word and given us good churches for a purpose. I have no doubt that Zambia’s hope lies in the Christian faith, and the Christian faith in its most biblical form is in the hands of Christians of a Reformed faith. Let us get out there in 2009 and make a difference to our world. Let us get the light from under the basket and hang it up for all to see. The world out there needs us. So, we dare not shy away from the demands of being salt and light in this sin-sick world.

Reformed Christians, where are you?

5 comments:

  1. Greetings Conrad,

    I appreciated reading this write up. It is a wonderful call to stand
    up and be counted. I could not help thinking about the similarity of
    the themes in Ian Murray's "The Puritan Hope."He writes in part: "If
    the rise of a sense of destiny in Protestant Britain and America
    stemmed in the first place from Christian thought, it is equally true
    to say that the collapse of that outlook must be associated with the
    failure of the Church to maintain the truths committed to her. Today
    the church no longer appears before men as a world transforming
    power..(The Puritan Hope,225)
    The call to volunteerism and public offices is an important one for
    Zambia's future. We need men and women of God in those positions who
    will sidestep the temptations to corruption that are inevitable.

    Having lived in Canada now for twenty years and learned how this
    country "abandoned" it's spiritual position, I often ask how the West
    can help the newer church avoid the trappings of materialism that
    stole the love of God from this culture. The answer came that we
    must post warning signs about the evils to avoid. The tragedy is
    this. The same evils of materialism, television and other vices that
    corrupted the West are driving the lives of most believers in Zambia
    today. The call to stand up and be counted is very timely. Keep up
    the good work and God's blessings for the new year. Elias and family.

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  2. Dear Conrad

    I listened to a live talk show on Radio Christian Voice Zambia today that featured a great young music group called 'Exploits'. The four members included Trinah who recently took part in the finals Dstv idols competition and came third I think. Their manager was also in attendance. They are of the Charismatic persuasion.

    They have great voices and have done one or two reasonably good songs. Their video was voted the best video of the year in one of the many local awards shows.

    As I listened my heart was truly saddened by the frivolity and the lack of true spiritual depth in these young people. Furthermore, Trinah and the group defended her participation in the idols competition, though they acknowledged it was secular. They even somewhat equated her experience with Daniel! Wow!

    They received phone calls and and text messages that extolled them as stars and ministers of God etc and they kept exclaiming 'glory to God'!!

    This put me off as it cemented the truth that you and I have spoken about that all (well most of) the so called gospel music stars simply propagate the pop culture that shows society's spiritual decadence.

    However, I then thanked God that we have a music ministry team that is showing the world that there is a seriousness about music ministry. I also thought how that we reformed Christians debate about and keep out of the arts in our circles, yet almost all of us go out of our circles and buy that same art and listen to Charismatic musicians and attend their musical concerts! We do not think how to affect our youth for Christ by example in music and the arts.

    This is precisely what your today's blog and cry is for us! That we might go into the 'highways and byways and affect the world for Christ!

    May the Lord aid us do this using our various talents, gifts, and callings in life.

    Charles Bota

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  3. Dear Pastor Mbewe,

    I have been visisting your blog and have benefitted greatly from the articles you have been posting there.

    Your article on "Where are the reformed believers" is indeed a wake up call to all of and is spot on.

    I have had similar thoughts of what else the reformed believers can do to upgrade our down trodden societal life. Instead of being armchair critics of government systems that have colapsed, its time we got involved in the civic and national duties.

    Certainly, looking at the great sacrifices our forefathers made just to change the wrongs in the society and government systems, poses a big challenge to each one of us. We must be ready to sacrifice our comforts and put our hands in the works and thereby seek to bring change to the colapsed systems.

    We have what it takes to influence society and can ensure bad laws are made good, if we can not only voice our concerns but also be involved in life saving and life changing activities.

    We have a lot of challenges in materilism and modernity that has taken the centre stage in our daily lives, at the great expense of making our presence felt. Trully the salt is not being felt and the lights are under tables - a great shame indeed, when we have opportunity to rekindle the times of John Calvin who ensured that civic authorities toed the biblical line by influencing through active participation, not passive obeservation. His influence has left an impact on Geneva and surrounding areas to the present day. Why cant we do the same for Zambia?

    May the Lord help us to introspect especially as we have been ushered into this new year, by His matchless Grace.

    Keep the blog ignited Pastor.

    In His Service,

    J Mthetwa

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  4. I elect to simply post one qoutation from my qoutes:
    ‘’Unless our optimism for a prosperous new year is based on an immutable truth, kept by an immutable Being, we will soon discover when the tide is against us, that we had embraced an illusion and allowed ourselves into the world of vain fantasy!’’From KS qoutes

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  5. I'm dismayed by the perpetuation of the stereotyping of the NGO worker as part of the problem in the efforts of donors to alleviate suffering.

    Yes, the commonly accepted impression is one of fat NGO worker wallets, hefty travel allowances, and big 4x4s. But if you take the time to ask a cross section of the NGO world what actually happens, you get a totally different picture. It's a bit like basing your impression of marriage in Zambia on the transcripts of the proceedings of local courts or the newspaper gossip pages. Your view would definitely be skewed.

    Donors are very demanding when it comes to accountability, and the burden loaded on NGO workers to exhaust budgets and audit every transaction is huge. Donors also have their theories on what is keeping us in poverty, hence their insistence on 'capacity building'. Those myriad workshops and seminars might seem wasteful, but a lot of good is being done and some of the fruits of that training enter our church communities in ways that may not be easily discernible.

    So, yes, poverty is real and growing and we need to do more; some people are wont to exploit the good intentions of those trying to combat the scourge. And so on, ad infinitum.

    Yet I constantly remember that most good works are done in private with only the Good Father who sees in secret as observer! I have visited Christian groups deep in the bush looking after their HIV-stricken brethren for no obvious reward, and shed tears of gratitude (and shame) for the grace God has imbued them with. Believe me there are innumerable such groups: http://www.handsatwork.org/zambia/ lists a few.

    There is more salt on this earth than we give God credit for.

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