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, December 24, 2012

“Touch Not The Lord’s Anointed”

If there has been a phrase in the Bible that has been recently tortured until it confesses a lie, it is the phrase, “Touch not the Lord’s anointed.” I hear it a lot in Christian conversation today. Usually, the phrase is meant to caution anyone who is criticising the questionable teaching or way of life of a famous preacher or church leader. That is meant to be a no-go area.

The popular understanding of this phrase is that if you say negative things about “an anointed servant of God,” something nasty will happen to you. You might even die a horrible death. This is African traditional religion creeping into the church through the back door. In Africa, you do not say anything negative against an elderly person or a chief or a witchdoctor. If you do, something nasty will happen to you. You can even grow a beard at the back of you neck!

Where this teaching is found
“Touch not the Lord’s anointed” is found in Psalm 105:15 in the first person. Its full statement is, “When they [the Israelites] were few in number, of little account, and sojourners in it, wandering from nation to nation, from one kingdom to another people, he allowed no one to oppress them; he rebuked kings on their account, saying, ‘Touch not my anointed ones, do my prophets no harm!’” (Psalm 105:13-15). Here it referred to Israel as a nation and, more specifically, the prophets whom the Lord had sent to minister among his people.

This is illustrated a number of times in the life of David when he had already been anointed as the next king of Israel. King Saul did not want him to succeed him and so he tried every trick in the book to kill David. Through a turn of fortunes, it was David who ended up with a number of opportunities to kill Saul. However, David desisted from doing so saying, “The LORD forbid that I should do this thing to my lord, the LORD’s anointed, to put out my hand against him, seeing he is the LORD’s anointed” (1 Samuel 24:6, see also 24:10, 26:9-11, etc.)

What makes this even more poignant is that Saul was by this time already forsaken by God because of his disobedience. Yet, David still desisted from dethroning him. He, as it were, left it to God to deal with him in his own time—which happened a few years later in battle.

The lesson is apparently sealed beyond debate when the individual who finished off the wounded Saul in battle is killed at the command of David (in 2 Samuel 1:14-16). This person thought David would commend him for getting rid of his enemy, but instead David instructs his guards to kill him because he had killed the Lord’s anointed.

How can we apply this phrase today?
When this is applied to today’s preachers, what is the correct application? Does what God taught in Psalm 105:15 and what David did in 1 and 2 Samuel teach that we should not express any negative views about pastors and that if we do something bad may happen to us?

The first test that such a view fails is in 1 Samuel itself. Was Saul ever criticised when he did something outrageously wrong? Yes, he was. Samuel himself criticized Saul a number of times, until he was told that God had rejected his kingship. Saul still continued to serve as king but God had long forsaken him. If criticizing “the Lord’s anointed” was wrong, surely Samuel would have been wrong to rebuke Saul and Nathan would have been wrong to rebuke David in 2 Samuel 13.

“Touch not the Lord’s anointed” is about harm, especially physical harm, and not legitimate criticism. Public teachers must be above reproach. That is one of their qualifications. If they meddle in heretical teaching or immoral living, they disqualify themselves. Thus, those of us who are aware of their devious dealings or dangerous teachings must sound the public alarm. We must warn the unwary lest they fall prey to them. Public sins must be rebuked publicly.

Paul named heretical teachers and wanted the church to keep a safe distance away from them. He wrote to Timothy saying, “But avoid irreverent babble, for it will lead people into more and more ungodliness, and their talk will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, who have swerved from the truth, saying that the resurrection has already happened. They are upsetting the faith of some” (2 Timothy 2:16-18). Was he “touching” the Lord’s anointed? No, but he was certainly publicly naming those who were teaching heresy.

Similarly, John named a leader of the church who had disqualified himself by the way in which he was carrying on his leadership in the church. He wrote, “I have written something to the church, but Diotrephes, who likes to put himself first, does not acknowledge our authority. So if I come, I will bring up what he is doing, talking wicked nonsense against us. And not content with that, he refuses to welcome the brothers, and also stops those who want to and puts them out of the church” (3 John 9-10). Was John “touching” the Lord’s anointed? Again, no, but he was publicly naming the person whose lifestyle was perilous to the church.

A few concluding words
In each case, I am not justifying libel or slander. But that is not the issue here. The phrase “touch not the Lord’s anointed” is not being used against character assassination. Rather it is being used to stop people coming forward to testify against immoral and heretical preachers. Corruption in the church is multiplying while the silent majority dare not speak out lest they touch the Lord’s anointed. It is an epidemic! Extreme Charismatic pastors are emptying church coffers in order to line their own pockets and impregnating girls in the churches but those who have the evidence cannot speak out lest they touch the Lord’s anointed and something bad happens to them. That is the issue at hand. Clearly, that understanding of Psalm 105:15 and 1 Samuel is wrong.

Love demands that I rescue those whom I love from danger. So, if the preacher who has gone into immoral living or heretical teaching is someone I have a personal relationship with, love ought to compel me to talk with him privately with a view to restoring him to biblical orderliness. However, where his repentance is not as notorious as his sin, or I do not have such a relationship with him, or his heretical teachings or immoral life have become too widespread and are ruining the faith of many, the same love should compel me to oppose him publicly and thus restore the faith of many. Hence, love should cause any true preacher of the word not to keep quiet when the faith of many is being ruined, as is the case today in Africa.

Paul rebuked Peter publicly when he acted in a disorderly manner and his behaviour was going to undermine the gospel. This was not even heresy—yet it had dangerous long-term effects. Paul says, “But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, ‘If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?’” (Galatians 2:11-14). Evidently, Paul did not think that rebuking Peter publicly was touching the Lord’s anointed!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Is preaching past its sell-by date?

Pastor Choolwe Mwetwa, one of my favourite Zambian preachers

One issue I often have to address in my itinerant preaching is the abiding relevance of preaching. One interviewer said to me after hearing me preach, "But don't you think you put too much confidence and emphasis on preaching? People have their Bibles now. Shouldn't they simply be encouraged to read their Bibles and then come together to discuss what they are learning from their Bible reading?"

That is the popular mindset. Men and women do not want to be told what to believe and how to live. They want to share their opinions. This is particularly observable in the blogosphere. It does not matter how thoroughly you as the author of a blog post have done your research, thought through a matter, and then posted your most educated work. Most comments come from people who just want to say what they already know, without putting their thoughts through a fresh test in the light of the blog post. So, if what you are teaching opposes their long-held beliefs, they will not even pause to really listen to you. They immediately tick you off and go on to say what they thinkwhich is often nothing more than a scoop from a pool of ignorance. I say again, this is the popular mindset. We are all teachers and should just share what we all already know.

There is a place for Bible reading and discussion
Let me begin by granting that there is a place for Bible reading and Bible discussion. It was the error of Roman Catholicism that developed a priesthood that insisted that only trained priests could understand the Bible. Ordinary people could not. Taking this further, it became not only intellectually dangerous but criminally illegal for ordinary (ignorant) people to have the Bible in their own mother tongue. The Latin Vulgate was the last stop. Any other version was to be burnt!

However, having granted that does not mean that we do away with the preaching ministry. A preacher is a herald. He comes into our busy and preoccupied lives and announces to us what the king of heaven has sent him to announce. That is how God normally communicates with his people. He burdens men with his word and sends them to us to unburden themselves before us. While we are busy with our callings in the world they are busy in the study of the word and of the world. They then come to teach us what the word says about our world and about our lives in this world. We ignore them to our own peril.

Rightly dividing the word of truth
The view that we all have Bibles, and so should simply read and discuss what we discover in our Bibles, overlooks the fact that "rightly dividing the word of truth" necessitates training, experience, spirituality, and giftedness. The more you have of these ingredients, the more the sacred pages seem to yield to your eyes and your heart. Some biblical truths are milk and any spiritual baby can understand them; but other truths are strong meat that only the truly mature can process without having stomach problems. If we insist on meeting on equal ground, it will not be long before the blind lead the blind into the ditch!

Come on! Even in secular fields, a lecturer does not begin with, "Read your text books and let us discuss as equals. Rather, he teaches first, gives assignments to enable you to think a little further, and then calls you to discuss the issues that you have learned. Even where he asks you to read your textbooks first, his learning is acknowledged in the discussion that ensues afterwards. Now, if that is true of subjects that do not endanger human souls for eternity, how much more should this be the case with spiritual truths? Surely, we should be humble enough to sit and humbly learn under proven and experienced "men of God" before we open our mouths to speak.

The pride of human learning
It seems to me that we are up against the pride of human learning when men and women suggest that preaching is past its sell-by date. Ultimately, men and women do not want anything that sounds authoritative, especially if they have grown up in a context where there were no authority figures in their lives. So, they want to control the learning process themselves. Like Herod they want to be able to say, "Enough! I'll hear you later!" This is especially the case when the subject is getting uncomfortable and touching their darling sins. Some interpretations of the Bible swallow an entire camel to legitimize sin.

A typical example is the modern understanding of the text, Do not judge. If you sit in a group and hear people citing this verse, you would think that Jesus was saying that we should not pass moral judgment on anyone who is doing something that is morally questionable. This is especially the case with sexual sin. So, if men and women who are co-habiting come to church, we should all look the other way because the Bible says, Do not judge. It is in cases like this that you need those whose spiritual senses have been trained due to the regular study of Gods word to speak to us all about what Jesus really meant by that statement. An honest study of the context soon shows that the modern interpretation is totally wrong. God calls us to judge those among us who are living in sin.

Is preaching a boring monologue?
Another version of this problem is the claim that we now live in a very interactive society. People cannot sit for 30 minutes to an hour listening to one person talking in monologue fashion, we are told. I find this claim very hypocritical. The same people who say this will sit and listen to an hour of news or of the president giving a "state of the nation" address! They will even tell the children to shut up or leave the room because they want to concentrate on what they are listening to. Then on Sunday during worship they say that they cannot concentrate. The sermon is too long. We need more discussion and less preaching. Ad infinitum. Ad nauseam. Let us face itthe problem is a lack of interest.

To those who claim that preaching is a boring monologue, I argue that preaching is very interactive. There is a lot of communication going back and forth between the preacher and the hearers. Of course if what is being called preaching is the dead droning along that sends half the church to sleep then there is need to trade in the preacher for someone or something more interesting. But that is not preaching. Preaching is "theology on fire". The whole body of the preacher preaches and as the sermon's intensity grows it is almost impossible for anyone to sleep. Empathy with the subject or hatred for it keeps the adrenaline flowing in both the preacher and the hearers. They cannot sleep.

Preachers must be godly men
Finally, to suggest that preaching is past its sell-by date overlooks the place of sanctification in the assimilation of Gods word. Preachers must be godly men. In that way, they will not dodge any part of Gods word but will bring out the full menu to feed the flock. A story is told of a preacher who was called to pastor a church in an area where the favourite sport was cock fighting. Sunday after Sunday he addressed this vice from the Bible (I am not sure which verses he used!). Finally, the deacons of the church called him for a meeting in which they told him, This congregation does not like sermons on cock fighting. So, if you want to remain our pastor you must stop preaching on that subject.

God in his wisdom has raised up godly and faithful preachers to stand against the popular tideeven among believers. As long as sin remains in the world, preaching will never be past its sell-by dateuntil the Lord himself returns to put an end to our spiritual rebellion.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Our 2012 Intermediate and Junior Youth Camp

Our annual intermediate and junior youth camp came to an end this (Monday) morning. Apart from a quick peep on Saturday night, I was only able to attend the camp the whole day Sunday. Although we did not hit the 700 number we were targeting, we had about 600 young people present. As usual, it demands the most from our members to ensure that such a large number of kids are ministered to both physically and spiritually. Thankfully, the membership rose to the occasion. It was good to see so many of them involved in every corner of the camp—registration, meals, seminars, sick bay, counselling, small group studies, etc. Every each of ground was taken up, especially during the seminars which were held in parallel sessions.

Pastor Ronald Kalifungwa preaching to one of the groups
Pastor Albert Ngoma preaching to yet another group
Our main preachers this year were Pastors Ronald Kalifungwa, Albert Ngoma, and Chipita Sibale. Whereas in previous years I've tried to give a run down of the programme on specific days, this year I've opted to simply share some testimonies from young people who have been converted in recent camps. I took a few aside yesterday and interviewed them. I hope you will find these sample testimonies as a tonic for your soul and as fuel to impel you to pray for similar fruit from this year's camp. As usual, my camera was on duty throughout the day and so I have sprinkled this blog post with photos of different small group meetings.

The group to which Pastor Kalifungwa was preaching
The group to which Pastor Albert Ngoma was preaching
* * * * *
Hi, I am Salifya Simbeye. I was brought up in a Christian family. My mother brought my siblings and me up as a single parent. I got converted at this camp in 2009. Pastor Saidi Chishimba was preaching one evening about how everything is meaningless without God. I had wonderful plans for myself and realised they were going to be meaningless without God. I went to my dorm and thought about it. That was the day I repented of my sins. One area in which I have noticed a real change is in the way I relate to people. Previously, I never wanted to relate to people but now I am interested in them and in their welfare.

The group to which Pastor Chipita Sibale was preaching
* * * * *
Hello, I am Chibale Chisupa. I grew up in a Christian home with Christian principles. I was saved in 2010 during the youth camp that had the theme, "The wrath of God." I was talking to one of the camp counsellors about the challenges I face at school. She told me that to meet these challenges I needed Christ in my life. After our conversation, I went back to my room and thought about what she had said. That was when I gave my life to Christ. I have noticed a real interest in the things of God since then—reading my Bible, praying, going to church, etc.

Mrs Sarah Kalifungwa teaching during one of the seminars
* * * * *
Hi, my name is Siwilanji Sichalwe. I come from a Christian family. I got saved during the 2009 camp and the theme was, "Vanity of vanities." Pastor Saidi Chishimba was preaching about how meaningless life on earth was without the Lord Jesus Christ. After the camp I spoke to my mom about it. She again showed me from Scripture how meaningless life was without Christ. I then asked Christ to come into my life and save me. I was not free with people, but this has changed since Jesus saved me. I even enjoy reading the Bible and leading devotions at home.

Pastor Ronald Kalifungwa teaching in another seminar
* * * * *
Hello, my name is Khuzwayo Tembo. I grew up in a Christian family and have been going to church all my life. I used to think I was a Christian because of that. Before coming to camp in 2008 my dad spoke to me about whether I was a Christian. In my testimony Jesus was totally missing. When I came to camp the theme was, “The last judgment”. Pastor Makashinyi asked if we were ready for the judgment. I knew I was not. He pointed us to Christ as the only one who died to make us ready for judgment. There and then I gave my life to Christ. Although I liked going to church I never served Christ. Now I really want to serve him.

Mr George Sitali teaching in yet another seminar at the camp
* * * * *

Hi, my name is Njekwa Sitali. I grew up in a Christian family. I thought that in knowing I was a sinner, God would have mercy on me. In 2009 I attended the KBC youth camp. On the last night, the preacher told us about his friend from primary school days who always wanted to work for NASA but died soon after getting this job. I was really affected by this story. I went to my dorm and asked Jesus to save me but I don't think he did. The next day the same preacher pleaded with us to give our lives to Christ. That moment, I again asked Jesus to save me. This time I had the assurance that he answered my prayer. I was very short tempered before I became a Christian and did horrible things when I was angry. That anger has totally dissolved.

Mrs Miriam Nyasulu (heavy with child) teaching in yet another seminar
* * * * *
Hello, I am Nelson Mauzeni Mumba. I lost my mother when I was very young and now I live in the SOS Children's Village. In 2010, before Christmas, members of KBC came to the village to share a Christmas party with us. They invited us to this youth camp. The theme was, “The wrath of God.” At the camp, Mwindula Mbewe was the opening keynote speaker. He preached about spiritual fruit being proof of our salvation. I saw myself as a sinner deserving to be "cut down and thrown into the fire". I went to my room and thought about all this. It was then that I asked Christ to save me. My life has totally changed. I have a hunger for God's word and I gladly serve him among my fellow youths at the SOS Children's Village.

Mrs Clementina Daka teaching in yet another seminar
* * * * *
Hi, my name is Tolai Mwetwa. I was brought up in a Christian family. My dad is a pastor. Many people assumed that I must have become a Christian while I was still very young, since I came from such a home. That was not the case with me. I got converted in the 2011 youth camp. Pastor Saidi Chishimba said no matter how many sins we have committed God is willing to forgive us. Previously I used to think I was too big a sinner for God to forgive me. This used to really trouble me and the guilt had been getting stronger. I needed to do something. There and then, when I heard Pastor Saidi Chishimba say this, I gave my life to Christ. A few months later I went through doubts concerning my assurance of salvation. However, my faith in Christ's finished work and the change in my life have gone a long way to assure me that I am saved. I am now thirstier for God's word and I really want to know God more and more.

Pastor Albert Ngoma teaching at yet another seminar
* * * * *
There you are—seven testimonies of the grace of God in saving young sinners. Last night, Pastor Ronald Kalifungwa preached from 1 John 5 that one sign of a true believer is that he overcomes the world. He shared with me that one young man went to him and said, “I always thought I was a Christian until I heard you tonight. I have now realised that I am not. Please show me how I can become a Christian.” And so they spent some time in a corner as this young life was pointed to Christ!

Part of the 600 young people that heard the gospel this weekend
...and so to prayer. What shall we say? To God alone be the glory. Amen!

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

The Central Africa Baptist College 9th Annual Leadership Conference

This week, I'm attending the Central Africa Baptist College's 9th Annual Leadership Conference. Okay, (a little confession is good for the soul) I'm also preaching there. I only begin preaching towards the end of the week. In the meantime, I'm enjoying the ministry of the other keynote preacher, Dr Sam Horn, and the other preachers.

Dr Horn graciously offered to spend last weekend at Kabwata Baptist Church preaching at both our Sunday services. His ministry was greatly appreciated. We hosted him in our home and he comfortably fitted in with us in spite of all the activities of our family. Thanks to my fellow pastor and the chairman of our deacons (and their wives) for having him for meals while our home was upside down with other activities.

Dr Sam Horn more formally dressed in the KBC pulpit
I missed the first day (yesterday) of the CABC conference as I travelled from Lusaka to Kitwe. Today (Tuesday), I decided to attend the pastors' stream. The Leadership Conference has three streams--a pastors' stream, a chaplains' stream, and a general stream. Dr Sam Horn was dealing with expository preaching from the Minor Prophets in the pastors' stream. It was good stuff!

Dr Horn began with a summary of what had been covered the day before. He described prophets as (1) men, (2) holy men, (3) speaking God's word, etc. He warned against the tendency to see biblical prophecy mainly as foreseeing the future, but that it is about how to live today. He began with the fountain of Old Testament prophecy, Moses, went through Samuel (the model who works with the kings), all the way to Elijah (who confronts the king), and the minor prophets (who address the entire nation of Israel).

Dr Sam Horn more relaxed at the CABC Leadership Conference
After a short break, there was a short quiz. I am glad that Dr Horn excused me from it, otherwise I would have betrayed some serious ignorancehaving missed the serving yesterday.

Dr Horn then went on to deal with (1) How do you identify a false prophet? He used the example of Micaiah in 1 Kings to show who a true prophet was in the context of the 400 false prophets. All the prophets were claiming to speak the word of God, yet by the end of the chapter it is very clear who the true prophet was. The application for us is that we must preach what God has said in the Bible.

Part of the group of pastors and Bible college students at the conference
(2) Are there any prophets today? What part of the prophetic office still exists today? Dr Horn simply used a question and answer approach to arrive at the answer. It was good to hear the clarity with which the pastors answered. The teaching part still exists but not the foretelling function. Since the common understanding is that a prophet has direct revelations from God, Dr Horn said that we must not use that term (prophet) about ourselves as preachers. Let us use the New Testament term "pastor".

God allows false prophets to test our hearts (Deuteronomy 13). You do not test a false prophet by whether a sign happens but by whether what he says helps you spiritually to obey God. False prophets use the Bible. They do signs. But they also tell people to do what God tells them not to do.

Someone sweating it out over the quiz that I am glad I missed!
After lunch, Dr Horn began to instruct us on how to preach through the 12 Minor Prophets. The first was to realize that this was largely unfamiliar territory for many Christians. Therefore, the preacher must have an overview of the Minor Prophets. The main message of the Minor Prophets is about the coming Messiah. He was coming to deliver his people, Israel, from their enemies. He would restore their fortunes. He would reunite Israel, rule over them, restore their land, their Temple, their wealth, etc. all this would happen in "the day of the Lord". The New Testament version of this is "the last days". These days are upon us already.

I wish I could write more, but at this point I was whisked away to attend to other matters. More on this tomorrow!