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, May 30, 2012

Are We Preachers Or Witchdoctors?

I came across a pamphlet today. It was given to me at the traffic lights while waiting for the lights to go green. It read as follows:

My name is Stella Mwanza from Sinda (Eastern Province). I used to read in newspapers and listen to the radio about how different people were testifying concerning Pastor Elijah and I was so impressed with his healing powers that I decided to try him as I had a lot of problems.

First, my husband was divorcing me as he accused me of having an affair with another man and even doubted our lastborn child. Pastor Elijah prayed for me and this calmed down my husband and now we’re happily married with our kids.

I introduced a friend of mine to the same pastor who had an unstable marriage because her husband was sexually weak and had a tiny manhood. She was going out with other men to satisfy her sexual desire though she loved her husband. Pastor Elijah invited the couple to his place and prayed for both of them. Now they are back in a good relationship. Thanks to Pastor Elijah.

Also meet Mr James Siame from Batoka: “I am a businessman who has been doing business for the past 27 years. At first my business was doing well but as time passed on I had some breakouts in my business, as my capital was finishing. Pastor Elijah prayed for me and my business has flourished and is working well now.”

Through his prayers, Pastor Elijah also helps people with the following problems:

1. Financial problems, including increase in salary, promotion at work, poor business turnover, debt demands, and customer attraction
2. Sexual problems
3. Diabetes, asthma, body pains, the symptoms of AIDS, and the control of blood pressure
4. Win court cases
5. Protection of property
6. Deliverance for bewitched people
7. Removal of bad luck

Actually, the pamphlet was not about a Pastor Elijah but about a Professor Elijah—a witchdoctor! The only reason why I replaced “professor” with “pastor” (and medicines with prayers) is because this witchdoctor’s claims are precisely the same as that which I am now hearing from my fellow African pastors in their tens of thousands everyday. It is all about the body and the pocket. There is precious little about the salvation of souls.

This is a very sad day indeed for the church on the African continent. The unique gospel that pioneer missionaries brought us, which speaks about repentance towards God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins is hard to come by these days. It has been traded in for a message promising deliverance from financial, sexual, and bodily problems. We are now merely another option to witchdoctors—peddling the same temporal benefits. With all due respect to the modern understanding of Mark 16:17-18, etc., this is not what Jesus sent us to do as preachers of the gospel.

As long as our publicity to the outside world is nothing more than that which witchdoctors are using, we can only have the same impact. Are our churches full to overflowing? So are the consultation rooms of witchdoctors. Numbers prove nothing. What matters is “righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Romans 14:17). We cannot bear this fruit until men and women are made to face the fact of their rebellion against God and the need for them to trust in the finished work of Christ on the cross in order to be reconciled to God. The rarity of this message from African pulpits today is a modern day scandal.

What good is it, if men and women have full pockets, sexual satisfaction, and healthy bodies but in the end go to hell? We are sent out to preach messages that will prepare souls for heaven. The gospel transforms lives so that they hate sin and live for righteousness—whether they have full or empty pockets. It is the absence of this life-transforming message that has resulted in so many churches around Africa but little or no moral effect on the society. We preachers are to blame for all this! Today’s preachers on the African soil need to answer this one question: Are we preachers or witchdoctors?

Monday, May 21, 2012

Prophet TB Joshua Does It Again!

On Saturday night, Chelsea Football Club beat Bayern Munich on post-match penalties and lifted the coveted UEFA Champions League Cup for the first time in their history. Didier Drogba was the man of the match, as he scored both the lifesaver and the final winning goal. But what has all this got to do with “Prophet” TB Joshua?

Well, in the last few years, the prophet has become notorious for prophecies related to politicians or football (what Americans call “soccer”). The internet is awash with news items claiming that “sources” have told them that the prophet has predicted the death of a president or the final score sheet of a pending football match. Hence, in the streets of Africa, TB Joshua has become the latest wonder-boy. Everyone is talking about him.

For instance, “sources” said that TB Joshua predicted that the Zambian national football team would lift the prestigious AFCON Cup early this year. In fact, the “sources” also said he predicted Didier Drogba’s heart-rending penalty miss—which could have buried the hopes of the entire nation of Zambia. So, even if you did not know TB Joshua prior to Zambia’s recent win, his name was added to our staple diet from that point onwards.

Being a pastor in Africa, I have been asked again and again by people in the streets what I make of all this. Thankfully, my own church members know better. However, I engage in a lot of one-on-one and door-to-door evangelism, and this is one of those questions I get asked very often. It is obvious that TB Joshua and his predictions are on the minds of many Zambians (and Africans). Let me make just two comments about all this.

Unverified Claims
The first comment I want to make is that many of the stories doing their rounds about TB Joshua’s feats amount to fictitious stories that are unverified. They get passed on from one hearer to another and grow larger and larger until they become “real”. They can best be included in the folklores that made up so much of African traditional stories, like the stories of the beautiful women that once used to walk dry out of the river at full moon to mesmerise village men and disappear back into the water!

It is the same with the prophecy of Chelsea winning the Champions League Cup. I have searched the Internet looking for a clip where TB Joshua is saying in clear words that Chelsea would win the Cup but all I have found are statements that “sources” have said it. Here is a man who runs a TV network for 24 hours a day, and yet the one piece of information that is the hype of today cannot be found! In fact, what I seem to find are statements made just before the match claiming that he did not say anything of the kind. Perhaps someone can send me a YouTube link where he said it—and said it clearly.

I am reminded of the many claims to healings that are made by “anointed” Charismatic preachers. Every week, there are tens of thousands of miracle services conducted across the country and the continent. When I say that these are just publicity and fundraising gimmicks, sincere Christians are often horrified at my saying so. When I then ask them to give me the name and address of one person whom they know who was once blind but now sees, or was a cripple (on a wheelchair or on crutches) who now walks, or was deaf and dumb but now speaks, they suddenly sober up and admit that they do not know anyone. “Sources” have told them of many people who have been healed.

I once participated in a live radio programme on the subject of miraculous healing. There were two other participants—a Roman Catholic Priest and a Charismatic pastor. I made it clear that the claims being made by “anointed” Charismatic preachers were false. The Roman Catholic priest was neither here nor there, but the Charismatic pastor insisted that these miracles were happening everywhere everyday. He even lost his temper over my claims. In order to prove my contention, I asked on the live radio programme that anyone who had been blind, deaf, dumb, or crippled and had now been healed should phone it. Like Elijah of old, I kept asking for a solid two hours. We got a lot of phone calls arguing for or against claims of miraculous healing, but not a single person called to testify that they themselves had been miraculously healed—for two solid hours. The Charismatic pastor finally commented, “Perhaps they are just shy!”

Demonic Predictions
My second comment is that there is such a thing as demonic predictions. So, we should never conclude that persons who can foretell events are de facto God’s anointed servants; which is the extrapolation I seem to be hearing about “Prophet” TB Joshua.

Perhaps the clearest example of a person who had such demonic powers in the New Testament is found in Acts 16. The Bible says, “As we were going to the place of prayer, we were met by a slave girl who had a spirit of divination and brought her owners much gain by fortune-telling. She followed Paul and us, crying out, ‘These men are servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to you the way of salvation.’ And this she kept doing for many days. Paul, having become greatly annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, ‘I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.’ And it came out that very hour. But when her owners saw that their hope of gain was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace before the rulers” (Acts 16:16-19).

Fortune-telling abilities have been with mankind for a very long time. They are a form of prophecy because they foretell the future, but they are not from God. In fact, in the Old Testament, God commanded that fortune-tellers must be stoned (Exodus 22:18). God expressly forbade enquiring from them about the unknown (Lev.19:31, Deut. 18:14).

So, how can one know if a self-proclaimed prophet today is from God? (My confessional position is that the extra-ordinary gifts of the Holy Spirit—including prophecy—ceased long ago. However, since this is not the confessional standard of many readers of this blog, I will use another argument). God’s test, given to the people of Israel in the Old Testament, was based on the prophet’s teaching about God himself and his way of salvation. If the prophet’s predictions were true but his teaching was heretical, it meant that God was testing the people to see if they were really committed to him (Deut. 13:1-3). In other words, is “Prophet” TB Joshua preaching the true gospel of salvation?

Here is something else worth noticing. In the Bible, prophets were prophesying about future events related to the consequences of the obedience or disobedience of God’s people. The prophecies were, therefore, meant to bring God’s people back to himself in repentance and faith, or to encourage them to remain faithful to God in dark times. They were not simply telling football teams whether they would win or lose a football match. Imagine Elijah, or Isaiah, or Jeremiah, or Daniel telling us who was to win some match in the great games of their day. Come on; give me a break! That is totally preposterous!

Thursday, May 17, 2012

The Sermon That Changed My Life—By Gladys Chisha Chongo Mposha

My second instalment of "The Sermon That Changed My Life" is from a church member. Her full names are Gladys Chisha Chongo Mposhabut just call her Gladys. She is a single parent who has been widowed for the past twelve (12) years and has two childrena son and a daughter, both of whom are studying in Canada. They are both Christians. As you will notice from her testimony below, Gladys grew up on the Copperbelt, in Chililabombwe, before she went to study Economics and Business Administration at the University of Zambia. She has been working with the Central Bank of Zambia since 1991. She has since pocketed an MBA from the University of Wales (2005). She is one of those members we may soon be grudgingly losing to our new church plant, i.e. Ibex Hill Baptist Church, east of Lusaka. What is the sermon that changed her life? Let us hear her tell her story.

Prior to December 1979, I had been attending church quite often. This was initially through Sunday school where we were told a lot of stories from the Bible and later through the main adult services where we were exposed to the preaching of the word of God. In 1977, I qualified to go to secondary school and was admitted to a boarding school, where we were expected to attend church every Sunday. We were also expected to attend selected services in the morning and evening, as well as other special services from time to time. This type of regime exposed me further to the preaching of the word of God.  However, notwithstanding all this, I went on with my life as usual.

After completing senior secondary school in 1981, I was invited to an evangelistic meeting in Chililabombwe, where Pastor Chris Bungoma from Uganda was invited to speak. This was a follow up to my encounter with Charles Chiwele who initially introduced me to the Lord Jesus Christ in 1979. I had also been involved in some Bible study meetings at my late elder sister’s home and other church meetings which I attended at the Christian Fellowship in Chililabombwe. 

During this particular evangelistic meeting, Pastor Bungoma preached from the book of Romans, I think,  and the central message in his sermon was the fact that we are all disobedient and that in the same way that we disobey our own parents, in one way or the other, we also disobey God. In his sermon, Pastor Bungoma clearly demonstrated that when we disobey God, we sin against him and that the consequences are far more severe than the punishment we can ever be subjected to when we disobey our parents. We were challenged to honestly think about our lives in the light of what he was preaching and determine whether anyone of us could confidently say that they had neither disobeyed their parents nor God before. He further demonstrated that despite this dilemma that we have all found ourselves in, God had provided a way out for us through the Lord Jesus Christ and that he stands ready to receive anyone who believes in the Lord Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of their sins.

Gladys with her children, Malanga (standing) and Chisha
As I sat in the congregation listening to Pastor Chris Bungoma dividing the word of God, I felt like the sermon was directed at me because I was able to identify myself with a lot of aspects that were covered in the sermon. But further, this was the first time ever that I seriously thought about what was being preached. Despite having sat under the preaching of God’s word at different fora, the word came to me in a way that it had never done before in my life. It was very obvious from that moment that I needed to do something about my life. Later that day, I gave my life to the Lord Jesus Christ and from that day onwards my life has never been the same.

Despite the hills and valleys, I may have passed through in my life, or the different circumstances that have come way, I have over and over again proved the fact that God is gracious and that his grace is sufficient for me.

If I had to make a choice once again over these matters, I would like to put it on record to the rest of the world that I would still choose the Lord Jesus Christ as my God, Redeemer, Saviour, Provider, Protector and everything else that I can think of to describe my Lord, and I make no apology for the choice that I made that day. 

Monday, May 14, 2012

By His Stripes We Are Healed

The verse that is perhaps quoted the most when Christians here in Africa are praying for physical healing is Isaiah 53:5. Therefore, it may come as a surprise to many if they discovered that when Isaiah wrote those words he did not have physical healing in mind. I posit, therefore, that it is wrong for us to quote this verse when imploring God to heal Christians who are suffering from physical infirmities.

Before I share further on this matter, let me be quick to state that I believe in miracles—even miraculous healing. I believe that in answer to the prayers of God’s people, there are times when God may heal those for whom we are praying—and he may do so miraculously. So, can those guns that have been cocked be placed back into the holsters? I am a friend and not a foe.

However, what I am saying is that it is morally wrong to take someone else’s words and make them say what he was not saying just because there is some semblance in the words that he has used. As I hope to show you, Isaiah was certainly not saying that physical healing was included in Christ’s atonement.

Okay, so where do I get the impression that Isaiah did not have physical healing in mind when he wrote, “By his stripes [or wounds] we are healed”? This is a blog post and not a book or an article in a theological journal. So, I will not be exhaustive. All I want to do is to give pointers for discussion purposes. Here are three lines of thought for your consideration.

Firstly, from the type of literature (Hebrew poetry), we know that there is a close relationship between what we read in the first line and second line of each verse. It is called Hebrew parallelism. Although the parallels sometimes get rather complex, with a little closer observation you soon see them. Also, sometimes the parallels are synthetic, but sometimes they are antithetic. It is very easy to see the parallels in Isaiah 53.1-5.

1          Who has believed what he has heard from us?
                        And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?

“Who has believed what he has heard from us?” is the same as “To whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?” In other words, what enables people to have faith in what they hear from God's servants is God’s active and immediate self-disclosure to those individuals.

2          For he grew up before him like a young plant,
                        and like a root out of dry ground;

Again, “For he grew up before him like a young plant” is the same as “[He grew up] like a root out of dry ground.” In other words, Jesus grew up in a hostile environment and had nothing in himself to protect him from this hostility.

             he had no form or majesty that we should look at him,
                        and no beauty that we should desire him.

In the same way, “He had no form or majesty that we should look at him” is the same as “[He had] no beauty that we should desire him.” In other words, as far as his outward appearance goes, there was nothing about Jesus to make him stand out as a great leader worth following.

You will notice from my interpretations of these verses that each time the second line simply restates what the previous line stated, but simply adds a different angle in order to bring in depth of meaning. You can continue seeing the parallel in the remaining verses, but let us proceed to verse 5.

5          But he was pierced for our transgressions;
                        he was crushed for our iniquities;

“He was pierced for our transgressions” is the same as “he was crushed for our iniquities.” In other words, the physical suffering he underwent was in order to atone for our sins.  And finally,

             upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
                        and with his wounds we are healed.

“Upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,” should be the same as “with his wounds we are healed.” In other words, the physical suffering he underwent was in order to cure the breach in our relationship with God.  It was meant to bring about spiritual restoration!

The second line of argument is in the use of the word “heal” in the writings of the prophets. Prophets often used concrete words in describing something spiritual. They would often accuse Israel of prostitution when they were really referring to idolatry. If you miss this key you can get into seriously troubled waters. Thus, the prophets often used the word “heal” to refer to spiritual restoration. The context is what would enable you to know the sense in which the word is being used.

For instance, Jeremiah wrote, “Return, O faithless sons; I will heal your faithlessness” (Jeremiah 3:22). This is clearly referring to spiritual restoration. Another obvious example is when Hosea wrote, “I will heal their apostasy; I will love them freely, for my anger has turned from them” (Hosea 14:4). Again, the healing here is referring to spiritual restoration. So, it is wrong to see the word “heal” in the prophetic writings and immediately conclude that it must be referring to physical healing. Let the context determine the meaning!

The third, and final, line of thought is the inspired interpretation of this text. Thankfully, the apostle Peter quoted Isaiah 53:5. Reading the context of the verse, it is clear that Peter understood Isaiah as referring to spiritual restoration, and not physical healing, when he quoted Isaiah. Here is the passage:

Peter wrote, “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls” (1 Peter 2:24-25). 

Need I say any more?

Saturday, May 5, 2012

The Sermon That Changed My Life - By Elliot Tembo

While there are so many skeptics inside and outside the church with respect to the power of preaching, there is no doubt that all of us who are Christians today will recall a sermon that changed our lives. For some of us, that sermon brought about our salvation. Yet for others, it was the sermon that catapulted us from a life of compromise and sin to a life of total surrender and obedience to God. This week, I have commenced a series of 13 blog posts to document this reality. I have asked a few friends to share with my readers about that one sermon (among so many others) that stands out in their lives like Mount Kilimanjaro among the many African hills. I have given them only one condition—the sermon should not be one that I preached!

The first one is by Elliot Tembo, who lives in Newcastle, Australia. He is married to Agness Chisanga and together they have three daughters, two of whom are in high school while their eldest daughter is studying at the University of Newcastle. Elliot grew up mostly in Lusaka and went to a boarding secondary school in Chongwe, east of Lusaka. He studied at the University of Zambia and graduated in 1986, after which, he worked for the Zambian Copper Mines in Kitwe and Kalulushi. Elliot and his wife moved to South Africa in 1998 and to Australia three years later where he is still in the mining industry. The Tembos worship at New Lambton Baptist Church in Newcastle. Here is Elliot’s story of the sermon that changed his life…

* * *

While at National Service, in Zambia, I met Christian friends like Raphael Banda and the late Dr Simon Mphuka who later invited me to visit Lusaka Baptist Church when we started our studies at the University in Lusaka. I was at the time young in the faith having committed my life to the Lord in my final year of secondary school. That is how I found myself at Lusaka Baptist Church that Sunday morning in October 1981.

After the first part of the worship service, a man dressed in a simple short-sleeved chitenge shirt—not quite what I expected of a reverend—walked up to the pulpit and began to preach. That was my first encounter with Pastor Joe Simfukwe. The pastor preached from the gospel of John Chapter 3:1-8, which is an account of the conversation between the Lord Jesus Christ and Nicodemus the Pharisee. Providentially, I had visited at a time when the pastor was taking a series in the Gospel of John and was addressing the questions of "why" you must be born again and "how" you can be born again.

I clearly remember being transfixed as this man in the pulpit preached as though the message was just for me—explaining very clearly the mystery of the new birth. For the first time I had this very clear understanding of what the Lord had done in my life through the mystery and miracle of salvation. It was not just the eloquence of the preaching that captivated me, but rather, I experienced a clear sense of God speaking to my heart; there was just that connection with the word of God, which I had not experienced before.  I still remember the reference from Ezekiel:

“I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh" (Ezekiel 36:26).

"Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit..." (John 3:6).

While I could not explain the exact mechanics of the new birth, this one thing I was convinced beyond doubt—the Lord had done something in my life and I was a new creation.

"The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit" (John 3:8).

I understood why I no longer had interest in the worldly pursuits that used to pre-occupy my life, and why the friends I had in secondary school had begun to avoid and run away from me. I understood why at National Service, while other recruits relaxed in their free time or engaged in some other pursuits, I was drawn to fellowship meetings or sometimes to sneak out with friends to a quiet place to pray.

That first sermon and the follow-up ones in this series, in my view, set the foundation for my faith. The popular chorus we sang then, "Abba, Father let me be yours and yours alone..." became a part of my daily life.

I am forever grateful for the formative five years I spent at Lusaka Baptist Church under the pastoral ministry of Pastor Joe Simfukwe. The recurring theme for me for much of those years was the reality of the Lord Jesus in my life. He remains alive and very real to me whatever circumstances the world and the evil one throw at me. The Lord still remains "Abba, Father."