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!

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Our Criminal Evangelical Silence

We all know that the dark ages are upon us again here in Africa. It is almost like a dark blanket that is slowly surrounding the land. People who know absolutely nothing of the core values of evangelical Christianity—the new birth, repentance and saving faith, justification and holiness, etc.—have hijacked evangelical Christianity in Africa. Even the term "born again" is being peddled without an iota of the meaning that Jesus had in mind when he used the phrase in his talk with Nicodemus. These are dark days indeed.

Once upon a time in Zambia, in the 1970s and early 1980s, you could go to very much any English-speaking evangelical church on Sunday and expect to attend a Bible study and hear faithful preaching of God's word. You may have been a little uncomfortable with some aspects of their worship. You may have also disagreed with some doctrinal assumptions during the preaching. However, you could not miss the fact that here was a sincere effort at arriving at the meaning of the text of Scripture and applying it to the hearers—both in the Bible studies and the sermons. You also heard an appeal for repentance towards God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. They may not have dotted your "i"s and crossed your "t"s as you do, but you still went home edified. 

George Whitefield preached "You must be born again"
during the Great Evangelical Awakening of the 18th Century
That is now very rare. In most so-called evangelical churches in Zambia today, there are no Bible studies and you cannot last to the end of their worship service if what you went for was spiritual edification. How many of our people are being drawn to churches primarily because they have been falsely promised to be cured of AIDS, get promotion at work, get more money, etc.? How many of our people are giving stashes of cash to so-called servants of God who are in fact nothing more than religious fraudsters? How many of our people now think that worship is dancing to very loud music that competes favourably with the rhumba maestros of the Congo? How many of our preachers think that preaching is shouting nice sounding platitudes through a microphone at the top of their voice with an American or Nigerian accent? This is what church has become.

I liken this delusion to the days prior to the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century. People flooded the churches but it was all for the wrong reasons. They were deceived and spellbound by a priest craft that claimed abilities they did not have but which the people craved after. Superstition reigned supreme in the church. The people were poor but they were promised various blessings if they could only give their remaining money to the church. Out of these funds majestic church edifices were built and the church's top leadership lived like kings and princes. Is this not what is happening in the name of evangelical Christianity today? Or am I the only one who is seeing these things?

Such "dancing queens" are now the height of "worship" in churches
The result of all this is that we have "Protestant" churches on literally every street but the evangelical faith is totally absent. In fact these churches have become dens of iniquity. Church pastors are impregnating young girls in their churches, getting them to abort, agreeing with their parents not to spill the beans for some undisclosed huge amounts of hush-money, and their spouses and church leaders know about all this. As the pulpit has gone, so has gone the pew. Hardly anyone is thirsting and hungering after righteousness. Immoral living is rife. Church discipline is rare. Those who know about this rottenness are looking at the church from outside and pinching their nostrils in disgust. We have the numbers alright but the salt has lost its saltiness—and we know it.

Come on; let us be honest. We all know that the so-called prosperity gospel, which is in vogue in evangelicalism today, is heresy. We all know that the only guys becoming stinking rich are the preachers to whom the blind followers are giving their money. The followers themselves are still in abject poverty. It is nothing but religious fraud. We also all know that 99% of the claims to physical healing by our faith healers are false. We all have relatives who would be alive today if they had not been told they were cured and so should not take medication for their sickness. These men are murderers. This is not Conrad Mbewe being malicious and making up stories. These are all well-known facts. 

Zambian "bishop" (of Restoration Deliverance Church) with Nigerian accent
recently accused of impregnating 10 women in his church
The tragedy is not that all this is happening. The disaster is the silence about all this from those who are supposed to provide spiritual guidance to the masses. In Zambia, and in Africa at large, evangelical leaders who have worked their way up the ecclesiastical ladder are holding hands with religious fraudsters and thus they cannot speak about this engulfing evil. They would rather throw stones at political leaders out there than address the Trojan horse within evangelicalism. They would rather tell the world to stop being worldly than tell those who are raping the church from within to stop it. And yet in the light of this spiritual tsunami, the silence is criminal. 

The problem with this current silence is that the younger generation who are coming into evangelical circles now think that what they are seeing is a viable and alternative form of evangelical Christianity when it is not. They have no clue that only recently believers got together in church for serious Bible study, that worship had dignity and awe, and that sermons were Bible-based, Christ-centred, and aimed at spiritual conversion. Due to our silence, our upcoming preachers are seeing filling your church membership roll with goats rather than sheep and driving expensive cars at the expense of poor parishioners as the sign of pastoral success. They have no clue that it was only recently when pastors stood out in society for their true godly servanthood. Today’s evangelical leaders are misleading a whole generation of innocent souls by their silence.

Martin Luther who said, "Enough is enough" in the 16th Century
In the days of the prophet Malachi, religion in Israel had reached its lowest ebb. The Temple was still full of activity—with all kinds of sacrifices being offered at the altar. Yet, the true worship of God was dying. Those who came to the place of worship were defrauding God and the priests were allowing this. Men were unfaithful to their wives and divorcing at will, and the priests kept quiet about it. God finally put the blame where it ought to have been—at the feet of the priests. He said, “The lips of a priest should guard knowledge, and people should seek instruction from his mouth, for he is the messenger of the Lord of hosts. But you have turned aside from the way” (Malachi 2:7-8). God finally wanted them to just shut the Temple doors and send everyone away! Their silence misrepresented him. They did not care that his greatness was obscured.

Once upon a time, a generation of God's people saw spiritual decay and said, "Enough is enough!" and out of this protest was born the Protestant Reformation. In yet another generation, when liberalism had invaded the Protestant church and was killing its very life, a generation of God's people again said, "Enough is enough!" and out of that protest was born the Evangelical movement of the 18th century. In the light of the darkness that is once again upon us, with churches becoming no more than witchdoctors' dens, is it not time for today's evangelicals to say, "Enough is enough"? How can we be silent in the light of this engulfing darkness? Surely, our evangelical silence must be criminal.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

A Christian Business Seminar worth attending!

This blog post should have been written and posted last week, but stress related to my visa wars reduced my mental creative powers to zero. I arrived in Christchurch, New Zealand, a few hours ago and suddenly my mental energies have been restored. So, before I get carried away with preaching among the Kiwis, let me quickly get this post out of the way.

I have some good news for Zambia's Christian business community! Evergreen Christian Bookstore will be hosting a whole day Christian Business Seminar this coming Saturday - 6th October, 2012 - at Dream Valley Lodge. The theme will be "Christians Conducting Business in a Secular World" and the speaker will be Bheki Macwele, from Swaziland.

Bheki Macwele in his office at his liquified petroleum gas (LPG) company
Let me say something about the speaker. I have known Bheki Macwele for many years now and have always been encouraged by his enthusiasm for matters related to the kingdom of God. In fact, initially, I thought he was a pastor! We often met at conferences in South Africa. If I was the one preaching, I'd notice a glow on his face as he listened attentively to my preaching. Discussions around meals would soon show that he not only understood the sermons but was internalising them with great perception.

I noticed that Bheki usually attended conferences in the company of an older man (whom I later discovered to be his church pastor). I also noticed that at the end of each conference Bheki would purchase many of the books that were being sold and haul them back to Swaziland. Who was this man? It was not until I was invited to Swaziland that I got to appreciate who he really was. 

Gas cylinders at Bheki's liquified petroleum gas (LPG) company
There, I discovered that Bheki had been used of the Lord to play a crucial role in the establishment from scratch of Manzini Fellowship Church - a church playing a key role in the preservation of conservative evangelical Christianity in Swaziland (click here). He was one of the church elders there. The books he was hauling were now a massive library in his church. He wanted the young people in his church to be exposed to the best of sound and solid Christian books on the planet. What an investment into Swaziland's spiritual future!

I also discovered that Bheki was an astute Christian businessman. At a time when very few Swazis were in the upper echelons of business, he had risen to chief executive of Swaziland's branch of the multinational oil company, Shell. Having reached the top, he had since retired and taken over one section of Shell's business, which they wanted to dispose of - the selling of gas. He grew this into Swaziland's second largest gas provider. He had also bought two farms and was rearing about 100,000 chickens at a time. In chatting with him, I found that he had his fingers into a number of other smaller businesses. 

Part of the 100,000 chicks being reared at Bheki's chicken farm
All this growth in Bheki's business has been happening while Swaziland has been going through very difficult economic times, as most of you will know. It has also been happening while Bheki has been fully involved in growing a Reformed evangelical church - probably the only one of its kind in Swaziland. May I also add, that all this was happening while Bheki was nursing his first wife who for many years was suffering from a rare medical condition that left her on a wheel chair...until she died in 2004. He has since also lost his first born son. Yet, Bheki's joy is contagious. When you are with him, you would not think he has gone through all this. I've found in Bheki an example of a truly tested and loving husband and father.

It was this exposure that made me immediately conclude, we must get Bheki to Zambia! The Zambian Christian business community needs to be exposed to good role models. We have too many bad examples around us that I would not be surprised if it has now been taken for granted that in Africa you cannot be a business person and a strong Christian at the same time. that is why I am so enthused by the topic he has chosen to address us on - "Christians Conducting Business in a Secular World." We need to learn from men such as Bheki that it is not just possible but that it is incumbent upon us as Christians to do so in a godly way. It is challenging, but it can be done. It will be hard, but the joy we will know in glorifying God in this way will far surpass the pain of the hardships.

The kind of chalets found at Dream Valley Lodge
Dream Valley needs no introduction. It is owned by a Christian couple, the Swilimbas, and we have used it for previous seminars in order to showcase their achievement and to support their business. The Swilimbas have built this business from scratch. They got what was once virgin forest and have turned into an amazing amusement park, conference centre, and lodge. They have really subdued their little corner of the earth. Come and see! We will be the first to use their newly constructed beautiful conference hall. If you are not in business, at least tell those who are to get out to Dream Valley this Saturday. It will truly be a seminar worth remembering for many years to come.

One of the two swimming pools at the Dream Valley Lodge
For details of seminar fees, registration, etc, please contact any of the following: Mrs Kakonde Simbeye (0977156731 or kakonde.simbeye@kabwatabaptistchurch.org), Mrs Kayula Siame (0965717537), or Mr Charles Bota (0977808431 or charles.bota@kabwatabaptistchurch.org).