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!

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Nelson “Madiba” Mandela

Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, affectionately known as Madiba, was buried last Sunday. Once upon a time the world’s most famous prisoner, he left this life on 5th December and we have seen his remains interred at an event viewed by the entire world. God has a way of reversing a man’s fortunes. Here is a man who was shut out from the view of the world for twenty-seven years. Now in his death, he brings the whole world to a stand still with about one hundred heads of governments going over to attend his funeral!

Writing a blog post on Mandela is very difficult. I feel like a candle holding out light to the sun. Mandela’s public persona looms large over southern Africa, and indeed across the whole planet. Who does not know about him already? So, what is there to say that has not been said? As I put pen to paper, therefore, my aim is not to say anything new. I want to write as an evangelical leader in Africa about something that has happened on our continent and has gripped the attention of the whole world. A huge oak tree has fallen in the village. I must join the conversation by contributing two lines of thought.

A Terrorist and Communist?
Although an overwhelming number of articles in newspapers and magazines, and posts on blogs and Facebook are very positive, it is amazing that there are a number of very negative posts as well. While many have hailed Mandela as perhaps the greatest African leader, others have dismissed him as a terrorist and communist. How, can one explain this?

Here is my take on the negative sentiments. Everyone who has labelled Mandela as a terrorist and communist have gone to fish for data from the period leading up to Mandela’s arrest when he went into guerrilla warfare in his quest to fight for the rights of his people—the black people of South Africa. Without seeking to give a blanket approval to any form of fighting, I only ask that those who give us “proof” that Mandela was a terrorist and communist should give the context from which they are fishing their data. It would be helpful in enabling their readers to make a more informed judgment.

In Long Walk To Freedom, Mandela explains why he went into guerrilla warfare. As one of South Africa’s first lawyers to set up his own private practice, Mandela says that he first tried the legal route in his fight for the democratic rights of black people. The brutality of the Apartheid government is what made him realise that this was not working. Hence, he says, he was forced to go into guerrilla warfare and to seek to work together with the communist party in South Africa though he did not share in their philosophy. They had a common enemy—South Africa’s Apartheid government. In his book, Mandela makes it clear that the aim of the African National Congress (ANC) was to target installations (and not individuals) in order to make governing South Africa impossible. Sabotage, rather than terrorism, was the goal.

It seems to me that the best time to judge a man is when he is in full control of a situation. In other words, was there anything in Mandela to suggest that he was a brutal murderer and a communist when he now took over the reigns of government as South Africa’s first democratically elected president in 1994? I get the impression that during his one term in office, Mandela showed that his heart was really for BOTH black and white South Africans to enjoy their God-given freedom as equal citizens of the country. He did not want any race to dominate another either by political or economic power.

Personally, I think that anyone who writes about Mandela and leaves us with a negative impression of his political ideals tells us more about himself than he tells us about Mandela. Madiba is too tall a figure to be painted black by a dwarf. For the cause for which he lived, i.e. the freedom of all the people of his country, it is difficult to find someone else alive today who can be a better icon. Facts are very stubborn things. The best we can do is to admit them. Mandela was an African liberator par excellence!

Was he a perfect man? I would not say so. Like the rest of us, he had his warts and all. For instance, his views of human freedom failed to take cognisance of the effect of the fall in Genesis 3. Thus, under his rule, South Africa came up with a constitution that is perhaps the most liberal in Africa, even giving freedom to homosexuals to practice openly and for abortion to be given on demand. Sex needs to have its boundaries. If government gives free rein to this area of life, it destroys the next generation morally and opens the door to a silent genocide. That is certainly a negative legacy that Madiba left us with. His logic for racial equality, when applied in this area, went one step too far.

May His Soul Rest In Peace?
My chief concern is with the ease with which many evangelical Christians have used the words, “Rest in peace” as they have bade farewell to Madiba. I am also an evangelical. I take my Bible seriously and interpret it literally. In my understanding of the Bible, the only persons who will rest in peace in eternity are those who have repented of their sins and put their trust in Jesus Christ as their only hope of acceptance with God.  The Bible says, “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him” (John 3:36, ESV).

I have a friend who once worked in the Zambian High Commission in South Africa. He wrote a book entitled, Why Is God Silent About Mandela? It was a clever way of asking the question, “Why is Mandela silent about God?” He noted that although Mandela did not vilify religion in general and Christianity in particular, neither did he say anything that showed his faith in God and especially in his Son Jesus Christ. Yes, Mandela had a Methodist background. However, any evangelical will know that growing up in church does not make one a Christian. You must personally turn to God in repentance and put your trust in Jesus Christ. On this matter, Mandela was conspicuous by his silence.

This should not take away anything from the good that Madiba did. He did a lot of good for us by his fight for a democratic South Africa. He did a lot of good for us by his example of not being bitter after spending the best part of his adult life as a political prisoner. He did a lot of good for us by showing that an African president can step down from office on his own accord without waiting for public opinion to turn against him or without bringing the whole nation down together with him. Madiba did a lot of good. But if I read my Bible correctly, no one enters heaven by his own good works. This is because our good works are tainted with sin. The best of men are men at best. God is absolutely holy and is of such pure eyes that to him our good works are like filthy rags.

So, may we please be balanced as we reflect on Nelson Madiba Mandela? There is a difference between God’s common grace and his special grace. God can give someone plenty of the former and deny him the latter. In this matter God is sovereign. Let us admit it. A political giant has been laid to rest this week. There is a lot of good that we can learn from his life as a political player. As I said before, to argue against that does not tell us anything about Mandela. It tells us a lot about you! However, without being over judgemental—seeing that we do not know what is in the human heart—those of us who are evangelical Christians should at best admit the fact that Mandela’s silence on his own profession of faith does not inspire us to say, “May his soul rest in peace.”

A Call For Biblical Discernment

This was the theme at the just-ended 10th annual Leadership Conference of the Central Africa Baptist College (CABC) in Kitwe, Zambia. This conference took place from 2nd to 6th December 2013. (Pardon my late posting, I went from one conference to another!). In case you are wondering about CABC, I've written about it in another blog post (click here). CABC offers courses in sign language, pastoral ministry, and chaplaincy.  CABC also runs a radio station, which can be heard across the Copperbelt province.

Overall attendance at the just-ended Leadership Conference
The man behind this vision is Dr Phil Hunt. He was initially a missionary pastor involved in the planting of Faith Baptist Church in Riverside, Kitwe. As he was preparing to hand over this church to an indigenous pastor, Saidi Chishimba (see last photo below), he began to develop this college. Phil has endeared himself to many Zambians because of his love for the gospel and for the people of God. To put it simply, his passion for the gospel is contagious!

Phil Hunt (on the right) with some of the conference speakers
It was good to be at this year's Leadership Conference and see the growing numbers. Although the conference began at Faith Baptist Church, it soon moved to the college's beautiful premises soon after the college buildings were opened. This year, to contain the growing numbers coming for the conference with every succeeding year, a huge shelter that can easily sit 400 people was put up and it was filled to capacity in plenary sessions. This conference is playing an important role in upholding conservative evangelicalism on the Copperbelt, in Zambia, and further afield.

A section of the evening attendance singing inside the new shelter 
This year, I was asked to be one of the two main speakers together with Dr Sam Horn. Sam is the president of the Central Baptist Theological Seminary in Minneapolis, USA. He took the pastors through 1 Corinthians. Other speakers included Pastors Grave Singogo, Kabwe Kabwe, Isaac Makashinyi, Ken Banda, Saidi Chishimba, Phil Hunt, and Ben Straub. Except for Phil and Ben, all the others were well-known Zambian Baptist pastors.

Dr Sam Horn in mid-flight preaching the Word of God
The conference has always been divided into two parallel streams. The pastors meet under one tent and all the others meet in another tent. This year, the latter met under the new shelter that I've already mentioned. The theme of the conference was "A Call To Biblical Discernment." Some of the topics covered included how to understand discernment, the role of the Holy Spirit in biblical discernment, identifying false teachers, etc. Issues of visions, dreams, prophecies, healings, etc., were also addressed. Of course, this was the best conference to also address aberrations of the faith, such as, "Touch not the Lord's anointed," "Name it and claim it," and "Sowing the seed."

There were three bookshops spread out in the same room, selling books to those who attended the conference. Our own Evegreen Christian Bookstore was one of them. A few books were also given out to conference participants, one of them being Strange Fire the latest book by Dr John MacArthur Jr.

Sandala Mwanje, the conference "chief" advertising books
Anyone living in Africa will know that the topics covered in this conference were pertinent topics today. Each of these messages was communicated to the deaf through a sign language interpreter by a brother who loves ministering to the deaf in this way. The messages were also given to all the conference participants in workbooks that they carried home for further revision. Most of these messages were also aired live on CAB Radio so that the number of people listening to the messages was immediately multiplied. Most of the sessions were led by former students. It was encouraging to see something of the fruit of the college. I have come to know and love these young men.

Pastor Saidi Chishimba preaching at the conference
He is a graduate of the college and now chairs its Advisory Board
Many of the men and women who were in attendance went back to church situations where "the good, the bad, and the ugly" live side by side. Pray for them!

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

My Recent Visit to Nigeria

My trip to Nigeria was for the purpose of preaching at the Reformed Bible and Theological Conference hosted by the Reformed Tabernacle of Port Harcourt, a church pastored by Dr Aniekan Ekpo. Added to this event was the matriculation and convocation of students at their seminary and college. I then ministered on Sunday during their church service.

The smiling  face of Dr Aniekan Ekpo
As I was driven from the airport in Port Harcourt on my arrival on Tuesday, 12 November, I saw for the first time how pervasive the "Nigerian religious junk" that I have written about on this blog was in Nigeria itself. [If you missed that post, click here]. Between the airport and the church, a 30 to 45 minutes drive, I saw no less than one hundred billboards, banners, etc., of charismatic churches and ministries offering breakthroughs and deliverances from all kinds of temporal afflictions. It was very depressing. I thought, "Is this what they are trying to bring to Zambia? God forbid!”

Posters promising salvation, healing, examination and business success,
deliverance, pregnancy, financial breakthrough, etc.
On the day the conference was starting Dr Ekpo and I went with two other speakers for a live radio broadcast on Radio Nigeria. This was meant to publicise the conference and make clear what the Reformed Baptists are all about in doctrine and practice. It was mainly in Pidgin English!

The conference began on Wednesday 13th and ended on Friday 15th November. The attendance was slightly below one hundred at peak periods, including the speakers. Dr Ekpo said that three hundred people registered. The theme of the conference was "The Covenant of Grace for eternal salvation." Apart from Dr Ekpo and myself, there were seven other speakers.

Group photo of those attending the conference
My three messages were on the Covenant of Redemption. After my first message, I was told that a pastor stood up in anguish, audibly saying to himself many times over, "I've been feeding poison to God's people from my pulpit." I'm not sure what I said that would have resulted in this because all I did was to introduce the Covenant of Redemption from Titus 1:2.

"Yours truly" preaching during one of the sessions
As I said earlier, Saturday was the day for the matriculation and convocation of students in the seminary and college. Three of us spoke at this event, which saw about 30 students either matriculate or graduate with a diploma or a bachelors' degree. It was a very colourful event, with all the students bringing their friends and relatives to witness the occasion. Many of the students are from extreme charismatic backgrounds as you would expect in Nigeria and have now seen the errors from which they have been saved. Dr Ekpo seeks to maintain the highest possible level of education in this institution. It is affiliated to the Metropolitan Tabernacle.

Seminary and College matriculation and convocation
In the light of the pervasive charismania in Nigeria, I found all this very refreshing. I ended each day with joy in my heart as I reflected on what I had been hearing from the various speakers each day. Since all the other speakers were from within Nigeria, it meant that the seed of the Reformed Faith was present in this country. What was now necessary was for more and more pulpits to perennially proclaim this message loud enough for the nation to hear. The mercy drops must become a flood and thus bring the true gospel to the lengths and breadths of the land.

Dr Ekpo giving a children's talk during the worship service on Sunday
On Sunday, I preached and then spent more time with the congregation and the leaders, telling them about the progress of the Reformed movement at Kabwata Baptist Church in particular and in Zambia generally. This was meant to encourage them to press on against all odds. I emphasised the need to keep the Bible before everyone's eyes and to maintain unity as the movement grows.

A group photo after the afternoon Sunday School hour
I still cannot believe what I saw as we drove from my hotel room to the meeting place each day. All that I have been warning about on this blog was more pervasive than I would have ever imagined. The “Nigerian religious junk” is bad enough outside Nigeria. We need to pray for these brethren who have to look at this spiritual garbage in their surroundings literally every day that God will help them to keep their heads and remain faithful to the true gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.