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!

Sunday, March 30, 2014

How can I prove that the gift of prophecy has ceased?

[This is the third instalment in a series of blog posts in which I am answering questions posed by my Facebook "friends" who are between the ages of 15 and 25. I took a rather long break due to other demands on my time but I am now back. This was actually the first question that I got, but I did not want to make it the first one to get an answer. So, SS, you actually made it. You were the first!]

QUESTION: “Hi Pastor. I was hoping I could be the first to ask a question. Hehe! I have a friend from school and we are always at each other necks when it comes to the topic of prophecy. He says they still exist and I say they no longer exist. I have been trying to convince him for a while now but it seems like it is not working. I need help on how I can solidly prove to him that those things stopped existing immediately the Bible was complete. He is always saying stuff like the Bible is not complete and asking me why those other books were not included in the Bible. That is another point were I zone out and fail to answer.” (From SS)

ANSWER: There are few areas in the Bible that Christians will always disagree on like the area of prophecy. Partly, this is because prophecy normally speaks about the future and we are not sure whether we are there or not. Hence, how to interpret prophecy will remain a point of contention until the Lord returns.

Another area that Christians will differ on until Christ returns will be the continuation or cessation (ceasing) of the extra-ordinary revelatory gifts that God gave to the early church. This includes the gift of prophecy. It is this matter that you are now asking me to address. This is easier to prove than the first.

When it comes to spiritual gifts, the best place to start is simply to state, “The proof of the pudding is in the eating.” What do you do if someone says he is gifted as an evangelist? Put an empty tomato box at a busy public square, ask him to get on it, put a Bible in his hands and stand aside. If he stammers into confusion and sends everyone to sleep, suggest to him that perhaps his gifts lie elsewhere. However, if he brings the place to a standstill as he declares the unsearchable riches of Christ and sinners are brought to repentance and faith, who are you to doubt God’s call upon his life? “The proof of the pudding is in the eating”.

Similarly, Moses said in Deuteronomy 18 that if someone claimed to be a prophet but his words did not come to pass then he was not a true prophet and the people were not to listen to him. That is the proof. Are there individuals in our churches today who are so gifted by God that they are foretelling the future and edifying God’s people? If they are there—and their prophecies are coming to fulfilment—then who are we to say that the gift of prophecy has ceased?

However, if the person you are arguing with will be referring to someone in far way in Nigeria who seems to be foretelling the future or if he is referring to his church pastor who is calling himself a prophet but has nothing to show for his title, then what he is referring to has nothing to do with what was happening in the New Testament. In the Bible, many of the churches had a number of prophets. Paul would urge them to wait on each other and take turns. Let your friend show you where this is happening today and why it is not the case in so many other churches? The burden of proof must lie with him rather than you.

There are other theological and biblical arguments but since this series is meant for those below the age of 25, I am reluctant to kill a fly with a ten-pound hammer. This should suffice for now. Let me know what your friend will say.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

What I have gained and lost

Our hiding place for the last 13 months--40A Chudleigh Estate, Lusaka
Thirteen months ago, my family moved from the church pastor’s house that is on the church property to our family house some twenty minutes drive from the church. I think that we are now settled in the new home, having done all the initial necessary repairs to the property.

This is the best time for me to reflect on the move—a little more than one year later. Was this a good move? What are the advantages and disadvantages of a pastor living outside the neighbourhood where his church is? Those are the thoughts on my mind right now.

Obviously, depending on one’s circumstances, the advantages and disadvantages may vary. I do not think that my reflection will fit everyone like a hand in glove. However, for what it is worth, I thought I should pen down what I think I have gained and lost by moving away from Kabwata.

What have I gained? I think that the best word to describe what I have gained is the word PRIVACY. When we were on the church premises, our doorbell never stopped ringing until just before midnight. People kept coming for every conceivable thing—church keys, water, directions, money, counsel—you name it.

Where we now live, if you ever hear a knock on the door (or the gate), it is someone who really wants to see you. In fact, I cannot remember when that last happened. Those who come to visit often call well in advance and make an appointment. What a difference!

We do not have cars driving onto the property for other business or school kids running around. The perimeter concrete wall also ensures that our entire property is out of view from anyone. The only non-family members we see around are birds and stray cats.

What have I lost? I think that the best word to describe what I have lost is the word NEIGHBOURLINESS. When we were on the church premises for 18 years, I literally became part of the furniture in the Kabwata area. I am not sure what I was not involved in.

I sat on various neighbourhood boards—in boards for the local YMCA, the neighbourhood schools, the neighbourhood watch, the constituency fund, etc. Hence, I mingled almost daily with the leaders of the wider Kabwata community.

Taking early morning or late afternoon walks here in Chudleigh is a very private affair. From time to time, I get a respectful greeting from a total stranger. In the Kabwata area it was anything but private. Kids would often shout out, “Pastor Mbewe!!!” as they saw me walk by.

At the neighbourhood shops, I would pause to chat with the shop owners before getting my groceries. I would talk with my barber about things in the church neighbourhood as he reduced my net weight. Kids coming out of the shop would demand a lollipop from “Pastor”.

Felistas also had evangelistic opportunities in the area around the church simply because she is a nurse and a midwife by training—and the people got to know about it. So, there were quite a number of first-time contacts with the church that started as medical emergencies.

The people living in the community around the church knew my family and saw the way my wife and I raised our kids. In fact, our oldest daughter got married and now lives a stone’s throw away from the church premises. So, they can see “the proof of the pudding”.

People in the church neighbourhood would refer distressed individuals to me because we had come to know one another through my community involvement, and the church premises in the community spoke of a place to find help.

So many of my ministry opportunities as a local church pastor occurred through unplanned situations. Giving a lift to someone in the neighbourhood, chatting with my local barber, walking past the local play park and finding young people in each other’s warm embrace, etc.

I guess with time I could rebuild a sense of neighbourliness where I now reside—though in an up-market residential area it is ten times more difficult—but the absence of the church premises in the local community makes me less visible and denies them a nearby reference point.

So, today I am weighing my gains against my losses. I think that I have lost more than I have gained. A year away from my parish makes me feel like a stranger in the community of Kabwata. I think that it is preferable, if at all possible, for a pastor to live where he ministers.

Like Jesus, it is good to tabernacle among the people (John 1:14). Thus John was able to say, “We have seen his glory.” Obviously, this happened as they walked, ate, and talked with him in everyday life—and not just when he stood up to deliver his famous sermons.

One change, though, that I would make is to live off the church premises. That one, I do not miss!