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, June 29, 2015

The tragic loss of the doctrine of sin

I started writing this blog post on a flight across the Atlantic. I was disturbed. I left the USA on the same day that the Supreme Court there announced the legality of same-sex marriages. I had intended to write this post about a month ago but it now seems the right time to do so.

At the risk of sounding simplistic, the more I think about it the more I am persuaded that many of the world’s philosophical errors and its failures in practical solutions and resolutions are primarily because of a faulty understanding of the awful thing the Bible calls “sin”.

According to the Bible, sin is not only the wrong that we do but it is also the root cause of the wrong that we do. We seem to have largely lost the second aspect of the definition of sin and are only grappling with the first part. We talk about the shoot but totally forget about the root.

The modern understanding of human beings is that we are essentially good and are only made bad by outside forces, e.g. the abuse of drugs and alcohol or a bad neighbourhood. The more “spiritual” ones add generational curses and demons to the list of corrupting outside forces.

That is certainly not the biblical concept. According to the Bible we are essentially bad. When our first parents, Adam and Eve, were created they were good. However, when they sinned against God in Genesis 3 they became guilty and a moral degradation took place within them. Their hearts became sinful. They became enslaved to a foul power called sin.

There is perhaps no better treatment of the experience of sin as a foul power within us than is found in Romans 7. The apostle Paul said, “For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.” But sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness” (Romans 7:7-8).

Sin is here pictured as a factory of evil, producing all kinds of covetousness. It makes us desire what we have no legitimate right to. That desire can be overpowering, as overpowering as an addiction is to an addict. This is what made Paul realise that he needed salvation.

This foul power within us not only craves what is wrong but its craving is heightened when it is confronted with a command that forbids what it desires. The apostle Paul wrote, “It was sin, producing death in me through what is good, in order that sin might be shown to be sin, and through the commandment might become sinful beyond measure” (Romans 7:13).

Paul is here referring to what took place within him when he came across the command of God that said, “You shall not covet.” The command is good. However, this foul power filled him with all kinds of covetous desires as soon as he became aware of this command of God.

We learn something else, therefore, about this foul power. It is rebellious. It hates being under authority. It must have its own way. It pushes boundaries. As soon as it hears, “You shall not…” it goes, “I will!” It seizes an opportunity through the commandment to do evil.

This foul power is also present in Christians. The apostle Paul testified in the present tense as a mature believer, “For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me” (Romans 7:15-17).

Paul had explained earlier in Romans 6 that when we become Christians the reign of this foul power is broken. However, he is under no delusion that we are totally free from its influence. It is still present within us, waging war against our renewed humanity (see Romans 7:21-24).

I am very concerned that much of modern evangelicalism has lost this clear biblical teaching. We seem to see the source of sin purely in terms of the devil and the world. We see ourselves as good people who are victims of outside forces. We fail to see that we are born fallen.

This tragic loss of the doctrine of sin has left us unable to explain what is happening in our world today. The argument of Romans 1:18-32 is that where God is truly acknowledged, he puts a restraint upon this foul power of sin. However, where people think they can manage pretty well without God he removes his restraints and this foul power takes full control.

Paul argues that the first pillar that goes down when this foul power is let loose is sexual purity (Romans 1:24-25). The second pillar that goes down is sexual sanity (Romans 1:26-27). So, homosexuality is a fruit of this foul power demanding what is contrary to nature.

Finally, this foul power brings down all the other pillars of morality (Romans 1:28-31). It does not stop with pulling down our pants; it runs amok and pulls down anything and everything in its way. Society becomes filled with every kind of irrational wickedness.

In the goodness of God, he has provided civil government in order to restrain human beings from falling headlong into this abyss of total depravity. However, when civil government gets obsessed with rights rather than responsibilities it becomes complicit in the downward spiral. It gives approval to those who practice obvious irrational wickedness (see Romans 1:32).

This is what is happening with Western civilisation. God was kicked out long ago. Civil government is so drunk with so-called rights that it is even willing to redefine marriage. We are told sex must have no boundaries as long as those involved are two consenting adults. If you try to talk about the elephant in the room you are shouted down as a religious bigot.

In case I am seen to be throwing stones across the Atlantic Ocean, let me quickly add that this is also the Achilles heel of the growing deliverance movement in Africa. It blames all human moral failure on generational curses and demons. If a man is adulterous it is because there is a curse or evil spirit on him that makes him chase after skirts. He needs deliverance.

I was at a meeting yesterday where this was played out. A bishop was praying for Africa and he alluded to the USA Supreme Court’s judgement. “We bind the demon of homosexuality. We refuse this spirit here in Africa,” he prayed. You should have heard the hearty amens!

This popular movement in Africa has lost the biblical doctrine of sin despite being within evangelical circles. There is no effort to explain to people that we are all born fallen creatures with desires that are morally warped. You are born bad. I am born bad. We are all born bad.

What we all need is not deliverance from some external curse or spirit through the prayers of “men of God” but salvation and sanctification through Jesus Christ by the power of his Spirit. Jesus supernaturally subdues this foul power as we submit ourselves to the word of God.

“He breaks the power of cancelled sin,
He sets the prisoner free;
His blood can make the foulest clean,
His blood availed for me.” (Charles Wesley)

It was because the apostles of Christ knew this that they refused to concentrate their efforts on feeding widows. They knew that this foul power in human hearts could only be brought down through preaching Christian truth in the power of the Spirit of God (Acts 6:4).

The modern bane of motivational speaking that has taken over the Christian pulpit, where sin is not even mentioned, is as useless as shooting peas at a charging lion. It will certainly not arrest this foul power within us. We must restore powerful biblical preaching in our pulpits.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Farewell, Dr John Anderson

It is now one week since the remains of my dearest friend, Dr John Anderson, were interred in the graveyard at Newhouse Baptist Church in England. I am now objective enough to reflect on what that man meant to me while the Lord lent him breath. Sorry the post is long!

The beginning of our friendship

Having a meal with John in the UK in 2007
John sprang into my life in 1991. I was about to make my first overseas visit the following year and, as part of the preparations, I wrote an article about the start of the Reformed Baptist movement in Zambia in the Grace magazine of the UK. John read it with great interest.

The reason John was interested in the story I wrote about the Reformed Baptists in Zambia was because he had been coming out to Zambia to stand in for doctors who were going on furlough at a rural hospital in Katete called St Francis Hospital, some 600 km east of Lusaka.

Thus far, he only knew of the Reformed Baptist church in Chipata but had not known that there was another one in Lusaka. He kept the magazine clipping, in his characteristic way, and on his next visit to Zambia he made sure he invited me to meet with him.

In those days my form of transport was a bicycle. So, I cycled to Ridgeway Hotel where John was staying and we had a meal together. He kept a notebook where he took copious notes as we talked. That was the beginning of a friendship that lasted until God took him to glory!

John’s labours on my behalf

John offered to organise the itinerary for my coming UK trip so that I could visit as many churches as possible to preach and share the story of what God was beginning to do among the fledgling Reformed Baptist movement in Zambia. I gladly consented.

Upon returning to the UK, John shared with his church, Newhouse Baptist Church, about our need for hymnbooks. They bought and sent us enough brand new Grace hymnbooks. On my first visit to the UK, I visited this church and became friends with his pastor, John Woollam.

I have never forgotten John’s first visit to Kabwata Baptist Church. The hymnbooks had arrived and were in use during our worship service. John’s eyes were wet with tears as we sang, “Revive Thy work, O Lord,” from the hymnbooks he had organised for us.

Two years later, in 1994, I had another overseas trip coming up and again John offered to organise my UK itinerary. By this time, we had acquired a plot of land to put up our church structures. John asked the churches I was visiting to contribute towards our building project.

Newhouse Baptist Church committed itself to support our building project with a sizeable annual amount, which gave us quite a push once it was converted to the Zambian kwacha. John also opened a UK account, “Friends and Members of Kabwata Baptist Church.”

All UK support towards Kabwata Baptist Church’s building project went into this account and then John would remit the funds as and when the money was needed. He would send the bank statements to us regularly so that he kept all the dealings above board.

Until the work was done

John was a medical doctor but his heart for Africa, and Zambia in particular, went far beyond the physical well being of our people. He wanted the saving faith of God’s elect to be known among our people. Thus he gave people like me all the support that he could garner.

John Anderson’s notebook became the place where more and more Zambian Reformed Baptist churches were being scribbled for prayer and practical support. Before long, John would speak about the various Zambian pastors and churches as if he lived in Zambia.

Every so often, John came to St Francis Hospital for his tour of duty. He made sure that on each visit he included Kabwata Baptist Church. He took his usual copious notes and photos, which he used when he went back to the UK to raise support for our building project.

John swapped his Ridgeway Hotel accommodation for my little home in Libala on his future visits to Lusaka. This really melted my heart. He loved my family and became part of us. My children grew up knowing “Dr Anderson from the UK” who often visited us.

The support from John Anderson’s church, Newhouse Baptist Church, lasted for as long as our building project continued. We built our church manse and church auditorium while their support flowed from the UK. We will remain ever grateful for their kind gesture.

My eyes are teary as I write this. I became a pastor in 1987 at the age of 25. Ten years later when I clocked 35 years, Kabwata Baptist Church moved into its new building. It was but four un-plastered walls and a roof but I knew we had crossed a major milestone.

A friend not to be forgotten

As John’s strength began to wane due to old age he would often say to me, “Conrad, this may be my last visit to Zambia. I am praying that I will find someone with a heart for Zambia to take over what I am doing.” His prayer was answered in the person of Andrew Alsop.

With Andrew and Jo Alsop in the UK recently
Hence, a few years ago, while I was with John in the UK, we went together to close the “Friends and Members of Kabwata Baptist Church” account in his town and transferred the funds to a new account opened in the town where Andrew Alsop lived. John was elated.

In two years, God willing, I will have been at Kabwata Baptist Church for 30 years. Many people will be rejoicing at what God has done and continues to do at KBC. If God spares me to be part of those celebrations, I will remember my friend John who has gone to his reward.

How can I forget such a friend? John saw in me what I did not even see in myself! He often assured me of his ardent prayers for my family and my church. When he called from England or when I visited him he would often ask about each member of my family by name.

As John’s health waned, Felistas and I made sure we visited him in his home. He called it his “departure lounge”. When he knew I was coming, he put together all the magazine clippings he had kept of my ministry and gave them to me. They are now in my memorabilia box.

Handing over a book from Kabwata Baptist Church to John
Earlier this year, knowing that John may not have long to live, I made a concerted effort to visit my old friend and found him in hospital. I delivered a book full of messages of love from Kabwata Baptist Church members. I left knowing we will not meet again on earth.

John’s home going and interment

Sure enough, on May 17th, John went to be with the Lord. He has left behind his widow, Dorothy, who stood by his side throughout the years when he used to come out to Zambia. She encouraged him in his support for the Zambian Reformed Baptist movement.

After John died, Dorothy sent me this note: “Dear Conrad, you will be sad to learn the news that John has died, but not surprised I’m afraid…The end during the night of 17th May was very peaceful (I know that sometimes people say the end was ‘peaceful’ when it was not, but it truly was for John).” I am not surprised. The man served his God with distinction.

John’s pastor, John Woollam, also wrote, “We would be grateful for your thoughts and prayers for that day [of the funeral], the preparations for which John had thought about and planned very carefully. Please pray that I will be enabled to carry out everything in a way pleasing to the Lord and in accordance with John's wishes.”

John’s “successor”, Andrew Alsop, wrote me after the burial, “On Wednesday I attended Dr John Anderson's funeral. It was a powerful testimony to God’s saving & restoring grace and the chapel was almost full of people to witness it. When preparing his funeral service, Dr John told Pastor John to ‘tell them about heaven & how to get there’. Pastor John certainly did that with great liberty and honesty…. John was buried in the chapel graveyard on a beautiful sunny afternoon, with birds singing their hearts out. It was almost impossible to be sad, even though many of us were solemnised.”

Farewell, my friend John. Thank you for everything you did for me. Your sun has set. You have gone to your reward. Enjoy the reward of your labours in the presence of your God!

Monday, June 8, 2015

The Men for God Conference

I was in Langley, a few kilometres from Vancouver, in British Columbia, Canada, where I was preaching at the Men for God Conference from Friday 5th to Saturday 6th June, 2015. The other speakers were Doug Nichols, Tim Challies, and Fletcher Matandika (the host). We were all from different countries—USA, Canada, Malawi, and Zambia. That is how the gospel unites humanity!

Speakers: Fletcher Matandika, Tim Challies, Doug Nichols, and "yours truly"
The Men for God Conference took place at Langley Free Reformed Church and was officially hosted by Joy to the World Ministries. We had over 120 men in attendance largely from Canada but with a few coming from as far as the USA. I appreciated the age range, from young adults to the grey haired (and bold heads). The fellowship was invigorating and the singing was heavenly.

My report is not chronological but summarises what each speaker dealt with and some of the ways the teaching impacted my life.

Doug Nichols teaching on the "Garments for the man of God"
Doug Nichols’ first topic was “Garments for the man of God.” He read from Colossians 3:1-14. The passage deals with our position in Christ and goes on to say that there are five things we must put on—a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, patience, forgiveness, and love. He opened up each one of these. His final message was “Christ in You, the Hope of Glory” from Colossians 1:27-29. He spoke about four things—our message, our method, our motive, and our means. It was vintage Doug Nichols with his personal anecdotes. He shared hair-raising stories from his life and ministry in the Philippines. You cannot doze!

Tim Challies speaking on the subject of Pornography
I missed the first the first two sessions on the second day (Saturday 6th) in which Tim Challis and Fletcher Matandika were speaking because I was finishing off work on my own messages. I was able to join the third session where Tim Challies was speaking on “From Bondage to Freedom”, which was an excellent message on pornography. He used a wonderful PowerPoint presentation. He spoke on why Christianity hates pornography and then walked us through three steps to freedom from pornography. The logic was both devastating and liberating! I realised that I need to deal with this topic in my own church.

Fletcher was the human means God used to bring this conference together
I also attended a breakout session by Tim Challies on having “A Porn-Free Family”. He stated that most kids end up watching pornography for the first time by sheer coincidence—they do not go looking for it. He still warned about the need to know that our kids are fallen creatures and will use good technology for fallen reasons. He spoke of the need to talk with our kids about this reality, its damaging effects, and our concern to protect them. I was amazed how much needs to be done to protect the family from the pornography on the Internet.

"Yours truly" expounding Ezekiel 22:30
I preached three sermons from Ezekiel 22:30, which says, “And I sought for a man among them who should build up the wall and stand in the breach before me for the land, that I should not destroy it, but I found none.” My messages were entitled, (1) God’s persistent search for men, (2) God’s gracious purpose for men, and (3) God’s grim displeasure with men. I trust that the Lord enabled me to articulate these points to the edification of the men who attended the conference.

The Q&A session at the end of the conference
The conference ended with a Question & Answer session. It was evident from the questions being asked that the men were challenged about their walk with God and were looking for practical ways they could deal with some of the failures, struggles and weaknesses. The speakers did their best to answer the question as they came. Ultimately, the men will need to go back home, lock themselves up with God, and cry to him to make them "men for God". Amen! What shall we say to all this?