Church

The need for theological preaching

I recently came across an article on http://www.thefrontporch.org  talking about “The need for theological preaching”.  Though its written from an African American context, I think the author, Tony Carter, makes some very valid points.  He writes that:

Churches do not suffer from a want of men to preach. They suffer from a want of men who preach sound, theological content. Today, preaching is still expected to be lofty and inspiring, but rarely is it filled with the weighty theology. Unfortunately, most preach with a mind toward moving people to dance, rather than moving people to think big about God, his person and purposes. Consequently, what we have in a great many churches is not preaching at all. We have an exposition of the preacher but not the Bible or the focus of the Bible, Jesus Christ.  Popular preaching today is filled with out-of-context promises but not the doctrine of the God of promises.

 

The bane of the pulpit today, and not only in African-American churches, is “a-theological” preaching. What I mean by “a-theological” preaching is this: weekly proclamation that is weakly presented because it is void of theological content. A-theological preaching tells you what God will do for you, but fails to tell you who God is. A-theological preaching tells you what God did for the preacher, but fails to clearly tell you what God has done in the finished work of Jesus Christ. A-theological preaching is driven by the emotion and personal reflections of the preacher and fueled by similar mundane sentiments from the congregation. Robert Smith, again warns us:

Pastors who are comfortable with the members of their churches checking their minds in the vestibule and entering into the sanctuary mindlessly prepare the worship atmosphere for spiritual excesses and biblically unwarranted emotional experiences. Preaching becomes incessant testimonies given from the pulpit that are totally divorced from the text and becomes promises put on their lips without a “thus sayeth the Lord” certitude. Before one can confidently say, “thus sayeth the Lord,” one has to know, “what sayeth the Lord.”

You can read the rest the article here http://thefrontporch.org/2013/10/the-need-for-theological-preaching/

 

The Rise of a Parallel, Post-Biblical Christianity

My pastor when I was in the university, Grant Retief, just wrote a piece on the 9marks blog (http://www.9marks.org/blog) where he describes the prosperity gospel as parallel, post-biblical christianity.   He writes that,

A churched nation is not the same thing as a “gospeled” nation, and the massive growth of the so-called prosperity gospel in South Africa suggests that my generation may be observing the rise of “parallel Christianity,” a Christianity that is effectively post-Bible…

In such churches, there is talk of “sin,” “grace,” and “faith.”

But these words are no longer used according to their biblical categories and context. Instead, their meanings are vaguely assumed, or are informed not by theology but psychology. For example, “sin” might be described as the failure to achieve your goals, not as rebellion against an Almighty God.

Once you have redefined sin, it’s a short step to redefine salvation. Salvation is no longer the rescue from God’s wrath by the wrath-absorbing, vicarious death of Jesus for the forgiveness of sin; it is the rescue from the temporal effects of sin. Jesus will rescue you from poverty, depression, mediocrity, and so on.

In short—and using the nine marks—these churches offer motivational talks, not biblical sermons; proof-texts, not biblical theology; applications of the gospel, not the gospel; moral improvement, not conversion; calls to social justice and giving, not evangelism; status in the community, not accountability-affording membership; flattery, not discipline; lessons in getting busy, not discipleship; professionalism, not leadership.

All this produces nice people instead of godly people. They don’t come to read, mark, and learn the Scriptures, they come to learn self-help. They don’t encounter God in his Word, they encounter themselves. The Bible is seldom more than a stage prop, and atmosphere takes the place of a real redeemed community, grappling with the loving and wounding word of God.

These churches, as I say, are post-biblical. Their “Christianity” is a parallel one.

You can read the rest of the article here The Rise of a Parallel, Post-Biblical Christianity.

Interesting article on the African Church

Just read a very interesting article about the African Church where the author tries to break down the different theologies that are around.

It’s true that charismatic churches in Africa have been growing at a rapid rate, but they’re not the only ones doing so. For example, the Evangelical Church Winning All (ECWA), the largest Protestant denomination in Nigeria, with over 6,000 churches and 2.5 million adult members, is decidedly not charismatic.

Other non-charismatic churches are also growing in Africa and will stay the majority for some time, say researchers. In the Atlas of Global Christianity, Todd M. Johnson and Kenneth R. Ross estimate that only 33 percent of African Christians are “renewalists” (their term for charismatic, Pentecostal, or otherwise “Spirit-empowered” churches). They divide African renewalists into three groups:

  1. Denominational Pentecostals (including Assemblies of God): 19% of all African renewalists
  2. Mainline denominational charismatics (Catholic, Anglican, Lutheran, Baptist, and so on): 27% of all African renewalists
  3. Independent charismatics: 54% of all African renewalists

Isaac Laudarji, an ECWA pastor in Chicago, says it’s difficult to quantify the number of charismatics in Africa. But he agrees that they exert wide-ranging influence. One reason, he says, is the way they go about their ministry. “They tend to be aligned with churches outside the African continent that make them more prominent than non-charismatic churches in Africa,” said Laudarji. And charismatic churches have done better than non-charismatic churches in using media like TV and radio, contributing to their wide recognition, he said.

One of the statements that I particularly agree with is..

“The African church will need to become theologically sound and in depth but that cannot happen overnight,” said Fon. “We need scholars and theologians committed to the work to help the African church. Unfortunately, many Africans who should be lending a helping hand are living in diaspora, and the church continues to have poorly trained leadership or leadership trained outside of her context.”

Some “diaspora” Africans, like Gordon College’s Darko, do regularly travel back to Africa to train church leaders. Though his efforts are focused primarily on equipping pastors of fast-growing churches, Darko also works with other Christian leaders in Ghana to curb what he considers extremes.

“But we don’t correct extremes with top leaders in public,” he said. “I discuss some of the areas needing moderation with leaders at the personal level.”

Rather than extinguishing the African charismatic “fire,” Asamoah-Gyadu said, Christians need discernment to see how much of it is God’s. “I know people who were living with all kinds of health situations, who have been prayed for and healed,” he said. “I don’t accept every ‘miracle worker,’ but I know that in the midst of the negative reports surrounding some of them there are those who are genuine.”

Africa has many problems, he said. They’d be much worse without these churches and without people placing their trust in God. “I can point to people I knew,” he said, “whose lives were going nowhere, whose lives were transformed.”

Read the article here.. http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2013/october-web-only/african-church-charismatic-pentecostal-cessationist.html?paging=off

Dressing African Traditional Relgion in Biblical Garments?

These are excerpts from an article on Conrad Mbewe’s blog.

Dressing African Traditional Religion in Biblical Garments?

Many explanations have been given for the explosion of the Charismatic movement in Africa. Many have seen this as a powerful visitation of the Holy Spirit. Whereas there is probably more than one reason, I want to add my own observation to this for what it is worth. In this blog post, I do not refer to the old conservative form of Pentecostalism once represented by the Assemblies of God churches. I have in mind the current extreme form that is mushrooming literally under every shrub and tree in Africa. How can one explain this phenomenon?……………………………………………..

Whichever way, the power of the witchdoctor is not in explaining truth but in mindless frenzy. His grip upon the popular mind is his eerie mysteriousness and his capacity to knock you out of your senses and then pronounce you delivered. Of course, this is never done by benevolence. You pay for his services…………………………………………………………………………

Whichever way, the power of the witchdoctor is not in explaining truth but in mindless frenzy. His grip upon the popular mind is his eerie mysteriousness and his capacity to knock you out of your senses and then pronounce you delivered. Of course, this is never done by benevolence. You pay for his services…………………………………………………………………..

………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

I do not mean to be unkind, but what the modern Charismatic movement in Africa has done is to simply take this entire erroneous superstructure of African religious worldview and baptise it with wrongly applied Bible verses and Christian language. The only difference is that the layer of dead ancestors and evil spirits is now one hotchpotch of confusion. This is why the nonsense of demons becoming spirit husbands and wives, and wrecking havoc in marriages,……………………………………………………………………………………………

In the African Charismatic circles, the “man of God” has replaced the witchdoctor. He is the one who oozes with mysterious power that enables him to break through those two impregnable layers, which us lesser mortals cannot penetrate. So, when blessings are not flowing our way despite our prayers, we make a beeline to his quarters or his church for help. This explains the throngs in these circles. The crowds are not looking for someone to explain to them the way to find pardon with God. No! They want the “man of God” to pray for them.

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………

Read the the rest of the article herehttp://www.conradmbewe.com/2013/07/why-is-charismatic-movement-thriving-in.html

will be interested in knowing what your views are about this article from Conrad Mbewe.  All debate should be civil.

All That Glitters…

“Two things I ask of you, Lord;
do not refuse me before I die:
Keep falsehood and lies far from me;
give me neither poverty nor riches,
but give me only my daily bread.
Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you
and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’
Or I may become poor and steal,
and so dishonor the name of my God.” Proverbs 30:7-9

“Give me neither poverty nor riches”.  I can see a lot of people agreeing with the first part of that statement, but the second part is a little bit harder to swallow.  Who wants to have to struggle with poverty? Who doesn’t want to be rich and wealthy? This statement seems counter-intuitive in this modern culture which has a “get rich or die trying” attitude towards wealth. In our world today it will seem that money is the solution to all our problems.  It would at least make life more comfortable and enjoyable.
It seems as if this same attitude towards money, wealth and prosperity can be found within the church.  In a new show that will be shown in the USA on the Oxygen Network called Preachers of LA, one of the cast members says”P. Diddy, Jay-Z, they’re not the only ones who should be driving Ferraris and living in large houses” (http://www.christianpost.com/news/preachers-of-la-trailer-teases-with-lavish-dramatic-lifestyles-of-six-mega-pastors-99070/).  If nothing else, the statement seems to imply that Christians deserve to live the good life like the celebrities of our day.  And how else can we do that if we our bank accounts aren’t overflowing like the drainage system in Accra after heavy rains.
The gospel message in recent times seem to be focused on living life to the fullest or said another way, living to your full potential.  99% percent of the time this refers to being materially wealthy and successful.  When you have fees to pay, relatives to support, “chop money” to give to the wife etc that is a message you want to hear.  There are lots of people who are genuinely struggling to survive on a daily basis and this message gives them the hope that this is will finally be the year of their financial victory.  On the 31st of December, when millions of Ghanaians hold all-night vigils at church to welcome the new year, the predominant message that is often preached is the assurance that “this is your year of financial breakthrough”.  The result is that the focus of gospel messages seem to be around material wealth and prosperity.  You would think that we become Christians in order to drive Ferraris and live in large houses.
This shift in focus has at the very least skewed the message of the gospel, and in doing so the attention is being shifted away from Christ to earthly possessions. The gospel message when phrased in purely materialistic terms seems to almost forget the heart of the human problem, our need for forgiveness.This shift sometimes makes us think that the blessed Christian refers only to the person who is financially prosperous and if nothing else fuels the desire for wealth.  This shift does nothing to teach Christians what godliness with contentment means.
“But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it.  But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that.  Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction.  For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.”  – 1 Timothy 6:6-10
I don’t think Paul is asking everyone to resign themselves to a life of poverty.  He tells Timothy that instead of eagerly pursuing material wealth and wandering from the faith like so many have done, he should rather pursue things that have an eternal value (“… pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness” – 1 Timothy 6:11 ).  He instructs Timothy to command the rich to not put their hope in their wealth but on God(” Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth” – 1 Timothy 6:17) and to be generous with what they have. The point is, whether rich or poor, our lives must centered around pursuing godliness and God by His Spirit will enable us to do this.  Paul says it in another way in Phillipians:
“..for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.  I can do all this through him who gives me strength” – Phillipians 4:11
The gospel tells us that our biggest problem is not our lack of material possessions. Our biggest problem is that we are alienated from God (” Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior… ” – Colossians 1:21) and in desperate need of a Saviour. Christ has reconciled us, through his death, holy, unblemished and free from accusation, to God (“But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death…” – Colossians 1:22).  We now have an inheritance which is free from the decay of this world and kept for us in heaven where we will reign with Christ forever.  The Holy Spirit is a seal that guarantees this inheritance(“When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit,  who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory” – Ephesians 1:13-14) and enables us to live godly lives until that day.
 This is the gospel and hope that Paul held on to and enabled him learn to be content in whatever situation he was found himself.  This is the gospel that enabled Paul say that godliness with contentment is great gain because his hope was not in the riches of this world.  This is the gospel that enabled Paul to tell the rich to be generous and place their hope in God because they know how much they have received from Him.  This is the gospel that allows the weak to say they are strong and the poor to say they rich because of what the Lord has done.  This gospel shifts the focus from ourselves to Christ and from material possessions to our glorious inheritance.
A gospel that emphasizes material possessions and blessings is always saying “this is the year of my financial breakthrough” and asks “which revival and/or prophet/pastor etc I can go to make this happen?”.  This in turn creates an environment where con-artists can parade as men of God to lure and deceive the desperate and gives them a false hope that only glitters like gold but has no substance.  But a gospel that has Christ has its centre says “This is the day the Lord has made. I will rejoice and be glad in it” and asks “how do I grow in godliness?” and can make the difficult decisions for Christ when they come because their hope is built on Jesus Christ.
A Christ centered gospel produces a Christians that have a faith that looks back at the cross and a hope that looks forward to the glorious inheritance that has been kept safe for us.  And while we are in this world we trust and pray to God for our needs so our financial lack doesn’t drive us to ungodliness and we are also generous with our wealth so that the lure of riches doesn’t drive us to ungodliness.
The writer from Proverbs can say that “Give me neither poverty nor riches” because he understands that there is something more important than our financial status. He is so focused on living for God that he prays that God will take away whichever one will shift his focus. I wonder how many of us have that focus or are even praying that God gives us that focus.

This might not be the year of our financial breakthrough.  It might not be the year of financial victory.  But today is the day that the Lord has made and are we living for God in it? That is ultimately a much more important question.