Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Ascension Day vs Workers Day

Ever since Ascension Day has been scrapped as a public holiday in SA, it has gradually faded in the consciousness of Christians. This year, like Good Friday, it falls on the same day as another public holiday. This little benefit is however also precarious as the South African government has already hinted that Christians have too much holidays. Christians should work more. Maybe this give significance to the confluence of Ascension Day and Worker's day, this year. Previously we've reflected on the role of Christians in a secular South Africa. This time we need to reflect on the place of Labour or work, or the worker within the context of the gospel. When Jesus of Nazareth ascended in the presence of his confused disciples, it is said that he 'sat at the right hand of God'. What does this mean ? Does it mean that he rested, (had a public holiday) after his toil on earth?. Does it mean for us, as his followers, to have a public holiday ?

Some commentators see this rather as the enthronement of Jesus Christ. Now, in the wake of his victory in the resurrection he now reigns. He is Lord, He has jurisdiction over the heaven and earth. For these thinkers this means a mandate to engage in worldly affairs. A mandate to be involved in the quest for righteousness, for peace, for justice. This for some, is the mandate to stand with the workers of this world, to speak out against injustice, to be involved in the workers struggle.

For others, this is taking the reign of Jesus Christ a bit too far. He reigns in our hearts, in our personal lives and give us victory over sin and the devil. This compels Christians to to soulsaving work, to reach the lost. Whichever way you look at it, Ascension day engenders, new vigor, a new spirit and energy to work in this world. Hence, the command, promise of Jesus as he ascended, You will be empowered to be my witnesses. Let's draw strength from God's spirit to go out in the workplace, in the streets, on the factory floor, to work. Because, Jesus is on the throne.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

The role of Christians in secular South Africa

South Africa is a secular state. The current ANC government make no excuses about the fact that there can be no preferential treatment for Christians, like in the past. What are the role of Christians then ? This was the thrust of Dr Sipho Senabe's reflection on Freedom Day, 27 April 2008. The story of Numbers 13, so relevant for our time and for the challenges we face, highlights the fact that South Africa need people of faith, people of hope. In the face of challenges that seems to be insurmountable, and often overwhelm us for e.g. the crime and violence, the state of corruption, the abuse of children of women, as Christians we often faint in our faith. It is in this context that people of vision, leaders with faith rise above the circumstances and then lead and show the way. They might be in the minority, they might not have the luxury of having political or economic power at their side, yet, they have this one critical quality or distinguishing quality, namely the ability to 'see beyond'. To be able to discern where God's spirit is at work. In this context, the question of numbers might not even be an indicator of Gods presence. What is critical is the quality of the engagement, the ethical edge of our presence.

Dr Senabe tells the story of how the presence of Christians have wrought havoc in a country like Ireland, the overwhelming numbers notwithstanding. With the return of peace and the restoration of the dignity of people, irrespective whether a person is Catholic or Protestant, believer or non-believer, everybody was at a place to start to build-up the country. Maybe this what we also need in South Africa, for us all, to start to join hands, bring from our own wells what is needed to cultivate the land. Does this mean that Christians should give up the uniqueness of our beliefs, of the role and place of Jesus Christ in the quest for nation building, peace and unity? Dr Senabe did not go this far. He suggest that from the root of our uniqueness and what Christians believe, irrespective of where governments stand, should grow behavior, a life that brings forth inspiration and hope and lives that can change South Africa.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Freedom Day, what does it mean for Christians in SA?

27 April 1994, marks symbolically the inauguration of the new South Africa. The euphoria of that day reminded many of the return of the Jewish exiles out of Babylon.

14 years after the historic first democratic vote for all eligible South Africans we however still face many challenges. Also, we can celebrate many victories. The topic of our worship on that day will be the Public Role of Christians; of the church in a secular society is still highly relevant, given the over 10 million evangelical growth in SA as well as similar trends to what happened in the rest of the South. There has also been nagging issue of the unfinished business of the unity of the Reformed Christians. How can we remain divided on racial grounds and purport to be the guardians of a new heaven and new earth, where justice prevails?

Dr Sipho Senabe, key thinker within the Department of Public Service and Administration, but also the evangelical world, will deal with these questions as well as the personal morality of leadership and the social improvement of many of the poor etc (health, reformation of those in conflict with the law, social security for the vulnerable). Come and engage with us, with the Scriptures on these critical areas as we craft the way forward for Christians, ministering.

Prayer Day for Zimbabwe, 27 April

Christians are rising up against Robert Mugabe. First there was some quiet murmurings, now its exploding with Allan Boesak, Desmond Tutu, The Zimbabwean Council of Churches, etc calling for action. The release of the election results is not the issue anymore, nor requesting the cantankerous Robert Mugabe to go. The issue evidently is the fact that we are staring down the possibility of a horrendous humanitarian crisis. Lives of people are at stake. The callous disregard for human lives by the Chinese government in sourcing this illegitimate tyrant with ammunition is shocking, to say the least. It is in this context that we need to heed to the call for a moral outrage, for action towards change in Zimbabwe.

Indeed, the call for political change need to he heard and this is what the Zimbabwean electorate voted for. But Zimbabwe also need ordinary people, lots of them, from Southern Africa, from Africa, from the rest of the world to stand in solidarity with them. Its in this context that we support all the Anglican Church's calls for a world prayer day on Sunday 27 April 2008. (cf Tearfunds call) Churches and ministries, all people of faith need to make it a priority. Put on a Zimbabwean flag, maybe get a Zimbabwean speaker or choir and lets pray for a breakthrough.

There will be further action and its (again) time for people of faith and conscience to rise up with those who are oppressed.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

There is an opportunity in storms according to Brendan Ficks

Brendan Ficks, emerging executive at Good Hope FM, reflected today on the how to deal with the Perfect Storm. Indeed, many storms we bring upon ourselves. Others storms (like the Jona story) God brings upon his people to induce a change of direction. We all, christians and non-christians, alike, face storms. The question is: how do we respond to these storms.

In his teaching today, Ficks, young professional working in the entertainment industry reflected on the storms leaders face in their professional engagements, but also broader, the storms we as a country faces. He remarks: the reality suggest that we all face challenges in our lives, the point is to be prepared. Mental and spiritual preparedness imply a reframing of the way we see these challenges. For some it is the end of the road, for others it is the beginning of creativity, new beginnings. Ho we responds, is largely shaped by how we 'see' it. He therefore warns, 'Many times the door that closed in your face is maybe not the 'devil', and many times a door that opened, is not God'.

This is a highly relevant reflection, in the face of challenges we face. We can either be overwhelmed and disintegrate or we can go deeper in gaining new perspective, indeed, in reframing the storms and start to see the opportunities.

Mighty Men Conference gives hope to SA

Irrespective of where one stands with regards to the theology of Angus Buchan, his recent bold statements and challenge to South African men, has to be heard- even if its only for the sake of the numbers he draws. Rapport reports that he drew close to 60 000 men to a prayer conference in the obscure little Kwazulu Natal town, Greytown for what is called Mighty Men's conference .

The article focus more on the logistical aspects of the conference, but also gives a few hints on the teachings of Buchan and others. His message seem to be clear: Christian men are to stay in South Africa and make a difference through faith and prayer. Like his own testimony in the book and subsequent movie, Faith like Potatoes, illustrates, Buchan believes in miracles. The now defunct MMC's website have a Buchan slogan: 'the seed for a miracle lies not in difficulty, but in impossibility'. Of course this teaching has to be exlored deeper. From the article there is indications of the influence of patriarchial thinking and North American Promise Keepers theology, but the crucial point is that Buchan has pledge allegiance to the soil of Africa and that a surprising number of white South African men are responding to this call. Yes, it might suggest that the number of whingers and people living in dispair, waiting for the next ship to Australia, is less than what newspapers, like Rapport, would want us believe. Possibly there are a growing number, who are believers and who evidently have hope not simply for their country, but hope in the God who reigns and still acts beyond the closed worldviews, engendered by rationalism and a dogmatic modernism. They have hope in God. This might sound simplistic, but then: maybe the answer lies in a back to the basics approach.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Rhema is going down

South Africa's mega-church of note seems to be reeling under the weight of personal and corporate calamity. A report by a sunday weekly suggest that a 'unchristian spirit' is taking hold of this once proud expression of charismatic spirituality and practice. Seemingly, the marital woes of founder and senior pastor still haunts the church. It has been argued previously on this blog, that maybe this should have been a 'time out' for Pastor Ray, a time of reflection, of review, searching the heart of God again. Seemingly, it was business as usual at Rhema, as the article recounts bitter leadership battles and fall-outs amongst senior ministry personnel.

How are we to interpret this downward spiral ? Some other blogger has suggested in general that the salience of the megachurch charismatic revival has reached his peak in the 80s and that 'interest has declined since then'. (Steve Hayes) Many would despute that suggestion, pointing to the more and more Rhema-clones that we find in Black, Indian and Coloured communities, all over Africa. The point is however that issues of concern like the question of accountability, discipline (in particular in the case of sexual and financial matters) are coming back to not only haunt, by wreck havoc amongst the faithful. Hopefully, this signals a new dawn of ecclesial accountability, but also pastoral leadership.

DR Church raise her voice over Zim-chaos

Finally a church raise their voice over the mess in Zimbabwe. The NG Kerk, Dutch Reformed Church, released a statement where they give a scathing critique on the 'quiet diplomacy' policy of our current government (Crisis, what crisis) , but more-so they add their weight, to the voices calling the ZEC and the ZANU-PF government for the release of the results. Of course, this follows in the wake of the South African Council of Church's call for the release of the election results, but also the request towards the South African government to 'move beyond' the current policy, which evidently failed.

We can only hope and pray, but continue to put pressure on the current SADC processes to speed up the transition in Zimbabwe. Churches, who have been the struggle against oppression should also start to raise their voices, against the atrocities and human rights abuses of late, under the Mugabe regime, otherwise (like Robert Mugabe) the legacy of their struggle against colonialism might be undermined. It is here that the NG Kerk has to be applauded in raising their voices, but also it is hoped, that they should also be heard, in South Africa, where the issues of land reform and transformation is opposed and resisted, which could push South Africa towards a situation where landless peoples become impatient. The political situation in Zimbabwe is complex and should not simply be seen as the result of ZANU-PF gone mad. A call on the rule of law and political solution to the crisis, cannot by-pass the complex land-reform processes, which is at the heart of economic justice.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Children groomed for sex, Christian cult exposed

As the father of 2 daughters, it abhors me when young children are sexually abused. When a Christian group is responsible, then it becomes even more repulsive, nauseating, to say the least; I struggle to find words for what's being reported in newspapers today. In an online article which headline I also use, namely, Children groomed for sex by US religious sect, it is reported,
'Girls as young as 13 were "spiritually married" to men who claimed several wives and were forced to have sex with their significantly older husbands "for the purpose of having children," according to an affidavit by an investigator with the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services'

Most of us, would of course be outraged, by the practices of this cult called 'Yearn for Zion', which is linked to the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. We would, and rightly so, push for criminal prosecution and possibly for burning them in public. The problem is however: how do one recognise, discern if you like, these manifestations of evil, within the fold of people also quoting the Bible as their source, calling themselves also, '...Church of Jesus Christ...' How do one protect your children, yourself against this devious deception? It seems, at least to this observer, that again (!) we need to affirm the imperative to consciously nurture an intelligible and accountable faith, rooted in the study of Scripture, but also in our world. We are reminded of the guidance by the apostle Peter to the congregations in Asia-minor, 'Always be prepared to give an answer to the everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, ... (1 Pet 3:15).

Recently a very popular 'Pastor Chris' rocked up in Johannesburg, promising healing and mightly miracles to thousands of us. And, no surpises,( afterall, we Africans are so desperate for a miracle!) thousands did make their way to the Johannesburg stadium. Later in the day, it prompted organisers to announce on the radio, that people must go home- the place is full. The Sowetan subsequently reported on a few 'miracle' tricks that the might one (Pastor Chris, I mean) were playing on the crowd. Irrespective of where one might stand on Pastor Chris and his 'miracle crusades', and whether he indeed have a special annointing, we as Christians should stop being bamboozled by charlatans, who are only after our hardearned money, but evidently also, the souls and virgin bodies our children. The actions and teachings of everyone, irrespective of their church's size or what jet they're flying, need to be weighed, in terms of the Scriptures and, if need be, they have to exposed, period. As part of the spiritual growth of our children, we need to show them and teach them how to ask questions, how to be critical and how to discern the Word of God in churches, in society, in their lifeworlds. Yes, they shouldn't be fooled by emotion and hype. They should also love God, with their mind. This we owe them in order to be living uprightly, Godly lives in this world, the real world where crooks and false prophets prey on the gullible faithful, because, whether we like it or not, these vampires will breed more of the same kind... so we were warned many years ago....there's no excuses..

Abortion still wrong, according to SA

9 out of 10 South Africans still considers abortion to be 'wrong', maybe even 'sin'. This finding, from a recent report by the HSRC, South African against abortion, flies in the face of politically correct views and public policy, aiming at curtailing back street abortions, but also the right of women to make and be respected for their own choices. This matter has, of course been debated in various church meetings and also recently at the SACLA II assembly. Advocates against the termination of pregnancy, especially from powerful groups such as ‘Doctors for Life’, the ‘Christian Lawyers Association’, ‘Christians for Truth’ and ‘Africa Christian Action’, argue, on the basis of Christian priciples and values, that the life of the unborn babies are sacred and need to be preserved, at all cost. The 'pro-choice' lobby, within the South African context, also using Christian values of compassion and justice, however ask the question: how do we prevent the death of vulnerable and many times, poor mothers, whose only alternative is a cheap, illegal abortion, in some dark, back alley ending a preganacy, which was unwelcome and possibly sparing the baby a miserable life in squalor and poverty. They would ask consciencious objectors, whether they would be willing to care for these unwanted babies. The reality is that despite the wonderful work that we as Christians, indeed, have been doing and are still doing, in the fields of childcare medical and nutritional support for the vulnerable children of our commmunities, we know that we are barely scraping the surface. The weight of orphans and vulnerable children, caused by the HIV/AIDS pandemic has yet to hit communities in full force, and indeed churches and faithbased NGO's will, as central to our missional calling have to own up to this responsibility. But are we ? Within the context of these realities, we have to (again) look at the ethical dillema of termination of preganancy and the evident stigma towards those that do decide to go this route. As South Africans, but more so, as Christians, we will have to read the Bible again in terms of the kind of community (family life) God is calling us toward, the kind of family life that we are nurturing, not only in our churches, but also within our communities, amongst women and children.

There is however a next dimension. We have to ask the question, what is behind the desperation of women to risk their lives, to end the pregnancy. How are we, as Christians driving them into the dark streets, when they could have found direction, support, maybe even understanding in the difficult choice that they have to make, in the poweer-relations they have to negotiate. Whilst we affirm our beliefs,steadfastly and feel possibly vindicated by the findings of the HSRC, what are however the impact of this on the real lives of the vulnerable and desperate in our community ?

Friday, April 04, 2008

Martin Luther King Jnr still inspires us today

The role of Christians in public life is often written out of history. Those in power usually shapes what's supposed to be remembered. The legacy of Martin Luther King jnr's relentless witness against racism, however still haunts the USA, and the world. In an article, Forty years after the shot race fears still haunts the US, as well as one in today's Mail & Guardian, King still roils US politics 40 years after death, it is argued that the mission against racism is not over, yet. The first article states,
"It is perhaps one of the greatest paradoxes facing modern American black leaders such as Charles Steele, now president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, which King founded and used as his tool to bring civil rights to America. "If Dr King was alive now, he would be distressed and disappointed in America," Steele said. "America is still racist to a large degree. More so perhaps. It's subliminal and embedded in the system."

Today, marks the 40th years after the assassination of this Christian leader in Room 306 at the Lorraine Motel in downtown Memphis, Tennessee. He led the struggle against racism, but his witness still inspire Christians today towards public witness and leadership. He said,
'A religion true to its nature must also be concerned about man's social conditions. Religion deals with both earth and heaven, both time and eternity. Religion operates not only on the vertical plane but also on the horizontal. It seeks not only to integrate men with God but to integrate men and each man with himself. This means, at bottom, that the Christian gospel is a two-way road. On the one hand, it seeks to change the souls of men and thereby unite them with God; on the other hand, it seeks to change the environmental conditions of men so that the soul will have a chance after it has changed. Any religion that professes to be concerned with the souls of men and it not concerned with the slums that damn them, the economic conditions that strangle them and the social conditions that cripple them is a dry-as -dust religion. Such a religion is the kind the Marxists like to see- an opiate of the people.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Pentecostalism and Charismatics, the future of Christianity ?

Pentecostal and Charismatic Christianity, seems to be the only form of Christianity that is growing. This weekend I attended a national interdenominational youth camp and the young people, the next generation was enthralled by the charismatic style and spirituality in which the message was embedded. This is of course no revolutionary statement or even new. Everybod 'knows' it. The publication of Phillip Jenkins, The Next Christiandom, seems to confirm, not only a shift to the South, but also to the 'Spirit'-churches.

Henk de Roest, yesterday and today shared at the Northern Theological Seminary and UNISA, and suggest however that new expressions of Christianity, on the margins of these mega-movements, are emerging. In his publication, En de wind steekt op !, he suggests that within existing churches, a new wind is blowing, the wind of the Holy Spirit, doing a new thing, within existing dying (?) wineskins and that, possibly, the influence of the mega-churches are waning.

It would however be prudent to affirm that various forms of Christianity will be come a salient feature of the future of Chistianity, instead of one or two dominating empires, that the lines between traditional silo's will blur, with new networks and criss-crossing flows of the work of the Holy Spirit. At least, we can affirm that the power of the work of the Holy Spirit in our personal lives and in the church, a key contribution of Pentecostals and Charismatics, will remain. What the Spirit will do, will however never be contained in the same old forms. Indeed, exiting times await us....

Our stories