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The Place of Preaching in Reforming the Church in Africa

This year marks 502 years since Martin Luther nailed his 95 protestations against the Roman Catholic Church to a church door in Wittenberg, Germany. These 95 protestations were a customary invitation for theological debate on the sale of indulgences. Little did Luther know that those protestations would spark the Protestant Reformation, the effects of which are still being seen and felt in church and society today.

According to Ernst Troeltsch, four key questions were essential to the Reformation:

  1. How is a person saved?
  2. Where does religious authority lie?
  3. What is the Christian church? 
  4. What is the essence of Christian living?

The Reformers’ answers to these questions hinged on five biblical principles famously known as the “Solas”; strung together they affirmed that we are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, for the glory of God alone, according to the Scriptures alone. 

At the Diet of Worms Luther was brought before German princes and church authorities to defend his presuppositions. However, it did not take long for him to realise that his defense was nothing more than an opportunity to recant, abandoning his searching criticisms.

He gave his now famous answer, “Unless I am convinced by the testimony of Scripture… for my conscience is captive to the Word of God, I cannot and I will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. Here I stand; I can do no other. So help me God.” Praise God for his serious commitment to Scripture, a mark of all the Reformers.

Unless I am convinced by the testimony of Scripture… for my conscience is captive to the Word of God, I cannot and I will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. Here I stand; I can do no other. So help me God.

The Reformation continues today, for the challenges faced in the sixteenth century are often still felt in many Protestant churches today. Thus the Reformers’ solution remains: Scripture alone. Today in Africa, anyone who knows past errors is best prepared to refute present ones. The sound of Luther’s hammer and protestations must echo today in Africa.

Protestants must continue to correct false teaching, challenge any distortion of the grace of God, single out those who deny supreme superiority of Christ, cast off additions to the Word of God and refuse to glorify any man or woman of God instead of God himself. In a church full of compromise, the tool needed is still the Bible. Wherever God’s Word is taught correctly, his voice is heard and lives are transformed for God’s glory.

Today in Africa, anyone who knows past errors is best prepared to refute present ones.

Today in Africa, the man of God has overthrown the authority of the Word of God. We no longer know the name of the church; we know the name of the man of God. We no longer seek God’s truth from the Word; we wait for pastor to unleash his declarations on us. Because many church groups depend on these men of God, the churches end with them.

If we are to see a Reformation on our own continent, as the church in Europe did 502 years ago there must be a revival of biblically saturated preaching. We seem to want everything except what is important: God’s very words.

Wherever God’s Word is taught correctly, his voice is heard and lives are transformed for God’s glory.

With everything that is being added to the church liturgy, it is pushing out the primacy of preaching. The Reformation was a revival of biblical preaching. It was a revival of expository preaching, a form of preaching that lay dormant for centuries. The life or death of the church in Africa depends on its preaching.

The church in Africa will starve if its diet continues to be the mere words of men and women, but it will thrive when pulpits are fully commited to the authority and message of Scripture. Ultimately, the church in Africa will fall without its own Reformation, so let us stand as Luther did on the Bible.

What the church in Africa needs today is not mighty men of God or powerful preachers. What we need is men and women persuaded that God’s truth is the powerful means through which God will transform his church, and this continent.

What the church in Africa needs today is not mighty men of God or powerful preachers. What we need is men and women persuaded that God’s truth is the powerful means through which God will transform his church, and this continent.

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