If you are serious about growing God’s kingdom in Africa, you need to understand the cultural context; you need to know the challenges you’re going to face. Like the 1st Century Apostles in Corinth, we must not shy away from challenging the established “way we do things”. That is the only way we will see genuine evangelism. It’s the only way to see churches filled with genuine disciples of Christ.
You need to understand the cultural context; you need to know the challenges you’re going to face.
African Culture Is As Challenging As Any Other
In this sermon Conrad Mbewe steps through several key cultural characteristics which form stumbling blocks for the Church – stopping Christianity from truly seeping into the African soil.
“You will appreciate that culture is as relevant to ministry as water is to fish. It’s a context in which you either harness its full potential and consequently get to your desired end a little more meaningfully, or it is a source of ongoing frustration. And consequently – do as you will – you are failing to find any achievement in all your work.”
The Rocky Road To Genuine Evangelism
“Africa is generally very spiritual: people believe in a divine entity, they believe in ancestral spirits who need to be appeased, but it is a mistake to just add Jesus. Christianity cannot just be bolted-on or mixed-in to the African traditional worldview – the biblical worldview stands alone.
Christianity cannot just be bolted-on or mixed-in to the African traditional worldview.
Evangelistic preaching in Africa has to address these things.
The Church must also work to understand African cultural norms if we want Christianity to be more than a repeated prayer or names on a membership role. Building Christ’s church is not about numbers, it’s about leading people to a redeeming and genuine faith in Christ.”
Our Biggest Problem Is Foundational
“You see the biggest problem in the Christian Church in Africa today is foundational. It’s at the point of our evangelism. That’s where we are making a grave mistake. And so when we are busy trying to solve problems in the Church itself at the level of branches, we are failing, desperately failing! The problem began long ago in the way in which we are going about our evangelistic work.”
There are aspects of our culture that undermine the very message of the gospel. We will therefore have to clash with it.
“We need to re-examine our evangelistic and missions methods. Are they honestly dealing with Africans in their African culture? Are they properly serving the gospel message, so that the Lordship of Christ is truly submitted to by those who claim to have become converted by it. Is this really the case? And are we seeing genuine evangelism?
We need to realise that there are aspects of our culture that undermine the very message of the gospel. And we will therefore have to clash with it.
We will need to believe, ultimately, in a God who is present by his Spirit on the globe, seeking out his own and bringing them to himself through the true gospel. It is that faith that will enable us to deal with the challenges that lie before us in evangelising the African continent in an African culture”
African Culture Sermon Series
Conrad Mbewe looks at the challenge African culture poses to the Church in Africa in these three sermons:
Text: 1 Corinthians 1:22-24
Date preached: 5 January 2009
Location: Grace Ministers Conference, Johannesburg, South Africa
I’ve been asked to deal with the subject of the challenge of African culture to the Christian church and in doing so we need to clearly appreciate that the subject that we are dealing with is one that needs to be faced by anyone who is interested in the welfare of God’s kingdom on the African continent. Anybody who is seeking to serve the Lord here must come face to face with the fact that like any other people on the globe, you are dealing with a context that has its own culture.
Culture is as relevant to ministry as water is to fish.
And you will appreciate that culture is as relevant to ministry as water is to fish. It’s a context in which you either harness its full potential and consequently get to your desired end a little more meaningfully, or it is a source of ongoing frustration. And consequently – do as you will and please – you are failing to find any achievement in all your work.
What Do We Mean By Culture?
And so in dealing with the subject of culture in the context of ministry in Africa, we are dealing with something that needs some level of definition. And so I just want to quickly put before you my home made summary of what culture generally is, and then I will show you how I hope to proceed in the three sessions I have.
Culture is the sum total of the way in which a people view life and live it out.
First of all, I understand culture as the sum total of the way in which a people view life and live it out. So it comprises their world view and also comprises the final product – and that is their way of life. In between the two you have the inevitable value system that they would have developed. Which shows itself in their attitudes towards the situations and challenges round about them.
So that’s really my understanding as I am dealing with culture and in this case, more specifically, with African culture.
Our Culture Is Normally A Blind Spot
I also want to quickly say that culture is a sub-conscious blind-spot. In other words, it’s not something we ourselves are conscious of. We normally come to appreciate our culture either as we go out of that culture for a season, and therefore what we are finding out there makes us think backwards. And so we ask ourselves the question, “Come to think of it, why do we do things the way we do them?” In the light of how others are doing things differently. Or, it is when someone from another culture steps into ours and then asks us the same question. “Why do you do things this way?” And then you begin to reflect upon the fact that, come to think of it, there are other ways in which to think about things and do things other than the way in which we are dealing with them.
African culture has had to interface with cultures from elsewhere.
And consequently, it is in the richness of a culture meeting another culture, than oftentimes an assessment of a culture can be done. And in this particular case, when we are dealing with African culture, it is because African culture has had to interface with cultures from elsewhere – as missionaries, evangelists, ex-patriots, and so on have come into the African context, that we therefore can now pause and ask the question, concerning the challenge of this culture upon the Christian church.
Perhaps one more introductory point before I proceed.
The Perceived Threat of Change
And it is the fact that although cultural practices are not essential to the existence and happiness of the people in that culture – notice I’m saying they are not essential – the people in that culture strongly perceive that these cultural practices are in fact essential. And as a result of that tend to feel threatened by anybody trying to change those practices. And therefore that provides the clash that I will be dealing with in the three sessions that come before us.
People tend to feel threatened by anybody trying to change their cultural practices.
We need to understand that it is part of the psychology of culture – that somehow we think that the way we do things amounts to something essential to our being. Nobody therefore dares to touch this. Otherwise we are being insulted and indeed our sense of fulfilment is being taken away.
Culture vs. Christianity in Africa: 3 Parts
Now, my interest in dealing with the three sessions that are before us, is to deal with the challenge that is posed upon the Christian church by the culture that we find in our continent. And I want to deal with it in three sessions.
1. The Church’s Evangelistic Mandate
The first is with respect to the Church’s evangelistic mandate. God does not expect the Christian Church to be satisfied to be in a little corner somewhere as a kind of social club, satisfying those who are within it. The Christian Church has a worldwide mandate to – as it were – encompass the earth with the good news.
Putting it in fact more strongly, every generation needs to be re-evangelised in the midst of the spread of the gospel through missions. Inevitably – as we will notice in this first session – we have to come face to face with the realities of the culture on the African continent.
2. The Inner Life of The Local Church In Context
The second session I hope to deal with is the challenge that comes to us with respect to the inner life of the local church. Issues related to worship, issues related to church discipline: formative and indeed corrective.
Again, you will agree with me, that a failure to understand and appreciate the context in which the local church is being established has resulted in a lot of unfortunate circumstances that have strangled the life of the church and consequently frustrated its capacity to move forward.
3. The Impact of The Church on The Local Community
And then thirdly and lastly, I hope to deal with the challenge of the context of African culture with respect to the church having an impact on the community round about it. I think you will appreciate that’s one of the greatest concerns of any serious Christian on the African continent.
We have so many churches, and yet the moral and spiritual impact is very little. We must ask why!
That we have so many churches, and yet the moral and spiritual impact is very little. And surely we must ask the question, “Why is this so?” And I am hoping by the grace of God to give some sense of direction in the third session with respect to this subject.
Very well then. There are a few more introductory statements that I want to make before we get into this first subject.
Note! Culture Is A Complex Subject
First of all, the subject of culture is a very wide subject; it’s a very complex subject. Culture itself is dynamic. Africa is a wide expanse. So, if you’ve come thinking that in these three sessions I am going to deal with the whole of this subject to an appreciable depth, well, I would like to prevent disappointment afterwards by just reducing your expectation a little!
Culture itself is dynamic.
I hope to deal with the subject in an introductory way. I am hoping that in interactions I may improve on my thinking, improve on the final product, and perhaps also deal with the matter in some more depth – but definitely not necessarily in the sessions that we have before us completely.
We Are Called To Serve Africa
Secondly, I will be talking about African culture not because it is ethereal or more anti-Christian than Western or Eastern culture, but because that’s the culture we are largely called to serve in on the African continent.
So it’s more to do with the relevance of the subject on our hands, rather than on the fact that this is the one culture that we really need to hit at in order for us to make progress in Christianity the world over.
We are largely called to serve on this continent – to build a Christian Church here that will be the praise of all the earth. Surely, therefore, we need to confront the realities in front of us in a Christian way and deal with it.
Thirdly. Although I will largely refer to black African culture, I will every so often refer to the white African culture as well which is a little more Western. Simply because it’s also here and consequently we do need to deal with it.
Christianity’s Primary Aim Isn’t Culture Change
Fourthly. It’s important for us to appreciate that our primary calling is not to change cultures directly. That’s not the job of the Christian Church. It is to evangelise a people so that they are changed from the inside out. And in that change there will be cultural implications. But I hope you will see, as we go through the three sessions, that that’s the approach that I will ultimately be taking: The task of changing a people from the inside out.
The job of the Christian Church is to evangelise a people so that they’re changed from the inside out.
And inevitably therefore seeing to it that a change is taking place in the outworking of individuals’ lifestyles, and consequently communities changing; societies changing; and therefore a whole people living a life that is more God glorifying.
Very well then, with those many introductory words let’s come to the first area of application and it is in the Church’s evangelistic and missions enterprise.
The Church’s Calling
Please turn with me to 1 Corinthians 1:18. We have there within the context the Apostle Paul dealing with the disunity that had rocked the Corinthian church. Disunity primarily because the believers were involved in a personality cult. They were raising one preacher over and against the another – being followers of one over and against the other. And the Apostle Paul comes in to say, “That’s an extremely worldly way. That’s the way in which your culture views success. You need to come away from that and come to a more biblical approach concerning how God views progress”.
The Message of The Cross
And it is in dealing with this contrast that we pick up his argument in 1 Corinthians 1:18-21:
“For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written:
“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise;
the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.”
20 Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe.”
A Stumbling Block & Foolishness To The World
Now I’m interested in 1 Corinthians 1:22-24:
“Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24 but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength.”
We will end our reading there.
Our Mission Is Clear
I’ve already thrown out the hint to you that as a Christian church, we have no choice but to ensure that we go to every people, to every nation, to every language, indeed to every culture and take the gospel there.
We have no choice but to go to every people, nation, language, and culture and take the gospel there.
The reason is pretty simple.
The Great Commission
First of all, it is part of the great commission that Jesus left the Christian Church with. He said that all power in heaven and on earth has been given to him. Therefore go to all the nations and make them my disciples (Matthew 28:18-19). So, we have no choice. We cannot choose that we will only have the people in this particular vicinity as our target for the gospel and not those – whatever the reason might be. It is to encompass the whole globe.
But also, it is because Jesus, as the book of Revelation puts it, has purchased a people from every tribe and nation and language in order that among them he may raise up a priesthood unto God. So, the challenge is with us to take the gospel into literally every culture that a people there might be brought to Christ.
We Will Meet Different Cultures
Now, the first demand of this great commission with its evangelistic and missions mandate, is for us to appreciate that there are different cultures out there that we are going to meet, and that those cultures will have different implications for gospel work. And there’s no doubt about it – that was very clear in the mind of the Apostle Paul as he dealt with his evangelistic and missions work in Corinth.
Example: Jews vs. Gentiles in Corinth
He says in 1 Corinthians 1:22 as we read earlier on, “Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom”. He is saying basically that as he deals with Jews on the one hand and deals with Gentiles on the other, he finds a different mindset, a different expectation, with respect to gospel work.
To speak to them about a Messiah hanging up on a cross in weakness and shame, was to go against the grain.
The Jews were anticipating and all-powerful Messiah who – as was the case with the previous one called Moses – would get them out of oppression by miraculous signs! And consequently to speak to them about a Messiah hanging up on a cross in weakness and shame, was to go against the grain of their expectation.
On the other hand the Gentiles had developed a more philosophical approach to life and living. Wanting to arrive at things purely through intellectual, superior, logic. And consequently, even to them, to speak in terms of a man who is rushed to the cross in utter weakness, that he is the saviour of humanity is folly to their thinking.
Some Key Cultural Aspects in Africa
There was an expectation that was confronting them as they took the gospel into Corinth. May I suggest to you therefore that in the same way, Africans have an African culture. And consequently, in evangelising on the African continent, one has to take cognisance of that fact.
Let me just quickly highlight a few aspects of that culture that if we do not bear in mind, we will fail in our evangelistic work.
There Is A Place For The Spiritual Realm
You will hardly ever find an African culture that is anti-spiritual.
First of all, Africans, generally speaking, already have a place for the spiritual – for the divine being. They already do. You will hardly ever find an African culture that is anti-spiritual. It is already part and parcel of African thinking.
However, there is an extra layer of ancestral spirits that is part of the spiritual world. And if you don’t deal with this – if you don’t come face to face with it – you will be frustrated in your work of bringing the gospel to the African people.
The Positives & Challenges of Ubuntu
Secondly, there is what is often referred to as the African ubuntu sensitivity. The sense of community. The sense that my fulfilment is found in community rather than in the privacy of my own life. Now that has a positive aspect to it. And no doubt about it, you will find that people who come to the African continent – especially to do Christian work – are quick to report back home, as it were, concerning the overwhelming welcome that they have received. “Oh! The African people are very friendly. All ready to receive the good news of the Lord Jesus Christ!”
Now, what that often does is it gives people the impression that they’ve had great success in their evangelistic work. Because they’ve been welcomed so well – they feel pity for those who are labouring away in atheistic Western culture – when really, that success is skin deep as I hope to show in a few minutes.
People Don’t Want To Give Offence
Coupled with this, is our African failure to say no to peers and those we perceive to be above us.
What it means therefore is if a person who is not cognisant of this fact, after briefly sharing the gospel, says to my kinsman, “Would you like to become a Christian?” The answer is most likely yes on the outside, even if the heart is saying no.
And so especially for those who have an outward form of bringing people to Christ – you know, repeat this prayer after me and so on – they are likely to have a lot of converts on their hands immediately! Because of the fact that there is this ‘welcoming-ness’ and in the midst of that there is this failure to say to you, “No. I don’t want. At least not now. Just leave me alone, let me think about it”. So that is an extremely rare thing. Usually the answer is yes.
Where Did All The Converts Go?
May I quickly add, therefore, that this is what has led to so many converts on the African continent – so many! But then you need a magnifying glass if not a telescope to find them a few weeks later.
I recall a number of years ago – I think it must have been ’85 or ’86. Having just graduated from university, going to start working in a particular church, in a denomination that had American missionaries there. And we got an invitation to participate in this glorious new method of church planting, and it amounted to something like this:
Empty Instant Church Planting…
Taking young people during their one month holiday, taking a group of them to this new place for two weeks and spending the two weeks evangelising. Then bringing them back and picking up the second group of young people to go and do the discipleship work. And so in a period of one month you will have people converted, and in fact, a church established!
And when the whole month was over, yes! The reports that came from that place said, it’s been done. And they had many numbers to prove it! So many gave their lives to Christ, so many were being discipled. Well, I want you to know that if you were to go there now to look for the converts, you’re going to have a tough time to find them in the village huts, in the shrubs and bushes, and even in the towns.
The names are there! But clearly it was because of this same inability to disappoint a person who means well and consequently the yes that was being given.
This Is A Serious Problem
May I say that this is a very, very serious point.
It’s very serious because we have filled our churches with – to use a biblical expression – goats rather than sheep! And the implications of that upon the churches, upon the community, cannot be overlooked. Churches are spiritually at the lowest ebb because the people in the church are people that still need to be evangelised.
Churches are spiritually at the lowest ebb because the people in the church still need to be evangelised.
And I’m not speaking about those who attend church regularly, I am speaking about those on the church’s membership role. And may I say that this is because of a failure to come to terms with the kind of people we are reaching out to.
We Have Failed To Understand The Culture
That they are with some spiritual mindset already, but it’s not exactly the biblical spiritual mindset. They are a welcoming people, and that has to be granted to them. They are a people that will do anything but give offence in that person to person interaction. And consequently will give the impression they have come to understand and accept the message when in actual fact, it’s just a skin deep courtesy they are giving to you.
It’s just a skin deep courtesy they are giving to you.
Learning From The Apostles
Thankfully, as we come back to our text here, the apostles, in dealing with the evangelistic enterprise, did not only recognise that cultures differ in the way in which they relate to the Christian gospel, but also were unwilling to simply yield to it as a culture with its demand.
In fact, to be more precise, they were willing to clash with the expectations of that culture in order to ensure that there is real, lasting gospel work taking place in Corinth.
The apostles were willing to clash with the expectations of the culture to ensure real, lasting gospel work took place.
Listen to this, back to our text 1 Corinthians 1:22-23:
“Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles”.
That little word ‘but’, speaks not only of contrast but of an inevitable clash that took place in 1st Century Christianity. It was costly to the first evangelists of the Christian Church. Many times they were persecuted because of this.
Persecuted For Being Counter-Cultural
The Jews, primarily, did not take kindly to the Christian message. It was an insult to them. The early evangelists, being Jews themselves, were looked upon as real betrayers of the Jewish people. They paid for it dearly. We know the latter chapters of the book of Acts. How the Apostle Paul was waylaid by his own people and if it wasn’t for an informer he may have lost his life much earlier than he finally did.
An yet, his brethren insisted that this was the right way. They were not going to play into the hands of a culture into which they were taking the gospel. And may I say we must do the same. We must.
Don’t Undermine the Message
Let me put it this way. You see, Christianity must always begin with God. It’s God’s initiative. It is God coming down, as it were, to reach a lost people and bring them to himself. He provides a saviour. He provides the terms of reconciliation – having provided a saviour. And brethren, whatever we may want to adjust about our evangelistic methods, we dare not end up with methods that undermine that very clear message.
We are ambassadors of a king. And therefore we come from him with a message: “Thus saith the Lord”. And we must be careful that we are not getting skin deep acquiescence to that message. That it must be individuals who have truly appreciated the message, made appropriate adjustment to that message, that they are now submitting themselves to our King of Kings and Lord of Lords.
Numbers Are Not Enough
Putting it another way, numbers are not enough.
That needs to be emphasised. Because the popular thing today is for internet sites and glossy magazines showing hundreds of thousands of Africans having come to Christ. Then those of us who are here expect, well, the next Sunday our churches must be full to overflowing with people genuinely wanting to be baptised; be identified with the people of God because they’ve been saved.
Nothing has changed. Corruption remains the same. The immorality and breakdown of family life remains the same. Levels of crime remain the same. But, the internet sites and the magazines across the ocean are all saying a different message.
God sees the heart. He will not be content with something merely outward.
That’s not God’s business. God is about reconciling sinners to himself and he is a God who sees the heart. He will not be content with something merely outward; something that’s merely to maintain good relations between people. It is a people, repentant of their sin, reconciled to the living God through his son, the Lord Jesus Christ.
Quick Evangelistic Crusades Won’t Do
In our African context, therefore, the quick, fly-by-night, evangelistic crusade method, that counts converts after a single sermon because they either raised their hands or repeated a prayer, will not do.
There is an entire superstructure of spiritual understanding that needs to be brought crashing down before the edifice of true biblical spirituality can be raised up. And it is a great task on our hands as the 21st Century Christian Church on African soil.
An entire superstructure of spiritual understanding must be brought crashing down.
We Must Stand Up For Truth
The Apostle Paul, in our text, speaks about the fact that we preach Christ crucified. And he says it was a stumbling block, especially to Jews. They were not willing to simply to fit in Jesus into the structure of a twisted Old Testament understanding of God’s purposes. No. They spoke very clearly that that entire priesthood, with all its temple worship, had been superseded by Jesus and him crucified.
It was not that the Gentiles were coming in as visitors to join the Jews. It was that both were abandoning their forms of religion – the cult of Judaism, or that of idolatry – to come into this Christian Church through the same way of repentance towards God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
Bringing Genuine Disciples To Christ
You don’t need to be a genius to appreciate how that was a great insult to the Jewish mind. But you see, these 1st Century evangelists understood that to compromise on this issue may fill the Christian Church with Jews, but it will not bring in genuinely regenerate disciples of Jesus Christ, it won’t.
Therefore, however harsh the persecution may have been, they were willing to pay – even with their life’s blood – in order to bring about genuine Christianity while God lent them breath.
It was obviously the same with the Gentile idolatry. You will remember when the Apostle Paul stood up in Athens. He said, look, let’s be very clear, the God who made this world cannot be served by human hands the way in which you are serving these idols. For he himself needs nothing from you – indeed he owns everything! (Acts 17:24-34).
In other words, you are wrong!
Bolt-On Christianity Is Unbiblical
Are we willing to say that? Because if we are not willing to say that, all that is happening on our continent is that people are just adding our message to what they already have – finding a place to fit it in somewhere – and life continues as it was before, with a little plus called Christianity.
Life continues as it was before, with a little plus called Christianity.
That’s not biblical Christianity. And it’s not the way God intends to save his own.
May I say that today’s superficial evangelicalism is too much in a hurry to count its chicks, and hence, judging by the number of today’s converts, Africa has been evangelised a hundred times over. And yet you and I know that the Christian faith has a long way to go to really sink into African soil. We know it.
A former generation of missionaries understood the need to bring down that superstructure that is already there. And therefore spent years hitting away, chipping away, at the foundation to bring it down. Sadly, we’ve largely lost that.
We want to go into an area, and next week report 1,000 converts. Half the place has now come to Christ, including the chief and his elders, everybody!
Faithfulness to the gospel means inevitably clashing with that cultural mindset – it’s going to happen.
Challenge Ancestral Spirits & Spiritual Understanding
Remember what I said. Though there is the spiritual understanding, evangelistic preaching in Africa today must confront the fact that ancestral spirits are nothing, and therefore there’s no need to appease them in any way!
We need to deal with it!
Rather than simply saying, “Well, you know, they are already spiritual. You know, we’ve found that they already believe in God and they believe in spiritual things and all we did is just fit in Jesus”.
Well they will accept your Jesus until something happens in their lives and then they will go and look for speckled chickens to go and sacrifice to appease the ancestral spirits.
And then on Sunday they are back in church. It’s just part of life! Evangelistic preaching in Africa today must deal with it. And it’s going to cause stumbling for many; you are touching a raw nerve, but it has to be done. The 1st Century disciples paid for it, so must we.
Hold Allegiance to God’s Truth, Above Relationships
May I also add that because relationships in Africa tend to be more important than the truth, objective truth, part of the call to repentance must be the reversal of that value system so that allegiance to God’s revealed truth must be held at the highest level. And indeed, above community allegiances.
A nice biblical illustration is that of the rich young ruler who when Jesus said, “you want to enter the kingdom of God? Simple. Obey the commandments, a, b, c, d”, the man said, “I’ve been keeping them since I was young, don’t worry. I’ve already ticked the boxes, everything is okay.”
But you see, Jesus wasn’t a fool. And he said, “Fine, just now go and sell everything you have and come and follow me.” (Mark 10:17-22).
He touched where it mattered the most and the Bible tells us that the young man went away sad. At that point he could not accept the saviour’s message. Jesus touched where it really mattered.
Bible Is The Ultimate Authority
Let me put it this way to you. I’m an African, and therefore I am able to speak like this. One of the most difficult changes to happen in an African mind is to make the Bible the last voice in my life. No, no. It’s the chief, or the uncle, or someone who has a hold upon the community as it were.
One of the most difficult changes to happen in an African mind is to make the Bible the last voice in my life.
There is a sense of taboo that I dare not go against. And if in our evangelistic work, repentance is not a call to a mind shift in that respect, so that “thus saith the Lord” becomes the last word, we are simply preparing ourselves for a lifetime of frustration.
Because you will be sitting there with your convert, who is going through a difficult time because of a complete complexity of situations, and then you say, “Look, this is what the Bible says, let me show you. Jesus says this in Matthew or in Mark or Luke,” and so on… And you can notice a clear resistance to what you say. But isn’t it plain?
Well it might be plain, but it’s not the last voice. Allegiance to the community still stands supreme.
Allegiance To Christ Above Community
The call to repentance must be a call to break that bond and have Christ as the ultimate one for my allegiance. Don’t overlook that.
May I quickly add therefore, that when you begin to go down that route, a lot of your friends will have a lot of converts, you will have very few.
To be a Christian is to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. Anything short of that is not biblical Christianity.
Many will go away sad. The truth is you are confronting where the issue matters the most. To be a Christian is to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. Anything short of that is not biblical Christianity.
And here is where it truly matters, finally.
Faith Like The Apostles
This is where the disciples had to settle the matter – the apostles. Because nobody rejoices at being persecuted; nobody rejoices at being rejected – and if we can apply it to our own day – nobody rejoices at the fact that that person is reporting tens of thousands of converts, and you are reporting ten. Nobody rejoices in that!
You see, this is where the faith of the apostles needs to be our faith as well.
Listen to 1 Corinthians 1:24. Having said this is “a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles”, the Apostle Paul goes on to say, “but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.”
You see, when the apostles faced this reality, the cultural expectations from both Jews and Gentiles, the cultural resistance to the true gospel, no doubt they would have been tempted to chop off its rough edges, to make it more acceptable, sugar-coat it, so that they have more and more people giving apparent allegiance to Jesus Christ. They didn’t.
And the reason why they didn’t was because they believed that the work of evangelism is God’s work. So brothers, we are merely vehicles of communication. That’s all.
It’s God who calls, it’s God who saves. As he did with Lydia, it’s God who opens the heart, changes it around, and makes a people his own. It’s God! And that’s the point that the Apostle Paul is talking about here. When he says “but to those whom God has called”. And Oh! That we would get back that apostolic faith in a God who is present in his world, saving his people!
Our role, as a preacher of old said, is to simply take the hook and put it into the mouths of the fish and let the Holy Spirit himself begin pull them out of the water. That’s not my job, it’s his.
Give them the truth, and when God regenerates his soul, he will bring that soul to himself. He will! The God who could turn around a Pharisee like Paul – formerly Saul – hell-bent on destroying the Church, and turn him around to become one of Christianity’s foremost evangelists, even at the end of 20 Centuries, can turn an African round. Despite the fact that he is up to his neck in his cultural belief systems, he can. And we need to believe that brother.
We are fast losing sight of the efficacy of the gospel, we are.
Trust God, Trust The Gospel
Somehow everything has become man made. And we think that the future of the gospel is dependent on how clever we are – how we can make it suit the popular mindset on the African continent. We shouldn’t do that. We must trust God to save his elect people through our faithful and patient handling of the true gospel message – with all its implications on the lives of our hearers.
We must trust God to save his elect people through our faithful and patient handling of the true gospel message.
We must trust him. I hope that faith you are reading about in verse 24 is your faith as well. Sadly, it’s now extremely rare. These strong doctrines that sustained the 1st Century evangelists have become all but lost in our generation. God’s electing love, Jesus’ particular redemption, the Holy Spirit’s effectual call, have become very rare.
In fact people hit out at them! And then they have to go out there and face the reality of a lost people, sunk in their own culture. What do you expect? But for them to start twisting the truth to make it more acceptable.
The Biggest Problem
We need to get back to the apostolic way.
The present view is producing a lot of people in our churches, but as I hope to show in my next message later on this evening, we are paying a dear price for it, a dear, dear price. We need to turn the tide around, and may God help us in this.
You see the biggest problem in the Christian Church in Africa today therefore, is foundational. It’s at the point of our evangelism. That’s where we are making a grave mistake. And so when we are busy trying to solve problems in the Church itself at the level of branches, we are failing, desperately failing! The problem began long ago in the way in which we are going about our evangelistic work.
The problem began long ago in the way in which we are going about our evangelistic work.
You cannot solve the problem at superstructure level. No. We need to get back to the foundation. We need to re-examine our evangelistic and missions methods.
Are they honestly dealing with Africans in their African culture? Are they? Are they properly serving the gospel message, so that the Lordship of Christ is truly submitted to by those who claim to have become converted by it. Are we sure about that?
Are our converts honestly submissive to Jesus Christ? Are they? You know the answer, you live on this continent. You know it.
We need to realise that there are aspects of our culture that undermine the very message of the gospel. And we will therefore have to clash with it. As I hope to say later on, especially those of us who are African Christians ourselves. We will deal with that tomorrow.
We will need to believe, ultimately, in a God who is present by his Spirit on the globe, seeking out his own and bringing them to himself through the true gospel. It is that faith that will enable us to deal with the challenges that lie before us in evangelising the African continent in an African culture
Eternal and gracious God, these things are easier said than done because as we saw earlier, we ourselves are within the context of that culture and hardly ever really see it with objectivity. Help us to study your word sufficiently, to see the challenge it brings upon us.
And as we have seen – with respect to the Church’s evangelistic and missions enterprise – oh help us oh God to have the faith of the 1st Century evangelists and refuse to stop short of true conversions before our eyes, because of having been deluded by a superficial veneer that comes across to us as heartfelt commitment to Jesus Christ.
Oh father, help us that we may see genuine Christians filling up genuine Christian churches, having an impact on the African continent.
We plead this for the honour and glory of the head of the Church, the great redeemer of his people Jesus Christ.