In Today’s Insaka program Pst. Smith and Pst. Chanda discuss the challenges faced in the work of missions. Pst. Smith discusses from a western perspective while Pst. Chanda discusses from an African perspective. Join in and enjoy the conversation!
There can be no denying that distortions of the gospel have crept into many churches throughout Africa, chief amongst them being the prosperity gospel. But before effectively dealing with the issue of the prosperity gospel, we must ask why so many in African churches allowed this false gospel to slip in unchallenged. Where were the gate-keepers, the whistle blowers? And even now, why is there such deafening silence from so many of the now-indigenized African churches? The problem of the prosperity gospel today, as much as anything, roots in an ecclesiological problem from yesterday. Generally speaking, it appears as though the gospel efforts of years past in Africa did not come with any mechanisms by which professing Christians could protect and preserve the gospel from these constant threats of distortion. For instance, little attention has been given to carefully understanding the doctrine of conversion and what it means for meaningful church membership or church discipline. Likewise, missionaries and pastors have not asked what the gospel has to do with church government, the responsibility of every member for guarding against false teachers, or the need for a plurality of elders. Instead, the gospel is taken for granted and the African church suffers. It remains in desperate need of missionaries and churches who both understand the problems and are equipped with better and more biblical solutions.
Where are All the Christians?
Missionaries who labor in reached parts of Africa are today faced with a society that has been inoculated against the gospel. Cities are filled with people who have been baptized and acknowledged as members of churches from one denomination or another, thus affirming their status as Christians, even though many live lives that show no fruit of the Spirit’s work or evidence of a life of repentance and faith in Christ. For example, 80 percent of my fellow Kenyans would identify themselves as Christians, yet many go to church irregularly, if at all. They do not need the gospel and church, or so they think, because they are already “Christians.” Others who might frequent church more than this former group attend churches where the gospel is not articulated clearly. Though they are fervent in their religion, a great part of this group would struggle to articulate the gospel even in its most basic form. True gospel ministries established decades ago have in many cases grown into theologically weak churches that have given in to teaching variations of the prosperity gospel. It’s no wonder false gospels are wreaking havoc in Africa with little to no resistance. When churches are filled with those who do not know the gospel and are in many cases living lives unworthy of the gospel, then they cannot protect themselves from distortions in both gospel doctrine and gospel living, let alone raise an alarm among their community about the counterfeits that are masquerading as truth. We know God remains faithful, and he has indeed scattered his own in these places. It is our constant prayer and hope that he will raise up many more of that breed so that they one day would define the church landscape of Africa, that the prosperity gospel might die here. But today, the problem persists. So how can we do missions in a way that will protect the gospel for the present generation and for the generations to come?
Is Theological Education Enough?
A great deal of missionary effort is at present being focused on theological education. In many cases the pastors in the cities do not have any form of theological training. Generally speaking, previous missionary efforts did not place an emphasis on equipping the pastors who were left “in charge.” This absence of enduring discipleship has resulted in increasingly shallow theology, leaving many local churches susceptible to whatever error its society was infected with at present. As a response, theological institutions are being established across the continent. Conferences and seminars abound as we play catch-up after realizing that past missionary efforts, though helpful in bringing many to the Lord, proved unreliable in preserving the gospel for the next generation. This is a good work, and it is an urgent work. Yet despite the renewed efforts to train pastors, our continent still lacks enough qualified men to do the training as well as sufficient resources to finish the task.
A Blind Spot Remains
That said, a blind spot still plagues these commendable missionary efforts. Most efforts in church planting and pastoral training lack an emphasis on the local church. Systematic theology and other branches of Christian doctrine are greatly emphasized, as they should be, but ecclesiology remains unfortunately assumed and, as a result, misunderstood. This is a sad reality primarily because these assumed local churches are God’s primary plan for how the gospel will be displayed and preserved for the coming generations—not seminaries, not conferences, not theological training centers. In an ecclesiologically heavy letter to Timothy, Paul wrote, “I hope to come to you soon, but I am writing these things to you so that, if I delay, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of the truth” (1 Tim 3:14–15). How a church conducts its life together has everything to do with how they preserve the truth. The present generation in Africa would have been served well by churches that had been just as willing to excommunicate them as they were to baptize them. Having a city filled with people who claim to be followers of Christ but are living lives unworthy of the gospel distorts the truth of the gospel for both this generation and the next. God does not desire to preserve truth through theologically accurate books. He wants lives that reflect that truth by living it out together in local churches.
We Need Faithful Churches
If we teach churches today that the buck stops with them and that they are not mere bystanders in the mission but gate-keepers of the gospel, then maybe they might fire the next pastor who starts preaching heresy. If we teach churches that conversion is more than saying a prayer and if we stopped asking people to walk down the aisle or raise their hands to receive Jesus, we might have smaller churches captivated by the awe-inspiring grace of God rather than the eloquent, misguided pastor in a shiny suit. We might have churches that will guard the gospel more fervently for the glory of their God. The plagues of the prosperity gospel and false converts are not at the heart of the problem for the African church. They are mere symptoms of a more fundamental problem. God wants the local church to be built up so that it can withstand different winds of error. It might be prosperity gospel today and Gnosticism tomorrow. Focusing more missionary efforts on building healthy churches will help protect the gospel for our generation and for the one yet to come.
Pastoring Versus Governing
While motivating me to join the undergraduate theological training, a pastor-friend of mine said, “The pastorate is better than any career in life. It is better to be a pastor than even to be a president.” His reasoning was convincing enough then. He cited the fact that the pastor commits himself to the eternal rather than to the temporal well-being of his followers. I agreed with him. Pridefully, I was excited to hear that I was going to college to pursue a higher calling than the presidency. That I could be greater than an Obama was alluring, but as I grew in the grace and knowledge of Christ, the prospect of being greater than a president started to lose its appeal. While I was in college, another pastor-friend gave me an opportunity to teach a Bible study series about the Holy Spirit and the spiritual gifts that He gives to believers. In my study of 1 Corinthians 12 (and related passages), I learned things that started to better shape my thoughts on the comparison between the pastor’s and the governor’s offices. How can one compare the taste of a chocolate bar to that of a chicken steak? They are both good in different ways. I would be hard-pressed to say which was better. Christiano Ronaldo once used a similar argument during an interview in which he was asked to assess how he compared to Lionel Messi’s soccer genius. Said Ronaldo, “It is like comparing a Ferrari to [a] Porsche. They are both really good.” Had the Real Madrid star been humble, he would not have added, “but I am a little bit better than him.” With this latter addition, Ronaldo messed his publicity stunt. We might argue that chicken has a slight edge over chocolate since the former is unprocessed. However, such an argument would be fallacious. It does not really answer the question; it simply shifts the discussion. Whether or not the chicken is unprocessed does not tell us whether or not it tastes better. Messi’s, arguably, more natural talent does not say whether or not he is a better footballer than Ronaldo. Maybe, as Ronaldo says, they are just Porsche and Ferrari. As many pro-Ronaldo opinions may exist as anti-Ronaldo ones. At least, since, after I prepared and taught the Bible lessons on spiritual gifts, I do not think that the pastoral vocation is better than the presidential one. I think the pastoral vocation is better for my pastor-friends since God has called them to it. The presidency is better than the pastorate for someone who is called to be a president. The man whom God has called to be a pastor sins if he tries to be a president instead. In like manner, the person whom God has called to be a president sins if he attempts to become a pastor instead. In other words, it all depends. It depends on what God has called one to. Whatever God has called you to be is not just better than any other profession, for you, it is the best profession in the world. It is exactly what God created you to be.
Two Birds, One Stone
The tomato vendor, the doctor, the good neighbor, and the lawyer, each has a responsibility to worship God through the specific opportunities that God provides. One time I was headed home from work. It was so late that the PSVs that I depended on were scarce. I saw a man walking towards home, and I thought to make friends with him so as to walk home together for more safety since our city is full of Nairobbery. I managed to make friends with him, and I invited him to church after a brief chat to make his acquaintance. I killed two birds with one stone. I walked home a lot more confidently than if I had been alone, and I was able to seize the strange opportunity that God provided to do the work of His ministry. Two birds, one stone. The question is, does it take a pastor to share the gospel thus? The tomato vendor, the doctor, the lawyer, or just the good neighbor could do exactly what I did. That too is ministry. I would argue that God has called each one of us, no matter our profession, to minister the gospel. Even if one’s profession is as ordinary as that of a tomato vendor, God has called us all to be worshippers who participate in the making of other worshippers. Christian, whatever else God has called you to, he has definitely called you to the ministry of proclamation of the gospel. Christians can think of ways to kill the two birds of financial and eternal security with the one stone that is their career. For instance, a doctor by profession ought to keep in mind that he/she has been called to participate in the Great Physician’s mission of restoring sinners to Himself. The housewife is called to be a good neighbor by showing her neighbors that the eternal fountain of living water is to be found only in Christ (cf. John 4, especially verse 39). So, if the gospel-proclamation ministry is every Christian’s responsibility, then the pastorate is no better than the presidency as long as they both maximize whatever opportunities God brings their way to do the Father’s business.
But you may argue, the pastor does gospel ministry more often, and I agree that his role may grant him more opportunities to share the gospel. Remember, however, that Christ (the Judge of our works) looked at the widow who had less money to give to the temple and said that her pennies were more than the paper bills of those who had even more paper bills to spare. She had given her all, God saw that. Christ looked at the percentage of her giving rather than the weightage. Will He not judge those with fewer opportunities for the evangelization of the world but who maximize such opportunities by the same standard with which he judged that widow? Surely, He will. Furthermore, the pastor’s primary role is not necessarily directly evangelistic, even though some pastors may be evangelists (cf. 2 Tim 4:5). A governing text behind the thoughts in this editorial is Eph 4:4–7; 11–16. Those graciously gifted to be leaders among Christ’s flock are so gifted to equip the saints for the work of ministry (verse 12). It is the saints, and not just the leaders who do the work of the ministry. (Note that the leaders are also included in the term “saints.”) To think that the pastoral vocation is better than any other vocation is ignorant at best, and arrogant at worst. The arrogance may be masked if you compare it to a prestigious office like the president’s, but can you imagine a pastor who asserts that his office is higher than that of the tomato vendor? Does such a pastor not sound eerily like the Pharisee in Luke 18:9–14? Such reasoning does not work for the unity of the body of Christ, but for the glorifying of one member of Christ’s body over the rest (cf. 1 Cor 12:4–31). All spiritual gifts are equal, and none is more equal than others. In agreement with Piper, “I pray that God will open our eyes today so that we can see that all of us believers, each with his peculiar gift, are part of a cosmic mission given to the church by the Creator… your God-given ability to dispense grace and strengthen faith, may seem small, but as a part of God’s eternal revelation of his glory it takes on stupendous proportions.”
In today’s Insaka program Pst. Jammie Smith continues to discuss what missions is and how God works in us and through us to fulfill His mission. What is missions? Who is a missionary? What are the three end results of biblical missions? Does missions begin at home and what does that look like? Jammie Smith helps find answers to these questions from the Scriptures! Listening and be encouraged.
If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land (2 Chronicles 7:14).
This verse has been frequently quoted recently in church services, interdenominational prayer meetings, and all kinds of programs on television and radio. The general message of such campaigns has been a call to pray to God so that he would heal and restore the social, political, and economic situation in our country. But what if that is a misinterpretation and misuse of the passage? As with every passage of Scripture it is important to have an accurate understanding of what it says and means in its own context before trying to apply the passage to our own lives.
The Context of the Passage
The backdrop of this verse is a historic event in the history of the nation of Israel: the completion and dedication of the temple. In 2 Chronicles 7 Solomon leads the nation in worshiping, praying, and consecrating themselves to God at the opening of their new place of worship. The Lord answers and accepts the temple and sacrifices given, and assures Solomon and Israel that He is a faithful covenant-keeping God. But He also gives them a stern warning: if His people do not honor God and do His will, God’s judgment will be upon them. The verse before shows us this because it describes the punishment God intends to bring upon Israel if they depart from His covenant. But he does not leave them only with the threat of punishment. He also holds out the promise of restoration if they will acknowledge their error and return to the covenant. It is in this context that the words in our verse are said.
The verse then begins with “if” so what follows is a list of conditions to be met before Israel can claim the promise. The wonderful promises of forgiveness and healing of the land are dependent on the fulfillment of the four conditions that are also clearly spelled out in the verse. What are the conditions?
A Call to God’s Children
This condition is marked by the phrases, “my people” and “called by my name.” This is a specific address to God’s children, and more specifically it was addressed to the nation of Israel. Since this verse was a promise to a specific nation, we must limit the promise to them only. However, we can seek to draw from the promise principles about the character of God and his expectations for his people. God is reminding his children that His arms are always open, but He will not receive them if they come to him in a proud state. Furthermore, concerning the prayers of those who are not born again, the Word of God says, “But to the wicked God says: What right have you to recite my statutes or take my covenant on your lips” (Psalm 50:16). And elsewhere, “If one turns away his ear from hearing the law, even his prayer is an abomination” (Proverbs 28:9). So, this call is a family matter. God is addressing His children. This is the right place to start; only those who have submitted to God are His children.
“Humble themselves.” Humility is a disposition that acknowledges the Godhood of God. This is the heart that acknowledges that God’s throne is the ultimate throne in heaven and on earth. A proud heart thinks and says what Pharaoh said to Moses, “Who is the Lord that I should obey his voice?” (Exodus 5:2). But a humble person is one who believes in his heart that without God he can do absolutely nothing! Therefore, in this verse, God was calling his people to come to a place where
they realized that God is God!
Relentless Dependence upon God in Prayer
“Pray and seek my face.” Prayer is communion with God. In prayer, we talk to God as friend to friend or as a child to his father. To seek his face is to say that God is better than life. It is to desire him above anything or anyone and acknowledge that He is Father, provider, sustainer, and we are His children. This is vastly different from many prayers that want the gift more than the Giver. Would you be content if God himself were the answer to your prayer? All other blessings, both temporal and eternal, spring from this relationship. Do you desire God?
The next important but often neglected condition is, “turn from their wicked ways.” In essence, this is repentance and it has to do with forsaking sinful, wicked, evil ways that rob God of his glory. In repentance they were to turn from their wicked ways and turn to God. Repentance always involves a change of direction. A repentant heart is marked by a new Godward direction. When we claim that we have repented, the challenge is to produce fruit in keeping with our repentance. And we know that left to ourselves, we cannot turn from our wicked ways unless the Lord works in us and unless we are brought to a point where we acknowledge our spiritual bankruptcy.
Now we come back to the promise, remembering that strictly speaking it is only for Israel as a nation. Observe that it is only when they fulfilled the conditions that the blessings, they so desired would follow. If they strayed, they would be judged, but if they would then humble themselves, pray and seek him, and turn from their wicked ways, then (1) God would hear (2) God would forgive, and (3) God would heal his people’s land. Yes, even their land could be healed on account of His children. The principle that we can draw from this is that the children of God can be a blessing to the world. As they humble themselves before God and obey and submit to him, they become salt and light to the world. They act as a preserving agent, but also serve as a reason for some of the temporal blessings that the world enjoys. However, reducing these promises to mean if we pray, then the kwacha will be transformed and gain against the dollar, or that load shedding will cease, is to miss the whole point altogether. This passage and many others reveal to us that God is concerned with people obeying His word and doing His will so that He may receive the glory, just as Solomon and Israel worshiped Him aright and brought glory to his name. Oh, that we too may turn to God in humble, prayerful submission, seek His will, repent of our sins, and follow His Word! May our cry today be: “Teach us Lord full obedience, holy reverence, true humility. Test our thoughts and our attitudes, in the radiance of your purity. Cause our faith to rise, cause our eyes to see your majestic love and authority… Speak, O lord till your church is built and the earth is filled with your glory.” 
 Words taken from the song “Speak O Lord,” by Keith and Kristen Getty.