There is an obsession about titles, ranks and hierarchies in the Christian community these days. This could be a new heresy having its rounds in the religious market. The most popular one in Africa south of the Sahara is ‘Prophet’ or ‘Prophetess’. I am also reminded of a Facebook article by one of our leading pastors in the Apostolic Faith Mission of South Africa, Dr Dennis Erasmus. I was privileged to get his voluminous PhD thesis which he did with the University of Unisa. In one of his Facebook articles, he protested against preachers who have never been to a University lecture room but have the audacity to call themselves Doctors. For this reason he opted to be called Brother Erasmus.
Could it be that we preachers in our ranks and file as Archbishops, Bishops, Overseers, The Most Reverend, The Very Reverends, The Right Reverends, Apostles, Evangelists, Pastors, Prophets, Elders, Deacons, Deaconesses, Ministers, appointed or self-appointed etc (This writer at the time of writing is addressed as Reverend Overseer and Vice President of AFM in the United Kingdom) have forgotten that first and foremost we are children of God like any other believer? We are all brethren (Bazalwane in Zulu) who were washed by the same blood of Jesus. Whilst I am a strong proponent of the Honour Code but this should not be equated to the way we honour the Lord our God. Some have even gone too far with their blasphemy whereby they view themselves as fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh etc. to the Godhead. This nonsense must stop.
The time we were growing up in the Apostolic Faith Mission in Zimbabwe, I still vividly remember our veteran pastors like the late Pastor Langton Kupara, Pastor Peter Stephen Mutemererwa and many others of their generation, they used to address each other as ‘Brother Pastor’. The above were national Presidents of the AFM but they never forgot that they were brethren. Even our white counterparts like the former Director of Missions, Pastor Edgar Gschwend used to also be addressed as ‘Brother’. What has gone wrong with the current crop of Church leaders? It looks like the doctrine of the Priesthood of Believers is slowly being thrown out of the Church. The Caste System which defines people by classes is now replacing our biblical Brotherhood (BAZALWANE). This is destroying the fabric of Christianity.
In light of the above, I started to dig into the AFM’s past and from there I discovered that there is no better title than being BROTHERS AND SISTERS OR BRETHREN IN THE LORD. Professor David Maxwell in his book titled, ‘African Gifts of the Spirit’ argues that the AFM was founded by five Missionaries, three men and two women and their families from America in 1908. Among the five brethren the ones who took distinct leading roles were John Graham Lake and Thomas Hezmalhalch. They brought the Pentecostal Revival to South Africa, having experienced it themselves at the Azusa Street Revival in Los Angeles, USA. Professor Maxwell narrates that the AFM Church was multi-racial, inter-denominational and gender-inclusive in its early rooting. He also argues that the running of the AFM mirrored the Azusa Street Revival way of doing things i.e. addressing each other as Brethren. Listed below is my summary and evaluation of why it is important to go back to our roots:
# The AFM was planted by a team of men and women missionaries hence the need to appreciate teamwork as fellow servants in God’s Vineyard. Our Sisters should be viewed as fellow-workers with their male counterparts
# The multi-racial nature of the early AFM promoted racial equality which was practically demonstrated by having Holy Communion from the same cup as BAZALWANE. The Apartheid ideology killed this equality among brethren leading to the formation of black, white, Indian and coloured Churches within the AFM. The coming of independent South Africa in 1994 led to the re-unification of the AFM Brethren again
# Pastors from other denominations like the Dutch Reformed Church, American Methodist Episcopal Church etc. were accepted into the AFM together with their congregants e.g. Pastor Pieter Louis Le Roux was from the Zionist Movement but became the AFM President from 1913 to 1943. The symbiotic relationship the AFM had with other denominations confirms that we tap into each other as BRETHREN/BAZALWANE
# The AFM was initially registered as an Unlimited Company in protest of ecclesiastical hierarchies and disillusionment with denominationalism, hence the emphasis on the Priesthood of Believers whereby ministers of the word were addressed as Lay-Workers and Full-time Workers rather than the Clergy and the Laity. These would gather together to bring reports of the Lord’s work in their constituencies as BRETHREN at National Workers’ Councils.
However the need for RESPECTABILITY led to the institutionalisation of the AFM Church, which gave birth to ecclesiastical hierarchies which if not guarded diligently can be manipulated by political opportunists. My fear is IF POLITICS IS UNAVOIDABLE IN THE CHURCH, THEN GODLINESS IS UNATTAINABLE. It is only when Church leaders at various levels view themselves as BRETHREN/BAZALWANE and not political rivals that godliness becomes attainable in our generation and generations to come. From now on call me BROTHER or BROTHER PASTOR if need be. I rest my case BRETHREN/BAZALWANE.