Among the ecclesiastical fraternity there is a new crop of fly-by-night briefcase preachers. The majority of these zealotic roving preachers are of no fixed abode and are not accountable to any Church establishment. They freely churn out their sermons to unsuspecting listeners and the social media is giving them publicity because their genres are in line with popular religion. Their preaching is devoid of hermeneutical tools of rightly dividing the word of truth let alone homiletical standards of presenting the Gospel. What is attractive in their sermonising are jokes, illustrations, stories, community gossip and insinuations of anti-establishment. One of the popular genres these preachers capitalise on is to venomously attack structures and systems of established Churches. However this article is not there to cover up any evil things which may be happening in the Church. Truth be told, there is no perfect Church or perfect system. Somebody said that if there is a perfect Church, do not join it because you will contaminate it.
Of late there has been an onslaught attack on the electoral process by which Church Officials are elected. They dismiss this practice by arguing that Jesus Christ was not elected but appointed by God and that the twelve disciples were also appointed and not elected. This is a clear belief in the autocratic system of governance as opposed to democracy. I have yet to see a Church which does not have the electoral process unless its a newly formed Independent Ministry run by the founder. Its true that our Lord Jesus Christ was not elected but appointed by God. From a sociological point of view he used Charismatic authority to run his newly founded Christian Movement better known as the Church. When Jesus Christ died, rose again and ascended to heaven, he left his disciples to continue with his mission. The Church continued to be run on Charismatic authority under the tutelage of its key eyewitnesses (Disciples) but reality on the ground demanded a gradual shift to the need for the electoral process. This shift begins with the replacement of Judas Iscariot by Mathias (Acts 1:21-26) and the appointment of seven deacons to serve on tables (Acts 6:1-7).
The electoral process led to the development of Bureaucratic authority whose authority is position or office-based rather than Charisma-based. The Early Church believed that the electoral process was God-ordained hence an elected officer was deemed to have been appointed by God. The Early Church put prayer first before casting lots and the qualities of contestants to be nominated were clearly stipulated. The struggle that exists in the Christian community comes from newly founded ministries. A founder of a ministry carries Charismatic authority hence he has the autocratic power to appoint leaders below him usually without using the electoral process. He does not only have the power to hire but also to fire and his decision is final, RIGHT OR WRONG. Such authority does not exist in an established Denomination which has clear guidelines on the electoral process and regulations on disciplinary matters. Pastors operating in denominational settings are sometimes tempted to emulate Charismatic authority vested in the founder of a ministry. However, Charismatic leaders and founders of ministries do not live forever hence each ministry will always evolve from Charismatic authority to Bureaucratic authority.
The case of the founding of the Apostolic Faith Mission (to which this writer belongs) is unique in that it did not necessarily evolve from Charismatic authority to Bureaucratic authority, neither did it evolve from autocracy to democracy. The determining factor of this is that the AFM was founded by a team of five Missionaries who encountered the Azusa Revival in Los Angeles, USA. They did not come with positions in mind. It was only plausible to apply the electoral process to elect a chief leader among equals in order to establish accountability protocols. But even within a system with bureaucratic authority, there are some individuals who have higher levels of charisma than others hence the existence of tensions between the two forces in play. This is also true of John Graham Lake who is more celebrated as the founder of AFM compared to his older counterpart and team player Thomas Hezmalhalch. But Church archival records show that the first Chairman and President of the AFM of South Africa was Thomas Hezmalhalch followed by John Graham Lake.
While the electoral process is the most democratic system of appointing leaders, it is imperative for the Church to continually have checks and balances so that this noble process does not mirror corrupt tendencies happening in the world. Well-meaning and God-honouring elections can easily be manipulated by both insiders and interested parties from outside. Manipulation of the electoral process by insiders or outsiders is evil because it hijacks a godly practice thus make it an abomination to the Lord. In conclusion I can safely say that free and fair elections in the Church are a means by which God appoints Church leaders into positions of responsibility. Therefore the electoral process exists to confirm those whom God appoints.
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.
Whilst there is more emphasis on an individual’s personal relationship with God in Christianity, it is imperative to note that there is also the CORPORATE RELATIONSHIP of us as the BODY OF CHRIST. An individual is made accountable for his/her sins, flaws and failures but there is silence about holding Churches, Denominations and Ministries accountable for their sins, flaws and failures. This should also be true of Governments, Political parties, big companies and small businesses. They must be held accountable for their sins, flaws and failures. SYSTEMIC OR CORPORATE sins, flaws and failures have caused more damage to communities than individual sins, flaws and failures. History and current affairs testify to SYSTEMIC SINS which manifest in slavery, colonialism, neo-colonialism, racial segregation, discrimination, tribalism, regionalism, poverty, unemployment, patriarchalism, gender inequalities etc. In Pentecostal circles individuals undergo exorcisms of demons of all sorts to deliver them from such evil realities. But high ranking demons known as principalities and powers which cause systemic evil are left to torture communities in broad daylight.
The Church should continually review itself to see if its still fit for purpose. The Church should not only be a prophetic voice of justice to society but it should be seen to practise justice in its system. The major reason why systemic evil persists in society is because some people are benefitting from such flawed systems hence we have two classes of people namely the PRIVILEGED AND THE DISENFRANCHISED. Without delving into the debate of true and false prophets in Israel, those who spoke what the kings wanted had a privileged position in the state whilst those who demanded accountability from kings were demonised. Systemic evil is all over hence the prevalence of injustice, innocent suffering, poverty, wars, dictatorships and corruption in high places the world over.
Where are God’s prophets today? They are busy addressing individual sins, flaws and failures rather than challenging systemic evils which are causing corporate suffering of the masses. They are busy preaching against individual sins to the delight of the devil. Indeed satan is not too dull in the way he engages his resources. He has left us dealing with individual evil while he concentrates on masterminding and perpetuating systemic evil hence the engagement of principalities and powers in the control of states and governments. For example he created the APARTHEID SYSTEM which continues to raise its ugly head in the so-called post-Apartheid era in South Africa. It is one of the die hard systemic evils. The memory of the Rwandan Genocide is there to stay as a reminder of SYSTEMIC EVIL. Needless to mention that Africa has independent states yet systemic evil is still persisting under the guise of independence hence we have a new form of colonialism among us. I call it SOPHISTICATED COLONIALISM because its being practised by a new crop of the BLACK ELITE against the poor masses who are being short-changed left, right and centre. This is being done under the watchful eyes of God’s prophets some of which are wining and dining with those in control of the system. It would be a shame if there is any Christian community among us which is deliberately erecting diabolical structures which perpetuate misery, corruption and wrongdoing. Let us learn lessons from Reformation era where Martin Luther challenged systemic evil in the Church. Furthermore if the Church is silent when its parishioners suffer the consequences of systemic evil, then it will be guilty of ignoring or neglecting WEIGHTIER MATTERS. The Church cannot be silent, neither should it accept to be silenced.
Its time for the prophets of God to name, shame and confront SYSTEMIC EVIL wherever it is. When the foundations are being destroyed, what can the righteous do? (Psalm 11:3). When the systems of evil are destroying the livelihoods and fabric of society, what can the prophets do? DON’T JUST SIT THERE, DO SOMETHING. NAME IT, SHAME IT AND CONFRONT IT. If you cannot publicly deal with this systemic evil, you can still NAME IT, SHAME IT AND CONFRONT IT in prayer. Remember that our fight is not against flesh and blood but against principalities and powers of this dark world. We are fighting spiritual forces of evil in the air which manifest in SYSTEMIC EVIL (Ephesians 6:12). We should concentrate on dealing with both individual sins and systemic sins. Remember that righteousness exalts a nation but sin is a disgrace to any people (Proverbs 14:34). May the good Lord give you anointing to NAME IT, SHAME IT & CONFRONT IT.
Are you aware that your story is for His glory? God is gonna get some glory out of every chapter of your story. Some of the things you are going through may not be glorious but God is in it. The Johanine corpus gives us a setting where Jesus is confronted with a case of a man born blind. The question was; Who caused this situation of being born blind? Is it the sin of the parents or the victim? Those who posed this question had what is well known in academic circles as DEUTERONOMISTIC THEOLOGY. This theology has it that misfortune is a result of sin. This theological framework blames the victim for his suffering. Bad things happen to bad people as a punishment from God. Similarly good things happen to good people as a reward from God. It was inconceivable that BAD THINGS DO HAPPEN TO GOOD PEOPLE. Whenever someone suffered misfortune he had to do a lot of soul searching to find out where he went wrong or missed the mark. The community was also quick to judge you harshly for any misforne which befell you. This is the same thinking Job’s friends had when evaluating Job’s plight.
Jesus’ response to the plight of the blind man focused on demystifying this notion hence Jesus’ answer, THIS BLINDNESS IS NOT A RESULT OF SIN, BUT THAT THE WORKS OF GOD MAY BE DISPLAYED. In other words this man’s blindness does not need any research into the cause. His story is for his glory. Having said this, then Jesus miraculously opened the man’s eyes leading to God getting all the glory.
The Apostle Paul similarly reassures the Philippians of his story of imprisonment. He asserts that all the adversities which happened to him helped in advancing the gospel. His suffering and possible execution did not in any way curtail the propagation of the gospel. Could it be that all the adversities you are facing are by divine design for the advancement of the gospel? Could it be that God may deliberately not remove some thorns in your flesh and he gets glory through his sustaining grace? Could it be that today’s Christians prefer golden chains and crosses to adorn their necks rather than carry a blood stained cross in their daily walk? Could it be that the modern Church has classified the crucified life as an outdated Theology suitable for Primitive Christianity? I beg to differ. Check out the following for your consolation:
# Your story may littered with sickness and suffering like the ten lepers but God is gonna get some glory out of your story
# Your story may be littered with betrayal like Joseph but God is gonna get some glory out of your story
# Your story may be littered with barrenness and childlessness like Hannah but God is gonna get some glory out of your story
# Your story may be littered with being dropped and dumped like Mephibosheth but God is gonna get some glory out of your story
# Your story may be littered with being born, bred and buttered in pain like Jabez but God is gonna get some glory out of your story
# Your story may be littered with loss and misfortunes like Job but God is gonna get some glory out of your story
# Your story may be littered with grief like Naomi or the widow of Nain but God is gonna get some glory out of your story
# Your story may be littered with being a fugitive like David but God is gonna get some glory out of your story
# Your story may be littered with threats like Mordecai but God is gonna get some glory out of your story
# Your story may be littered with bills and debts like the Prophet’s widow but God is gonna get some glory out of your story
ITS TIME TO MAJOR ON WEIGHTIER MATTERS: TALK IT, WALK IT & LOVE IT (Matthew 9:36, Luke 10:25-37) PART TWO
We noted in the previous article that Jesus challenged the Scribes and Pharisees for neglecting the weightier matters of the Law i.e. JUSTICE AND MERCY. Any religious practices which lack justice and mercy are acts of hypocrisy. A closer scrutiny of Jesus’ life and ministry reflects that it was characterised by the statement: MOVED WITH COMPASSION. This statement means to have the bowels yearn, a Jewish idiom meaning having deep compassion. These are the BOWELS OF MERCY which Paul encourages the Colossian Community to have (Colossians 3:12-13). Could it be that those who want to serve God the Jesus way must have BOWEL FEELINGS which will move them with compassion in everything they do for Christ? Whilst the story of the Good Samaritan teaches us the behaviour of compassionate people, it is also a reminder that religious people can sometimes be heartless. Both the Priest and the Levite who who happened to be going down the same road where this half dead man was, simply passed by. They valued ceremonial cleanliness stipulated in the Mosaic law but ignored the spirit of the law where compassion had to out-weigh their outward cleanliness. They valued religious duties at the expense of a dying soul. Jesus asked the expert in the law, ‘Which of these three do you think was a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?’ He replied, ‘The one who had mercy on him’. How sarcastic it is that the expert in the law hesitates to say that it was the SAMARITAN but deliberately opted to reduce him to a statistic ‘THE ONE’.
It is my prayer that the 21st Century Church should glean lessons from the 1st Century Church whose ministry was moved by compassion. Indeed weightier matters should propel us to action. When weightier matters become your passion, you will TALK IT. Paul declared before King Agrippa that he was not disobedient to the heavenly vision. Its time to talk about Jesus wherever we are and whenever an opportunity arises. When weightier matters become your passion, you will WALK IT. Some TALK IT by the mile but WALK IT by the inch. Our greatest and most effective method of winning others to Christ is to WALK THE TALK. Somebody said it well that Christianity is easier CAUGHT than TAUGHT. Indeed actions speak louder than words. May the 21st Century Church produce WALKIE TALKIES for Jesus (WALK IT & TALK IT). Finally when weightier matters become your passion you will LOVE IT. Micah 6:8 rightfully says, ‘He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To ACT JUSTLY and to LOVE MERCY and to WALK HUMBLY with your God’. Truly humble people act justly and love mercy. You and I have to love weightier matters of justice and mercy.
Check out some of the scenarios which moved Jesus with compassion:
# Jesus was moved with compassion for the SHEPHERD-LESS
# Jesus was moved with compassion for the SICK
# Jesus was moved with compassion for the DEGRADED
# Jesus was moved with compassion for the MOURNING
# Jesus was moved with compassion for the POOR
# Jesus was moved with compassion for the DISABLED
# Jesus was moved with compassion for the HUNGRY
# Jesus was moved with compassion for the SINNERS
# Jesus was moved with compassion for the HEAVY-LADEN
# Jesus was moved with compassion for the DEMON-POSSESSED
May weightier matters of the bowels be our passion.