The Gods Never Sleep~ ATR 2

Most people born in Africa before the 20th century received by default the glasses of African Traditional Religion with which they involuntarily came to know the world. For many today the world is still colored by those old lenses. In ATR, the gods are concerned mostly about physical actions and not theoretical beliefs. Nearly every bad thing that happens can be blamed on a spirit, yet I have not heard people praising the swikwembu when good things happen. This is what we would expect since Paul marks ingratitude as a mark of pagan religion (Rom. 1:21).

“[ATR] is purely eudemonistic, the religious ceremonies having as their sole aim material benefits connected with the terrestrial life, e. g. abundance, health, peace, and good sleep!”
Junod, vol. 2, 428.

“Since people often fear death and witchcraft they look for means by which to strengthen or increase their life-force. There are different kinds of amulets which people trust in believing that by these they will counteract the work of witchcraft. Some of those amulets are pieces of cloth or wood or metal. Many members of the ZCC regard their star badge as this kind of thing. I once took away one of those badges from one of the workers at our hospital and the next day he came to me asked for it back. He said: ‘Please give it back to me, I didn’t sleep at all last night. I’m very ill because you’ve taken away this protector of my body.’ Another man told me that when he has that star, that badge, even ghosts and evil spirits are afraid to come near him.”
Van Rooy, Koos. “Word for Africa” Institute for Reformational Studies, 1990, page 11.

The gods have physical power, but they do not rule or govern the world by laws. Thus, we are doomed to living in a capricious world—experiences on earth do not conform to a great, single purpose. Storms, floods, earthquakes, epidemics, and poverty are somehow attributed to the spirits working together. Though the spirits are believed to be always doing, the causes can never be certainly or precisely determined because they do not observe settled laws or constant natures that would anchor the world to a metaphysical rock. The Greeks saw that the world was constantly changing (Heraclitus, ca. 500 BC), but yet they also saw a timeless, unchanging element in the world (Parmenides, ca. 400 BC). Such glimmers of stabilizing grace as Parmenides bequeathed to his people, have been refused by ATR to those who are stuck in its millennia-long rut.

The gods expect obedience to traditions. Because ATR’s gods are ancestors, they require adherence to the “old ways.” The way things were done when they were alive. Since these ways are passed down orally and not literally, they are constantly changing. Notice the differences between Shona, Zulu, and Venda taboos. Just as their languages began together and have slowly drifted apart, so too have their traditions.

Some examples that are still common among different Bantu language groups:

  • Babies must wear a string
  • Boys must go to circumcision school
  • Uncles are the main actors in lobola
  • Graves are built with bricks
  • Fear of certain animals like owls and chameleons

So, tradition rules, yet this authority is inconsistent since many traditions, blowing in the winds of an oral culture, slowly change over time.

The gods hear and answer prayer. The “thabelo” or “xikhongelo” word groups are common summaries for all religious duties in ATR. How many times have we heard someone describe all church serves or religious activity as “xikhongelo” (prayer)? The spirits keep active by answering prayer according to their abilities and moods. In this way, they mediate between the living and the invisible powers. Since bad things often happen in a sinful world, the common man finds an abundant store of reasons to believe in witchcraft.

Rather than seeing pain and problems as a result of sinful choices by responsible people, ATR catechizes its adherents with a tremendous fear of the ever-active spirits who are usually involved in the bad, painful things of life.

Other articles in the series on African Traditional Religion:
African Traditional Religion 1: Africa’s God

African Traditional Religion 2: The Gods Never Sleep
African Traditional Religion 3: Similarities with World Religions
African Traditional Religion 4: African Christianity has the Same Theology as ATR.
African Traditional Religion 5: ATR is Uniquely Used by Satan

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Africa’s God~ ATR 1

“What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.” (A. W. Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy) We all wear mental “glasses” that control what we think about God. Most of us are not aware of these glasses—our worldview, or presuppositions. What are the presuppositions (assumptions) that are common in Africa?

African traditional religion (ATR) is a theological system that controlled the mindset of much of Africa for hundreds or even thousands of years. There is no “single” system of ATR since its teachings have never been written down. They do not have temples, houses of worship, holy days, or teachings. All of this can beg the question, “Is ATR then a religion?” Yes, because ATR or animism is the name given to the beliefs and actions that traditionally have governed Africans’ passions and religious devotion. Scripture describes all false religion in 1 Pet. 1:18: “futile way of life inherited from your forefathers,” Yet these old ways determine how the majority of a billion souls hear the gospel today.

I welcome the insights from any readers and especially from Africans who can cast more light on this subject.

In African traditional religion, God is a collection of unknowable, fickle spirits who have differing powers that they use for and against us, often at the request of our enemies, during our entire lives.

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God is gods. In ATR, there are many gods.

“…[the Vhavenda] also venerate and pray to their ancestors like gods.”
Wessman, Reinhold. Journals and private papers stored in the Berlin Missionary Society, 1889. Quoted in Kirkaldy, Alan, Capturing the Soul: The Vhavenda and the Missionaries. 2005, page 176. At least 9 other times, the first missionaries referred to the original Vhavenda as worshipping multiple spirits.

“Any man who has departed this earthly life, becomes a shikwembu, a god. … Since every human being becomes a shikwembu at death, there are consequently many categories of these. … The two great categories of gods are those of the family, and those of the country, the latter being those of the reigning family. … Moreover, each family has two sets of gods, those on the father’s side and those on the mother’s, those of “kweru” and those of “bakokwana.”
Junod, Henri. The Life of a South African Tribe, 1926, vol. 2, page 374.

Mankhelu, an Nkuna n’anga with deep knowledge of both Tsonga and Pedi customs says, “The village of my mother is as the home of the gods. (ka mamana hi ko psikwembyen).”
Mankhelu wa ka Shiluvane, died in 1908. Quoted in Junod, vol. 1, page 268.

These gods are the collection of family ancestors who have died in the past. Even in books written by Africans, they constantly mention the effect that unknown spirits and spirits from past generations have on us today.

Mike Maimele, a pastor writes, “So, as a force in the earth, you enter an environment that is already occupied by other forces, some of which are in opposition to you. … It happens everywhere and to everyone. … “evil spirits” et. al. (Dealing with Gangsterism in Your Life. 2008, pages 2, 3, 6, and throughout.)

Many pastors commonly speak about generational curses and spirits of “poverty,” “joblessness,” “barrenness,” and “failure.” Who keeps those curses in force? Where do all these competing spirits come from? ATR is as polytheistic as Greece with its Pantheon (Acts 17:16, 22-23), Egypt with her gods (Ex. 12:12), and Abraham’s ancestors with their “gods.” (Josh. 24:15) Polytheism is the soul’s natural response when darkened by sin yet still feeling the impulses toward God that are woven into each nook and cranny of creation.

Worshipping many gods is called polytheism. Animism is a particular kind of polytheism where the “gods” are constantly influencing the world in which we live. ATR is both polytheistic and animistic. When someone wearing these glasses hears about the Christian God, they tend to include Him within their group of previous gods. “Oh, I know what gods are, so this new God must be basically similar to these other ones.”

The world is populated with invisible spirits, yet according to ATR they are ultimately unknowable. As with most animistic religions, ATR has no sacred texts or writings that tell about their gods. The Greeks had myths, but no book. All that can be known through revealed propositions such as Jesus statement, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life,” is locked away from those who inherit the glasses of ATR. We can’t know their reasons for acting as they do. We can’t know their names. We can’t know for sure what they love or hate. We can’t know the actions they have done, or the actions that are just natural consequences of men making bad choices. Junod writes that the theology of ATR is “very confused and even contradictory.” This perpetual ignorance produces a worldview of uncertainty and fear. Since knowledge is impossible about the most important part of life, then what hope can we have to know anything else?

The most far-reaching and damaging doctrine of ATR is the mutability of spirits. The gods are not absolute. Speaking about the religious beliefs, Junod writes that ATR is a “somewhat confused mass of religious ideas, and we must not look for anything logical and organic. We may even meet with contradictions, conflicting statements.” (Junod, vol. 2, 372.) Taboos can change. ATR requires that Africans must follow rituals around birth, circumicision, lobola, and death, but the customs may change from Pedi to Venda to Tsonga to European. The religion is as fluid as the unwritten language that serves to clothe it. Changeful gods mean that knowledge of causation and science are impossible. Why should anyone try to record the causes of someone’s sickness and death when they are sure that the death was caused by the whim of one of the spirits in answer to someone’s jealousy? What society would prosper in science if they didn’t first assume there were unchanging physical laws? Why should anyone think about political or moral philosophy if life is controlled by fickle, invisible, spirits rather than laws? Thus, ATR deserves the blame for the great poverty of the continent.

The gods are fallible. Since they cannot see everything, they can be tricked. Since they are not absolute their desires can be overturned in time or when a more powerful spirit arrives. They do not gain special wisdom after death, and there is no doctrine of omniscience. So, ATR’s view of providence is capricious and untethered to any transcendent skill.

ATR has many gods who are really the spirits of those who have died before us. Rarely is the connection between natural condition and primitive religion more clearly seen. This theology is as bad as the poverty and social ills of the continent.

Other articles in the series on African Traditional Religion:
African Traditional Religion 1: Africa’s God

African Traditional Religion 2: The Gods Never Sleep
African Traditional Religion 3: Similarities with World Religions
African Traditional Religion 4: African Christianity has the Same Theology as ATR.
African Traditional Religion 5: ATR is Uniquely Used by Satan

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The Book I Wish I Could Have Written

When writing The Conservative Church, De Bruyn sang as he slew, especially in the last 100 pages. He argues: A church must have a care to preserve true doctrine and a holy lifestyle, but especially, in these days, ordinate affection.

The book has three sections parallel to truth, goodness, and beauty. The first chapters deal with the gospel and sound doctrine including some insightful comments on Christian unity. In part two, he deals with morality in the church, but narrows his focus mainly to worship. There are helpful principles that stretch into preaching in these chapters.

But he reaches his height when taking on the modern Goliath of the affections. “Probably the greatest difference between thoroughly conservative Christian churches and more nominally conservative Christian churches will be their divergent views on the matter of beauty and the affections.” (123) These four chapters are both readable and wise–a vital corrective to most seminary educations.

Spurgeon said of Puritan Thomas Brooks, “He scatters diamonds with both hands.” And there are a few passages where De Bruyn has plenty to give.

“Desires could be fitting—ordinate, or unfitting—inordinate. To put it another way, your affections were true or false.” 130

“Orthodoxy cannot stand alone. … Ordinate affection is essential to knowing the truth.” 135

“Everyone has an eclectic set of prejudices and sentiments, which he usually defends as vehemently as Laban looking for his idols.” 150

“Someone who has learned to love the trivial, the debased, and the sentimental cannot unlearn those loves in a day. Nor will he do so easily, for your loves are just that—the things you love, and which seem to be a part of yourself. Not easily are our idols torn from us.” 152

“You cannot do in your church in a few years what is meant to be done through culture over centuries.” 164

“If we wish to love what God loves, we must pursue the art of true judgment. … No judgment or discernment will come to irreverent, flippant people.” 177

“Culture cannot be divorced from religion.” 183

“There is something quite conceited and egocentric about members of a 2000 year-old institution who have no interest in its past, and a near-obsession with its present.” 207

“When tradition preserves untruths, it becomes the guardian of a lie that will not die.” 211

“We do our people no favors when we deny them essential parts of Christianity simply because such things require patient and lengthy explanations or because such things require disciplined and intense study.” 224

In a very useful appendix he lists just under 100 books arranged in headings for further study as a basic curriculum for the subjects treated in the book. Even if this book merely serves as a sign post guiding us to these authors, it will have served a Samwise-like role in the completion of our quest.

Because it meets such a contemporary need while still brimming with fresh use of Scripture, every pastor should familiarize himself with the arguments in these pages.

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Sincere, but Wrong

“When living in an egotistical age, it is hard to convince people that what they give to God sincerely may not be acceptable to Him. Narcissism imagines that God must simply melt at the sight His child’s scribble-drawing, knowing how sincere the amateurish effort was. Scripture shatters this pleasantly self-satisfied view.

“We think of Aaron and Israel making a symbol of Yahweh out of gold, declaring ‘Tomorrow is a feast day unto Yahweh!’ (Exod. 32:5). God suggested to Moses that an appropriate response to this kind of worship would be to annihilate the entire nation.”

He includes 10 other Scriptural examples and ends with this line.

“The lesson from all this must be that God does not accept worship merely because it is offered in His direction.”

David de Bruyn, The Conservative Church

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Little Gods: The Deification Heresy

Some false teachings are so bizarre that one wonders how anyone can believe them. Yet people do believe the charismatic doctrine of deification. Deification is the belief that the incommunicable (non-moral) attributes of God can be given to men. Examples: creative power, eternality, sovereignty. Many popular teachers and the immensely popular TBN teach this heresy. See Christianity in Crisis, pages 107-127 or Charismatic Chaos, pages 328-336 for documentation and further examples.

  1. Kenneth Hagin: Man “was created on terms of equality with God, and he could stand in God’s presence without any consciousness of inferiority.”
  2. Kenneth Copeland: Adam “was not a little like God. He was not almost God. He was not subordinate to God even.”
  3. Joyce Meyer: “If you as a human being have a baby, you call it a human kind. If cattle have another cattle, they call it cattle-kind. I mean what’s God supposed to call us? Doesn’t the Bible say we’re created in His image?”
  4. Creflo Dollar: “You are gods because you came from God and you are gods, you’re not just human.”
  5. Morris Cerullo: “And when we stand up here, brother, you’re not looking at Morris Cerullo; you’re looking at God. You’re looking at Jesus.”
  6. Paul Crouch (TBN president): “I am a little god! Critics, be gone!”

I have heard more than one pastor in the rural areas of Africa claim to be god, and many church attenders have told me they have either heard this teaching or they believe it themselves. Their videos aren’t posted online, but they believe the same thing as these who are. After all, where did the Africans get this theology from?

Deification is an entirely false doctrine. It is no more Christian than Islam. Those who believe it are worshipping an idol or a demon. Here are seven deductive proofs and as a bonus, one inductive proof that men are not little gods.

Syllogism 1: One God
Proposition 1: The Bible clearly states that there is and only ever shall be one God. Deut. 6;4; Isa. 43:10; Mark 12:29; John 17:3; 1 Tim. 2:5
Proposition 2: The one true God is not merely a man.
Conclusion:    Therefore, no mere man can be the God or a god.

Syllogism 2: Blasphemy
Proposition 1: To lessen the perfections of God or to ascribe the incommunicable attributes of God to a creature is blasphemy. Col. 3:8
Proposition 2: To blaspheme is a sin that God or gods cannot do.
Conclusion: Therefore, men are not the God or a god.

Syllogism 3: Unconverted Men
Proposition 1: In an unconverted state men are children of Satan who hate God.
Proposition 2: Children of Satan are not God.
Conclusion: Therefore, men are not the God or a god.

Syllogism 4: Converted Men
Proposition 1: To reach a converted state, a man must be made into a new creation. 2 Cor. 5:17
Proposition 2: A thing that has been made or has a beginning is not God.
Conclusion: Therefore, men are not the God or a god.

Syllogism 5: Soli Deo Gloria
Proposition 1: If man is god in the sense that he has the power to create reality with his words or by sovereignly exercising some control over his Creator, then some glory should go to man. Isa. 45:5-6
Proposition 2: However, all glory belongs to God alone.
Conclusion: Therefore, men are not the God or a god.

Syllogism 6: Humility
Proposition 1: All true Christians must be humble about the reality of their creaturehood and sinfulness.
Proposition 2: But God must not be humble because He is neither a creature nor in any way sinful.
Conclusion: Therefore, men are not the God or a god.

Syllogism 7: Hermeneutics
Proposition 1: There is no Scriptural, hermeneutical reason to think that the image of God in man is evidence that man is the God or a god.
Proposition 2: The image of God in man is the key biblical “evidence” that Word Faith teachers offer to prove deification.
Conclusion: Therefore, men are not the God or a god.

Bonus: Church history
Evidence: No reputable writer, preacher, pastor, or scholar in the history of the Christian church has ever believed that men have in themselves the incommunicable attributes of God.
Conclusion: Therefore, men are not the God or a god.

Why is this doctrine important? Because this teaching destroys Soli Deo Gloria. Because this teaching weakens total depravity as the gospel calls sinners to realize how bad they are not how good they are. Because this doctrine damages Solus Christus as Christ is reduced to one among peers.

If even one of these proofs is true, then deification as taught by the Word Faith teachers is false. What should be as obvious as gravity needs to be explicitly stated since the sin of man has so befooled our natural powers. There is only true God. Saving Jesus Christ, no man or woman is the God or a god.

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Why Dispensationalists Believe in a Millennium

Recently a friend wrote to me, “Am I so far off base when I say dispensationalists want a millennium so Christ can vindicate His first advent and prove He is all He claimed to be?” When some pastors who believe in a pretribulation rapture more quickly catechize their churches in the timing of future events rather than the glory of the Cross, his question is well-founded.

Why do I believe in a future period of peace and glory during which Jesus Christ will rule the earth?

  1. Revelation 20:1-10 Not only does this passage promise 1,000 years 6 times, but more importantly, it places this era directly following the second coming of Christ in Rev. 19:11-21 and directly before the final Judgment.
  1. Romans 11:25-29 All the Jews will be saved one day. They are not cast away. They are still uniquely God’s people. There is no promise for all the Egyptians, Assyrians, Edomites, or Americans to be saved. This ethnic group has some future plan in the mind of God here on earth.
  1. Luke 19:11-27 In this parable Jesus promises rewards to faithful servants in the form of ruling authority at His return. Nor is this the only time His people are motivated by power to rule nations. Rev. 2:26-27 “He who overcomes, and he who keeps My deeds until the end, to him I will give authority over the nations; and he shall rule them with a rod of iron, as the vessels of the potter are broken to pieces, as I also have received authority from My Father;” Faithfulness until the end will result in a reward of ruling authority. See also 1 Cor. 6:2-3; Matt. 19:28; Luke 22:30; Rev. 3:21. The doctrine of rewards supports an earthly kingdom.
  1. Acts 1:6-7 After having taught the disciples for 40 days about the Kingdom, the disciples wanted to know when the Jews would be restored to their earthly national power as the OT promised. Jesus replied with, “You don’t need to know when.” He did not rebuke them for missing the main point of his 7 weeks’ instruction.
  1. Hebrews 8:5-13 The Old Covenant is a shadow; it is the first; it is old; it is decaying; it will soon disappear. The New Covenant is better; it is the second; it is new. Therefore, there is not a single controlling Covenant from Genesis to Revelation. Without this “Covenant of Grace,” then those passages that talk about Israel, a kingdom, and future glory make sense as fulfilled on this earth. See also 2 Cor. 3:6-16.
  1. Zechariah 12-14 The prophecies of these chapters do not fit any other interpretation than the premillennial.
  1. Jeremiah 31:35-37 The most famous verses in this chapter come just before this paragraph promising a New Covenant. Then the prophet promises on the sun and stars that the nation of Israel will always be His people. If Israel is still God’s people, then they are distinct from the church. If that is true, then the other prophecies given to them will still be fulfilled as this one.
  1. Isaiah 2:1-4 This passage stands at the head of numerous other passages in the prophets. Unprecedented peace and prosperity. Universal religious purity. Restoration of Israel. This category forces us to a premillennial position. See also Isaiah 11:4-9; 65:17-25; Jer. 3:14-19; 23:1-8; Jer. 30:4-24; etc.

Why do dispensationalists believe in a millennium? Because we see it repeatedly in the words of Christ, His apostles, and the OT prophets. Some dispensationalists sadly diminish the glory of the cross, and some non-dispensationalists sadly diminish the fulness of His glory that will be revealed when He comes again.

 

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The Value of Memory

“The great ancient rhetoricians considered a strong memory indispensable for their craft. Medieval and Renaissance thinkers turned out books and treatises on the art, containing elaborate systems to train the memory to store copious amounts of material and access it instantly. Today we stand amazed at the oratorical skills of political figures of the 19th century and shake our heads in dismay at the sloganeering and soundbites that pass for political discourse today. Our politicians rarely write their own speeches and seem incapable of delivering them without the aid of a teleprompter. Surely something precious has been lost. That something is our memory.”

Andrew Campbell, Living Memory, page 7

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Should Pastors Read Widely?

Reading widely provides a sure-footed stance when a preacher gives facts in teaching and preaching; it produces interesting illustrations; it guides him away from time-wasting topics when evangelizing the particular group to which God has called him; it produces applications that have a ring of authority; it lends credibility to his ethos in preaching; it hints at the blindspots in his own life; it highlights the traces of grace from the image of God in man; it gives him joy in the immense reach of the sovereign hands of Jesus Christ; it tunes his imagination so that all the metaphors of Scripture have brighter colors and return more frequently to his prayers and preaching.

These benefits do not speak against reading the Bible and books that directly deal with Scripture. Yet if there is truth in general revelation, we should not despise it. Unconverted historians, philosophers, and storytellers have found some aspects of truth through God’s common grace the way diamonds were found in Kimberly, South Africa. At first they stumbled on something, and then they had to labor for years. The years they have taken honing their skills are like the infrastructure that goes into making a successful mine. If I am a rich businessman dealing with real estate, I would do well to listen to men who for years have made fortunes from diamonds.

Some examples, historian Martin Meredith helps me when I preach to Tsongas who are subtly self-righteous. They think that the Afrikaners are evil because of apartheid, but when I explain how evil Shaka or Mzilikazi was they are humbled because far greater sins are lurking within their own homes.

Theologian Wayne Grudem’s Politics gives me the statistics to show that government cannot produce wealth and so the Tsongas must not trust or even receive the government grants. Nor should they support through voting those groups that give out grants and thus defeat their own long-term ability to support their own pastor or send out missionaries.

Doing Their Own Thing by philosopher and linguist John McWhorter teaches me that cultures that rebel against absolutes in general and God’s authority in particular will devolve. I use this commonly as I train the young couples and my own children to have godly standards and traditions. I can speak with confidence about sinful musical styles because McWhorter carefully explains how these styles support his godless philosophy.

Wide reading does not draw a man to Christ apart from Scripture anymore than amazing banyan trees save a man. But wide understanding of the world does help us to worship Christ when coupled with knowledge of Scripture.

Reading fiction gives a preacher pictures for the greatest truths in Scripture. Through J. R. R. Tolkien, I saw more clearly than ever before the depths of depravity and the effects of sin as it cripples and corrupts and confounds Gollum. I have seen the need for initiation in friendship because of Sam Gamgee. I have seen what a gentle authority looks like with Aragorn. As pastors read commentaries to gain insights, so I have gained a library of pictures that speak to me daily about the greatest realities in the universe.

A few other recent precious stones that I have quarried out of fiction:

  • Les Miserables: Grace is far more glorious than law. I must learn to default to a gracious, serving spirit.
  • The Scottish Chiefs: True masculinity will not lose its morality even in war.
  • The Iliad: The Greeks thought every turn in life was somehow caused by the gods. Why don’t I see every turn in life as controlled by the one true God?
  • Pride and Prejudice: When men aren’t men, everything goes wrong. Almost all of Austen’s plots revolve around a masculine weakness, and the tension resolves when the men change their ways.

No man can understand Scripture who does not speak the language of metaphor, and therefore, the best fiction bows in front of the preacher offering the most memorable, lasting images of the most rock solid truths.

With all these benefits, there is a danger of loving gift more than Giver, serving the creature more than the Creator—reading widely because we are unspiritual. But the danger is not removed by only reading the Puritans anymore than it would be removed if we plucked out our eyes so as not to see the world around us.

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Three Financial Warnings for Missionaries

  1. Resist the overwhelming urge to think that money will make a church plant successful. As Americans, we think that to have a church means money to rent a building, advertise, pay the pastor, and have transportation. Do not give in to that thinking because it is not found in the NT, and it pulls our hope away from the Holy Spirit as well as the cross.
  1. Make sure the new believers feel the weight of their own responsibility. Every situation is different, but if you are working in a context, where people have few jobs and in general do not provide well for themselves, then what will handouts likely do? In some cultures, their own sin has already robbed them of all but the most basic responsibility. Western money in that place would attract false converts and rice Christians.
  1. If the people know that you have money, and if they know that you can turn it on when you want, then they will tend to view you not as a Christian brother or spiritual father, but rather as a typical white—their potential ticket to some earthly pleasure if they can only manipulate the circumstance.

Here are some articles on this topic: When hurting helps (a review of the book When Helping Hurts).

And if you are new to this thinking, then run—don’t walk—to read Missionary Methods: St. Paul’s or Ours?.

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The Birth of a New Church

An Indigenous Church
In roughly 15 years of preaching, Paul the apostle visited over 20 places that are listed in Acts leaving churches in each place. Our calling is the same though our gifts and godliness are a shadow of the first Christian missionary. After 10 years of evangelism in the villages around Elim, last week we gathered for the last official meeting with the Elim Baptist Church. As you may recall from our May letter, Alpheus Nyalungu has been ordained as the pastor of the 25 believers there.

What passed through our hearts as we worshipped with them for the last time? The sadness we think we would feel when one of our children leaves the home. The joy that is in the presence of the angels, since one decade ago, all of these who are now dear brothers and sisters were separate from Christ, having no hope, and without God in the world. The fear of future sin, since it is a long and dangerous journey through the narrow gate and to the Celestial City. The hope that these believers would show themselves examples of the faith as the Thessalonians did (1 Thess. 1:6-8).

An Indigenous Building
This week, just before the new year dawned, the church finally gained protection from the rain as we raised the roof. Over the last 4 years, 99% of the labor was done by Tsonga Christians the majority of whom began the process as boys and ended it as men. Lord-willing, the church will use the new building this weekend because the daycare in which we had been worshipping was destroyed in a storm on 24 December! The church’s first service will be conducted in a building without doors, glass in the windows, or the missionary; but they do have bricks, a roof, and the Word of God.

An Indigenous Budget
In November 2012, EBC made the final payment for the land and began digging holes for fence poles. At that time the average monthly offerings were $22 and the estimated building cost was just under $18,000. The membership contained only 4 adults, none of whom were employed. This year, there are 14 adults representing 9 jobs with an average of $285 per month in the offerings. During the building project, the members voted to support a churchplanter in Zimbabwe at 10-15% of their budget, and in 2017, the members voted to raise the missions support to 20% of their budget.

Though the members paid for nearly everything themselves, this year New Covenant Baptist Church in Johannesburg surprised us with a generous offering to cover the entire roof. Without that gift, I am not sure what the church would do now in light of last week’s storm, since none of the members has a home large enough to hold the 30-40 who meet each Sunday. Like David found Barzillai (2 Sam. 19:32), we have found friends along the road as well.

Paul’s Prayers for a Young Church
As we look back at this church, our only hope is found in the Lord of the Church and His reviving Spirit, since both our labors and their maturity are sandy foundations at best. Do labor with us in prayer as Paul did for his beloved Thessalonians.

  1. Thank God for their faith. 1 Thess. 1:2
  2. Pray that these Christians would be models of the faith. 1 Thess. 1:6-7
  3. Pray that the Word of God would sound forth from EBC. 1 Thess. 1:8
  4. Pray that they would increase in love for one another. 1 Thess. 3:12
  5. Pray that each Christian’s heart would be established in holiness. 1 Thess. 3:13
  6. Pray that they would persevere until the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 1 Thess. 5:23

Future Plans
Lord-willing tomorrow, we will begin Sunday services with a small group in Valdezia, another village about 25 kilometers northeast of Elim. We must meet at someone’s home under some trees because we do not live there, and it is poorer than Elim. Thankfully, EBC purchased chairs for us to begin this new churchplant. Since August 2015, I and other believers from EBC have been teaching in homes throughout this village of about 15,000. Please pray that God would open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light.

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