A Call for Biracial Banquets

thumb_image-10-20-16-at-5-25-pm_1024The wall of animosity between South African whites and blacks has shrunk since the formal fall of apartheid in 1994. Government has tried to mandate equality, but only the gospel of Christ can bring true unity.

My experience in Africa has taught me that among the last dominoes to fall in unifying Christians of different races is not church membership but table fellowship. In the pews, the votes may count the same, but around the dinner table, we are more like Joseph’s court:

They served him by himself…because the Egyptians could not eat with the Hebrews, for that is an abomination to the Egyptians”(Gn. 43:32).

For many white believers, it is a bridge too far to have blacks equally, joyfully, and freely join them at table. We coddle our conscience: “But the foods, manners, tastes are too different.” Maybe. Maybe not. But even if we grant the former, is not a change in menu or method but a small price for unity? As John Flavel said, “If you take away union, there can be no communion.” And if there is no communion outside the church walls, can we really argue for unity within them? Continue reading

Africa’s Need for Noble Men

screen-shot-2016-10-15-at-10-37-42-pmThomas Watson once said, “A father is a looking glass that the child often dresses himself by. Let the glass be clear and not spotted.”

When the nobleman in John’s Gospel believed in Christ, so did his whole household (Jn. 4:53). This would have included his wife, children, and workers. He did not give faith to his family, nor force them to believe, but was the positive and pervasive instrument God used to lead that home to saving trust.

This is why Paul encourages spouses in mixed marriages to remain and not divorce. Fathers and husbands have tremendous spiritual influence in their homes because they man the gospel rudder. “The unbelieving wife is made holy because of her husband (1Co. 7:14).

Father Abraham was the appointed apparatus to teach his children the righteous way (Gn. 18:19). So was Joshua (Jos. 24:15).

Sadly, in rural African culture, a child’s looking glass is often the family member or relation that happens to be around at the time. A bike rides best with two wheels—the family with two parents. The rural African home is learning this the hard way as it drags along slowly from one generation to the next.

In our village context, and a hundred others beside, the people wonder why their culture continues to be ravaged by crime, poverty, and bad education. Certainly AIDS, corruption, and distant jobs play a part, but ubuntu is the greatest culprit. Ubuntu is the African worldview that says I exist because of the whole. Or as Hillary has said, it takes a village. This supposed “togetherness” of Africa was meant to be a contrast with the individualism of the West. Instead, it has devastated the home because grandparents, uncles, aunts, and neighbors are all viewed as sufficient and often superior trainers of the children. Single moms are rampant. Women are encouraged to seek careers. What else are grandparents for?

Africa needs fathers and husbands who will lead their households to Christ. Africa needs men who act as mirrors, before which their children can see an accurate picture of themselves and the gospel. African men need to abandon the cloak of pseudo-humility used to cover their bad character and instead urge their wives and children to follow them (1Co. 11:1). What Africa needs is an army of noble men.

 

Is Polygamy Adultery?

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The first wife looks the least happy.

Groucho Marx once said: “I find television very educational. Every time someone turns it on, I go in the other room and read a book.”

When it comes to polygamy, I resonate with Marx. Every time someone talks about this matter, it forces me to dig into books, namely my Bible.

Phil Hunt is a friend and fellow missionary church planter up in Zambia. Recently he forwarded me a doctoral dissertation by Honoré Afolabi on polygamy. Having written a similar paper on the subject, I was anxious to read Afolabi’s work. I was not disappointed. The paper was excellent.

Afolabi took the majority of his time to show that polygamy is sinful and contrary to God’s plan. With this I wholeheartedly agree. We differ, however, on two basic questions: (1) Is polygamy adultery and (2) should active, converted polygamists be barred from church membership? Afolabi denies both; I affirm both. Here, I would like to address only the former. Continue reading

Answering Some African Ethical Dilemmas

A few weeks back I sent out an update letter regarding ten ethical dilemmas we are facing.  Here’s how I would answer them.

  1. On adulterous church members living as neighbors – Though I strongly encouraged Sally to find living quarters elsewhere, her deep poverty would not allow this. She lives with her two small children in a 8’ x 12’ room on about $100 a month. I then implored her to break off all forms of communication with Ruth’s husband, not enter Ruth’s yard, and follow the biblical rules of seeking forgiveness. Its been difficult, but she has followed this advice and comes faithfully to church every Sunday.
  2. On providing for your family v. your church – No pastor wants to leave his flock, but the situation of Pastor Lawrence in Zimbabwe was getting desperate. He should find another piece of property and forget about the government’s promise for reimbursement of his home that was demolished. Soon after, the police forced all men, women and children in the camp to sit outside in the sun from morning till night. Day after day they sat. His wife was beaten severely. Thanks to generous donors, Lawrence is building a new homestead.
  3. On US funds for a building – Third-world believers have difficulty learning hard work, frugality, and planning when foreigners buy them a new church building. To the charge that says such people don’t have a building to meet in, I say, neither did the NT church. To the charge that it will take them years, perhaps decades, to save enough for a adequate building, I say it is valid to give only enough so that their legs don’t buckle, not so they can relax.
  4. On watered-down forms of marriage – In order for Kojo to marry his girlfriend according to Genesis 2:24, he needs to declare before others his commitment to her according to Genesis 2:23. Whether surrounded by bowties and baroque or cattle and clansmen, he must make a public commitment. If not, Kojo must not touch her.
  5. On partaking of stolen items – St. Paul actually talked about this, but the item under discussion was idol food not Coke Zero. Unless I know for sure that the soda was stolen, I should enjoy it to the last drop (1 Cor. 10:27-28).
  6. On exorbitant mission trips – I would strongly discourage foolish use of funds such as mission trips that spend more on plane tickets that double the structure they are building. If the goal is to help financially, just send the money. This would make the money go farther and encourage the people to do the labor on their own. If the goal is to “experience” the field yourself, rather spend the day studying the language, being in people’s homes, and evangelizing.
  7. On attending risqué cultural events – When they give me the opportunity to preach, I attend such affairs but use the time when men are gawking to shake hands and meet with the community. The event is such that my character would not be in jeopardy simply for attending.
  8. On HIV testing – I believe the Gospels and 1 Corinthians 7 makes divorce and remarriage a valid option for Maria. But there is also value in striving to make the marriage work. In the meantime, the Golden Rule demands—for the sake of her children and others—that she get tested for HIV. Maria did so and was negative.
  9. On single moms – I’ve previously posted on this.
  10. On dealing with bandits – The villagers don’t respect those who are soft with thieves. “The prudent sees danger and hides himself” (Pr. 27:12), and that might mean in the bushes with a baseball bat. Protecting hearth and home is a good thing (1 Tim. 5:3-5).

Bite the Hand that Feeds You

A recent South African newspaper addressed the unsanitary conditions in Limpopo’s government schools, and since I live in Limpopo and teach once a week in a school there, I thought I’d add my two cents—which is worth about 22 Rand cents these days. So what I have to say is valuable.

I do not disagree with what the problem is. Mr. Milambo, the concerned parent, is certainly correct that “toilets are scary places.” I rarely see the youth at our government school use the bathrooms, complete with shattered windows, broken pipes and feces on the floor and walls. And this is with running water. The issue is why.

The parent said much more work needed to be done, which I can only assume means—much more work to be done by the government. The same government that gives his children a dozen years of free education and the right to pass grade twelve with just a 30% score is now to blame for the dirty toilets as well.

But only a small part of this story is in the light, while the truth is out there somewhere relaxing in the shade getting ignored. So before looking at the toilets, lets take a look at the classrooms. There you will find walls layered in graffiti, broken doors, busted lights, and desks with “F*&@ You” carved deep into the wood. I’m guessing the principal didn’t do this. At our village school, between the toilet rooms there are mutilated chairs stacked three meters high. But writing an article about that brings the guilt too close to the students—and then the parents—so the story channels toward the toilets instead.

Moreover, suppose we visited the toilets at the student’s homesteads? I have visited hundreds of homes in our village and the vast majority have outdoor pit toilets. Most of these, by the way, were built and paid for by the government. And what do you think we would find? Not places of care and beauty, but most often disheveled and foul-smelling shacks. Could it be that the students are acting from morning and afternoon at school the same way that they are acting in the evening at home?

Filthy toilets in government schools should not surprise us. That students do not care for property they did not work or pay for is a microcosm of why socialism does not work. The answer to the problem here is not that government should give more, but that they should give less. And it’s not only unbelievers that want more government cookies; Christians are drinking in these worldly assumptions from a fire hose.

Until we realize that more personal character, more parental responsibility, and less government means cleaner toilets, the only place these students will help themselves will be in the bush.

The Polygamy Problem in Tsonga Culture

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President Zuma of South Africa has numerous wives in his harem

The South African Constitutional Court has recently decided that a Tsonga man who wants to take an additional bride must first receive permission from his first wife. This follows a lengthy court battle whereby the first widow of a polygamist wanted to void the marriage of the second widow because the first widow had never given her consent. Both marriages were finally recognized after the matter went all the way to the Supreme Court.

Since consent is the grid by which South Africa determines morality, government officials were tripping over themselves as they tried to explain the Supreme Court’s ruling. “If Ron can marry consenting Jim, then how can you allow this marriage if Ruth does not consent to July joining the harem? This line of argumentation proved too much for the powers that be, so they decided to overturn the Supreme Court’s decision.

We’re planting churches among the Tsonga people and there are scores of polygamists in our village, so I thought it would be helpful to do a series of posts regarding the biblical position on polygamy and how a minister should pastor polygamists.

There may be exceptions that allow for polygamy, something we will soon discuss, but without a doubt monogamy is God’s design for the human race. It took just over fifty verses before the author of Genesis began defining for us the meaning of marriage, and it is this passage to which we will turn next.

“Isms” Bound for Failure: Why Paedobaptism and KJV Only-ism Don’t Make it in Rural South Africa.

Upon my arrival in Africa I was astonied, as the KJV says, at the number of missionaries trying to foist 16th century English on 21st century villagers. It never seemed to last. Try explaining to your neighbor with a 5th grade education the superiority of the Textus Receptus–a Catholic’s translation that in turn must be used in your Protestant church. Either the mission church or school remains small with a resilient few, or the missionary leaves—disgusted with such superfluity of naughtiness in his stubborn parishioners.

Which brings us to paedobaptism. A friend of mine is fond of saying that a substantial theological doctrine that cannot survive in a poor, uneducated context is most likely not taught in Scripture. This doesn’t mean preaching won’t take time, or that theology is always simple, or that Scripture is equally clear to all, only that the Bible is meant to be understood. So if I take unending Bible studies trying to show Mandla that the days in Genesis 1 and 2 are really not days, and need quotations from a scientist in Sweden to substantiate my point, its best I kick the doctrine to the curb.

In the late 19th century, Evangelical Presbyterians from Switzerland inundated our particular region of Limpopo. But the EPC now, and according to my surveys—the EPC then, does not baptize infants. That’s like the YMCA not allowing exercise. Why would a denomination abscond such a core doctrine? One possible reason, if I may be so bold to judge motives, is that the Presbyterian missionaries in South Africa—a nation with a long history of racism—may have been leery of baptizing black infants as children of the covenant while inwardly concluding that many of them would fall away.

Another possibility is that doctrine was just too complicated for their people to understand. The Baptists have it easy. Immersion comes after trust in gospel, as all the narratives in Acts reveal (e.g. Acts 2:41; 8:12; 10:47-48). The Presbys, however, must go to the Old Testament to show that circumcision was an outward sign of entrance into Israel, demonstrate that the new covenant community is now the church, and that today’s parallel to circumcision is baptism (Col. 2:11-12). Even more difficult is preventing children from having false assurance in their infant baptism, which Grudem calls a symbol of “probable future regeneration.”

I graduated from a Presbyterian seminary, but my experience in the village is that paedobaptism would be difficult to explain (in Xitsonga, no less) and even if I was able to persuade some, I cannot image my disciples being able to convince others from Scripture with any kind of deftness. I’m guessing I’d find similar things throughout Africa. I once asked a Presbyterian pastor friend of mine who lives in Zimbabwe how many of his people could explain the doctrine of paedobaptism and he said: “If I had to be honest: few to none.” And this was from a man whose preaching I’d be honored to sit under. Few to none?

Now there are hundreds of Reformed churches in South Africa that baptize babies, but this is the Dutch Reformed Church, brimming with whites and the cultural elite. Which is exactly my point. So should we conclude that one of the two pictures of the gospel given to us by our Lord is so complex as to leave most of the lower class believers in an entire country befuddled?

I trow not.