Christianity and Society

The Agony of Prosperity Gospel: “It is Less About God and More About Feeling Good.”

Photo credit: Enrichment Journal

A recent research by the University of Toronto’s department of psychology  in the Faculty of Arts & Science has found out that exposure to prosperity gospel (PG) makes you more likely to show an exaggerated and unrealistic sense of optimism for life and take more financial risks.

In the press release about the findings of the research, the study’s lead author, Nick Hobson, Ph. D. makes this important observation, “Its (prosperity gospel’s) success as a growing religious movement might be less about feeling (sic) God, and more about feeling good.”

Now this is very interesting especially that it is coming from a non-Christian institution. Here Hobson has put his finger on it and it should not surprise us because that’s exactly what the Bible teaches.  PG is not the gospel. There is only one gospel, the gospel of Jesus Christ and him crucified. The PG is neither about nor for Christ but actually against Christ. This is why Apostle Paul anathematizes anyone who preaches it: “But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said it before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed” (Gal. 1:8, 9).

Further as the research notes, PG is about manipulating people through their volatile emotions rather than pointing them to their greatest need of salvation in Christ. Apostle Peter already warned us against the destructive nature of PG.  Writing of devious and false teachers who include PG preachers the apostle cautioned: “But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you…And in their greed they will exploit you (“make merchandize of you,” KJV) with false words” (2 Peter 2:1-4). There is no better description of the PG and its preachers than what the apostle gives here. The PG never seeks the good of its hearers but as lie from the pit of hell seeks to destroy them.

The PG has been weighed on the secular scale and has been found wanting. No need to mention that it also fails miserably on the biblical scale. So to those who are still trapped in the yoke of PG, hear the words of the gospel of Christ. Christ’s greatest gift is not material wealth. It is not an excellent health. These he can give if he pleases. His greatest gift is salvation from the wrath of come. Christ is the bread of life that endures to eternity. Labour not for the riches of this world, which are here today and gone tomorrow. What shall it profit you if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul?  Come to Christ, rest in him, labour faithfully with your hands, and trust him to provide for all your needs (Matt. 6:25-34).

 

 

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My Life as a Christian

From My Devotions This Morning… (10/03/2018)

Tough Love

“If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house or give him any greeting, for whoever greets him takes part in his wicked works”– 2 John 10, 11.

At the heart of Christianity is love. Paul reminds us that of the three, faith, hope, and love, the greatest is love (1 Cor. 13:13). However, we should not confuse love with tolerance of falsehood. Love does not mean paying a blind eye to heresy that threatens to destroy the Church.  Christians must never give approval or support to false teachers. Those who preach the false gospel, which is no gospel at all, are not misguided brothers but the enemies of the cross of Christ (Phil. 3:18). Of course, we should pray for them, love them while hating their falsehood, show them their error, and strongly challenge them to repent. But Christians should not offer them any encouragement or hospitality for it might be interpreted as a sign of approval. The false teachers might also take advantage of any hospitality shown to them to pounce on the unsuspecting and vulnerable people with their heresies. This for sure is tough love.

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Christianity and Society

The Church and Politics in Malawi

In less than a year from now, Malawians will go to polls to elect their president, members of parliament, and local government leaders (councilors). As always, some of the questions that Christians have now include should Christians join politics and what role should the church play in regard to politics? In this post, I am wrestling with such questions and endeavoring to give answers that I believe are biblical.

We will do well to begin by reminding ourselves that Christ is the King over all the earth (Col. 3:16, 17). He is the one who removes kings and sets up kings (Dan. 2:21). As one Dutch Reformed theologian once observed, “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, Mine!”

Therefore, Christians can and should join politics if the Lord calls them. They should not be afraid to accept the calling believing that politics is a dirty game as it is often said. For sure, politics like any other human institution can be full of sin at times, but Christianity is not Gnosticism, which believes that the matter or the world is evil. Christianity does not minimize the consequences of the fall on human race yet at the same time it is always hopeful of the power of the gospel and the knowledge that Christ is redeeming his creation including the fallen political systems of our world.

The Westminster Confession of Faith best captures the Bible’s teaching about a Christian’s involvement in politics: “It is lawful for Christians to accept and execute the office of a magistrate (government official or politician), when called thereunto: in the managing whereof, as they ought especially to maintain piety, justice, and peace, according to the wholesome laws of each commonwealth; so, for that end, they may lawfully, now under the new testament, wage war, upon just and necessary occasion” (Chapter 31.5). Please notice the emphasis here is that Christians who are called into politics are to maintain piety, justice and peace of their country.

But while Christians could be called to serve as politicians, the calling of the church is different. The church is never called into politics. She is called to pray for magistrates and give them godly counsel when needed to but she should never turn the pulpit into a political podium.  (There is a great nuance here since when Christians join politics it could also be said in one sense that the church is in politics. But I believe that you get what I am trying to put across. The separation of the church and state is never absolute because we will always have members of the church who are also members of the state).

Again, the Westminster Confession of Faith is helpful here: “Synods and councils are to handle, or conclude nothing, but that which is ecclesiastical: and are not to intermeddle with civil affairs which concern the commonwealth, unless by way of humble petition in cases extraordinary; or, by way of advice, for satisfaction of conscience, if they be thereunto required by the civil magistrate” (Chapter 31.5)

It is important to notice that the confession does not completely prohibit the church from petitioning or advising the government. When the civil magistrates have asked the church for advice, the church should do so gladly and dutifully. “The Church and State may co-operate in the advancement of objects common to both; but each of them must be careful to act within its own proper sphere- the one never intermeddling with the affairs which properly belong to the province of the other.”[1] Nonetheless,  the cooperation of the State and the Church must never mean blurring the line that clearly separates the two.

That said, the next question I anticipate is: doesn’t the church ought to have a prophetic voice in society? Certainly, the church has a prophetic voice in any society; but it does not mean that she as an institution should become directly involved in the politics because that is not why Christ established his church. Christ often demonstrated that his mission was to be differentiated from that of the state. For example, Jesus refused a request of a certain man who asked him to mediate between him and his brother regarding their inheritance and specified that he was not a judge of a civil court (Luke 12:13:14). Another example is when Jesus was before Pontius Pilate. Christ refused to associate the Church with the kingdoms of this world when he clearly told Pilate: “My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now is my kingdom not from hence,” (John 18:36).

What if the government oppresses its citizenry?  Isn’t the church supposed to defend the poor and vulnerable and even be willing to pick up arms to fight against a wicked state? The Bible calls Christians to obey only the lawful commands of the magistrates. Therefore if the magistrates command what is unlawful, the church ought to stand up and declare as the early church that she will obey God rather than man (Acts 5:29). Nevertheless, it’s never the calling of the church to be in forefront picking up arms against the state.

The Reformers, more especially, John Calvin ably discusses how the Church should respond to “wicked and intolerable” governments. He notes that the Church which in this case means members of the visible church (whom Calvin also refers to as private citizens) should never directly pick up arms against the state but rather support other magistrates who after observing the wickedness of their government/leadership have mounted resistance. This teaching is sometimes called the Doctrine of Lesser Magistrates. Calvin writes,

For if there are now any magistrates of the people appointed to restrain the willfulness of kings…I am so far from forbidding them to withstand, in accordance with the duty, the fierce licentiousness of kings, that, if they wink at kings who violently fall upon and assault the lowly common folk, I declare that their dissimulation involves nefarious perfidy, because they dishonestly betray the freedom of the people, of which they know that they have been appointed protectors by God’s ordinance.[2]

The Church is not a lesser magistrate (an opposition party). The lesser magistrates, especially those who are Christians, have a responsibility to restrain the evil of unjust kings over their subjects. In cases where the greater magistrates (governing authorities) are oppressing their citizens, Christians should come behind the lesser magistrates and support, pray, and encourage them in their efforts to curb the evil or injustices from the greater magistrates. All this is to be done within the bounds of the just laws.

[1]Robert Shaw, The Reformed faith: exposition of the Westminster Confession of Faith(Fearn, Ross-shire, Scotland: Christian Focus Publications, 2008), 398.

[2]Calvin,Institutes of the Christian religion.IV.XX.31

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Christianity and Society, Christianity and theology

Polygamy is NOT “African Christianity”

Last week one of Malawi’s Paramount Chiefs, Chief M’Bwelwa V was quoted by the country’s media warning the Presbyterian church in northern Malawi to stop preaching against polygamy and drunkenness. The chief’s warning has received mixed reactions. However, one reaction I have found interesting is the one that argues for “decolonization of theology.” In case of polygamy, proponents of decolonization of theology argue that polygamy is a Ngoni culture or  African culture hence African theologians and pastors should develop a theology that doesn’t condemn it because, the proponents further argue, the teaching against polygamy was imposed upon Africans by Western missionaries.

There is a lot that can be said about this fallacious argument; however, I would like to briefly point out two things: First, looking at the history of Christianity in Africa we know that even African theologians like Tertullian in 2nd and 3rd Century AD and St. Augustine in 4th Century AD condemned polygamy.

Tertulian wrote,”We do not indeed forbid the union of man and woman, blest by God as the seminary of the human race, and devised for the replenishment of the earth and the furnishing of the world and therefore permitted, yet singly. For Adam was the one husband of Eve, and Eve his one wife, one woman, one rib,” (Ante-Nicene Fathers: The Writings of the Fathers Down to  AD 325 Vol. IV by Alexander Roberts).

St. Augustine in his treatise, On Marriage and Concupiscence, argued: “That the good purpose of marriage, however, is better promoted by one husband with one wife, than by a husband with several wives, is shown plainly enough by the very first union of a married pair, which was made by the Divine Being Himself” (Book 1, Chapter 10).

So, it is misleading to argue that preaching against polygamy is a Western theology. It is NOT! Our own forefathers  taught against polygamy long way before Western missionaries stepped their foot on African soil because our forefathers were faithful to God’s word and not their culture.

Some of my fellow pastors and church leaders who have to preach against polygamy in Malawi

Second, the proponents of decolonization of theology point to the fact that no where in the Bible is polygamy explicitly condemned except in the case of office bearers in the church (1 Tim. 3:2, 12). However, we know that when God the designer of marriage first established it married one man and one woman. More importantly human marriage is a reflection of the perfect marriage of Christ and his bride the Church. Christ has only one bride so should also those who say they follow Christ.

We should not forget that the first person to have a polygamous marriage was Lamech from the ungodly line of Cain (Gen. 4:19). In case of the patriarchs like Jacob or David we should note that theirs were not the ideal situations. Although they were God’s people what they did was not right and never reflected what their God had initially intended. So although proponents of decolonization of theology will cite these examples, they know that they are not good examples. So why dwell on bad examples when the Bible tells us to, “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (Phil. 4:8)?

 

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Christianity and theology

A Review of God’s Grace in Your Suffering by David Powlison

Crossway asked me to consider applying and joining their Blog Review Program. I gladly did and was approved hence from time to time you will see or read reviews of their books on this blog. I trust and pray that these reviews will be helpful to you as you consider reading or recommending books. My reviews will focus more on books about Bible studies/devotions, spiritual growth, theology, Christian living, Christian leadership, and pastoral ministry. God’s Grace in Your Suffering by David Powlison is my first review in this program. Crossway has provided me with a complimentary copy of the book.

One wise and godly man once noted that there are always three groups of people in this world. Those who are just coming out of hard times, those who are passing through hard times, and those who are about to enter into hard times. He was very right. We are all acquainted with suffering, pain, sorrow and hardship. None of us is immune to it and God never promises immunity to suffering even for his own children as David Powlison rightly observes at the beginning of his book, God’s Grace in Your Suffering.

However, although God does not guarantee immunity, he does assure and provide his children with grace and help in their suffering. This is the point that Powlison is driving home in his book by answering two key questions: “When you face trouble, loss, disability, and pain, how does the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ meet you and comfort you? How does grace and goodness find you, touch you, work with you, and walk with you through deep waters?”

Powlison ably answers these questions by taking the reader through the verses of that famous hymn which is a favorite to many Christians, “How Firm the Foundation.” As he makes his way through the hymn Powlison also shares his personal experiences of how the truths of the hymn have positively impacted him. Although most words of the hymn are direct quotes from the Scriptures, the book could have failed miserably if it focused on the hymn alone. But I am thankful that Powlison takes us beyond the hymn to the Bible itself and to the Christ of the Bible as the true source of encouragement and comfort in our trials.

Another recommendable thing about God’s Grace in Your Suffering is that it is very practical. Powlison has endeavored to accomplish this by engaging the reader and asking probing questions that enables the reader to apply the truths of Scripture to his own situation. True to its own assertion, this book is a workshop of an afflicted soul.

I think I would be right to say that when passing through hard times one has no time for jargons or hard reading and would greatly appreciate a book that hammers the nail right on its head. Powlison has also managed to do just that in this book. God’s Grace in Your Suffering is an easy reading yet full of profound truths hewn from the ever-trustworthy word of God.

 

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Christianity and Society

A Lament: Why I feel betrayed by my fellow Christians who support disparaging remarks of Africa and Africans

About a week ago, the President of United States of America, Donald Trump allegedly used vulgar language to disparage the country of Haiti and the continent of Africa. The president has since denied using vulgar language but admitted to have spoken tough on the issue of illegal immigration in the USA.

Ever since the news was reported in the media, there have been two main reactions. Some have condemned what the president said while others have supported what the president said. However, what has greatly disheartened me is to hear fellow Christians categorically supporting the degrading language that the president allegedly used to describe a continent that is a home to many of their brothers and sisters in Christ. When I read and heard some of the comments I felt like David in Psalm 41:9: “Even my close friend in whom I trusted…has lifted his heel against me.

Now, before I proceed to bemoan what I strongly feel as betrayal I need to highlight the following: first, I strongly believe that the USA just like any other country in the world has a right to decide who enters and stays within its boarders. This is absolutely right. It is only wrong if the USA chooses basing on skin color or the conditions of where one comes from. Secondly, I also strongly agree with the USA government that illegal immigration is wrong. When somebody enters the USA, they agree to stay in the country as long as they are permitted by their visa or other immigration documents. It is sinful and wrong to overstay.

That said, I feel let down by fellow Christians who have unconditionally supported what the president of USA said regarding the continent of Africa where I come from for the following reasons: first as I have already highlighted above, your fellow brothers and sisters live in this continent. It is just normal and human to feel hurt when one demeans your sibling. No matter how poor or unattractive your brother is, he is your brother. Even the secular world recognizes this and acknowledges that blood is thicker than water. The Bible even says it better that all Christians are one body of Christ and “If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together” (1 Cor. 12:26).

Second, no one can deny that the USA is more wealthy and powerful than the countries of Africa. I have often confessed it to my brothers and sisters from the USA that the Lord has blessed their country with many material blessings. There are many opportunities of personal advancement and growth in America. Life is more comfortable and easier in many ways in the USA. This is the Lord’s doing and should not make American Christians accept the tendency to look down upon Africa. “What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?” (1 Cor. 4:7).

Third, consider the Christian testimony in Africa. An unconditional support of the president’s remarks has serious implications for evangelism more especially among Moslem communities in Africa. In many Moslem strongholds, people are told that what they see in the West, more especially, in America is what Christianity stands for. To many in these places, America is a Christian nation and everything that people do or say in America is what the Bible teaches. Now, guess what will the Muslim say. “Christianity believes that Africa is the most unpleasant place in the world.” Of course not all people will believe that, praise the Lord for his grace. But if one person finds the president’s remarks a stumbling broke to believe in Christ just because some Christians did not condemn and distance themselves from the remarks, we ought to be greatly concerned for that soul.

Again, let me reiterate that not all Christians have unconditionally supported the President’s remarks and I am thankful for that. A Sunday following the reporting of what the president said, one of my pastors came to me after the service and said, “How do you feel about what our president said?” I told him that I was hurt and I felt my eyes warming up with tears as I spoke to him. He then said to me, “I am sorry. I know…It’s hurtful. But I don’t think of you or your country that way, my brother.” He then put his arm around my shoulders and said, “You are my brother forever.” Oh, what a comfort it was to hear those words and know that there are still brothers and sisters who care for this brother from the so-called unpleasant continent.

“You are my brother forever,” that’s is very true. Here on earth, God has made us to live in different parts of the planet as Paul points out, “And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, 27that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us,” (Acts 17:26-27). But a day is coming when all the boundaries will be abolished and as one family in Christ we will live together forever.

 

 

 

 

 

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My Life as a Christian, My Sermons

A Cry of the Broken Heart (Psalm 130:1-2)

Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord! O Lord, hear my voice, let your ears be attentive to the voice of my pleas for mercy! (Psalm 130:1-2)

The Psalmist is crying to the Lord with his broken heart.  His heart is broken due to the sin or sins he has committed. Now please notice the two things about this cry.

First, is the object of his cry. To whom does the Psalmist cry out? To the Lord! “Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord!” In the depths of his sin, the Psalmist cries out to the Lord. This is very important to notice because sometimes when we believers sin, more especially if it is a grievous sin, we feel ashamed to turn to God. We look at ourselves and think of how much we have brought the name of the Lord into disrepute. And we think to ourselves, “How can I turn to the Lord in this mess. Where do I start?” And Satan takes advantage of our guilt and shame and whispers in our ears and says, “Look at you a hypocrite! You claim to be a child of God, how can you sin this way if you are really a child of God. How can you? Do you think God will hear you prayer after you have let him down like this?”

If we are not careful we buy into this lie of the devil and instead of drawing close to the Lord, we withdraw from the Lord and like a wounded dog run into the corner in darkness to lick our wounds. Satan does this deliberately so that we can despair and think that the sin has conquered us and there is no way out. However, we need to learn from the psalmist here. When we have fallen flat on our face because of sin, it is time to lift our eyes and cry out to the Lord through Jesus Christ. The Psalmist did not completely fall into despair. He turned to the Lord and cried for help. For sure the hymn writer was right when he wrote:

When Satan tempts me to despair
And tells me of the guilt within
Upward I look and see Him there
Who made an end of all my sin
Because the sinless Savior died
My sinful soul is counted free
For God the Just is satisfied
To look on Him and pardon me
To look on Him and pardon me

Secondly, I want us to notice the plea or the request of his cry. What is the psalmist asking in his cry? “O Lord, hear my voice! Let your ears be attentive to the voice of my please for mercy.” The Psalmist is crying out to the Lord for mercy. He is saying: “I know that I deserve your judgment Lord because of my sin. But please be merciful to me and do not punish me in your anger, as my sin deserves.” The Psalmist is not crying to the Lord because he is worthy but rather because his God is a God of mercy. So, when we have sinned let’s remember that God is merciful.

Of course, God hates sin and nothing will change that. Of course, God will punish all unrepented sin and nothing can change that. But also God is a God of mercy. When we have confessed and repented of our sin, he freely grants his mercy. This why the psalmist in Psalm 103 rejoices and declares: “Bless the LORD, O my soul and forget not all his benefits, who forgives all your iniquity…He will not always chide, nor will he keep his anger forever. He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him (2, 9-11).

So, when our heart is broken due to sin. Let’s remember to cry out to the Lord. Don’t despair. Don’t wallow in your sin because there is mercy with God. He pardons those who truly repent of their sin.

(This material first appeared in a sermon form which was preached at University Reformed Church in East Lansing, Michigan, USA on October 22, 2017)

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