[notice] Part 2 of a 2-part series by Port Elizabeth pastor, Afrika Mhlophe
My introductory article on the subject of Christianity and Culture has stirred up an interesting debate.
It is important for us to engage these issues because for many years Christianity has been accused of pouring scorn on people’s indigenous beliefs and knowledge systems.
There are still many who view Christianity as a foreign religion asserting itself as more superior and legitimate than primitive beliefs in a way not too dissimilar to the behaviour of colonialist and slave masters. In fact some African people claim that Christianity has been used as a vehicle to subjugate Africans and strip them of their identity in favour of a Eurocentric culture and value system.
For this reason there are some today who have taken it upon themselves to defend African beliefs and cultural practices. So you could say that a fervour for Africanism and black consciousness has risen in some quarters. Well there is nothing wrong with all of us reclaiming our spaces and repositioning our cultures and languages in this age of the dominance of the English language and the prizing of all things English. The Afrikaner community seems to be doing a good job in preserving its culture and many of us can learn a lot from their tenacity.
Still, the damage caused by those whom the Lord had entrusted with the mandate to preach the gospel to continents like Africa cannot be denied. Some came not only with the desire to proselytize the indigenous people but also with an agenda to dispossess them of their existing cultures and resources.
You should affirm your culture but you must be careful when your culture arrogates itself to speak on matters of religion and faith. When cultures attempts to answer questions about the origins of man, his purpose on earth and eternal life, then culture crosses the line. It is going beyond its competence. If we attempt to answer these questions based on our unique and individual cultural beliefs then our answers will be subjective. Though every culture views and observes milestones like birth, marriage, death, etc. in its own unique way, no culture is given the latitude to form and fashion its own god.
Our cultures are based on time bound things like ethnicity, geographical location, etc. Every culture attempts to answer complex questions that have bedeviled the human mind. Still we must not forget that human beings were not always defined based on their culture and race. You may not believe this but there was a time when your culture did not exist but Elohei Avraham elohei Yitschak velohei Ya’akov – the God of Abraham, the God of Jacob, the God of Isaac always did.
Some black people claim that Christianity is a white man’s religion. This is not true because not all white people are Christians in the same way that not all Jews believe in God. The multiplicity of cultures does not mean the multiplicity of God or ways to God.
There is only one way to God and that way has nothing to do with what your culture teaches. God’s way is superior and transcends every culture. God chose to reveal Himself through the Jews. That He made that choice is a matter for Him to answer but we should know that the God whom the Jews call Adonai El Yisrael or the LORD God of Israel is the only true God.
God forbade ancient Israel from engaging in witchcraft, divination, astrology, fortune-telling, palm reading, spiritism, necromancy, etc. He told them that all these things were an abomination to Him (Deut 18:9-14). These prohibitions to Israel apply to all of us if we want to be God’s people.
My fellow Africans often accuse us, evangelical Christians, of demonizing culture. This accusation is an attempt to clutch at straws. To deny that the devil has hijacked some African cultural practices is to defend the indefensible. For instance how do you defend the practice of ukuthwala where young, school-going girls are forced to marry men old enough to be their fathers? Or the deaths of so many young men while undergoing circumcision or the rite of passage into manhood? How do you justify the fact that many of our practices lean towards the entrenchment of patriarchy whereby it is young girls who are tested for virginity and never boys?
I submit that you cannot practice abominable things like the consulting or veneration of ancestors or other forms of idolatry while still claiming to believe in the supremacy and sufficiency of Christ. If you believe in the efficacy of what Jesus did then you cannot make that congruent with something called African religion. There is neither African religion nor European religion in the same way that there is no African God or European God.
Sadly I find that there are people who risk being eternally separated from God because of their insistence on observing antiquated and ineffectual cultural practices. Should you risk so much defending practices that are nothing more than an attempt to reconstitute and reconstruct a way to God while deliberately ignoring the only Way He has provided? This is like building your own Tower of Babel and it is tantamount to saying you are wiser than God. God has made a way through Jesus and every culture must observe that.