Christianity has survived centuries of resistance and persecution. But it has also been greatly misunderstood, not only by those who persecuted Christians but often by Christians themselves.
Enter the Crusades. It seems to me that these Crusades were the product of their time: a time of violence, world dominance and where faith and state were often mixed or, at least, operating in parallel.
But Christ Himself sought to avoid getting His Gospel confused with politics precisely because of the times and not necessarily because His Kingdom could not influence the politics of the day. If anything, His Gospel did!
He was drawn into questions about His respect for Roman authority and offered due regard for it. His own Jewish followers tried to draw Him into a discussion about overthrowing Roman rule, which He wisely avoided. He did not want the introduction of His Kingdom to be confused with politics or for the foundations of His Church to be steeped in the blood of believers who physically fought their colonisers.
Christ walked the tightrope of His time where His Kingdom had the potential to overthrow the kingdoms of the world, had He chosen to weaponise it. But He did not. Instead, He opened His Kingdom to the oppressed and to the oppressor alike.
The Kingdom of God has the potential of overtaking the kingdoms of the world because the Gospel affects people and when people in positions of power and authority become Christians, it follows that Christian influence will grow there. This was the wisdom of Christ’s strategy.
Campaigns and movements of the Church like the Crusades are testimony to how we can misinterpret and often misappropriate truth for carnal gain at the expense of the integrity of the Word of God.
Incidences of racism are often based on misinterpretations of what God said. God called the Jews to be His own people and to be a light to the whole world, but according to the biblical account, they became judgmental, aloof and self-righteous. It became “us” and “them.” This reality was further exposed when Christ introduced His Gospel to the Jews. Once saved, they could not divorce themselves from their “separateness” and were perplexed by the influx of non-Jews into the Church.
This form of racism was so real in the early Church that for the first eight years of the Church from the Day of Pentecost, until the conversion of Cornelius and his household, only Jews got saved. It is interesting to note that when Peter quoted Joel in Acts 2, saying that in the Last Days God would “pour out His Spirit on all flesh,” Peter thought “all” referred to the Jews. God had to prepare him and rebuke him before sending him to minister to Cornelius in Acts 10.
A lot of Paul’s teaching addressed this schism in the Church and he accounts how he once had to rebuke Peter who sat with Gentile believers and slipped away from them when Jews walked in. Paul, it seems, could hear God more easily on the matter of unity in diversity because he had a bigger worldview, being half Jew and half Greek. It was to him and through him that God revealed that in the Church we are no longer Jew or Greek, male or female, but we are all one in Christ!
Apartheid in South Africa was built on the philosophy of separate development. And a whole nationality of people within our borders ascribed to themselves — or at least their leaders ascribed and enforced it — the aloofness of the Jews when comparing themselves with other races. This too was based on misinterpretation of Scripture. We cannot use Scripture to elevate ourselves on the basis of race when Jesus takes race out of the account and makes us new creatures in Christ.
Please answer these probing questions with me, as a means of self-examination:
Does God answer (Your racial category)’s prayer?
Does God only answer (Your racial category)’s prayer?
Does God answer a sinner (Your racial category)’s prayer?
See, God does not hear sinners (John 9:31), regardless of what race you are! God is not a respecter of persons. When we approach God, we must take race out of the equation. The Bible teaches that God does not see as people see, for we look at the outward appearance, but God looks at the heart (1 Samuel 16:7 NKJV). Furthermore, God answers anyone’s prayer who calls on Him with sincerity according to Romans 10:12-13, regardless of race or nationality.
It seems to me that we can get away with fighting for racial superiority as people and as part of a political agenda, but we cannot do so as Christians. Christianity excludes any claim of superiority based on race. It is at this point where I want to urge godly repentance and a return to the purity of God’s Word, and not to make it ineffective because of our traditions.
The Word was misinterpreted so much under apartheid in South Africa that the world has responded in the only way it can: carnally and tooth-for-tooth. And now we have a government that espouses a nationalist agenda. Gone is the noble quest for equal political participation that most resistance political movements started with in South Africa in the early 20th century. That noble goal has been replaced by an equally racist nationalist agenda that excludes the former institutional powerholders. And caught in the crossfire are other minority groups in South Africa who seem to never have a significant right to inform the direction of the country.
We do not live in an emancipated South Africa. Democracy is not yet our portion; we have a form of democracy, but we are governed by more sinister rules and ideologies. And for power to remain in black hands the current government has to make suspects and culprits of the white man, who once held sway in the land. And the country and its people become the real casualties in this war of hatred.
And while this government does not profess Christianity and does not act in the name of Christ, they do something even worse. They use the Church. Government officials let us pray over them — even anoint them and lay hands on them — but only to secure votes. They call on us to pray, only to overcome the resistance of a gullible Church, which is easily appeased by such superficial entreaties as a governmental or presidential call for prayer. The same president who has welcomed Christian prayer has been prayed over by Muslims and blessed by witchdoctors and participated in their rites.
It is incumbent on this generation of the Church in South Africa to stop this national abuse of the Church by those pursuing a divisive agenda. The cycle of hatred and division must stop with us, otherwise there might not be a country at peace left for our children. The civil war scenario seems to be a curse hovering over nations of Africa and we risk going in that direction if we do not preach and practice the true Gospel of Christ that makes friends of enemies and family of strangers.
It has fallen to us to speak out and show up in love and unity. It is incumbent on us to correct our fellowmen and women of our respective racial groups when they use or misuse the Word for racial advantage and to show how Christ accepts us not on the basis of the colour of our skin but on the basis of the fact that we believe in Him as Lord and Saviour.
The Bible teaches that God created us in His image. This means that we were made to resemble God. Each person and all that describe them, therefore, are intended to resemble something of God that others never can. This is the question of faith that we must answer to overcome racism and pursue unity in Christ: If we cannot stand what looks like God, how do we think we can enjoy all of God or God Himself? The Bible puts it this way: “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen” — 1 John 4:20 ESV.
What is apparent in the verse above is that God puts before us first what we can see: glimpses of Him in white, black and brown faces. And that is the test. If we cannot love what looks like Him, we fail the test and cannot love Him who we cannot see. There is so much of God Himself that we can experience that will bring real fulfilment to our lives if we can only learn to accept and live with what God has put right in front of our eyes.
Learning to appreciate the resemblances of God will take time and must be done prayerfully and maturely. At this point any radical move, even in the right direction, will be more harmful than good in the long term. But if we cannot start doing it God’s way we can never really have God and then the state of the nation will never reflect the fruit of the supposed 84% Christian majority in South Africa!
Finally, any Christian must believe in God’s providence: that working out of circumstances and people to bring about the good that He wants us to enjoy. In terms of this understanding, we must appreciate the people groups in South Africa. However painful our past over many centuries of genocide, oppression, wars and ill-treatment, we must forgive each other for the past and we must understand that the people in this land are here and God has allowed us to come together in this melting pot called South Africa.
And not only must we forgive the past but we must all accept our blame for the unrest in our nation at the moment. We are all guilty: those who did wrong, those who are doing wrong and those who let it happen and are letting it happen. Even the foreign nationals who are here already are here and we must accept it and learn to grow together. Repair the systems and build unity among the people.
If God is who we are looking for, the path to Him leads through the people in front of us, even the ones we have been taught not to like, or who we naturally do not trust. The Spirit is calling on us now to take up our new nature and to have the mind of Christ, who died for all and who will have all men to be saved. How can we dare to hate who Christ died for?
In my previous article I urged that we enjoy our respective cultures but that we show respect and deference where our paths cross. The appeal is not for unity through conformity, but rather unity in our God-given cultural and language diversity. As we enjoy what we are used to, can we not also enjoy each other, celebrate our differences and make room for one another in this beautiful land called South Africa? And as we do, we will move ever closer to El-Elyon, the Most-High God, Possessor of Heaven and Earth!