In my few years of leading Christians like me — young, black, educated and curious — in the heart of urban Johannesburg, South Africa, I have been introduced to a few things lurking beneath the sometimes murky surface of our collective Christian experience.
Signs, miracles and wonders
Soon after a young lady joined our church I recall sensing resistance in her demeanour when I stood up to share the Sunday message.
Little did I know that the resistance that I sensed was real and founded in her past Church experience. In her previous Church, the pastor, or prophet, as they called him, would prophecy material gain or some sort of blessing on church members, with only one condition attached — that they give a “financial seed”, which meant money, to the Church/God, which in fact meant, to the prophet.
After keeping their side of the bargain but let-down by a lack of material gain, members’ growing disgruntlement with the prophet surfaced, transforming into suspicions that he was a fraud, with such allegations escalating all the way to the South African Council of Churches.
If you are a South African, I have reason, unfortunately, to believe that this type of story sounds all too familiar to you. News headlines about fake miracles and false prophets have become popular points of discussion in the past few years.
The magnitude of this problem only really hit home for me when I saw how it was marring the faith of those around me — like the young lady who joined our church — and when I saw sceptics use these news stories as just another reason not to believe.
After her previous church experience, I could understand my young lady friend’s hesitation, resistance and caution concerning the faith. If an experienced and skilled mountaineer were to fall and break his legs summiting a mountain range in front of me, I would also pause and question my ability to climb that same mountain.
Essence, essence and essence
The essence of a school is to be an institution of education for its students. But we are well aware that the average student is much more motivated by play and social aspects of the schooling experience than being educated. This was certainly true for me back in primary and high school.
Does this nullify the fact that school is a place of education or meant to be a place of education? Does students’ incorrect prioritising of education vs play nullify the fact that play is secondary to education at school? — No.
Would we discard the concept of education, if one high school, for example, were to totally misrepresent it? I think that we all agree to say no. If a school doesn’t seek to educate its students, then we should stop calling it a school, we should rename it, maybe call it a playground, or a social gathering, or an entertainment centre.
In that same light, Christianity was never meant to be about money, material gain or what a lot of people make it out to be today. This misappropriation of Christianity’s essence has left many asking what makes Christianity different from such and such philosophy or practice?’ The truth is that the essence of Christianity is salvation through Jesus Christ (Romans 10:9–10). Everything else is only as good as its ability to serve the essence of Christianity.
So, to my friends that have been hurt by false manifestations of Church in our society, I refer them to the school analogy, and urge them to separate the students’ desire for play, from the essence of it all, and remember what it is really about.
If a student were to have his heart broken by a disfigured relationship, during his social endeavours at school, it would be foolish for him to leave the education system altogether. My advice to him would be, remember what you are really here for.