A monthly column that reflects on living in the Kingdom of God.
In his first address as President of South Africa, Cyril Ramaphosa responded to the various commendations given him by various opposition party leaders.
He mentioned the fact that he studied at what is now Limpopo University at the same time as ACDP president Kenneth Meshoe, and that he (the president), was at one time the leader of the Student Christian Organisation there, with Mr Meshoe serving under his leadership.
Upon hearing this, I began to wonder: How many prominent leaders in politics, business, entertainment, academia and other fields were once zealous Christ followers in their youth, but are no longer today? I have no idea how many, and while it is encouraging to see those who are still standing strong, I can’t help but ask why it is that so many are nowhere near where they once were? And why is it that at the height of their influence, their light seems dimmest?
No doubt, there are several possible reasons for this. Some are personal, others are corporate. Of all the reasons however, the one that I fear the most is what could be described as state capture of a different sort.
The idea behind state capture in the current South African context is that a family from India became well-connected to the previous administration, and from that vantage point they largely and effectively determined who could be put in key cabinet and state enterprise positions, thereby effectively pulling the strings of government for their personal benefit.
A more compelling cause
In a similar way, we too can be captured for an agenda that is in opposition to Christ’s kingdom, while remaining Christian in name. This can easily happen when we are drawn to a cause that becomes more compelling than what Christianity offers, while still apparently waving the same flag.
How does this happen? Subtly, at least most of the time. The first sign is when our hearts and minds are no longer captivated by Christ. When this slow puncture occurs, it is not long before we are seduced by what we think is a greater cause.
In a ministry that tries to reach and disciple millennial students in a consumerist culture, this is an ever-present danger. However, it is not only the responsibility of the “receiver”.
It is also vital for leaders to cast a compelling picture of the cause of Christ and the role the “layman” can play in whatever sphere God has called them to.
This is precisely what Wesley was able to do with Wilberforce. If we do not give them an over-arching and compelling vision of the kingdom of God, someone else will, and with the added allure of money, power and political correctness, the offer may soon prove irresistible to a cold heart and an unrenewed mind.
At the time of Christian apologist’s C S Lewis’ writing, the causes of the day included those of pacifism or supporting the war-effort of Britain. In his Screwtape Letters, CS Lewis masterfully describes the temptation of a greater cause faced by the Christian: “Whichever he adopts, your main task will be the same. Let him begin by treating the Patriotism or the Pacifism as a part of his religion. Then let him, under the influence of partisan spirit, come to regard it as the most important part. Then quietly and gradually nurse him on to the stage at which the religion becomes merely part of the “cause”, in which Christianity is valued chiefly because of the excellent arguments it can produce in favour of the British war-effort or of Pacifism. The attitude which you want to guard against is that in which temporal affairs are treated primarily as material for obedience. Once you have made the World an end, and faith a means, you have almost won your man, and it makes very little difference what kind of worldly end he is pursuing. Provided that meetings, pamphlets, policies, movements, causes, and crusades, matter more to him than prayers and sacraments and charity, he is ours — and the more “religious” (on those terms) the more securely ours. I could show you a pretty cageful down here, Your affectionate uncle, Screwtape.”
It would be very naive to think that those of us employed in the church world are not immune from such capture. On the contrary, a greater level of deception can occur under the guise of doing “ministry”, as we build our own sandcastle kingdoms with the pretense of doing it for God.
It is partly for this I reason that the life of Billy Graham was so widely celebrated: that he resisted the capture of his mind through secularism, his heart through inflating his successes, and his body through moral failure. Regardless of human recognition, rejection or overlooking, may we do likewise in whatever sphere God has called us.