[notice]A monthly column that reflects on living in the Kingdom of God.[/notice]
Immediately after speaking at a student Christian conference a number of years ago, a young man confronted me. It was clear that something I said must have irked the lad. It did. He boldly retorted: “I am from X political party, and I want you to know that people (of another skin colour) are not my concern.”
I was stunned. After all, this was an unashamedly Christian conference. I replied: “Are you a Christian?” He looked surprised, but simply answered ‘yes’. I went further and said, “Well if you are, it should be your concern, because all people are Jesus’ concern.” The conversation ended as abruptly as it started.
Though the young man was confrontational and brash, I was grateful for his honesty. He openly revealed the depth of his Christian commitment in relation to his primary allegiance: in his case his political party affiliation. While many of us may not be as open or clear about where our primary loyalty lies, most of Christian South Africa, and indeed Africa, is no different. When it comes to our real value system, looking at the fruit of our lives, it is clear that our ethnicity or political party or family or selves take precedence over the values of Jesus.
As far as influencing the culture around us, it makes little difference what percentage of South Africans are Christians, if the way we think and behave are no different from the world around us.
Harry Blamires, in his book The Christian Mind, wrote the following: “There is no longer a Christian mind … the modern Christian has succumbed to secularization. He accepts religion — its morality, its worship, its spiritual culture; but he rejects the religious view of life, the view which sets all earthly issues within the context of the eternal, the view which relates all human problems social, political, cultural to the doctrinal foundations of the Christian Faith, the view which sees all things here below in terms of God’s supremacy and earth’s transitoriness, in terms of Heaven and Hell.”
Back to my student friend. How did he (and most of us) arrive at this point? Somewhere along the line, he must have had some kind of religious experience. But did he ever come to a place where he consciously and deliberately looked at the values of his political party, compared them to Jesus’ values and set out to reject any values of that party that didn’t line up with Jesus? (Aka discipleship).
For some, the defining entity of how to live is our ethnicity, for others it is their culture (acquired or chosen), for others it is their family or friends or themselves. So long as we never come to this point of gut-level surrender to Christ, we will never have the salt or light necessary to truly follow Jesus and therefore change our nation.
Honest self assessment
Missionary and church planter Floyd McClung honestly writes about this conscious choice he had to make when he realised that some of his values were more American than Christ-centred. He writes: I made a list recently of the core values of Jesus. Then I made a list of the core values of my own culture, the American way of life I was raised to love, cherish and be willing to defend against against any enemy who would dare to take it away from us…I was disappointed to conclude that I was more American than Christian in many of my core values!…I recognized a need for a values conversion in my life, and did something about it. I have taken a good look at unbiblical American cultural values (because I am an American and my country of birth has had the greatest impact on my core values), and have decided to turn away from any and all values that kept me from my new found passions. Why? Because they are the good-life values that eat away at the Christ-life…They feed what is selfish and self-preserving in me. They are opposed to the cross-life, the life of the disciple of Jesus.
Living in South Africa, the impact of ethnicity can hardly be overstated. Even after the dismantling of apartheid, we are still more (add your ethnicity in the blank space) than Christ-centred. Like the rest of our culture, most of our decisions hinge on this. It remains the primary way we define ourselves. While Christ does not want us to eradicate or forget about our culture and ethnicity, it must be Christ above culture.
In the midst of the racial tension and polarisation being experienced in the United States, we may well ask: what does the multi-coloured church of Jesus Christ offer to the culture? Bob Roberts, a pastor and church planter, challenged the church in the US, declaring that it cannot bring peace to the town of Ferguson, because the church itself is divided into the African American and Anglo American church. (You can read the article here: (http://www.glocal.net/2014/11/25/church-cant-bring-peace-ferguson/#more-4498).
It is this kind of reconciliation that is central to the Gospel and central to our witness, without which we lose credibility. Reconciliation in South Africa, like anywhere else, is not a contemporary issue first, but a Gospel issue. Paul had to openly rebuke Peter because in his hypocritical treatment of Gentiles, he was “not acting in line with the Gospel.” Are we any different? Imagine the impact that a reconciled church could have in our nation, contending for the faith as one man? When we consciously look at our current values and place them under those of Christ’s, this and more can happen. While we may not be as brash and unashamed as my student friend, unless we truly surrender our ethnic and other values to Christ, those people will not be our concern.