THE MISSION OF THE CHURCH IN AFRICA
a Commentary by Johannes Meintjes on the book: Collective Sins in Africa
The writings about Africa, over many years, are numerous. The African knows all kinds of suffering. Has something gone wrong between God and Africa?
Various investigations and analysis have pointed to five main practical solutions for Africa:
The "Each one for himself" plan (self-serving), the "breakaway/ escape from Africa" plan (self-serving), insertion into the world economy with emphasis on developing exports and some imports, the Lagos Plan (working from aid and existing trade, to self-reliance) and development of the informal sector. The last three being community and society-orientated.
To date, all of the above had met with criticism and failure - and it invites a consideration of the theological solution.
While it serves no purpose to castigate Africa, an effort is made to investigate, define and examine the phenomenon and theology of collective sin (which also manifests in other societies, cultures and continents).
What is the mission of the Church in this respect?
Doctor Emmanuel K. Tshilenga, a theologian from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, suggests that the Church remains as the common denominator capable of a missiological approach to the African crisis.
Broadly described, sin that corrupts everything can be generic or original (from Eden and the fall of man), it can be collective/ cultural, and it can be individual. There exists much theology on this subject.
The Bible mostly deals with collective or group sin, although individual sin is often recorded.
Collective sin includes group sin (such as a self-benefit derived from being taller, stronger, faster, more attractive, better situated, richer, educated …), social sin (for example in South Africa where the social sin of Apartheid became a cultural sin - with a heritage of racism), cultural sin and structural sin (where a major sin is entrenched in a law or in an organisation, in a society, nation or world order - at the cost of others). These sins are passed on.
The Church is part of the community, and thus also susceptible to collective or cultural sin.
In my own experience in Africa, the main problem that I am able to discern by grace, is not that the Church is susceptible to be infiltrated by social, cultural or structural sin, but that it does not notice that it can become the perpetuator, sustainer or justifier of such sin.
Realisation, repentance, self-cleansing, and unblemished integrity in the Church seem to lack in many cases. The Church then seem to be able to facilitate some measure of repentance for society and individuals - but lacks the integrity, power and anointing to progress and morally lead, guide and shepherd society from sin and its effects on Africa.
Furthermore, we are the Church - and in church we are "holy" but outside (and even inside) we are part of the individual or collective sins that make Africa what it is.
The relationship between sin, law and Gospel (Good News) is often not understood or preached. A collective without knowledge of the Law cannot have knowledge of sin. It results in a cheap Grace and false conversion.
Governments, commerce, agriculture and enterprise, to mention only some societal activity, have no moral authority, and effective spiritual influence. The Church has the authority to preach justification and sanctification, so that every person who goes out into society may be a moral example and growing in sanctification towards progressively better and better stewardship, and better relationships between each other and with the Living God (Yahweh).
Collective sins that plague Africa are such as a primitive concept of God, ancestor worship, sacrifices and offerings, witchcraft and sorcery, ecological sin, and lost ground (bad stewardship?) regarding the heritage of original civilizations that existed in Egypt, Ethiopia and Zimbabwe, for example.
The African crisis is well known inside and outside of Africa. It manifests in the spheres of the socio-cultural, politics, economy, nature, history, colonialism, governing structures and struggles - and somewhere, from Cairo to Cape Town, the theologians and the churches disappeared from the struggles (or became one and indistinguishable from the African world).
The ideal is a Church of integrity that serves against strongholds, from the centre or common overlap of the overlapping spheres of society, culture and structure.
No area of the African world (physical or spiritual) can be left out of Biblical salvation.
"The mission of the Church in Africa will be fulfilled when the African will change the whole of life."(p 204) Africa suffers the consequences of the sin of the great western powers, and it suffers also the consequences of its own sins. Africa has to be delivered from them all.
The Church has to take Africa to the western pharaohs for the liberation of Africa. No church can expel itself from this battle.
Dr. Tshilenga concludes that his purpose was not only to define the existence and effect of the Collective Sins in Africa, but to lay it before the Church as reminder of the prophetic, salt, yeast and light duty of the Church when it has rid itself of influences of societal, cultural and structural sin (I pray to add also ridding of the influences of extra- or un-Biblical and philosophical teaching, practices, traditions and existences.)
Practical examples that affect mission trust and effectiveness in Southern Africa and especially the Congo River region are corruption in the church of the DR Congo and the stigma of Apartheid that clings to South Africa's largest church denominations. (Practical and spiritual obstacles relating to social, cultural and structural sins in Africa.)
The book is thus not only a theoretical doctoral thesis - but very relevant to Africa and the church, and to those who profess an urgency to effectively serve Africa in the Name of The Redeemer, Jesus Christ (Y'shua the Anointed One of Yahweh, the Messiah from Nazareth) and the sin-defining and -revealing Law of God, more precisely, the Law of Yahweh.