What a year for Black folk! From police brutality in the United States of America (USA) to same in the western region of Africa, White on Black, Black on Black, what a year! One would think that having commemorated 2019 as 400 years after the first Black slaves set foot in what is now the USA the news wouldn’t smell of Black beatings and lynchings and treatment as less than human any longer but here we are. In this season we’ve had the luxury of both time (thanks to COVID-19) and technology to etch these news clips into our consciences and reveal to us not only where we stand but even more deeply, who we are.
On the last day of this year’s Africa Impact Forum (February 26-29) for fellows of the Africa Leadership Initiative, a part of the Aspen Global Leaders Network, my heart was really stirred by Olara Ottunu, Ugandan diplomat, lawyer and politician. He was Uganda’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations from 1980 to 1985 and was the United Nations Under-Secretary-General and Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict from 1997 to 2005. Olara Ottunu minced no words in the final plenary that there can be no African prosperity without Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of Congo doing well. These ‘big boys’ are the most populous Anglophone and Francophone nations on the 55-state continent of Africa. I have since not looked at Nigeria the same way. Nigeria is too important to fail.
If Black Lives Matter, then the most populous Black country on earth matters immensely. Altogether the over 200 million Nigerian people of 300 tribes matter; individually, each person matters. And by the way, Nigeria will overtake the United States to become the third-most populous country in the world by 2050, surpassing the 300 million people mark, according to a United Nations report. The current seventh most populous country in the world is not only rich in people but also oil and other natural resources. This goes without saying.
Boasting of one of the most vast African Diaspora populations in the world, I have personally had the pleasure of forging deep friendships with Nigerians at medical school in Ghana and as president of International Students Ministries Canada today, delight to see them shine among the top 10 sending countries of international students to Canada. If Africa is the most numerically Christian continent in the world today, it is significantly in part due to Nigeria’s over 90 million strong Christian population.
When Africa’s largest market of 200 million people (twice the size of Ethiopia’s 110 million or Egypt’s 102 million) surpassed South Africa to become the continent’s largest economy as well last year, the business experts had to admit, “Now It’s Too Big for Businesses to Ignore.” Why do you think the United States and United Kingdom have over $55 billion in foreign direct investments in Nigeria, with the Chinese following close after France? Not to mention Italy, India, South Africa, Singapore and Switzerland.
NIGERIA IS WORTH SAVING
When George Floyd was slowly slaughtered before the eyes of a watching world and protests erupted all over the United States and around the world, one of the most profound things I heard was that if Africa had upped her socio-economic game many African-Americans would’ve rather returned ‘home’ than suffer such indignity in the U.S. Even then for some, freedom and dignity matter more than economics, so have responded to overtures from governments like Ghana’s to ‘come home.’ “We want to remind our kin over there that there is a place you can escape to,” said Akwasi Agyeman, chief executive of the Ghana Tourism Authority. “That is Africa.” Now, if I may ask, what is the sense in Blacks escaping police brutality in America, crossing the expansive Atlantic, only to come ‘home’ to the same police brutality, Black on Black?
I am very proud of the display of Youth Power! that has called for #EndSARS and indeed has succeeded in the dissolution (on 11th October, 2020) of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) of the Nigeria police which has meted out unspeakable crimes against the citizens of Nigeria. Now some protests are deteriorating into rioting while law enforcement is metamorphosing into death squads firing live ammunition into crowds. As Global CEO of The HuD Group, with HuD Nigeria as one of our strong networks, we demand that elected officials as well as the teeming youth be response-able (responsible) and remember that they hold the dignity and prosperity of the entire Black race in their hands.
All nations matter but not all nations are equally strategic. You would think some of the reasons given above why Nigeria is too important to fail are rather carnal but once upon a time when God Himself wanted to save a certain nation from destruction His reason for sending them a prophet to save them from themselves was pretty intriguing: “And should not I pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also much cattle?” (Jonah 4:11) The numbers of humans matter, the natural resources matter. Nigeria is too big and too important to fail. #PRAY FOR NIGERIA!
Mad I am. Have you seen the videos of the broad daylight murder of yet another unarmed Black man, George Floyd, by yet another White police officer, this time in Minneapolis? The officer literally knelt on the poor man’s neck till he died.
I’m in the middle of a transformative ‘Emotionally Healthy Spirituality’ course with Pete Scazzero (this is at least the third time I’m doing it). Incidentally in the very week we’re focusing on ‘Going Back to Go Forward,’ examining the deep-rooted attitudes, values, behaviours, patterns etc. in our genogram, this dastardly cycle of white police brutality on black lives comes up again; this time George Floyd’s in Minneapolis.
A genogram (pronounced: jen-uh-gram) is “a graphic representation of a family tree that displays detailed data on relationships among individuals. It goes beyond a traditional family tree by allowing the user to analyze hereditary patterns and psychological factors that punctuate relationships.” Biblically, we are affected by the being and doing of our forebears to the third and fourth generation. Meaning, those of us alive right now are exhibiting certain things, good and bad, blessing and cursing, that were sown by our relatives in the 1800s.
The deep rooted nature of this American problem of white-on-black violence leads me to think it is in the white person’s genogram, dating back to the era of colonialism and slavery. A white person (‘master’) unaware of this and put in a place of immense power, like a police officer, inadvertently and uncontrollably mets out brute and fatal force on his black ‘slave.’ It’s in the blood; it’s in the DNA, covertly usually.
Apart from pure demonic activity, this seems to be the only way I can begin to comprehend how a human being can delightfully kneel on the neck on another human and suffocate him to death (#icantbreathe), with hand in pocket and a smirk on his face.
Tell me if I’m going crazy, be honest, even crass, with me, especially if you are white and you call yourself my friend.
If you don’t care, you’re not my friend anyway. If you’re offended, feel free to fume awhile and let’s jaw-jaw when you cool down or unfriend me forever.
“But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!”(Amos 5:24)
POST SCRIPT: MENTOR TO THE RESCUE
I got a response to my Genogram Theory of Systemic Racial Justice above from my Emotionally Healthy Spirituality mentor Pete Scazzero, via SMS, and it was in the affirmative: “…yes the murder of George Floyd is very much the result of that man’s GENOGRAM, the police department’s and the history of the USA.” Thank you sir! BAM!
POST SCRIPT: OF HEART AND BONES
These race issues are deep deep matters. If your kind of Christianity can’t engage this issue and bring a Gospel solution to it, you’ve got the wrong kind; it’s not worth following!
For Christians who want to quickly whisk this issue away with 2 Corinthians 5:17, remember that we are in a process of sanctification after we open our hearts to Jesus for a reason!
Don’t ignore your own genogram. If your great great great grandpa thought my great great great grandpa was a Homo pelli negra don’t take it lightly; it takes a deep work of the Gospel of grace and the Spirit of Truth to see me as a Homo sapiens 200-400 years later. Scazzero says it best: “Jesus may be in your heart, but grandpa is in your bones.”
The time of the prophet Isaiah, in the eighth century BC, was a similar period of turmoil and change in the Near East just as the COVID-19 pandemic has rendered our world today. The people of God had a choice to make between the multitudes of tangible but false gods of the neighbouring states and the unseen but Almighty God of their forebears. We face a similar choice in a similar dispensation. Who/What will we trust in for salvation?
What a time to be alive! Our ‘Titanic’ has hit an iceberg. The worst pandemic in 100 years! Over half a million infected with COVID-19 in 199 countries and territories; over 25,000 dead. Nations are in lockdown; economies are heading into recession; healthcare systems are bursting at the seams… everything that can be shaken is being shaken!
The time of the prophet Isaiah, in the eighth century BC, was a similar period of turmoil and change in the Near East (Coogan 2016, 253). It wasn’t a viral microorganism stirring up the turmoil; it was a viral kingdom called Assyria! As Coogan puts it, “As the Assyrians moved toward Egypt in their ambition to control the entire Near East, the northern kingdom of Israel, like many other states in the region, was absorbed into the Assyrian empire, and the independence of the southern kingdom of Judah was curtailed severely” (253).
The other thing was that the Near East was rife with idols! Literally thousands of idols have been uncovered by archaeologists throughout the area. And Israel was constantly tempted to put their trust in these tangible but false gods rather than the unseen yet Almighty One. This is the context of the prophet Isaiah.
In the last couple of weeks my church family in Montreal, Westview Bible Church, began a series on “Selections from the Book of Isaiah” under the broad theme “The Glory of God and the Restoration of all things.” Today we continue that, and for the next few weeks… The book of Isaiah’s overall theme receives its clearest purpose statement in chapter 12: “Behold, God is my salvation, I will trust and not be afraid” (Isaiah 12:2). This echoes the meaning of Isaiah’s name, which means the “Yahweh is salvation.”
Today’s message, PLAYING GOD, samples a number of passages in the Second of three parts of Isaiah, chapters 40-55, particularly chapters 40, 42, 44 and 45. My aim is to force us to take a closer look at our tumultuous world today (just like in Isaiah’s day), to see how everything that can be shaken is shaking right now. And to ask ourselves a piercing question: What shakey created thing are we putting ahead of, or even in place of, an unshakeable uncreated God? Who or what has been playing God in your life? How are they doing right now? Isaiah 42:6-22 will be our anchor text; but we’ll go back and forth in the Isaiah 40’s. Let’s go!
Playing God. There’s a sense in which we play God because we are made in His image and likeness and have the power to create, both hard ‘stuff’ and soft stuff like ideologies. But as Andy Crouch puts it so well, “Idolatry is the biblical name for the human capacity for creative power run amok” (Crouch 2013, 55). We then create stuff that now want to play God in our lives. We make idols and then they shape us!
We’ll examining this message in four parts (4C’s):
- Characterization | characterization of idolatry (Isaiah 44:1,2, 6-7, 9)
- Claims | claims of the gods (Isaiah 44:1,2, 6-17)
- Consequences | consequences of idolatry (Isaiah 44:10, 11, 18-20)
- Call, your call. (Isaiah 44:19-22)
1. CHARACTERIZATION | of Idolatry (44:1, 2, 6-7, 9)
Right from the beginning of Second Isaiah onwards (chapter 40 forwards) there is a series of verses targeting idols and idolatry, especially chapters 40 to 48. Introduction is right there in chapter 40:18
18 With whom, then, will you compare God? To what image will you liken him? 19 As for an idol, a metalworker casts it, and a goldsmith overlays it with gold and fashions silver chains for it. 20 A person too poor to present such an offering selects wood that will not rot; they look for a skilled worker to set up an idol that will not topple.
Images in the ancient Near East were either cast (i.e. metal) or carved (out of wood). An idol is a cultural construct, hard or soft, that we treasure and that embodies a false claim about our ultimate source, sustenance and sense of identity and meaning. “The word ultimate is crucial …” (Crouch) because various things are our source( eg. the sun for light) and sustain us (eg. economy or science) and give a sense of meaning (like family) but none of them should ever be considered ULTIMATE! Then they become a god; a false god.
It is reported that someone said of the Titanic: “Even God cannot sink this ship!” That is the problem with idolatry. Crouch says Crouch, “an idol is a special kind of human creation, one that is not just mistaken in a superficial way. Rather, it advances a claim about the ultimate nature of reality that is ultimately mistaken. And since the Creator God is the ultimate meaning of the world, an idol is a representation of a false god. Implicitly or explicitly, all idols represent a challenge and counterclaim to the identity and character of the true Creator God.”
First of all, who are the PLAYERS in this ‘game of thrones’:
- Yahweh: “Israel’s King and Redeemer, the Lord Almighty” (vs. 6)
- If you back track to the beginning of the chapter (vs. 2), “This is what the LORD says…”
- Yahweh’s people: they are the ones he’s mainly speaking to in this passage
- Backtrack to beginning of chapter (vs. 1): “But now listen, Jacob, my servant, Israel,
- Repeats “Jacob, my servant” in the last part of verse 2 and adds a nickname for them “Jeshurun.” This was “an endearing name for Israel—see Deut 32:15; 33:5, 26” (Walton et al 2000, 628).
- Verse 7 talks about “what has happened since I established my ancient people“
- In vs. 8b, “you are my witnesses“
- Idol makers/Craftsmen: “All who make idols…” (vs. 9a)
- Idols: “…and the things they treasure…” (vs. 9b)
2. CLAIMS | of the gods (44:1, 2, 6-17)
GAME ON!!! Idols’ claim versus Yahweh’s claim. Both Yahweh and idols want to claim us; but only God is able to articulate and justify his claim in the Scripture! In fact, an idol can make no claim, except what we’ve attributed to it. God wants to play His role as God in our lives; but idols also want to play God. I’ll just compare the claims in terms of CHOICE, CREATION, CLASS, CONFESSION of these four players.
A. Choice | The One Who Has First Choice alone is worthy of first place!
- YAHWEH: He chooses first because he comes before all things!
- “But now listen, Jacob, my servant, Israel, whom I have chosen.” (vs. 1)
- “Do not be afraid Jacob, my servant, Jeshurun, whom I have chosen.” (vs. 2)
- PEOPLE & IDOL MAKERS: They go choose a what deity, design and material in nature.
- “A person too poor to present such an offering selects wood that will not rot; they look for a skilled worker to set up an idol that will not topple.” (Is. 40:20)
- IDOL: Cannot choose anything or anyone.
B. Creation | The One Who Creates alone is worthy of worship!
- YAHWEH: “This is what the Lord says—he who made you, who formed you in the womb, and who will help you…” (vs.2). “I have made you, you are my servant” (vs. 21) 18 For this is what the Lord says—he who created the heavens, he is God; he who fashioned and made the earth, he founded it; he did not create it to be empty, but formed it to be inhabited…” (Isaiah 45:18)
- PEOPLE & IDOL MAKERS: “Who shapes a god and casts an idol,which can profit nothing?” (vs.10) “People who do that will be put to shame; such craftsmen are only human beings.” (v.11)
- 12The blacksmith takes a tooland works with it in the coals; he shapes an idol with hammers, he forges it with the might of his arm. He gets hungry and loses his strength; he drinks no water and grows faint. 13 The carpenter measures with a line and makes an outline with a marker; he roughs it out with chisels and marks it with compasses. He shapes it in human form, human form in all its glory, that it may dwell in a shrine. 14 He cut down cedars, or perhaps took a cypress or oak. He let it grow among the trees of the forest, or planted a pine, and the rain made it grow.15 It is used as fuel for burning; some of it he takes and warms himself, he kindles a fire and bakes bread. But he also fashions a god and worships it; he makes an idol and bows down to it. (vs. 12-15)
- IDOL: Is created/shaped! “Who shapes a god and casts an idol, which can profit nothing?” (vs. 10)
C. Class | God is in a class of His own; all by Himself. He is worthy of our exaltation.
- YAHWEH: “This is what the Lordsays—Israel’s King and Redeemer, the Lord Almighty: I am the first and I am the last; apart from me there is no God. Is there any God besides me? No, there is no other Rock; I know not one” (vs. 6) In Isaiah 45: 18 God says: “I am the Lord, and there is no other.”
- PEOPLE: “Those who would speak up for them are blind; they are ignorant, to their own shame” (vs. 9c).
- IDOL MAKERS: “All who make idols are nothing…” (vs. 9a)
- IDOLS: “…and the things they treasure are worthless.” (vs. 9b)
- 16 Half of the wood he burns in the fire; over it he prepares his meal, he roasts his meat and eats his fill. He also warms himself and says,“Ah! I am warm; I see the fire.” 17 From the rest he makes a god, his idol; he bows down to it and worships. He prays to it and says, “Save me! You are my god!” (vs. 16-17)
D. Confession | The One Who Can Speak for Himself (not spoken for) is to be heeded.
- YAHWEH: Who then is like me? Let him proclaim Let him declare and lay out before me what has happened [past] since I established my ancient people, and what is yet to come—yes, let them foretell what will come [future].” (vs. 7) “Do not tremble, do not be afraid. Did I not proclaim this and foretell it long ago? You are my witnesses.” (vs. 8) “I have not spoken in secret, from somewhere in a land of darkness;I have not said to Jacob’s descendants, ‘Seek me in vain.’ I, the Lord, speak the truth; I declare what is right.” (Isaiah 45:19)
- PEOPLE: Nothing to say.
- IDOL MAKERS: Nothing to say.
- IDOLS: Say nothing. They do not because they cannot.
3. CONSEQUENCES | of Idolatry (44:10, 11, 18-20)
When it comes to idolatry, it’s a lost game. Heads, you lose; tails you lose.
- A. Lose Time & Money: Who shapes a god and casts an idol, which can profit nothing? (vs. 10)
- B. Lose Honour/Face: “People who do that will be put to shame; … Let them all come together and take their stand; they will be brought down to … shame“ (vs. 11). But those who trust in idols, who say to images, ‘You are our gods,’ will be turned back in utter shame. (Isaiah 42:17) “All the makers of idols will be put to shame and disgraced; they will go off into disgrace But Israel will be saved by the Lord with an everlasting salvation; you will never be put to shame or disgraced, to ages everlasting.” (Isaiah 45:16-17)
- Nana Bea story of idol in rain; beaten to pulp
- C. Lose Calm: “… they will be brought down to terror ….” (vs.11). Terror.
- D. Lose Sense/Smartness:“They know nothing, they understand nothing; their eyes are plastered over so they cannot see… No one stops to think, no one has the knowledge or understanding to say, “Half of it I used for fuel; I even baked bread over its coals, I roasted meat and I ate. Shall I make a detestable thing from what is left? Shall I bow down to a block of wood?” Such a person feeds on ashes; a deluded heart misleads him; he cannot save himself, or say, “Is not this thing in my right hand a lie?” (Isaiah 44:18-20)
- We’re not even able to record at church anymore, hence this message is from my home office—which incidentally used to be a shrine for a number of idols. When we came to see this home in Pierrefonds to purchase it a little over seven years ago, this room was full of idols! Think about it, the former occupants of this house had to pack up what they worship in boxes and send them to their next house. How can something you can pack up and carry, carry you?! We lose our smarts!
- E. Lose Self (GOD IMAGE): BECOME LIKE THEM! Blind, deaf, dumb; heartless… “Those who make them will be like them, and so will all who trust in them.” (Psalm 115:8). You become who/what you worship.
Bottomline, you loose all. I like how Andy Crouch puts it: “All idols begin by offering great things for a very small price. All idols then fail, more and more consistently, to deliver on their original promises, while ratcheting up their demands, which initially seem so reasonable, for worship and sacrifice. In the end they fail completely, even as they make categorical demands. …idols ask for more and more, while giving less and less, until eventually they demand everything and give nothing” (56).
4. CALL | your call (44:19-22)
Today, God is calling us to Reflect, Remember, Repent and Return.
A. REFLECT (stop to think): “No one stops to think, no one has the knowledge or understanding to say, “Half of it I used for fuel; I even baked bread over its coals, I roasted meat and I ate. Shall I make a detestable thing from what is left? Shall I bow down to a block of wood?” 20 Such a person feeds on ashes; a deluded heart misleads him; he cannot save himself, or say, “Is not this thing in my right hand a lie?” (vs. 19-20)
- Reflect (take stock) of what you A-D-O-R-E
- Who/What you ADORE –> affections
- gods out of celebrities (catching the virus); Sports (NBA has ceased; Olympics postponed)
- Who/What you DEPEND ON –> addictions
- gods out of our sexuality; gods out of science & technology; AI’s coming!
- Who/What you OBEY –> directions
- gods out of our autonomy, our intellect! Our appetites. “The god is their stomach”
- Who/What you spend significant RESOURCES on –> investments of time and money.
- gods out of business; our economies; our healthcare system
- Who/What you Elevate –> promotions
- gods out of human rights—“We’ve elevated our rights above the one who makes us righteous” (Ron Kenoly).
- All these things, are good servants but terrible masters!
- Who/What you ADORE –> affections
- Reflect (take stock) of what you A-D-O-R-E
B. REMEMBER: “Remember these things, Jacob, for you, Israel, are my servant. I have made you, you are my servant; Israel, I will not forget you.” (vs. 21)
C. REPENT: “I have swept away your offenses like a cloud, your sins like the morning mist.” (vs.22a)
D. RETURN: “Return to me, for I have redeemed you.” (vs. 22b)
GOD DOESN’T PLAY. HE IS GOD. He is either NUMBER ONE or NUMBER ONE! He won’t take second place. “I am the Lord; that is my name! I will not yield my glory to another or my praise to idols.” (Isaiah 42:8)
IF you have an idol in your life, it is your full responsibility because you have ceded your power of creation and choice as a person made in the image of God with the ability to ‘play God’ to someone or something, hard or soft, to rather play God in your life.
We’re so nothing—but you know what’s worse—the things we create to PLAY GOD in our lives. Everything that is created—primary (i.e. created by God) or secondary (created by man from what has already been created by God)—can be shaken.
Let me ask you again: What shakey created thing—created by God or man—are you putting ahead of, or even in place of, an unshakeable uncreated God? Crouch says, “Like the serpent in the Garden, they all [i.e. all idols] raise the question of the Creator God’s truthfulness and goodness, subtly or directly suggesting that the Creator God is neither true nor good” (56).
But in times of crisis like now I hope you see how no one and no thing can save you but Yahweh! “Behold, God is my salvation, I will trust and not be afraid” (Isaiah 12:2). All else you cannot trust for salvation; and you ought to be afraid! NOTHING WE MAKE OF OURSELVES OR MAKE OURSELVES CAN ULTIMATELY SAVE US! Do you want to be safe and saved? Come to Yahweh!
Coogan, Michael D. 2016. A Brief Introduction to the Old Testament. The Hebrew Bible in its Context. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
Crouch, Andy. 2013. Playing God: Redeeming the Gift of Power. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
Walton John H., Victor H. Matthews and Mark W. Chavalas. The IVP Bible Background Commentary. Old Testament. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
COVID-19 TESTS: WILL THE CHURCH PASS?
By Thomas R. Bosomtwe
The Coronavirus pandemic has changed everything; including ‘church.’ This is the third in a series of random thoughts about the Church at a time when COVID-19 threatens to hold us all to ransom. Guest writer T.R. Bosomtwe examines the suspension of church services in Ghana and matters arising: a theological reflection.
On Sunday, 15th March, 2020, I listened to the president of Ghana outline the measures government has rolled out to curb the spread of the corona virus in Ghana. As part of the measures the president has directed that all church services be suspended for the next four weeks.
The directive, as would be expected, has been received with mixed reactions. On one hand, there are those who are of the view that it is discriminatory in the sense that if church services and other religious gatherings are being suspended, then activities at the night clubs, drinking bars, restaurants, supermarkets and lorry stations should all be suspended. In fact the Bishops’ Conference has raised questions about why they were not consulted on the matter and why night clubs and chop bars have been excluded.
On the other hand, there are others who have lauded the President for this directive. While they are not too happy that church services will not hold for the next four weeks, they believe that it is one of our surest ways of preventing any further spread of COVID-19. Many churches have issued memos to their congregants and adherents asking them to suspend all church activities until further notice.
While both sides have legitimate and very strong arguments to support their positions, I hold a neutral view on the suspension of church services. Among other things, I believe there is a lot more we have to do to curtail the spread of COVID-19. The bottom line is that individuals must seriously take personal responsibility for their own safety.
The suspension of church services however, is a test for the body of Christ. It is a test for the church as a corporate body, and it is a test for individual Christians This directive, occasioned by COVID-19, will reveal how robust or otherwise our set-ups are. The way we do church in this country will definitely not be the same during and after this pandemic. Indeed, COVID-19 is testing many of the things we believe and many of the things we have been doing over the years. A few are discussed below.
1. TEST OF PRAXIS
First of all, the suspension of church services will test how we have been ‘doing’ church. The basic disciplines of the faith including personal and family devotion, personal prayer life, fellowship, commitment to holiness and evangelism we have cultivated are being tested. For the next 4 weeks, members will not be coming to church to listen to sermons. The question is will our church members survive? It depends on whether we have been ‘discipling’ our members, equipping them to live and serve Christ or we have reduced them to pastor-dependent Christians who depend on the pastor for almost everything. In the next four weeks the former will survive but the latter will tottle.
2. TEST OF LOYALTY
Secondly, the suspension will test the loyalty of church members. There are many Christians whose loyalty to Christ and to their local churches will be tested in the next four weeks. Some church members may see this suspension as a holiday and behave like school children who have been asked to go home because it rained. Others will really miss church! So, will you send your offering and tithe through ‘momo’ to church on Sunday? Would you want to know what your local church will do on Sunday and how you can support it?
3. TEST OF CITIZENSHIP
Thirdly, the suspension will test our practice of Christianity in relation to state authority. You do not need to be a prophet to predict that some ‘super spiritual’ churches will defy the directive of the President and hold their ‘regular’ church service on Sunday. Some are of the theological persuasion that it is an attack on their right to worship…and that…”they will obey God rather than man…” the real question is, how should the church relate to civil authority?
4. TEST OF SUBSTANCE
Fourthly, the suspension will make us know that people are more important than buildings. Many churches have invested huge sums of money into cathedrals, parishes, and auditoriums. Sometimes the very people who constitute the church are neglected, unattended to all because the church is building. Well, on Sunday, pastors will not have their regular members to preach to. What will become of the expensive chairs, supersonic gadgets and fittings? This is the time we need our members the most, but if we have not prioritized their needs and interests, then this time, they too will ‘show us.’
5. TEST OF TECH-READINESS
Last but not least, the suspension of church services for the next four weeks will test our preparedness for and how abreast we are with technology. I have heard with excitement some of the measures some churches are putting in place to reach their members on Sundays and all through the period when the suspension is in force; online streaming, facebook live, YouTube, radio broadcasts and the like. I also know some church leaders have no idea what these things are let alone what they are used for. It is time to embrace technology and use it to reach the masses for Christ.
Let me conclude by saying that God has a very interesting way of getting man’s attention. Sometimes “God allows the hurricanes of life to shake us into seeing that in a world of gigantic forces, we live by His permission, not by OUR good management.” Some things happen so that man will know that “there is a God in heaven who rules in the affairs of men.” By all means, let us observe the preventive protocols, but let us also pray for God’s intervention and while we are at it, let us learn the lessons that COVID-19 is bringing to all, especially the body of Christ.
The author is a student of Theology and Associate Pastor with the Assemblies of God, Ghana (Holy Ghost Revival Centre, Accra). The initial version of this write-up was first published on his FaceBook wall on March 17, 2020.
My Unwholly Holy Initial Thoughts, Honest-to-God
‘To build or not to build?’ is more often than not a rather profound, mind-wracking, heart-churning, soul-searching question, be it for a young couple or a growing congregation, a thriving corporation or even an emerging country!
My initial reaction to the notion of building a national cathedral in Accra, Ghana was not that of excitement and welcome. No. It was a rolling of the eyes, a cynical “yeah right! another opportunity for sleek politicians to line their pockets with 10% kickbacks and oil their party’s campaign wheels.” The other thought was, “Really? In a country that is struggling to procure beds for the sick and school buildings for the young or even prevent needless deaths every year from perennial floods? Can this be a priority with our degree of poverty?”
Apart from the economic prudence and social justice angles, from a purely missiological lens I shuddered we may be treading the undesirable path of so-called ‘post-Christian’ Europe, ending up 100 years from now with beautiful but empty cathedrals only good for tourism or sale to condo developers, effigies of a dying spirituality.
Oh yeah, and there is the splendid basilica in Yamoussoukro next door, Notre Dame de la Paix, which I got to visit a couple of times during my one-year sojourn in Cote d’Ivoire as a United Nations peacekeeper. The grandeur of the edifice from afar and the sense of awe it evokes in the soul upon standing on those holy grounds left me schizophrenic how a nation with such a holy habitation would be at war or why this multi-million dollar erection is queerly perched in the middle of poverty and even backwardness. Apparently the papacy—John Paul II was the pope at the time—before agreeing to the 1990 commissioning of this expensive edifice in the midst of pauperism insisted that he would do this only on condition that a hospital be built in the vicinity of the cathedral (sort of to ease his conscience, I guess). As far as I know, then-president Félix Houphouët-Boigny acquiesced and that hospital was commissioned at that time but is still yet to be built, 28 years later!
That being said, my willingness to travel all the way from Montreal to Accra, at my own expense, to be part of a discourse organized by the National Cathedral Secretariat proved to me that my mind wasn’t completely closed to the idea. After taking pains to learn a wee bit more about the proposed project and spending some time last weekend in the United States with a former national head of a historical and significant Ghanaian church denomination, I am now almost won over. May I share why? (these are not his thoughts but mine)
1. More Than a Building
Part of my unease about hardware with no software, the case of Western civilization’s empty cathedrals but denying the power thereof, has been eased with the knowledge that this venture is a two-edged sword of both Cathedral-as-Infrastructure and Cathedral-as-Convenor. Those who say faith should have no place in the public space are ill-informed at best and naïve at worst. This is true and matters even in the West where the so-called post-Christian era has brought in its wake such a keen thrust towards secularism let alone in Africa where religion is life and life is religion, period. You can find loads of books and scholarly articles written about how culture and religion are inseparable in the African paradigm. The Cathedral seeks to facilitate conversations and critical public debates. There is one in the works, which I plan to attend, that has even garnered international interest. We have a lot to talk about, with so much faith and so little integrity, or so many churches but so much filth and poverty in Ghana. Then to act.
In this vein, I congratulate the National Cathedral Secretariat for not falling prey to what Jim Collins calls, “‘the tyranny of the ‘or’” but fully riding on the wave of “the genius of the ‘and.’” Not Cathedral-as-Infrastructure or Cathedral-as-Convenor but both/and. For my worry that we may be building concrete structures rather than investing in the actual making disciples of Jesus Christ, I say to myself, it isn’t either/or; it can, and indeed should, be both/and. For Christians who say our body is the temple of God so we need no other such national cathedral, may I again submit, it’s not either/or but both/and.
2. Just the Land
One of the most important things I have learnt about this project is that the government is only providing the land. None of the money for the proposed cathedral will be taxpayers’ money. The Christians who believe this will be honouring to their God are expected to put their money where their mouth is. That eases my concerns a bit, as a sort of secular state (that’s a fallacy; plus we should perhaps revise our stance on annually facilitating pilgrimages to Mecca on taxpayers’ money).
There are enough Christians and more than enough Christian cash to put up this building. Between a mere two denominations, say the Church of Pentecost (have you seen their conference centre at Kasoa?) and Lighthouse Chapel alone (go and see their Anakazo edifice in my hometown, Mampong-Akuapem), this is easy-peasy.It will be great to see the unity of the body of Christ in Ghana around this one national vision and mission.
As a budding missiologist, such a monument of the Christian faith is of much interest to me as a symbol of Christianity on a continent which only 100 years ago was considered ‘savage,’ ‘dark’, ‘primitive’ and ‘heathen.’ This year, 2018, is the first time in the history of the world, actually, that Africa has been billed as the continent with the most Christians in the world! Perhaps a national cathedral in Ghana, a major player in quantity and quality of Christianity on the continent, may be a worthy monument to mark this new era, to the glory of the God of Africa too.
3. Priorities and Prime Time
It seems like the only good time to build a national cathedral is after there is no poor person in Ghana, a perfect doctor-patient ratio, Malaria has been eradicated, everyone has a job or is in school… in other words after all our problems are solved. In that case, there will never be a good time to build a national cathedral then; not even a house of parliament or a national sports stadium.
The people of Israel, in the prophet Haggai’s day, kept saying “The time has not yet come to rebuild the Lord’s house.” God was upset and queried: “Why are you living in luxurious houses while my house lies in ruins?” In this case, there isn’t even a national cathedral yet, in the first place, but many of us have two, three or more real estate properties. Now, this is what the LORD Almighty’s exhortation: “Give careful thought to your ways.”
This issue can really be a chicken-or-egg-which-comes-first one. Do we prosper first and then honour God with a national cathedral or do we honour God with one first and prosperity ensues. In the context of Haggai, God has no doubt which comes first: “You expected much, but see, it turned out to be little. What you brought home, I blew away. Why?” declares the Lord Almighty. “Because of my house, which remains a ruin, while each of you is busy with your own house.”I will suggest you read the whole chapter here.
We may be saying that when all is well with us we will build a national cathedral for God’s glory; he might be saying, until you build me a national cathedral for my pleasure, honour and glory nil will be well with you.
4. Poverty as an Excuse
Smack in line with the above argument against the national cathedral is the argument about poverty in Ghana. Poverty around is not an excuse for not giving God our best. That is the whole concept of the widow’s mite. That being said, we must put on record that nobody has done more work in alleviating poverty, building hospitals and schools like the Church (Body of Christ) in Ghana. The Church has done enough for society to be worthy of a single ecumenical cathedral at her own cost! Aaba! Even then, this is not just a monument but a practical, functioning construction for the use of the State!
It will be interesting to research how much the Church has contributed against how much even government itself has done in bringing dignity to the lives of Ghanaians. If I may be permitted to be so crass I would dare say that perhaps the Church deserves a national cathedral even more than the government deserves a Jubilee House! Can the Church in Ghana do more? Sure! But even then the Body of Christ in this country has already done more than enough to bless Ghanaians of faith or no faith with education and healthcare, peace and prosperity, civics and commerce, ideas and industry, to deserve one national, non-denominational, inter-denominational edifice to the glory of this God of theirs!
Read some history! It is because of the Church that our local languages like Twi and Ga are written today. The first seeds of cocoa, Ghana’s export lifeline, were brought into the country by the Church; not Tetteh-Quarshie. Even our very independence from colonial masters was to a significant degree catalyzed by the work of the Church. The erudite Kwame Bediako asserts that “a number of educated Christians who had a clear self-consciousness as Africans and Christians and who were alive to their intellectual responsibility to their society” was “as a result of the impact of missionary Christianity on our people.”*
There was poverty in Ghana when we built Parliament House and the National Theatre and the Accra International Conference Centre and Jubilee House. “The poor you will always have with you.” We will come back to who said that and in what context shortly. That is not to say we be cursory or even fatalistic about poverty in our developing country and not do much about it; what is meant is that if we’re going to use poverty in society as a barometer, we will never build anything celebratory or symbolic except hospitals, schools, roads, prisons and such.
5. When Extravagant Worship is OK
Also related to the above is the fact that many shouting, “this is extravagant, oh so unnecessary when we have the poor,” actually don’t care a hoot about the poor! Ghana’s woes stem from that same educated middle and upper class. They remind me of Jesus’ treasurer, Judas.
If anybody loved and cared for the widow, orphan and poor it was Jesus. Yet on this one occasion when a woman with a past decided to pour her expensive jar of perfume on Jesus, he did not stop her. Everyone else thought this was a waste or rather extravagant at best (it was worth a whole year’s salary!) but Jesus thought it was the coolest thing ever—whole-hearted worship, giving God one’s very best.
The ‘everyone’ included Judas Iscariot, who was audacious enough to open his big mouth to say this perfume could’ve been sold and the proceeds given to the poor. He said that because he was a thief and wanted to help himself to additional cash in the kitty, yes, but more importantly Jesus made it clear that there is a place for pure-motived, no holds barred, deep-felt extravagant worship even in the midst of poverty. It was in that context that Jesus shockingly revealed that “the poor you will always have with you.” After investing the equivalent of all the cathedral project money into poverty alleviation programmes as church and government have done for decades, we shall still have poor people in our midst.
6. In the Hearts of Kings
Leaders like to build—figuratively and literally, people and things, systems and structures. I have heard “The king’s heart is like a stream of water directed by the LORD; he guides it wherever he pleases” quoted in untoward circumstances when Christ followers want to see a heart-change of sorts of someone in power regarding some policy and such. But if the Christian God does direct the hearts of leaders of nations, could it be that it is he who has put this desire in the heart of the Ghanaian president? That desire to build for God was put in world leaders like Darius, Cyrus, Nehemiah, Solomon… dare I say Houphouët-Boigny? Could it be that this desire has been implanted into the heart of Ghana’s President by God himself?
7. Might Not Be the One or the Time
Inasmuch as I just spoke to the notion that a leader’s desire to do something great for God is a fact of life and of history it isn’t always acceptable to God because it might not be for them in particular to do and/or the timing may not be right in God’s scheme of things.
The great Jewish king David loved God and once said to himself, “Here I am, living in a house of cedar, while the ark of God remains in a tent.” A prophet called Nathan replied to the king, “Whatever you have in mind, go ahead and do it, for the Lord is with you.” That night, the LORD appears to Nathan and asks him to go back to David and disappoint him. Fascinating! Check out the full story here.
A national cathedral for Ghana may be a good thing, but depending on whether it is God’s will, especially vis-à-vis his timing, it may not be a pleasing and perfect thing in his sight. David rescinded; but provided all the resources for the one appointed and anointed to build that national cathedral to do so at the future perfect time—his heir and son, Solomon.
A Holier Conclusion
For Christians, the question to ask is if such a national cathedral in Ghana will bring glory to God at this time, be a blessing to people at all times and in any way deal another punch to evil to make the righteousness, love, joy, peace, and power of God’s kingdom more established on earth as it is for all time and all eternity in heaven. Will other nations travel from near and far to come and see this edifice and leave breathless in wonder—like the Queen of Sheba when he visited Solomon and his national citadel—that the God of Ghana is great and most greatly to be praised? At the same time, will the beauty and glory of our everyday lives (not just when we’re suited up for church but at Makola and the government ministries) match the magnificence of this national cathedral? As for where to site it as well as the maintenance culture and costs, that is another conversation.
Personally, I would like to give this national cathedral a chance. I am very close to echoing the response of city officials to Nehemiah’s national building proposal, “The God of heaven, he will prosper us; therefore we his servants will arise and build.”
*Bediako, Kwame. 2014. Christianity in Africa: The renewal of a Non-Western Religion. Akropong-Akuapem. Regnum Africa.