Tuesday the 24th of September was Heritage Day in South Africa, a day meant to reflect on and celebrate our coming together as a nation from such a rich diversity of cultures and ethnic groupings. A few of us involved in local organic church groups used the public holiday to facilitate a half-day of fellowship and teaching. In hindsight I think we reflected the spirit of the holiday, also in the context of our biblical inheritance in Christ.
Please use your imagination as I try to sketch a personal snapshot of the gathering. We came together in the Hattingh’s more than spacious home in Summerstrand from mid-day to about 4 pm. People came from all over the Metro, from suburbs and townships alike – I estimate about 50 adults from at least 5 culture/ethnic groups, from middle-income people to the poorest of the poor. The gathering probably represented the demographics of our nation. Being predominantly a day of teaching (Eph. 4:10-13), the teens and adults gathered in the lounge and adjoining dining room while the 15 or so younger children ‘had a ball’ outside in the spacious and sunny garden.
After a simple lunch of hotdogs, Justin, Marthinus and I unpacked Frank Viola’s definition of organic church, viz. ‘a church that is born out of spiritual life instead of being constructed by human institutions and held together by religious programs… a grassroots experience that is marked by face-to-face community (Justin), every-member functioning (Marthinus), open participatory meetings (as opposed to pastor-to-pew services), non-hierarchical leadership, and the centrality of Jesus Christ as the functional leader and Head of the gathering” (Erroll). Justin shared his experience of Christ’s dying not only for the forgiveness of our sins but also for the setting aside of our shame, focussing on Gen.1ff as well as other relevant scriptures (there was a warm response to this theme, exposing a great need for ‘shame-less’ living and participation in the body on the basis of the Cross). Marthinus shared from his experience of Eph. 4:10ff where gifted leaders come alongside the body with the sole purpose of preparing each member for works of service and mutual maturation in order to incarnate the whole measure of Christ’s fullness. Erroll explained from Col. 1 Christ’s headship over all of creation and his body, pointing out that it is easy to ‘say’ Jesus is head of the church but it’s another thing to let him function as such in our gatherings. View the relatively few (lest we stereotype!) NT snapshots of the church in action: Acts 2:42ff, 1 Cor. 14:26ff, Col. 3:15ff and Heb. 10:19ff. How does your/my community compare??
While primarily a teaching-time, there was input from a good number in various forms: spontaneous song, song-group ministry (with magnificent harmonies), exhortations, encouragements, breaking of bread and personal prayer ministry during and after the gathering. Monde, a relatively new believer being mentored by Marthinus, concluded the day with a short but pungent exhortation to be ‘dead’ to our sinful self (cf. Rom. 6, etc) if we are truly to know the living Christ and manifest his kingdom on earth (remember the movie, Dead Man Walking?)
All in all, there was a lovely sense of Christ’s presence – one of my parting glimpses was of a minibus packed full of believers, singing loudly and exhuberantly the praises of Jesus, on their way home to their RDP homes and shacks.
Let me humbly venture a prediction for those engaged in organic church ministry locally, nationally and abroad: most interest will come from the struggling middle class downward to the poorest of the poor. While many were invited to our fellowship day, it was predominantly middle class and poorer folk who responded. This is in line with biblical revelation: read again the gospel accounts of Jesus’ incarnation and earthly ministry, his mission statement in Lk. 4:18ff, his NT ethic in the Sermon on the Mount (Mt. 5-7), the story of the Early Church in Acts and the Apostolic Letters (1 Cor. 1:26-31). Let me quote Jam. 2:5ff (MSG) (‘Favouritism Forbidden’), “Listen, dear friends. Isn’t it clear by now that God operates quite differently? He chose the world’s down-and-out as the kingdom’s first citizens, with full rights and privileges. This kingdom is promised to anyone who loves God…” Generally speaking (I know many wonderful exceptions), the upwardly mobile, both black and white, are too complacent and comfortable in their religious ideas and pursuits to become involved in what is, after-all (like all revivals?), a grassroots movement.
I recall my missionary friend and mentor, David Mniki, a black Transkeian who with his family suffered much under apartheid, making a shocking reply to the question of a fellow disadvantaged black young man who asked how we may empower the poor in Africa. He said, ‘Poverty is a blessing rather than a curse.’ I feel it in my bones that that statement will not sit well with many of us – at least let’s consider whence it came and David’s massively influential life and ministry nationally and abroad. And no, it is not a sin to be industrious, disciplined, well-off or even rich!
With warm greetings in Jesus!