(Martin Luther King Jnr, 1929-1968)
We all love our country, warts and all. I am proudly South African, and you are proudly…. (fill in the space). It is part of the Church’s mandate to respect those in authority (Rom. 13) and to pray for all in authority, national or local (1 Tim. 2). At this moment, as with most countries worldwide, South Africa is not in a good place politically, morally, socially, economically and spiritually. Politically, there is just a glimmer of light with the ANC ruling party (of Tambo and Mandela fame) replacing their president, Jacob Zuma, facing over 700 criminal charges. His personal greed has led to a ‘free-for-all,’ leaving our economy just above ‘junk status.’ I have on my desk any number of clippings, one reading ‘A dignified exit for Zuma makes me gag’ (EP Herald, 06/01/2018). Then of course there is the exaltation of the ruling party to a ‘god’ of sorts. The ANC Eastern Cape chairman stated recently, at a celebrity funeral, that his party was “the party of reverends, traditional leaders and ‘a party of Christ'” (EP Herald, 22/01/2018). He received loud applause. Thus we not only have a ‘captured state’ but a ‘captured Church!’ Of course the god of capitalism is no better: American author Frank Viola talks of that country’s gods of capitalism and consumerism. He rightly asks, what about ‘the Gospel of the Kingdom,’ ‘what king or system are we given over to?’ (my emphasis) During last year’s illness, floating in and out of consciousness, God seemed to give me a vision of this world’s many systems, capturing so many, including churches and believers. Have you and I escaped?
Some months ago one of our house church members quoted from a sermon by Martin Luther King – I loved the quote. Knowing that I also love books she got me a copy of MLK’s ‘Strength to Love.’ While not agreeing with all of his theology, I learned much about how the Church should be impacting a lost society in the name of Christ. While reading a chapter headed ‘How Should a Christian View Communism?’ the penny dropped as to where some of my country’s ethical problems derive from. Let me explain.
- Over 50 years ago now, MLK put his finger on Communism’s ethical relativism (the end justifies the means), materialism, ultimate value attributed to the state and ‘state control.’ He quoted Lenin, ‘We must be ready to employ trickery, deceit, lawbreaking, withholding and concealing truth.’ While in my youth and young adulthood our nationalist party espoused white supremacy and tried to justify it from the Bible and pulpit, Communism was blamed for all and sundry. This drove many of the oppressed into the arms of that ideology – many received military training in Russia and East Germany and were schooled in their atheism and relativism (thank God for the exceptions). Hence so many of our government leaders today tell bare-faced lies without batting an eyelid. At this moment, welcome parliamentary hearings are exposing some of the rot. In our Health Department political arrogance has led to the death of over 140 mentally ill patients farmed out willy-nilly to bogus safe houses, totally incompetent to deal with their specialist needs. A good friend of mine used to say that when you are lost at sea, you need a few good lighthouses – hint, lighthouses don’t move!
- MLK pointed out that cold atheism Communism, wrapped in the garments of materialism, has no place for God or Christ. ‘I fight alone, and win or sink, I need no one to make me free; I want no Jesus Christ to make me think, That he could ever die for me.’
- It’s interesting that Karl Marx, born a Jew, with his parents adopting the Christian faith when he was six, could never quite forget Jesus’ concern ‘for the least of these,’ championing the cause of the poor, the exploited and the disinherited. I am ashamed to say that Western evangelicalism, very often, has failed to champion that cause in the name of Jesus, succumbing to competitive denominationalism (some 60,000 today), materialism, egoism and every kind of bless-me-ism!
I would submit a two-fold way forward:
- Bowing the knee anew to King Jesus, in the light of God’s great love for us in him (Phil. 2:6-11). We have to be radical in that submission, as the old hymn says ‘I surrender all…’ For the early Church it was either ‘Caesar is Lord’ or ‘Christ is Lord.’ From a recent blog I learned that A.W. Tozer once said: one thing you know about a man carrying a cross out of the city, you knew he was not coming back! I love being alive, especially since the Lord recently gave me a second chance after miraculously surviving emergency surgery and a hospital ‘super bug.’ But I have to respond to Jesus’ loving cross by taking up my own, a cross that means certain death to ego (Mk. 8:34). Of course that death also brings Christ’s ‘abundant life!’ (Jn. 10:10)
- Committing ourselves to Christian character. Much can be learned from outstanding teacher Dallas Willard in this regard – I’ll always be grateful for a Christian friend’s gift of Willard’s classic The Divine Conspiracy (warning: if you read it, your life will change forever). The Apostle Paul in his great Epistle to the Romans, reminds them (and us) of the necessity of Christ-like character through the Gospel: ‘We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance, and endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our constant hope of salvation. And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love’ (Rom. 5:3-5, NLT). Jesus put it a little differently when, in the Sermon on the Mount, he reminded his followers (and us) that we ARE salt and light in a rotten and dark world (Mt. 5:13-16), i.o.w. by his indwelling we must become what we already are! ‘You are the salt of the earth. But what good is salt if it has lost its flavor? … You are the light of the world – like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden. No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead a lamp is put on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house…’ (NLT) Let me give a humble example. We have a house church in a very poor township area, where during the week children and teens drop in after school to get help with homework, literacy, life-skills and Bible teaching incarnated by the house mother. Township schools are very poor in resources and so our kidz have a tough time academically. But we are seeing some wonderful fruits. In the last two weeks one of our girls has been admitted to the University of Fort Hare for a social science degree (she loves children, and wants to become a social worker). One of our young men has just been given a bursary to study IT at our local Nelson Mandela University. Both are keen believers, wanting to impact others for God and good. Here’s another example, underlining the importance of relationship-building with consistency and perseverance. There are approx. 1 million children living in squatter camps in SA. Quinton Adams, a psychologist, gives of his time to children in one of these in the Western Cape. He develops character through games, theatre, and creative play, often resorting to old tyres and sticks. Some are excelling at school – one youth, his father a triple-murderer, is excelling in mathematics. All these examples work on the kingdom principle of a little bit of Gospel-yeast leavening the larger lump of society in a positive way.
Someone sent me this quote from Ken Sande, author and founder of Peace Maker Ministries in the USA: ‘What are you really living for? It’s crucial to realise that you either glorify God, or you glorify something or someone else. You’re always making something look big. If you don’t glorify God when you’re involved in a conflict, you inevitably show that someone or something else rules your heart.’ Simply by being Jesus followers, we are in conflict with a humanistic world. What are we really living for? Are we surrendered to Jesus and the pursuit of Christ-like character? Praise God, his love in Jesus empowers us!
PS. I’ve just commenced Boris Yeltsin’s autobiography, Against the Grain. A poor peasant, he rose to become the first President of the Russian Federation, serving from 1991-1999 (he was also the first head of state buried in a Christian church in 113 years). Even at this early stage of his story one realises the crippling power of the Stalinist state apparat. To quote Yeltsin in connection with ‘elections,’ ‘The presidium simply mocked the public, thinking up one trick after another to prevent them from accepting the proposal to nominate all the candidates.’ Some years ago, Juan Zucharelli, who headed up a magnificent prison ministry in Argentina, visited SA for the first time and spoke at an inter-church meeting I was privileged to arrange. He told us how when his plane was banking to land at Cape Town airport, the Lord seemed to drop one word into his spirit concerning our nation – it was the world ‘control.’ Imho that ‘control’ curses our politics, education, economy and churches to this very day.