‘CHURCH CAPTURE’ [The Challenge Of Systems]

prison cells

In my country, South Africa, ‘State Capture’ often tops the list of news bulletins and court cases these days. Our past-president, with a lot of help from his amoral and super-greedy friends, has been found to have had both hands in the SA economic cookie jar for a decade, leaving it empty. At last our present president, Mr. Ramaphosa, appointed the Zondo commission to examine these allegations, the outcome thus far confirming the worst and more. The commission will continue for a long time yet, and all South Africans (except the cookie thieves) long and pray for a just outcome.

At the same time, I believe (with many others) that the institutional Church in our land has been by captured by charlatan ‘prophets’ on the one hand as well spineless leaders who refuse to speak truth to power on the other hand. To muddy the waters even more, well-meaning but biblically naive fundamentalist church leaders are loudly proclaiming the lie that we are a ‘Christian Country’ chosen by God: we are apparently a ‘Kingdom Nation’ that will take our country, Africa and the rest of the world for him. Have we not learned from the history of ancient Israel and the Apartheid Church-State? (‘the  Nationalist Party at Prayer?’) (1)

A fortnight ago I came across a News24 article by Craig Baillie on the South African Church and government politicians. He correctly points out that many South Africans, including the poorest of the poor, continue to view the ANC as their ‘saviour’ and that this ‘God-appointed movement’ will still deliver them from their dire poverty and unemployment after 25 years of failed promises (2). Politics trumps faith and we bow before the same political idol as the Dutch Reformed Church during the Apartheid years.  Once again we have prostituted ourselves with populist politicians. Think of Bishop Vusi Dube’s key-role in the ‘Hands off Zuma’ campaign and Bishop Timothy Ngcobo who has likened this criminal facing 400+ charges to ‘the biblical shepherd on earth.’ Bishops fall over each other in order to lay hands on these political ‘messiahs.’ Baillie maintains that if Christians in SA hope to see real change in the country’s morally contested political landscape, we have to engage the realm of politics from the vantage of biblical values. We have to equip our flocks to engage political affairs through truly biblical lenses. We have to speak truth to power.

It’s a problem of systems once more. We need these in life in order to keep some kind of order, e.g. your early morning shower, breakfast, getting kidz ready for school, etc. But when systems, for all their good, begin to shut us in prison cells, secular or spiritual, we’re in trouble! Eighteen months ago I had an hospital emergency involving six weeks of an induced coma in order to heal. I experienced both drug-induced hallucinations and, I believe, a God-given vision. Normally my dreams are nonsensical  (the kind Dr. Graham Scroggie put down to ‘too much pork for supper’). This particular dream was, I believe, rational and insightful. In it I was being highly pressured by New Age type believers to achieve success by all means – to go out there and ‘get success,’ ‘to make it happen,’ until all my ambitions have been achieved (at best a dangerous thing). God seemed to say to me, ‘My son, the world is run by systems of all kinds, be discerning, and don’t let any one of them imprison you!’

My wife and I have been working through Frank Viola’s Insurgence, chapter by chapter. Just at the time when I was giving thought to this blog, we read pp. 255ff with their powerful insights into systems in general and the world system in particular:

  • The tentacles of the world system extend everywhere and have infiltrated modern education, entertainment, technology, economics, justice, religion, etc.
  • If you pull back the curtain, you discover a greater system, a throne and our Creator God is not sitting on it. Our enemy’s chief goal is to lead us away from Christ and to tempt us to find our security, enjoyment and provision outside of his presence. ‘Unless you tread softly you will be caught up somewhere in Satan’s snares and will lose the liberty that is yours as a child of God!’ (Watchman Nee) (3). On the matter of ‘worldliness’ and evangelism we need the biblical balance of F.F. Bruce: “The Christian is sent into a godless world to reclaim it for its rightful Lord, but while it remains the ‘godless world’ it is an uncongenial environment for the Christian; he cannot feel at home there… This emphasis on being in the world but not of it, involved but detached at the same time, can be found in many parts of the NT.”
  • So, for example, in using our current educational system, be aware of a malicious mind behind it [writer’s point: we are blessed to have in our house church a newly-retired Professor of Industrial Psychology. After a life-time in academia, he strongly affirms this point]. If you’re going to engage in the arts, be aware of a deceptive personality behind that system [writer’s point: I recall a young pastor years ago, trained as a ballet dancer, who chose to quit his career because of the worldly values and moral pressures of his profession]. Changing metaphors, the ocean has been created beautiful for God’s and our enjoyment, but do guard against a treacherous side-wash or rip-tide!

woman on body of water during daytime

How do we avoid being captured by these man-made and often evil systems?

  1. The short answer is ‘through JESUS,’ who came to release the captives and set the oppressed free, because the time of the LORD’S favour had come in him! (Lk. 4:18-19, NLT) He alone can transpose us from the systems and kingdom of darkness, not to another system, but a personal and liberating relationship with him! Do take the time to read Col. 2:6-23 at this point. He lovingly saves us by a simple faith/trust-union with himself. I love Karl Barth’s reported statement-cum-question, ‘The answer is Jesus! Now what’s the question?’
  2. It also comes by a radical decision on your/my part to abandon every man-made system for the Lord and his kingdom’s sake. It won’t just happen! I recall, after pastoring 4 ‘successful’ institutional churches over some 38 years how liberated we felt when my wife and I decided to cut all our ties with that church-system after months of careful consideration and painful prayer. We felt as free as an eagle, soaring the skies! If you like millions of serious believers around the globe [30+ million ‘dones’ in the USA alone] rise to the challenge, it will be very, very difficult, but the ‘road less traveled by’ will make all the difference! (Scott Peck)

The hymn-writer George Matheson (1842-1906) wrote long ago:

‘Make me a captive, Lord,

And then I shall be free;

Force me to render up my sword

And I shall conqueror be!’

Image result for Free pics for prisoners set free


  1. I respectfully (!) mention the names here of farmer Angus Buchan and economics lecturer Dr. Arno van Niekerk, whose book I’ve read, with whom I have met in person to listen to his ‘vision’ for the nation. [cf my blog on Lighting Matches in the Dark below] One can be absolutely sincere but wrong in one’s reading of the Bible. I know that from personal experience…
  2. Not that other political parties would have fared much better. Personally I believe in the separation of State and Church. We give to Caesar what belongs to him and to God what belongs to him. I recall a Church leader from Rwanda, where in 1994 a genocide between Hutu and Tutsi tribes claimed almost a million lives, using the the metaphor of a fire:  you can cook on it and use it for warmth, but get too close and you get horribly burnt!
  3. I heartily recommend Watchman Nee’s Love Not the World. [it includes one of the best sermons I’ve heard on baptism, ‘A World Under Water’]