Monday, February 05, 2007

Better than the Witch Doctor?

In The New Faces of Christianity, Philip Jenkins makes a compelling case for the dramatic shift of Christianity around the globe. In fact, he does not have to ‘make a case’ for it at all. The facts are evident for all to see and our role in this is simply to recognize ‘what is’ or not. There are many startling aspects in what is occurring. How we view this depends largely on our view of what God is doing in history.

Much of the rise of Christianity in the global South is occurring among Pentecostals and Charismatics. Those of us with the mature Christian faith of North America may object to the growth of the church in this way. It does not fit our paradigm as to what the modern or mature church ought to be. One aspect of this dynamic growth in the church has been an emphasis on a ‘health and wealth’ gospel. That form of the gospel resonates strongly with a large portion of the world that is sick and poor. They need health and wealth and they are increasingly looking to Jesus to bring it to them.

While I am no proponent of this form of peddling Jesus to the masses, especially in its radically materialistic form here in the States, via the format of the The Blasphemy Network (TBN), I am glad to see the gospel of Jesus preached to those who need His message of salvation.

Tell me, what is worse, North Americans who have a solid, orthodox faith, without any outlandish aspects, who also do not think that prayer, and by implication, Christ, has anything to do with their health and wealth? Or, global South Christians who are still culturally young in the faith, who take the many words of Scripture on this subject, as if God actually meant them? Is it that their doctrine is wrong? Or is it merely an imbalance? Perhaps the expression of a childlike faith? The Scriptures require us to have this kind of faith. It must always be childlike. That is, truly trusting. But it must not stay childish. We must grow up in our understanding of God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit. But could we North Americans not use some balancing of our own in this area?

I am not charismatic. Nor will ever be. I was once, or tried to be, but I failed or did I succeed? I often tried to speak in tongues, but also prayed that God would not let me do so, unless it was real. I never did. And a stint in YWAM in the mid-80's, along with a lot of other goofy stuff, cured me of any charismatics leanings.

I believe the miraculous sign gifts to the church have ceased. Although, after reading Jenkins’ books, it is somewhat difficult to write that sentence. But even the testimony of the early church fathers showed that miracles gradually dissipated from the church over the course of a few hundred years. However, God does not cease to do remarkable things. He makes the sun come up each day. He puts food on my table. He gives me a healthy body. While I can tie these blessings to seemingly scientific data (if I try hard), I must retain the proper view that these blessings occur because they are wrought by the hand of the Governor of Providence. In that sense, they are miraculous.

Global South Christians live in a world where daily survival requires them to have a vibrant faith. Faith in the God who providentially governs daily circumstances is more than just an idea to them. It is no wonder that a health and wealth gospel is appealing. Instead of wagging our heads about this, we should consider this a manifestation of a truly Trinitarian faith. It is anti-Gnostic, and that is good. Consider this quote from Africa, “If the gospel you are preaching does not speak to human needs, it is useless. It cannot compete with the witch doctor and the gods.”

You see, they believe that worshipping the ancestors has real power. They need a power that is stronger and Jesus is it. Granted, we have some syncretism to deal with, some muddy waters to clear out, some false doctrines to clean up. But this is not unlike the issues facing the early Christian Church. We best roll up our sleeves and get at it.

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