March 31, 2008

Recognize Opposing Messages

How big of a threat are false teachers to Christianity? And what can we do about it anyway? As we have previously seen, being led astray from our faith through false teaching is a very real danger for all Christians. Thankfully, God has revealed to us how we can face this challenge. In 1 John 4:1-6, the Apostle John gives us two truths to remain faithful to our Savior. Last week, we looked at the first truth: we must examine God’s messengers.

Now we turn to the second truth. We must recognize opposing messages.

John continues his instructions in this passage by contrasting two spirits. "By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already" (vv. 2-3).

Illustrating the Apostles' CreedSo then, how do we know that a message of teaching comes from God? By conducting a doctrinal test. We turn to what God has already revealed in Scripture to test what someone’s saying. We always test a claim with the fundamental truths of Scripture. And these essentials have been summarized throughout Christian history in the creeds: the Apostles' Creed, the Nicene Creed, the Athanasian Creed, and the Chalcedonian Creed. All true teaching will agree with the Word of God and with these historic Christian creeds.

In this section of Scripture, John’s specific doctrinal test was the full humanity of Jesus Christ. Was Christ fully human? Did He have a physical body? The believers that John was writing to were struggling with the protognostics. They divided the human Jesus from the divine Christ. For the protognostics, the spirit of Christ filled the human Jesus at His baptism but left Him prior to His crucifixion and death. However, our struggle today is usually in the opposite direction. People don’t have a problem believing that Jesus was fully human. Their problem is believing that He is also fully God. Nevertheless, Scripture teaches us both: Jesus is fully human and fully God!

Since Jesus Christ is the center of our faith, it is normally with regard to His person and His work where you’ll hear falsehoods and error taught. Beware! Test what you hear.

These verses reveal two opposing spirits: the Spirit of God and the Spirit of Antichrist. Those who deny the fundamentals of our faith are not from God; they are in the spirit of the antichrist. Now I know that when we think of the antichrist, we think of a future person from the book of Revelation. But look at how antichrist is described here: “which you heard was coming and now is in the world already.” The focus is not on a person, but on a spirit that is very much here, now. In a sense, all of those who deny or corrupt the Christian faith are antichrists!

These are very strong words. Do you really believe them? Would you call the Jehovah’s Witnesses antichrists? They deny that Jesus is one with the Father. Would you call Oneness Pentecostals antichrists? They deny the Trinity, arguing that Jesus was not a distinct person from the Father but is simply a different mode of the Father. Our hesitation shows how comfortable we are in this world and how unimportant our beliefs actually are to us.

Regardless, the Apostle John's contrasts are not over. He moves from contrasting two spirits to contrasting two peoples: the people of God and the people of the world. "Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world. They are from the world; therefore they speak from the world, and the world listens to them" (vv. 4-5).

Let us never forget how we have become the people of God. God has created for Himself a people through Jesus Christ. We have been reconciled to our Father through the work of His Son. And like we saw last week, John again uses tender words when addressing believers as "little children." He lovingly encourages us and emphasizes that we have overcome. By being in Christ, we overcome the spirit of antichrist. But we overcome antichrists not by our strength or our wisdom, but because of the greatness and power of God. His Spirit, the Holy Spirit, is in us!

What about the people of the world? The spirit of antichrist comes from this fallen world, and false teachers use worldly wisdom and speech to fool others into believing falsehoods. But notice: it works! The world recognizes its own people and listens to their message, which reflects their own beliefs. Therefore, we should not be surprised when those in the world do not listen to God’s message. Apart from the Holy Spirit, those in the world are only too willing to continue believing lies.

What we find in this fallen world is the great antithesis. "We are from God. Whoever knows God listens to us; whoever is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error" (v. 6).

There is a foundational divide between God's apostles and the world's prophets. These are two opposites with no middle ground! There is no neutrality in this world. There is either the spirit of God or the spirit of antichrist. You either follow the teaching of the apostles or the teaching of the world. In the Africa Bible Commentary, Kenyan theologian Samuel Ngewa writes, “John reminds the believers that there are only two spheres – the sphere of God and the sphere of the world. Anyone who claims to speak or act for God must draw his inspiration from one of these two spheres” (1534).

The sphere of God is found in the teaching of the apostles and prophets as recorded in Scripture. This is the spirit of truth. We are a people that believe in absolute truth, or as Francis Schaeffer called it, “true truth.” Nevertheless, the sphere of the world opposes true truth. False teachers come from this sphere. As a result, we are to differentiate between truth and error because God has revealed His truth to us in the Word of God.

With this in mind, are you living your life understanding that we as Christians are at war with the world? The world has its enemies, including some that attempt to infiltrate God’s people to do great harm and to overcome us. Thankfully, we are not left to ourselves to defend ourselves against them. By growing in our faith in Christ and trusting in His revelation, we have all that we need to overcome our enemies. We have His strength and His power.

At the same time, don't forget that the body of Christ is facing this threat globally. There are antichrists around the world today, including Africa. Let us not forget our international brothers and sisters in Christ as they face this daunting challenge, helping them to recognize the errors and falsehoods surrounding them. We all must recognize opposing messages.

Next Monday, we'll conclude examining this passage by thinking through what the Apostle John calls us to do.

March 28, 2008

Weekly Round-Up: Hope in Kenya, Cults and Cons in Uganda, Tactics to Defend Your Faith, and Sproul with Stein on Evolution and ID

Here's this week's round-up:

1) Muriithi Wanjau and Oscar Muriu, "Post-Msafara Reflections" on the Listening to African Church Leaders blog. God is doing some remarkable things in Kenya after all of the turmoil and violence that recently happened in their country. There has been a movement of pastors and church leaders to stand together and pray for spiritual healing as well as tribal reconciliation. This is a letter with some thoughts from one of those involved with the Msafara movement.

2) Cyprian Musoke, "President Museveni orders cult probe" in the New Vision newspaper (Uganda). The President of Uganda has officially begun a governmental probe into the activities of the Sserulanda Spiritual Foundation. They plan on building a multi-million dollar Lake Victoria Free Trade Zone called the "Universal Spiritual City." This is obviously another new religious movement in East Africa to keep our eyes on!

3) Harriet Okot, "The myths of miracle healing" in the Daily Monitor newspaper (Uganda). A Ugandan journalist points to the dangers of miracle healers in Africa, especially in light of the large number of people struggling with HIV and AIDS throughout the continent.

4) "'Tactics' Delivered to Your Email Inbox Weekly" on the Stand to Reason web site. All believers seeking to defend our Christian faith should take the time to sign up for this new program from the apologetics ministry Stand to Reason. They have established a free 14 week e-mail series that will give you practical tactics for engaging people with God's truth. What else can I say? Sign up!

5) "R.C. Sproul Interviews Ben Stein" on the Ligonier Ministries blog. Ben Stein is coming out with an exposé that challenges the scientific community as they seek to defend evolution through intimidation, rejecting the possibility of even researching intelligent design. As a result, Sproul engages Stein over the issues surrounding Christianity and science. Here is the video:

March 26, 2008

Christ Gospel Church on Mankind

(Christ Gospel Church is an international sect with affiliate churches in half a dozen African countries and shortwave broadcasts to many others. You can read the previous posts in this series here: What Does Christ Gospel Church Teach?, Christ Gospel Church on Scripture)

II. Mankind

While CGC's Articles of Faith does not have a section devoted to the nature and beginning of mankind,[1] these beliefs are an essential component of their faith.

A. The Nature of Mankind

Confirming Our Faith in What the Bible Teaches About MankindHick's understanding of the nature of man is explained with the language of a wheel. She supports this concept by referring to James 3:6, noting that in the phrase "course of nature," the Greek word for course means "wheel."[2] Thus, humanity's being is to be understood as a wheel of nature. Moreover, mankind consists of three substances. "Although man is an entity, the different substances of man's spirit, soul, and body retain their distinct identities at all times; therefore, he rightly can be called a threefold being."[3] In light of this distinction, the wheel of humanity's being is divided into three realms: body, soul, and spirit.

Additionally, ". . .in order for man's threefold being to function as an entity, God equipped it with a communication system composed of five sensory channels that run as spokes through all three realms of his being. . . . The five channels or spokes that make up man's communication system are his five senses: sight, taste, smell, hearing, and touch."[4] Each sense communicates through the three realms of man.[5] Working together, all of these spokes join at the hub of man's being. "During man's lifetime, the wheel of his threefold nature revolves on the axle of his will that is located in the heart or hub of his being. . . . Man's senses come together as one in the center of his heart or will."[6] Together, the wheel functions, revolving around man's will, and this wheel summarizes the nature of mankind.

B. The Beginning of Mankind

How and when did mankind begin? According to Hicks, "In Eternity-Past, present mankind had a grand and glorious beginning as a spirit and soul in God's creative Loins."[7] This state of mankind is in seed form, before they gained bodies. As preexistent beings, the wills of humanity were tested. "While mankind's living spirits and souls were still in Seed form in the invisible, spirit realm in Eternity-Past, they were tempted by Lucifer."[8] Some of mankind sided with God while others chose Lucifer's path. "The Seeds of mankind, in spiritual and soul form, were subjected to a choice for or against God while dwelling, as it were, in the Body of the Glory of God or in the Loins of God. In this stage, some Seeds won victory over Lucifer's temptation by making a choice for God. But some Seeds failed and were defeated by making a choice against God."[9] This choice was the first test that humanity faced.

Later, in the creation account of Genesis, God joined man's spirit and soul to a body. "God also begot the spirits and souls of mankind; however, man's body was formed by God's Hands. After God had created Adam's terrestrial body, God breathed a begotten spirit and soul into Adam's created body. Thus, man was partly begotten (spirit and soul) and partly created (body). Man is a triune being."[10] From the first man, two individuals were separated. "When God first created Adam-male and Adam-female, they were one. The female was hidden inside the male. Then, God caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam-male and took Adam-female from his side."[11] Hicks continues to describe Adam-male and Adam-female as originally created:

God intended to cover Adam-male and Adam-female with all the fullness of His own Glory, so He created them without a physical, natural covering. . . .

Adam-male and Adam-female's original covering, then, was a God-given gift of spiritual Light whose brightness emanated from within and surrounded them with a glowing, shining covering for their physical nakedness. Whether or not man would keep this glorious covering of Light depended upon his obedience to God's Will.[12]
The beginning of man is essential to understanding the theology that will follow.

[1]As I noted in my introduction, since Hicks uses "mankind" and "man" in her works, this series will follow her terminology to remain as close to her language and thought as possible
[2]B. R. Hicks, Confirming Our Faith in what the Bible Teaches about Mankind, 2003 ed. (Jeffersonville, IN: Christ Gospel Press, 2003), 44-45.
[3]Ibid, 45.
[4]Ibid, 55.
[5]For the way in which each sense communicates through the three realms of man, see Ibid, 58-75.
[6]Ibid, 55.
[7]Ibid, 82.
[8]Ibid, 84.
[9]Ibid, 113.
[10]B. R. Hicks, Confirming Our Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, 2004 ed. (Jeffersonville, IN: Christ Gospel Press, 2004), 8. Emphasis in original.
[11]Ibid, 124.
[12]Ibid, 125.

March 24, 2008

Examine God’s Messengers

Last week, we identified a very real danger for all Christians--being led astray from our faith through false teaching. At the same time, God has revealed to us how we can face this challenge. In 1 John 4:1-6, the Apostle John gives us two truths to remain faithful to our Savior.

What is the first truth? We must examine God’s messengers. "Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world" (v. 1).

The Apostle John begins with a term of endearment. He genuinely loves his fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. And it is this love that motivates him to warn them of the dangers to their faith. He writes to fellow believers from his heart.

Out of love, John starts by informing us of the risk. We all have a tendency to believe people who speak for God without critically analyzing what they are teaching. Why? We have all kinds of reasons. He is a very dynamic speaker. He speaks to me. He is a very moral, upstanding man. He loves the Lord. He is on the radio or TV. My friend loves him. He believes the same things I do. He always quotes from the Bible. To all of these, the Word of God replies: Do not believe every spirit.

John follows up this risk with a requirement, telling us what we must do. We are to test the spirits to see whether they are from God. Christianity is a faith that requires discernment. Followers of Christ need to believe God's truth and to reject all error. Unfortunately, I often think that the reason we don't practice discernment is because it is hard work. We'd rather veg out in front of the TV after a long day at work rather than study. We'll leave it to the theologians, pastors, and Sunday School teachers. We think, "I'll just take my simple faith and trust in Christ." But this attitude is simply not an option for believers.

Why not? John provides the reason. Many false prophets have gone out into the world. There are people who claim to speak for God or claim to teach his truth who are not actually from Him. They are false prophets and false teachers. And notice that they are not a rare or occasional problem for churches. They are a continual and constant danger. John does not just mention that there are false prophets. He says that there are many false prophets.

But this verse shows us one more thing. These false teachers have gone out into the world. We are dealing with a worldwide problem! No Christians are exempt. Yes, this includes Africa. We are not afforded the luxury of turning a blind eye to our brothers and sisters in Christ globally who are struggling with false teaching. All of us need to counter the errors that oppose our faith.

Wolves in Sheep's ClothingJesus Himself warned us all about this danger in Matthew 7:15-23. He begins by telling us, "Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves" (v. 15). False prophets and teachers are not usually easy to identify. They appear as one of us, sincere in their devotion to the Lord.

Which brings us back to where we began. We must examine God’s messengers. We are not free to skate by on a basic trust in Jesus. Trusting in Jesus calls us to know who He is, to understand what He has done, and to examine those who claim to speak about Him or for Him. Additionally, as God allows, we are to lovingly help fellow believers to know God's truth and to reject all error.

Is practicing this first truth easy? No. But if we are empowered by the Holy Spirit and armed with the Word of God, we can remain faithful to Christ. Next Monday, we'll identify the second truth given to us.

March 21, 2008

Weekly Round-Up: Gadaffi Mosque, Missions and Marriage, Baptism for the Dead, and Easter Traditions

Here's this week's round-up:

1) Rodney Muhumuza, "Gadaffi National Mosque finally opened" and Hussein Bogere and Jane Nafula, "Gadaffi remarks anger Christians" in the Daily Monitor newspaper (Uganda). Dominating the media this week in Uganda was the opening of the Gadaffi National Mosque in Kampala, Uganda. Financed and named after Libyan leader Colonel Muammar Gadaffi, Uganda now has one of the biggest Islamic mosques in Africa.

2) Ken Sorrell, "Missions and Marriage" on the Returning To Biblical Missions blog. An important post on issues surrounding married couples who will be ministering internationally in the mission field. I know that my wife and I are striving the keep in mind the issues Sorrell brings out!

3) John MacArthur, "Baptism for the Dead" on the Pulpit Magazine blog. Have you ever wondered about what Paul meant by "baptism for the dead" in 1 Corinthians 15:29? You'll need to be prepared when Mormons bring up this question! MacArthur helps us to think through how to understand this difficult verse.

4) David Sills, "Traditions" on the Culturality and Missiology blog. Since Christians around the world are devoting this weekend to the glorious redemptive work of our Savior Jesus Christ, I appreciate Sills bringing some global insight to our celebration of Christ's resurrection.

March 19, 2008

Christ Gospel Church on Scripture

(Christ Gospel Church is an international sect with affiliate churches in half a dozen African countries and shortwave broadcasts to many others. You can read the previous posts in this series here: What Does Christ Gospel Church Teach?)

I. Scripture

We believe that the Holy Bible is the inspired Word of God, which has been given to man to reveal God's eternal Master Plan and Purposive Will for all creation. We believe the Bible is infallible, authoritative, and that it provides the rules of faith and conduct for all Christian living. God's Word is all-sufficient and meets mankind's every need, both spiritually and naturally (II Timothy 3:16,17; I Thessalonians 2:13; II Peter 1:21).[1]
Because of CGC's Pentecostal and fundamentalist roots, the church's sacred book is the Christian Bible. It is foundational for all of their beliefs and practices.

A. The Word of God

Confirming Our Faith in the Holy BibleIn her writings, Hicks assumes a very high view of the Bible—it is the Word of God. "The excellency of the Scriptures is that they were given by the Inspiration of God; therefore, they are His Word. Not only does the Bible contain God's Word, but it is God's Word."[2] The Bible is inerrant, infallible, complete, and unique.[3] Hicks states the Bible's purpose as: "It was given to enable to creature to know his Creator and to know himself."[4] As a result, the Bible has supreme authority in determining God's truth.

Nevertheless, this fact does not mean that all translations are acceptable. Hicks maintains, "We, in the Crucified Way, hold to the King James Version because this translation has a special Bridal Anointing on it. The Patterns and Statures of the Bride's Truth have been beautifully preserved in this Version."[5] While the modern versions may be helpful as commentaries, the King James Version is the superior translation.[6] Hicks uses this version exclusively in her writing and her preaching.

B. The Method of Interpretation

Even with the correct translation, there is a specific way to understand its contents. Hicks discloses this method:

. . . since they [the modern translations] do not follow the mathematical patterns and forms found in the King James Version and since the exact wording from the original is not used, it is impossible for a Bible student to use any better source than the comprehensive, unparalleled help afforded by Dr. James Strong's Concordance. Dr. Strong's works have been highly recommended for many decades. . . . The King James Version is the most accurate for study purposes. The exact word meaning can be checked with the original Hebrew and Greek texts through use of Strong's Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible.[7]
Therefore, the mathematical patterns and forms in the King James Version along with Hebrew and Greek word study enables a person to correctly interpret the Bible.

A sincere interaction with the text will also reveal Scripture's moral spiritual principles. They are defined as: ". . .God's Divine Theories which are chief, highest in rank, first in degree of importance, and most notable in influence."[8] Hicks identifies these principles throughout the Bible: "Let us look at the chronological order of God's twenty seven-historical Spiritual Principles, established in the Old Testament; then, we will see these same historical Spiritual Principles repeated or reproved (proved again) in the twenty-seven Books of the New Testament."[9] These truths are seen as vital and will greatly benefit individuals' lives. "God's Divine Principles of Truth will assume the Rulership over our life if we will embrace them, join them to our heart, and yield to their Power. We will find these Principle Truths forming the very braces and supports of our spiritual Temple."[10] Consequently, these spiritual principles should be embraced and followed.

For the followers of CGC, Hicks' material also plays an important role in interpreting the Bible. According to their introductory booklet, "Rev. Hicks's teachings are unique in the way she is able to tie together spiritual themes and principles in the Bible. She relies on her study of Hebrew to bring out hidden meanings of words in Scripture."[11] Additionally, "Rev. Hicks has written and published over 90 books, which include studies on the Old Testament tabernacle, the three fold nature of man, evolution and creation, overcoming depression, and many spiritual exegeses of various books of the Bible."[12] In light of her exclusive insight into the meaning of Scripture, members of CGC read and study Hicks' works to guide their understanding of biblical truth. They also listen to her preaching and teaching as much as possible.

Although she is now seventy-five years old, Rev. Hicks still preaches an average of two services each week at the Jeffersonville church, continues writing books and Christian training materials, and answers hundreds of letters each week. Annually, she preaches six major conventions, four in Jeffersonville to a packed church, and two in Mexico, one in Tampico to a filled 15,000 seat stadium, and a minister's training convention in Mexico City. She still travels extensively and holds meetings in various churches.[13]
Therefore, Hicks' ministry has a central role in interpreting the Bible for members of CGC.

[1]Articles of Faith, 1999 ed. (Jeffersonville, IN: Christ Gospel Churches International, Inc., 1999), 3.
[2]B. R. Hicks, Confirming Our Faith in the Holy Bible (Jeffersonville, IN: Christ Gospel Press, 1978), 11. Emphasis in original.
[3]Ibid, 10-16.
[4]Ibid, 9.
[5]Ibid, 19.
[8]Ibid, 58.
[9]Ibid, 59. For the twenty-seven spiritual principles, see Ibid, 58-116.
[10]Ibid, 58.
[11]Preaching a Crucified and Living Christ to a Dying World.
According to CGC's web site, Hicks has now "written and published over 110 books."
[13]Ibid. Given the time since the publication of this booklet, Hicks is now around 90 years old.

March 17, 2008

Remaining Faithful in a World of Falsehoods

Christianity has always struggled with people that have sought to draw Christians away from their faith by claiming to speak for God. In the mid-2nd century, Montanus came forward claiming to be the incarnation of the paraclete (usually translated as Helper or Advocate) spoken of by Christ in John 14:16. He said that he received direct revelations from the Holy Spirit. Essentially, God’s revelation continued through Montanus and would bring purity to the church.

Montanus quickly attracted many followers and was accompanied by two female prophets, Maximilla and Priscilla. They were called "the Three," having ecstatic visions and urging their followers to fast and pray with the hope of having their own personal revelations. Together, the Three warned against the growing worldliness of the church and called believers to return to Christ. While waiting for the Lord's return, the Montanists were to live a life of strict discipline and self-denial. This teaching spread all over the region, including Africa and Gaul.

Thankfully, within a few generations the Christian church declared Montanus’ teaching to be heresy. He had distorted the teaching of Scripture, ultimately overthrowing fundamental truths revealed by God. Nevertheless, his popularity shows how easy it is for Christians to be fooled into following false prophets and teachers.

TertullianBut before you think that the Montanists were limited to the ignorant and the poor people of this time, one of the most important and respected early church fathers eventually joined this group. Who was he? The North African theologian Tertullian. From developing the doctrine of the Trinity to writing Prescription Against the Heretics, he zealously sought to defend the Christian faith against doctrinal error. Nevertheless, Tertullian was attracted to the Montanists' rigorous pursuit of purity. He came to believe that the continuing sin of Christians proved that the church was an intermediate stage, giving way to the new age of the Spirit. As a result, Tertullian became the most famous member of this group.

What would lead one of the most brilliant Christian minds of his time to embrace such error? And how can we avoid all of the falsehoods that surround us in today's world? In 1 John 4:1-6, the Apostle John gives us two truths to remain faithful to our Savior:

Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already. Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world. They are from the world; therefore they speak from the world, and the world listens to them. We are from God. Whoever knows God listens to us; whoever is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error.
Next Monday, we'll identify the first truth.

March 14, 2008

Weekly Round-Up: Piper on the Gospel, The Family, Missions Metaphors, and the Kanungu Massacre

Here's this week's round-up:

1) John Piper, "How I Distinguish Between the Gospel and False Gospels" from the Text and Context 2008 Resurgence Conference. John Piper is always worth listening to, but I especially appreciate his unfolding of Scripture when treating the need for discernment. You can watch the video or listen to the audio at the Resurgence site, or you can check out Piper's outline through the Desiring God site. Either way, this message is definitely worth your time.

2) Juliana Buhring, "Our dad lied about us" in the Sunday Vision newspaper (Uganda). This is a continuation of the controversy brewing in Uganda on The Family cult. A former member and daughter of a leader of the Family in Uganda responds to what her father had previously told the paper. Her rebuttals are very informative.

3) David Sills, "Missions Metaphors" on the Culturality and Missiology blog. Sills is a veteran missionary that always brings much insight to international missions. In this post, he warns of ministry that does not continue after the conversions of believers to build mature churches and strong Christians. As he points out:

What of the work in Europe, Sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America, the South Seas, or the United States? We reached many of those places years ago. Many strong buildings were built, but we had other work elsewhere that beckoned. When I hear of buildings that missionaries of yesteryear left behind being torn down, I wonder about the spiritual and kingdom work they left behind. Is it strong? Or, like Europe, have forces of fallen nature rendered it rotten and falling in on itself? Every Christian population is only one generation away from heresy or general apostasy. We must dedicate ourselves to the task of reaching and teaching. Reaching the unreached is great, but the Great Commission is not merely about reaching; Jesus also said we were to be "teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you."
Make sure to read the entire article.

4) "Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God" on Wikipedia, and Gerald Businge, "Seven Years Since the Kanungu Massacre: Are we any wiser?" in the UGPulse (Uganda). Next week marks the eighth anniversary of the Kanungu Massacre. On March 17th, 2000, more than 500 people had burnt to death in a church in the Kanungu district of Uganda. They were members of the Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments, a religious cult. May we all learn from this horrible tragedy.

March 12, 2008

What Does Christ Gospel Church Teach?

Over the last few years, I have been researching a small and generally unknown sect whose world headquarters is in my hometown. I thought it would be a good idea to post some of my resulting analysis over the next several weeks. They are a good example of an unfamiliar group that is aggressively working to expand their presence around the world (including Africa). Who am I referring to? The Christ Gospel Churches International, Inc. [CGC]. Their basic informational booklet introduces them by saying:
Jeffersonville, Indiana is home to the international headquarters of one of the fastest-growing Christian denominations in the world, Christ Gospel Churches International, Inc. . . . . With a staff of 45 employees and many volunteers, Christ Gospel Churches International, Inc. oversees a world-wide organization of more than 1,300 churches in 25 countries.[1]
B.R. Hicks AutobiographyEven if CGC is exaggerating how rapidly they are growing, this new religious movement has made tremendous inroads around the globe (especially in Mexico and India). They even have affiliate churches in half a dozen African countries and shortwave broadcasts to many more throughout the continent. Founded by Reverend Berniece R. Hicks, the movement is a self-described "fundamentalist, pentecostal Christian group."[2] Their continuing worldwide success requires a closer examination of Hicks' teaching on such fundamental areas as Scripture, mankind,[3] God, the Lord Jesus Christ, and the good news.

What is my goal? To accurately present a summary of her teaching in these fundamental areas. Since we must take the time to correctly understand her errors before critiquing them, my study will not directly challenge the distinctive theology of CGC. Rather, this series will focus on bringing together their basic teachings. Once these are understood, Christians can properly assess and address the differences that exist between our beliefs and what is taught by CGC.

Intrigued? Great! I'll continue next week!

[1]Preaching a Crucified and Living Christ to a Dying World: Christ Gospel Churches International, Inc. (Jeffersonville, IN: Christ Gospel Churches International, Inc., 1993). No page numbers are provided.
[3]Since Hicks uses "mankind" and "man" in her works, this series will follow her terminology to remain as close to her language and thought as possible.

March 10, 2008

Listening to James in Africa

"My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins" (James 5:19-20).
With these final words, James ends his letter. They are quite amazing when you stop to think about it. James has just finished writing to the church about their lives together in the midst of suffering and sickness. In essence, the body of Christ is bound together by prayer. If someone is suffering, pray. If someone is cheerful, praise God! And if someone is sick, have the church leaders pray. Can you see it? The church is a house of prayer.

But James does not end after writing about prayer. No, he has something else on his mind. Christians are also struggling with a serious challenge--false teaching. The church has been established on a foundation, the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone (Ephesians 2:20). The church stands or false on the revelation entrusted to these men.

Yet there will always be those who seek to contradict or corrupt the apostles' teaching. And believers are constantly in danger of listening to them, wandering from God's truth. Therefore, James lets the church know that we are all required to refute error. By doing so, we accomplish nothing less than saving a soul from death and covering a multitude of sins. What a wonderful responsibility we have been given!

Unfortunately, this task is an unpopular one today. Pointing out false teaching is seen as mean-spirited, rude, and divisive. Additionally, missionaries that seek to defend God's truth are thought of as importing Western thinking, rejecting indigenization, and imperialism.

Nevertheless, these words from James are needed in Africa today more than ever. While we must always seek to contextualize the Word of God and not bog it down with cultural trappings, failing to follow James' instruction will lead to dire consequences. We simply cannot afford to look past our brothers and sisters in Christ as they are daily facing false teaching.

But you don't simply have to take the word of this American believer. Solomon Andria, an African theologian from Madagascar, wrote the following comments on these verses in the Africa Bible Commentary:
"The last paragraph of the letter confirms that James cannot be opposed to Paul.... He does not set works up against faith. Those who are lost are not those who have neglected works but those who have distanced themselves from the truth, that is, from the faith. Africa is fertile ground for new religions and sects, making it more important than ever to be well rooted in biblical truths through reading and studying the word of God. James' focus on truth at the end of his letter undermines any assertion that all he is interested in is works" (1516).

March 7, 2008

Weekly Round-Up: Marilyn Hickey, The Family, Syncretism, Cross-Cultural Mission, and Theological Trends in Africa

Here's this week's round-up:

1) "Church Briefs" in the Sunday Vision newspaper (Uganda). Here's a disheartening announcement:

International evangelist Marilyn Hickey will conduct a crusade at the stadium from March 7 to 9, starting at 4:00pm, daily.
2) "Haunted by a dark past" in the Sunday Vision newspaper (Uganda). This is a follow up to last week's articles on The Family cult. While it could have been more critical, this report is still fairly thorough and informative.

3) Malita Wamala, "Things Christians overlook" in the Weekly Observer newspaper (Uganda). An editorial piece from an African Christian who sees far too much compromise and syncretism from fellow brothers and sisters in Christ.

4) Jim Harries, "Imitation in Cross-Cultural Mission: Discussions in an African Context" in the Lausanne World Pulse (March 2008). While I am not sure that I would line up with Harries 100%, he definitely challenges missionaries in Africa with the importance of properly contextualizing and living out our Christian worldview.

5) Gideon Para-Mallam, "Theological Trends in Africa: Implications for Missions and Evangelism" in Lausanne Reports (March 2008). I wish that I could get every missionary and Christian to read this article. The author points out both the negative and positive trends as well as their implications for believers in Africa. I simply cannot begin to summarize the many excellent points made. Just read it!

March 5, 2008

Ask Anything Wednesday: Books I am Reading

Welcome to Ask Anything Wednesday. Now that this is a monthly feature, I wanted to begin with a question that I am regularly asked (actually, a friend asked me at church last Sunday!). In any case, please keep the questions rolling in! Just submit your question--on anything!--in the comments section below and I'll consider responding to it next month.

What books are you currently reading?

As you can guess, I am always reading something! Currently, depending on when you catch me, you'll likely see my nose buried in one of the following:

1) Iain M. Duguid, Esther And Ruth (Reformed Expository Commentary)
2) Harold O.J. Brown, Heresies: Heresy and Orthodoxy in the History of the Church
3) Robert L. Millet and Gerald R. McDermott, Claiming Christ: A Mormon-Evangelical Debate
4) Thomas C. Oden, How Africa Shaped the Christian Mind: Recovering the African Seedbed of Western Christianity
5) Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business

Don't be surprised if some of these books wind up being reviewed on this blog soon!

March 4, 2008

Book Review: Foundations of African Traditional Religion and Worldview

Foundations of African Traditional Religion and Worldview
Yusufu Turaki, Foundations of African Traditional Religion and Worldview (Nairobi, Kenya: WordAlive Publishers, 2006), 128 pp.

There are many different ways that individuals can study African Traditional Religion (ATR): historical, psychological, sociological, etc. But one approach is often overlooked, the theological. When examined in this manner, many important questions are raised. What is the ATR worldview--its framework for understanding the world in which we live? What are ATR's basic beliefs? How does ATR compare to the Christian faith?

Yusufu Turaki seeks to answer these questions in his book Foundations of African Traditional Religion and Worldview. A Nigerian theologian and scholar, Turaki is certainly qualified to address these essential religious issues. He begins by defining religion and placing ATR within its religious context. Next he turns to explaining its fundamental theological, philosophical, and ethical beliefs. After laying this groundwork, the author continues to examine ATR's beliefs regarding the Supreme Being as well as the gods and spirits. Then he looks at how humans interact with the spirit world, from communication to the acquisition and use of power. Finally, he analyzes what it means to be human and the meaning of life according to ATR.

I learned a great deal from Turaki's book. To begin with, I appreciate his approach--laying out the fundamentals of ATR as a whole while showing how these foundational beliefs relate to each other. Understanding ATR as a worldview has been tremendously informative. I am amazed that he was able to include so much in such a few pages! This work will definitely be a convenient reference.

At the same time, I also find this book's brevity to be a limitation. When reading it, I regularly found myself wanting to dig deeper and learn more. At times, I almost felt as if I was reading through a beefed-up outline. While this may have been the author's intent, his book would be more useful with additional expansion and analysis.

Turaki also seems somewhat overly dependent on the work of Philip M. Steyne. He admits his dependence in the first chapter, but his citations and quotations from Steyne were so frequent that I occasionally wondered if I should simply read Steyne instead.

In any case, I'd still suggest that those interested in an introduction to ATR should read Turaki's book. It is a helpful starting point to further study. I hope that more theologians, philosophers, missionaries, and others will build off of the foundations of a work like this to further equip the body of Christ.

March 3, 2008

The New Faces of Christianity 8: North and South

Today the ACFAR Network completes reading The New Faces of Christianity: Believing the Bible in the Global South by Philip Jenkins. If you haven't bought the book or signed up yet, it is not too late to join! This week we are discussing chapter 8: "North and South."


Jenkins concludes his book by bringing together the contrasts he established in the previous chapters between Northern and Southern "Christianities." What should we think of these differences? The author suggests that believers in the West need to listen to Southern Christians, regaining some themes and trends that they have long forgotten.

In much of the Global South, the Christians are first or second generation converts. The Bible has not been part of their culture and history, causing them to see aspects of Scripture not obvious to those that are used to its teachings and truths. And given the close relationship of their societies to Bible times, they connect with and find meaning in biblical texts not usually recognized in the traditional Christianity of the West. In many ways, Southern Christianity can cause other believers to reread their Bibles afresh.

However, we should not be too optimistic over the Christianity of the South. There are many problems in these churches that must not be overlooked. Christianity has spread rapidly but it is often shallow. At the same time, corruption of historical teaching is regularly found in the growing popularity of the Prosperity Gospel. In addition, some suggest that as these nations modernize, that they will leave their "primitive" faith behind. While this suggested shift may not occur, the future of Christianity in the Global South is by no means certain.

What believers can do is to learn from these North-South differences. Christians can rethink the role of the Old Testament. We may also examine again the idea of healing. People that believe in a God who cares about us and who is involved in our lives should not simply leave our physical needs in the realm of science. Churches in the West can be greatly enriched by listening to the faith of fellow believers in the Global South.

My Thoughts

I completed this book looking forward to the future. God is doing some amazing things around the world! He is demonstrating what our Savior promised to the Apostle Peter when He said, "on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it" (Matthew 16:18). Hell cannot overcome the global body of Christ, made up of believers from every tribe and language and people and nation (Revelation 5:8-10). We have a lot to learn from one another.

At the same time, I do believe that Jenkins can be too optimistic at times. He is not writing as a pastor, a missionary, or a theologian. This book is a work of secular contemporary history and sociology. As a result, he is too open to diversity in our faith, denying that there is an authentic and true Christianity. But when we begin with our Triune God who has revealed Himself in Scripture, we realize that His truth is something to defend. We must seek to prevent and root out error and corruption. Can we learn from Southern Christianity? Will it expose some of our own problems and oversights as well as add richness to our faith? Absolutely! We need them--and they need us. We must work together to glorify God and advance His kingdom.

What role do we have in all of this? We cannot sit back and think that God is done using us to preach the gospel, start churches, and teach believers His Word. As we have seen through this study, the Global South still has many challenges and problems to overcome. How can we help these brothers and sisters in Christ?

Your Turn

What do you think? Your thoughts do not have to be profound or anything. Please feel free to contribute to the discussion!