The role of the church in Nation building.
The role of the church in Nation building.
The Past Moderator of the General Assembly, the General Secretary of our church, the Clerk of Assembly, the General treasurer, Commissioners to the General Assembly, Mother President of the AGM, the National Secretary and Treasurer of the AGM, delegates to the AGM, Fraternal delegates and visitors, members of Church Associations, Parents, Fathers, Mothers, Brothers and Sisters in Christ, Members of my family who are present in this service, the house and the Congregation at large. I greet everyone in the wonderful name of my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen
The Rt Rev Dr BB Finca in his address as moderator in the sixty eighth General Assembly of the Reformed Presbyterian Church in Southern Africa in Butterworth in 1991 said ‘I had hoped that today for the first time in many years the Modetorial address was going to move away from old rhetoric of apartheid to a new emphasis of nation building, from protest theology to reconstruction theology. I had hoped that apartheid would be dead in our country by this day and the word itself relegated to the text- books of history.’ It was two years before the first national elections of a democratic government took place on the 27 April 1994 when this great theologian and hero of the nation expressed his opinion about the direction the church should be taking. He said he thought that by that time the church would have refrained from protest theology and instead engaging in a theology of reconstruction if South Africa would have changed. Unfortunately at that time apartheid was still showing its ugly face in South Africa. Two years four months after the Rt Rev Dr BB Finca have spoken; South Africa became a free country. It was liberated from all forms of oppression and discrimination and a new government with the first black President was democratically elected. These elections marked the end of apartheid and all forms of discrimination in this country.
The end of apartheid in South Africa was a historic moment to everyone in the country, in the African continent and in the entire world. It was a start of a new page for all South Africans, Black and White, old and young, men and women. Indeed the word apartheid was relegated to the text books of history as the Rev Dr BB Finca prophesied in 1991 in Butterworth addressing the General Assembly of our church. Indeed nation building today is the core business of the government and all South Africans who love their country and appreciate the sacrifice made by those who suffered and died for the freedom of this country. It is the agenda and the core business in the boardrooms of municipal council meetings, in the Provincial legislatures and in the National Assembly in Parliament. I do not think that in this General Assembly there is anyone who has doubt in his or her mind that the government of today is engaged in a struggle of Nation building despite the challenges of unemployment, high rate of crime, corruption, HIV/AIDS and lack of service delivery which is characterized by protest marches which we see almost every month in some parts of the country.
Before former State President the late Rolihlahla Nelson Mandela became President of the country, approximately two days after his release from Victor Verster prison in Paarl he started with the program of Nation Building at the First National Bank stadium in Soweto when he was addressing the crowds. It is said that the stadium was overflowing with 120,000 people waiting for this famous prisoner who eventually became the first black State President in South Africa to address them. In his book Long Walk to Freedom, page 560 he said “I expressed my delight to be back among them, but I then scolded the people for some of the crippling problems of urban black life. Students, I said, must return to school. Crime must be brought under control. I told them that I had heard of criminals masquerading as freedom fighters, harassing innocent people and setting alight vehicles; these rogues had no place in the struggle. Freedom without civility (politeness), freedom without the ability to live in peace, was not true freedom at all’. For me this is a statement of nation building. It is because of this statement that I say the late President Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela started with the program of nation building at the First National Bank Stadium few days after his release from prison before he became the State President of South Africa. Vuku’Zenzele campaign was President Thabo Mbeki’s call during his term of office as State President of the country. Today there are projects and small companies run or owned by individuals and groups of people from the previously disadvantaged communities right round the country. The government of President Jacob Gedleyihlekisa Zuma is working on the National Development Program which they call the NDP. We see some schools in rural and previously disadvantaged areas receiving computers and laboratory equipment to improve the standard of education. Roads are receiving attention, electricity is there in most communities in the rural areas, small farmers are getting assistance to improve their farming skills, Small and young business owners are given skills to grow their businesses. Women are rising up to positions which were known to be men only in the past. Youth is in Parliament, in legislatures, in council chambers and in political parties as leaders. The list is long I can mention a lot of programs to support my statement that nation building is the core business in South Africa after democracy. Government in its endeavours to build the nation is not working alone in the undertakings mentioned above and in those that are not mentioned. Private sector, Business sector, traditional leaders, Nongovernmental organizations, Chapter nine institutions, Civil organizations, Opposition political parties and Unions of workers are all hands on in nation building. The big question is where is the church and what does it do where it is?
The text on which my theme is based: Hebrews 13:13
The theme of my address is “The role of the church in nation building” It is based on a text found in Hebrews 13:13 “Therefore let us go forth to him outside the camp, bearing abuse for him.” Whenever I read this text I find it challenging the church to go out of its comfort to where the people of God are. The authorship of the letter to the Hebrews has been a matter of debate among the scholars of theology. There are scholars of theology who agree that St Paul the apostle is the author of the letter to the Hebrews and there are some who disagree. Some scholars say that Paul wrote the letter in Hebrew and Luke translated it in Greek. Some do not accept Paul the apostle as the author but link the doctrinal content of the letter with him. The author of Ignatius Catholic Study Bible New Testament in his introduction to the letter to the Hebrews says” Several similarities in thought, expression, and theology make it all but certain that’ some connection exist between Hebrews and the Pauline tradition” Some scholars of theology believe that if the letter was not written by the apostle Paul, its author remains within the circle of apostle Paul and his missionary associates. Due to the fact that most scholars accept that the doctrinal content of the letter to the Hebrews is Pauline and the writer is untraceable, the popular view is that apostle Paul is the author of the letter to the Hebrews.
Even though it is difficult to trace the date in which this letter was written but the commentator I have consulted says that since there is no mention of the fall of Jerusalem obviously this letter was written earlier than that incident. He says it seems as if the recipients of this letter were Christians who have suffered for their faith. They were Jewish Christians living in Palestine. These were people who have been converted from Judaism into Christianity. The commentator says that because these Jewish Christians may have been subjected to persecution from outside the church causing them to be weak in their faith in Jesus and as such were tempted to revert to traditional Judaism and its Temple centered worship the author wrote to change their minds and win them back to Jesus Christ. He said Christ was outside the camp of Judaism, so he encouraged them to go to Christ. He told them that to remain within the camp would be to be separated with Jesus Christ. But people had to know that going out of the camp to where Jesus Christ was had a price to be paid. They had to be prepared to be rejected as Jesus Christ was and carry the disgrace he carried. Aligning themselves with Jesus Christ was to subject themselves to scorn or something more than that.
The message to Hebrews is a message for us today. We are being called to go out of our homes and churches to where Jesus Christ is. We must not mourn because of the hardships and challenges we are facing as a denomination and as individual members; we must come outside the camp, bearing abuse for Christ. Despite the sufferings we have endured in our Christian life we must know that it is our responsibility as Christians to go out and find Jesus Christ. We must always be encouraged by the words contained in the gospel of John 15:4 “Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me.” We must go outside our camps and look for Jesus so that we can abide in him. For those who may not know where to find Jesus Christ read the gospel of Matthew 11 verse 28 “ Come to me , all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” Look around in your community for people who labor and are heavy laden you will find Jesus Christ amongst those people giving them rest. Those are the people in your neighbor hood who go to bed every day without food. Those are the people who suffer from the incurable diseases like HIV/AIDs, TB etc in our communities that we do not even talk about in our church meetings let alone to remember them in our prayers. Those are the victims of the high rate of crime, corruption and rape that are so prevalent in our communities. Those are the children who have been made orphans by the HIV/AIDs in our communities. It is where these people are, where we can find Jesus Christ. It is only when the plight of those people becomes important to us and forms part of our agenda in meetings of our congregations, presbyteries and national gatherings that we will be involved in nation building. For me our church can claim to be involved in Nation building when it is counted amongst organizations that are giving help to social problems. For that matter that is what nation building is all about. Nation building is about addressing the social ills of apartheid. In fact this is what government and other stakeholders are doing in our communities. The church with its prophetic voice must be there to be a witness for Jesus Christ. The church must be visible where it is needed. If the church fails to participate in building the nation it means it is failing to carry its mandate of being a witness for Jesus Christ and that of making disciples of all nations.
A brief biblical over view of what the church is.
The church is traced back into the history and religion of Israel. In the gospel of John 4:22 Jesus is talking to the woman of Samaria “You worship what you do not know, we worship what, we know, for Salvation is from the Jews” In Matthew 5:17 Jesus says that he has not come to destroy but to fulfill the law and the Prophets. Those who belong to Christ are Abraham’s offspring heirs according to the promise (this is in Galatians 3:29). The earliest church was wholly Jewish, her Savior was a Jew, and the entire New Testament was probably written by Jews. The centre of Jewish worship before Jewish exile in 586 BC was the temple in Jerusalem. After exile the Jewish worship centre was the synagogue found in every local community of Jews. While in exile in Babylon the Jews had no temple they used synagogues for the purpose of Prayer, the reading of the scriptures and teaching. The book of Acts indicates that where there were Jews in the Roman Empire were synagogues. It looks as if in the Old Testament times the word church referred to a structure used by believers to worship God.
The word church means the house of the Lord. This word is commonly used when people refer to a Christian place of worship. In the New Testament the word church is used to mean different things. Some use it when they refer to building structures specially erected for Gods Spirit and some use it when they refer to groups of people assembled together with Christ. The Bible dictionary, third addition says that Jesus in the gospel of Matthew chapter 16:18 may have used the word church not identical to what Apostle Paul means when using the word church. Jesus in his use of the word church may mean the gathering of his Apostles to form under him the restored house of David by means of which salvation would come to the Gentiles. Church in the New Testament is not a synonym for people of God, it is rather an activity of the people of God. This means that it is what people do what makes them a church. This reminds me of churches like Shembe who assemble in an open space to conduct their church services. Even if the weather is very bad sometimes raining heavily or on sunny days, cold days and on windy days these people are outside in an open space conducting their church services. They do not use building structures to worship God.
Matthew 18:20 says “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them” Even though these people in this verse quoted above are gathered in the name of Jesus and Jesus himself confirms that he is in their midst, they are not described as a church. In my understanding the activities we do and the purpose of doing those activities is what makes us fit the description of a church. In the previous years not long ago we have heard of people who gathered in the name of God but the activities that took place in their gatherings were to make people crawl like animals eating grass, people were made to drink petrol, people were made to eat people s” hair, people were made to eat snakes and all those things were done in the name of Jesus. It is not for me to judge who fits the description of a church and who does not fit it. But whenever I think about these incidents above I find it difficult to qualify them as church activities.
In the gospel of Matthew chapter 16 after Peter has made a declaration that Jesus was Christ the Son of the Living God, Jesus Christ answered him” Blessed are you Simon Bar- Jona! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in Heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my Church and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the Kingdom of heaven and whatever you bind on the earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” In Ephesians chapter 2 verse 19-22 St Paul says “ So then you are no longer strangers and sojourners, but you are fellow citizens with the Saints and members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the Apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord in whom you also are built into it for a dwelling place of God” Though the word church is not used by Paul in the verse above but there is a connection between these two verses. But I am not going to discuss that in this address. In the third letter of Saint John, in the book of Acts, in Revelations, in the letter of Saint James and in the Pauline letters the word church is always used to refer to a particular local congregation. In Hebrews 12: 23 one will note that Paul uses the word church sometime to refer to a gathering of all under the headship of Christ and this includes Saints in Heaven and the righteous men and women of the Old Testament times who were perfected by Christ and led into Heaven. According to Paul the church is both local and in Heaven. The New Bible Dictionary says” In God’s purpose there is one church, one gathering of all under the headship of Christ. But on earth it is pluriform, seen wherever two or three gather in his name”.
My intention is for us to have an understanding of what the church is according to the scriptures. I want us to look at ourselves not today only but every moment, every day, every month, every year and all the time as we move forward into the future calling ourselves a denomination of the Reformed Presbyterian Church in Southern Africa. Does our behavior as individuals and as a collective make us fit to be called a church or to be called church people or church members? Does the above description of what a church is fit us?
The church and society
Matthew chapter 16:18-20 confirms Jesus as head and founder of the church. In the book of Acts of the Apostles chapter 1:8 says “But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you shall be my witness in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth” The church is instructed by Jesus to be his witness and act in a manner that exposes his ministry to the world. For me the instruction of Jesus in Acts 1:8 means that the church and the society cannot be separated. The church must be worried about problems that affect the society. When other stakeholders in our communities are busy trying to bring solutions to social problems the church is suppose to be there. Jesus Christ cared for the sick and poor. In the gospel of John chapter two we are told that when wine failed in a wedding in Cana Marry the mother of Jesus realized that a wedding in that village was a community celebration and in all refreshments that were to be served for all guests wine was the most important. It was a social disgrace to fail to provide wine in a wedding ceremony. Because Jesus was also invited to attend this community celebration of a wedding ceremony he was present. Marry intervened on behalf of the young couple and asked Jesus to give a solution to what was going to be a social embarrassment. Jesus complied to Mary s request and supplied wine in abundance by changing water into wine. Jesus performed this miracle solving a social problem at a time of need. Marry could not ignore the problem because the wedding ceremony was not her responsibility. She did not let that community fell into a disgrace. In my thinking the presence of Jesus and his mother and their involvement in solving the problem of the failure of wine which was going to spoil the mood of that wedding and place that community in an embarrassing situation is enough to teach us as Christians that we cannot turn our backs when communities are faced with problems. If we distance ourselves as a church from communities in which we live and fail to help where we can then the question is, which Jesus are we following? What witness about Jesus are we preaching to people? There is an English say, actions speak louder than words. Jesus s ministry was full of action, he raised the dead, he fed the hungry, he healed the sick spiritually and physically, the word of God was preached to the poor. In Matthew chapter 25:31-46” When the son of man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations and he will separate them one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will place the sheep at his right hand, but the goats at the left. Then the King will say to those at his right hand, come O blessed of my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world, for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me. Then the righteous will answer him, Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you or naked and clothed you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you? And the King will answer them; Truly, I say to you as you did it to one of the least of these brethren, you did it to me. Then he will say to those at his left hand, Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels for I was hungry and gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothed me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me. Then they also will answer, Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger, or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you? Then he will answer them, Truly, I say to you, as you did it not to one of the least of these, you did it not to me. And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life”
Albert Nolan in his book called God in South Africa under sub-heading “ the church and the Gospel” says that the church during times of crisis have to do some social services like feeding the hungry, running hospitals and schools in order to preach the gospel by example. He says that the specific task of the church is to make known by whatever means, the good news of how God is involved through Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit in the events of our time. This to me means that for the church to be influential in society or to play its meaningful role its interpretation of the gospel must be in line with the events of the time. The picture in South Africa presently is nation building. Nation building is a program that is in the hands of government. So one can argue and say that nation building is a political program, yes that is true because our government for that matter is a government of politics. The involvement of the church in societal programs that are in the hands of government does not change the church into becoming a political organisation, the church will remain an institution whose role is to bring God into the picture of events that affect people in their daily lives. For me Albert Nolan s thinking is supported by Matthew 5:13&14 “You are the salt of the earth, but if the salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trodden under foot by men. ’ You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden” In my understanding Albert Nolan is calling the church to be the salt of the earth and to be the light of the world. The earth can only feel the saltiness of the church and the world can only see the light that the church brings to it only when the church becomes actively involved in the day to day problems affecting the poor in our communities. Fellow beautiful Presbyterians the church must be visible, it must be where the people are. Let us go outside our camps, bearing the abuse of Jesus Christ. Let us make our voice heard. Let our gospel message to the people be relevant. Let us bring God into the picture of problems in our communities. The church must go with the times otherwise its interpretation of the good news will be out of context in fact it will not serve the purpose of God.
In my conclusion I want us to be reminded about an idiom that says charity begins at home. You cannot build a house for someone in need when you stay under the bridge with no accommodation. You cannot build a person next to you when you are not properly built yourself. The Bible says remove umqadi in your eye and…………….
Joe Holland and Peter Henriot in their book called Social Analysis in which they are linking faith and Justice say “It is important to remember that our projections into the future tell us something about our understanding of the present and our appreciation of the past.” We cannot have a vision of an improved future without having made a sound judgement on the past and present. So we must be careful to note that the Spirit of Jesus is active in history working in the concrete events of people and communities. So the church as it is part of the society cannot project into the future if it ignores its history and that of the country. The two writers quoted above say”. A historical consciousness for Christians also mean a commitment to reading the signs of the times which are an indication of the Spirit of Jesus acting in history calling Christians forward, challenging their present positions.” One will note that Joe Holland and Peter Henriot speak about the signs of the times and Albert Nolan speaks about picture of events. The protest marches in the country, burning of state properties, abuse of women and children, corruption in government, corruption in the private sector and corruption in the church, incurable diseases, spirit of unruliness in old and young people etc are the signs of our times that we are told to read as a church and are the picture of events to which Albert Nolan says we must bring God to as a church.
Fellow Presbyterians always remember that “Unity is strength. United we shall stand and divided we shall fall” Jesus calls for unity amongst Christians in the gospels and Paul in the book of Galatians. We will serve God in this church with distinction if we are guided by the values of trust amongst ourselves, honesty, trustworthy, love, dedication, respect, team work, tolerance and understanding.
Glory be to God the Father, Son and to the Holy Spirit as it was in the beginning, so now and forever more. Amen
I Thank you.
Moderator of the General Assembly