“Sir” a student interrupted my lecture in a Computer Science class. “Are you a pastor?” I smiled at the unexpected and strange question before returning the answer: “I am Andrew Phiri.“
Of course, I knew what she was asking about but it has always appalled me to see how what was meant to be a life, more than a title, has today become so misplaced, and a source of income for many people, more than it should be a service or a testimony of a christ-like life. The Church today is an organisation. But Christ never intended to create one institution. His was a life. What he founded was an organism not an organisation. An organism pulsates and is regulated with Life, the life of the Word. On the converse, an organisation survives on (and is regulated by) dead “letters”, ideas, and councils of men.
But, someone may ask, Without regulation, how shall we identify true men of God from false ones? Well, its not by having political-religious institutions to threaten wrong doers. Consider this: If a man stood up in some open square performing some adabracada and putting up hefty charges for people to pay to watch his show, the better solution would not be threatening him or his curious audience with arrest, but to nurture an informed society which can not be duped by cheap tricks. The trickstar would leave on his own, having realised the state of his unprofitable venture. Could this be the reason why a country like Singapore has managed to have a decent and religious tolerant society without having such a thing as the “Ministry of Religion and National Guidance“? Note that this is despite having a population with diverse religious inclinations. Clealry, where there is leadership much resources can be saved!
Here is what we read about the history of the early church in Britannica Encyclopedia (1768):
It was believed that the Spirit imparted different gifts to different believers, and each gift fitted its recepient for the performance of some service, being intended not for own good but for the good of his brethren…There is no sign that the apostles, whether the twelve or others, held any official position in the Church: that they had a large measure of authority goes without saying, but it depended always upon their brethren’s recognition of their possession of the divine gift of apostleship, and the right of Churches or individuals to test their claims and to refuse to listen to them if they did not vindicate their divine call…
Note the words I have highlighted in bold – “to refuse to listen to them.” If people are equipped with knowledge, one needs not to worry about what can deceive them. So , when you read bizzare news headlines about some pastor making his congregation eat grass, stepping on their backs, or making his followers to buy the so-called Holy Water, what you are looking at is a problem of gross stupidity and ignorance.
And before setting up an entire and costly government Ministry to regulate such people, be sure to calculate the ratio of how many people from an entire population of your country subscribe to such idiocy or you may find yourself wasting significant sums of tax payers money to remedy a problem occuring only in few circles of deluded people. Surely, a lot of people will be employed in such a Ministry. They will enjoy regular salaries and other emoluments, but working on a cause that cannot rationally be justified or quantified.
Today, one has to go to a Bible College and pay tuition fees to learn about God and how to become a pastor. Just how rational is the idea that training institutions exist where mortals lecture and set theory exams about an entity (God) they themselves have never seen or experienced? Their curriculum is no more than a bundle of thoughts and ideas about God, institutionalised into a standard for commissioning men into ministry![let this be not misunderstood: if someone wants to go to some academic institution to learn about Biblical Studies, history, Greek or Hebrew, that is reasonable. But the idea of using his qualifications as a basis to confirm him as a pastor, is simply preposterous]. Since time immemorial that has never been God’s way of calling men into ministry. Is it not interesting to note that men of God have always risen from elsewhere and not from main stream religious circles. Jesus Christ Himself is the perfect example. He came at a time when there were well estblished institutions of learning. Out of these institutions came “Pharisees and doctors of the Law” (Luke 5:17). But when the poor son of the carpenter came preaching, people were astonished and asked: “How knoweth this man letters, having never learned?” and “Jesus answered them, and said, ‘My doctrine is not mine, but his that sent me'” (John 7:15-16). Likewise, people marvelled at the apostles: “Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were unlearned and ignorant men, they marvelled; and they took knowledge of them, that they had been with Jesus” (Acts 4:13).
One can only worship God in Spirit and Truth (John 4:24). Our relationship with God is a deeply personal experience which can never be institutionalised. Now, of course trouble begins when unscupulous men take on the garb of ministry work. Today we have all sort of hypocrites calling themselves prophets and making merchandise out of gullible followers. Their success thrives on people’s ignorance. The powers that be may want to correct the situation by marrying Church and State to control the situation. However, a wrong can never amend another wrong. One only needs a little knowledge of history to see how that method eventually turns into an evil scheme, suppressing even sincere believers. In the events of the book of Acts, the councils of religious leaders clearly were sincere in their efforts to vanquish the influence of a growing cult that threatened national peace, at least as they saw it. But one, Gamaliel, gave sound advice:
[He] said unto them, Ye men of Israel, take heed to yourselves what ye intend to do as touching these men. For before these days rose up Theudas, boasting himself to be somebody; to whom a number of men, about four hundred, joined themselves: who was slain; and all, as many as obeyed him, were scattered, and brought to nought. After this man rose up Judas of Galilee in the days of the taxing, and drew away much people after him: he also perished; and all, even as many as obeyed him, were dispersed. And now I say unto you, Refrain from these men, and let them alone: for if this counsel or this work be of men, it will come to nought: But if it be of God, ye cannot overthrow it; lest haply ye be found even to fight against God (Acts 5:35-39).
What happened during the Dark Ages when the Church and State married? What begun as a tool to maintain order turned into a vehicle for suppressing the freedom to worship. Consider what happened in Europe when many people had to flee that region of the world in search of freedom to worship in the way they believed and not what the establishment proclaimed. That eventually led to the founding of the nation of America, the land of the free.
If we cant learn from scriptures and history, well lets move on to logic. Recently in Zambia, a certain ‘prophet’ was stopped from entering the country. It has been said by some authorities that he is a false prophet. Well, I could not agree more. The so-called prophet is actually a trick-star who thrives on the ignorance of masses. However, the question I would ask is: what logical and legal premise would be used to ascertain whether the said prophet is a true or false one? And will the same premise be used to investigate Hindus? Will security officials also be allowed to ambush imams in mosques, the same way they had done in churches amidst Sunday worship services, to check if they were duly registered, among other things? If we rewind time and end up in Acts, who do you think today would be in the categroy of “Pharisees and Teachers of the Law” and who will be in the category of “unlearned and ignorant men“?
It can’t be denied that there are groups of religious people who have dainted the name of Christianity. However, knowledge is what people need to descern deception. Using force can never work. Such people may stop professing their belief in the open place but Yet will still harbour their belief in their hearts. If they believe in eating grass, individuals may still continue chewing cud in their privacy. But when people know the Truth, it shall set them free from superstition and falsehood.