Gold Coast Bereans

Out of Ghana, West Africa; Christian hearts and critical minds seeking, speaking and writing the truth with love. This is a conversation of a group of friends, now living in the USA and the UK, who have known each other for more than 20 years.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

The Challenges We Face

Idolatry, compromise and syncretism.

My attention was recently drawn to the following news story from Ghana excerpted below.

Nkoranza (B/A), June 16, GNA - Nana Yaa Dudaa Kani, queenmother of Nkoranza Traditional Area, has cautioned the youth, especially girls, to desist from calling the names of gods and water bodies to curse their neighbours. Nana Yaa Dudaa Kani noted with regret that it was a common practice for females in the area to call on the gods to curse their partners and husbands over misunderstandings and if the gods were not immediately pacified it could result in the death of the offenders. She said the youth and the women have been calling on gods including Bourtwerewa of Techiman, Antoa Nyamaa of Kumasi, Sessiman of Nkoranza and Fa Kwasi Abura river of Dromankese.

She said, "People who are ready to call on the gods and rivers to curse anyone should also be ready to pay the full cost involved in the customary rites for the pacification since I cannot sacrifice my life for the offenders", she said. She expressed regret that the proliferation of churches had not deterred people from cursing their neighbours .

….. At Kranka in Nkoranza North District Nana Owusu Agyeman, fetish priest in charge of the powerful Brakune Shrine, has also warned that he would not tolerate anyone who would call on the god Brakune to curse anyone. He urged religious leaders to educate their congregations against the practice ---Source: Ghana News Agency (GNA)

The sad thing about this news item is the acknowledged syncretism between Christianity and idolatry in Ghana. When I went home in April, there were several analogous reports of pastors consulting juju men. In one case, a fetish priest famously and colorfully called Kweku Bonsam (literally, Kweku Satan) is said to have "outed" a pastor who had defaulted on payments owed for a miracle-performing idol. In another case, Kweku Bonsam is alleged to have challenged to a miracle-performing duel, another pastor who had dared to denounce him in public. I am told the build-up to the showdown was highly talked about. Unfortunately, the pastor got cold feet and chickened out at the very last moment, spoiling the spectacular rumble in the jungle.

Yet another story is told of a Ghanaian who on his death bed is instructed by his Pastor to denounce Satan so he can be assured of entering heaven. He demurs, telling his gathered friends that in his humble opinion the time of one's death is hardly the time to start picking fights with the spirits since one simply does not know what one might find waiting on the other side. Now, we Ghanaians tell these stories with clear amusement, yet one cannot escape the impression that many only half mean these as jokes. Instead, as this news item illustrates, there seems to be a tendency toward holding out judgment when it comes to the forces of good and evil, with many considering them to be equally powerful. Thus, it comes as no surprise that when people have needs and wants that the church seems unable or powerless to meet, they just as easily turn to oracles and fetishes.

Interestingly, this mixing of darkness with light, with the resultant watering down of Christianity is evident not only in Ghana but also in many cultures, including those of the West. We ought to hesitate, therefore, before we level criticism from our perches in supposedly mature or sophisticated cultures. This mixing of Christianity with pagan elements of culture is universal and appears in all countries to which the gospel has been preached, without the full rejection by its inhabitants of those deeply embedded customs that directly contradict scripture.

A book I have just read--written by Lesslie Newbigin --makes this point well. In India, where he was a missionary for many years, he notes that Jesus is considered by most Hindus to be merely one among many sages to be listened to, even worshiped. This ethic of "live and let live" is widely accepted and the mixing and matching of light with darkness, the very essence of paganism, is widely accepted and promoted. Men in these cultures expect not to follow one way to the Father but rather many ways, all co-equal. To boldly claim one way over others is not expected or accepted within this worldview.

To Pastor Newbigin's surprise he found, when he finally retired and returned home, that a fundamentally similar phenomenon--one to which he had been previously blind--was operative in the West. Specifically, within the Western pluralist tradition, he found that Christianity was no longer what the apostles claimed it to be--a public truth based on verifiable historical fact--but mere myth. The gospel, the theological interpretation of well-attested historical facts, had been relegated to the realm of sheer opinion, viewed as merely one of several highly personal ways to approach God. As a consequence, he found the gospel, Christ's exclusive message about God's kingdom, to be diluted, co-opted in a way that no longer challenged men's lives.

Unfortunately, it was also his observation that most Christians in the West were not only blind to this co-opting of their faith, but also had become quite content with this sorry state of affairs. Today, we too, who live in a post-modernist Western culture, are seduced by the offer of peaceful co-existence that is our reward for ceasing to proclaim Christ as exclusive Lord and the only way to the Father. This seductive status quo allows us to practice our faith without confrontation--an ethos of live and let live no different from that observed by Newbigin in a Hindu culture--that helps us to avoid the persecution that becomes unavoidable once we start to tell people that their various personal paths to utopia and to self-fulfillment unless subjected to Christ's Lordship are not only wrong-headed but also bound to fail. By ceasing to proclaim this message, however, we have bought ourselves social acceptance at the expense of robbing Christianity of its life-saving power.

If we are to reclaim our vocation as the salt of the earth, we have to buck this trend towards meaningless co-existence, and to begin again to proclaim boldly the gospel of the Kingdom for what it is--a highly subversive message that is meant to challenge men and nations to turn away from the disastrous paths that they find themselves on, and onto a revolutionary new path through submission to Christ. We are able to do this boldly and without embarrassment when we realize how firmly grounded our faith is in historical fact and internally consistent within the entire story told in Scripture. This message, Christ as Lord and Savior, is bound to meet resistance because it draws unmistakable distinctions between the truth and all other claims, and demands from men and women an allegiance that is all encompassing. – G Dissentus.

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2 Comments:

Anonymous robbo said...

After, you have been out of the country for a long time, you forget about this kind of stuff. Even though I know this is not funny, I can’t help seeing some humor in the news item and the queen mother’s dilemma. I do understand the point about many of us haven compromised our faith to the extent that we have lost the intrinsic subversive threat that Christianity poses to the ways of the world.

June 22, 2009 at 6:42 AM  
Anonymous Annang said...

Of much worry is the fact that many of these practitioners also go to church. Apparently, this type of religious syncretism is on the increase.

There are social factors contributing to this phenomenon, no doubt. When there is severe economic and social instability, people tend to focus a lot on instant "meeting of needs". And if the exhortations, prayers and pronouncements by preachers appear not to grant immediate relief of these socio-economic hardships, other sources are easily sought.

In some way, this sends African Christianity back to the time of colonialization when people imagined that Jesus was another god to be added to the gods of the clan. But as has been pointed out, this syncretism is also present in the West in various forms. Some Christian groups are indeed mixing up Eastern religious beliefs and practices with Bible teaching. A Bishop of the Anglican Church here in the UK proudly introduces himself as also a member of an "order" of Buddhist fellowship.

The challenge, I believe, is a return to the discipleship demands of Jesus - "if any man will come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross and follow me". Until the hard and unique demands of Jesus is pressed and re-pressed into the imaginations of Christians in Africa and the West, this phenomenon will persist and grow. Are we really living as His disciples? - Annang.

July 5, 2009 at 10:43 AM  

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