The protestant within Protestantism


The protestant within Protestantism
Introduction
In the 17th century, we witnessed a movement in the West, with clear objectives of ushering a freedom and returning the authority of Scripture in the church. There were various challenges and wrong doctrines that Martin Luther had to outline and argued against the Roman Catholic Church. This revolution became the impetus of many more splits and denominations with the same idea of freedom and a correct hermeneutical approach to Scripture. The phrases like “Scripture alone” and “Faith alone” became the basis of the reformers’ argument. The euphoria undermined the fact that there were other power dynamics involved in these movements. Catholicism is a Western Church, while Africa and other parts of the world had some elements of the Eastern Church. The differences of these two systems needs another paper to explore and unfold the human power dynamics.
The church
Let me give a snapchat of the church before the reformation. We are talking of a church that got in an immoral marriage to a Political husband after Constantine made Christianity the religion of the empire. This is very sensitive, because we know that the church belongs to Christ, infect, the church is the Bride of Christ. The immoral marriage gave the church the leeway to enjoy the wrong authority of the aristocracy, an idea of the church being the privileged, and the church lost her mandate of identifying with the marginalized. Justice to the marginalized became too expensive rather than emancipatory as it was supposed to be. This scenario created unwarranted suffering and abuse of the poor people and the marginalized. We start to see classism in the church;

we begin to witness the THEM and US as a normal language of the church. The story of the crusades is a good example of this lack of sensitivity to the Church’s purpose of existence. The doctrine of indulgences on the other end perpetuated something that falsified the meaning of ecclesiology.
This shift of power dynamics also had other effects like racism, colonialism, slavery, and many more. The Western church found itself participating in some of the programs that its political husband was doing. I am giving this background for us to understand that these power dynamics are still in play today. The Eastern Church on the other end became a victim to Islam, and faced with many different cultures especially in Africa where tribes had their own freedom to govern themselves and not planning to build an inclusive empire that would gain power to protect itself from foreign powers. The African scenario presents itself with numerous tribal and regional infights and it took too long for people to realize that unity is power. While Europeans had established powerful empires in both the church and politics, Africa was comfortable with nomadism, with small primitive governments that had no power to organize large forces to defend self. Of course, there were some empires, but not comparable to the establishments in the western world.
Discovering Africa
There is power in words, and coining certain statements meant to dehumanize and belittle certain people. The idea that Europeans discovered Africa brought a new power dynamic that we still suffer up to today. The white supremacy became the norm, not only in the political arena, but also in the church. Remember the marriage that had had happened in the western world, that gave the church the advantage of usurping the wrong authority to evangelize the world. In politics, a slogan that goes like, “If you want to win a territory either kill the chief or bribe the chief, and in the same
way the missionaries discovered that winning the chief would bring the whole village into Christianity. Politics used a divide and rule so that the subjects were easy to control, in the same way the Western Church sent the missionaries from different nations and denominations to evangelize different parts of a small country like Zimbabwe and hence created divisions among a people on religious life. Remember religion is the center of the moral fiber to a nation. The words of John Mbiti are true when he said, “Africans are notoriously religious”, meaning to say, Africans clearly understand “The Omnipresent God”, and that God is always with us in all our activities, Africans do not have the Sacred and the Profane. That is why I am saying, the chameleon has many colors, but it is still a chameleon.


The African Independent Churches
Protesting did not end with the revolt against Roman Catholic Church (RCC), by the reformers in Europe, but it is a moment of realization that force people to act upon something, in order that they can comfortably interpret the scripture. There are several reasons why the African Initiated Churches (AICs) “Mapositori” protested against the mainline Western Churches. There is also a clear reason why AICs played, and are still playing a significant role in the life of people in Africa. In Zimbabwe, these churches were initiated to quench the thirst of some of the following issues
Politically, the AIC felt that the political husband was not the right husband; hence, they coined a theology and a protest against the white churches in colonial Zimbabwe. They, like the liberation national leaders protested through refusing to worship in Western initiated churches, refusing to go to Western initiated schools, and refusing to work for the Western initiated system. This political resistance by the AICs was not felt then because, the mainline Western Churches developed a way to undermine these AICs as Sects and even at some point refer to them as Cults.

All this was aimed at defending their churches (Denominations from the West), as The Church, same as the RCC during the reformation period, where the RCC commissioned a counter reform.
Nationalism, the AICs wanted to defend their sovereignty, and their protest’s main objective was to raise the pride of Africans. In the same way that is happening in America today about white nationalism, redefining evangelicals to nationalist, was the same idea that made rise to the AICs in Africa, and Zimbabwe in particular. Having done so the Zimbabwean political husband up to today has strong ties with the AICs. During every election period, we all witnessed Mugabe, a staunch Catholic, wearing a white robe of the AIC, not to take advantage of the uneducated Vapostori, as some people would like to look at it, but to identify and acknowledge the fact that this marriage is mutual and meaningful. We have seen the same trend with the current leader, who happens to be a Methodist. This is the reason why the African leaders, Zimbabwe in particular, are so connected and comfortable with the AIC. The culturally relevant theological, and hermeneutical approach to scripture, gives our leaders a place and a role to play in these churches, unlike in the Western church formations.
Culture, the AICs wanted also to preserve culture, remember there is no hermeneutics to scripture without embracing culture, in other words our preaching is cultural. Theologians try to enculturate the message of the Good News of Jesus Christ to a people within a culture and assist them to receive the salvific message without losing their identity. In 1 Corinthians 9:19-23, the Apostle Paul said, “19 Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. 20 To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. 21 To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. 23 I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.” This way of thinking rewinds our thinking into why these developments and struggles of Christianity in Africa, hence others would want to call it Christianities.


The involvement of the mainline churches in the liberation struggle
In a research paper that I did in 2010 during my graduate studies at Africa University, I developed the theory of the three-legged pot. The three-legged pot theory was responding to liberation theology, and to why and how the mainline churches were involved in the liberation struggle of Zimbabwe.

There are a number of factors, and most of them relates to the human power dynamics
1. The provision of education to the nationals made the whites in Zimbabwe to realize that Africans can also be at the top to lead.
2. The few white missionaries realized the reality that these people are ready to revolt and definitely, they will outnumber us, hence; if you cannot beat them, join them. They did so to secure their own space in the new order to come
3. With the spirit of God, some of them realized the magnitude of the injustice that their own people (colonizers) were doing and they did not want to continue with that.
4. The civil rights movement in the 1960s in the USA, African decolonization process in Europe made some few white people realize that they no longer had a place in Africa. In this same line of thought, most of our national leaders received some education from these Western nations around the same time when the civil rights were at the center stage.

Therefore, in other words, their contribution to the liberation struggle was a way of embracing the reality of change and wanted to participate in the new world order, with some tendencies of continuing to lead the way and enjoy power. This power was not only in the national politics, but also in everything that they had established, and remember the immoral marriage that alluded to earlier. Item three above speaks of a realization inspired by God, and that is so true, not all of these missionaries wanted to establish themselves forcefully to nationals, but others incarnated, and were truly immersed to the message of the Kingdom of God. My reason to raise this is to help a bit on the following subject on the UMC schism, the change of colors does not make us change the name of the chameleon, and it is still the same reptile.
The schism in the UMC, the separation of Liberal and Traditional UMC in the USA: Why this must not be a cause of concern to UMC in Africa and Zimbabwe in particular
Like I mentioned earlier, I am not prescribing a solution, but I am part of the problem to stir the waters so that together, we might find a solution. The schism and protest is still, and will always be on interpretation of the source of our authority (Scripture) and now on how we are supposed to deal with a social and cultural issue in the American society. The issue of homosexuality has caused serious divisions in the political spheres of the Americans, before we even dive to the church. The political husband, who plays the role of protecting his wife the church, has, since immemorial been dumping the wife when they do not agree on certain issues, making this unit, a marriage of convenience. My struggle and question is, who of these two, always asks for a reconciliation, that always leads to a perpetual vicious cycle of abuse that we now witness around the globe in the UMC?
We can trace the separations of Methodism in the USA back to the time of John Wesley himself preached in the USA soil, to its establishment and in various stages of ecclesiological developments. The Methodist splits were a result of Slavery, Blacks in the church, Women clergy, and now on human sexuality. In all these phases, the involvement of the African continent in most of these was minimum if not none. How then does Africa rise to the issue of homosexuality? Does this want to tell us that the global UMC has now fully embraced uniformity and unity to mean the same? Does this mean that the Africans, because of their numbers can now have the power to control this Western Church? How will the Western political husband allow that abomination? Are we in this global village where every member in the village has power to change the course of events? What does it mean to say UMC is a global church? What does that mean Catholicism is a global church? Does this call for full equality, full inclusion, full belonging, and one identity, or it is a term that the Western church is happy to say, “We have evangelized the world, to the end, even Africa”? Is this Africa’s pride, is this Africa’s story, when Zimbabweans are singing, Baba John Wesley Mutumwa Washe? Is this not a joy to a Westerner, especially the Britons, who will enjoy this narrative, saying, “Truly we have done it? Where is our place in this? Are we the dreamer or the dream? Are we the evangelist or the evangelized?
Now, considering the USA infight on political party level, leveraged by the Republicans, who redefined the meaning of Christian conservative to mean American nationalism, it is so hard to see where the African UMC member finds him/herself standing on this whole issue. Like I mentioned earlier, the marriage has a lot of influence, and sometimes the church finds herself in a very difficult place. Can we find a way to diversify and agree to be in unit, without uniformity in terms of interpreting Scripture for the sake of the weaker brother? How did Jesus deal with cooperate sin and individual sin? How do we apply our situational ethic, and continue to maintain our purpose of existence? As the Apostle Paul was encouraging the church in (2 Corinthians 4:8-10), during persecution he had this to say, “ 8 We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; 9 persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. 10 We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.” In his book, the Wounded Healer, Henri J.M. Nouwen, explained how difficult it is for all of us to dive deeper in the lives of people and struggle with them and allow them to realize the beauty of the love of God. It amplifies to the same notion that our Lord Jesus Christ explained about the cost of discipleship. It is at a crossroads when we make serious decisions of life. “It is often in the darkest skies that we see the brightest stars.” – Richard Evans. We should allow our brothers in the West to incarnate with their complex situation, while we grapple with our African issues, but at the same time enjoy each other’s company in one big family called the UMC. One way or the other like in 1968, the Methodists in America will always find each other, and when that happens, Africa will be a defined part of the church, not a dream of a dreamer.
Conclusion Can Christ visit a sinner to save a sinner? Did Christ come to this world to save all? Did Christ inspire John Wesley to save people in the 17th century? Is Christ able to visit a leader of the AIC and give him a message to save people? Can Christ enter into a gay body to save gay people? Can Christ enter into a corrupt leader to save a corrupt situation? Can Christ enter in a divisive world to unity people? Is Christ still reveling Himself to inspire leaders, and transform people? Is Jesus Christ still the leader of both liberal theologians and conservative theologians? These words from the angel Gabriel might provide us an answer, (Luke 1:30-38) “30 Then the angel told Mary, “Don’t be afraid! God is pleased with you, 31 and you will have a son. His name will be Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of God Most High. The Lord God will make him king, as his ancestor David was. 33 He will rule the people of Israel forever, and his kingdom will never end.”34 Mary asked the angel, “How can this happen? I am not even married!” 35 The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come down to you, and God’s power will come over you. So your child will be called the holy Son of God. 36 Your relative Elizabeth is also going to have a son, even though she is old. No one thought she could ever have a baby, but in three months she will have a son. 37 Nothing is impossible for God!” 38 Mary said, “I am the Lord’s servant! Let it happen as you have said.” And the angel left her.” With our limitedness through our cultural orientations, our level of understanding, our connectedness with Christ, and limitedness in allowing and accepting diversity in this global village, we might be found wanting if we try to compartmentalize God. I also admit that I am limited, and I am not trying to impose or prescribe a solution, but I believe my little thoughts might trigger some thinking outside the box and stirring waters to bring sanity at the end. My contribution to this discussion is with the objective of making this world a better place for all, and provoke some thoughts.
By
Rev. Ngonidzaishe Mukarakate

1 thought on “The protestant within Protestantism”

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *