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Churches to Meet or Not to Meet?

The South African government’s allowance of church gatherings (of up to 50 people) to resume at level 3,  next week Monday 1 June 2020, is exposing a divided church and society… once again! As usual, socio-ethical issues and considerations become divisive, even acrimonious. It shouldn’t be! The church ought lead the way as servant in society, and particularly in this instance. 

SOME political parties, Christian organisations and SOME denominations have been lobbying the government for opening of church meetings at level 3. And SOME argue on the basis of ‘religious rights’. The government has yielded to their request. This is not advisable. It’s based on wrong thinking, as the push back from many other church leaders and people in our society has shown. 

If we were ‘shut down’ for reasons of persecution, of faith, of conscience, etc, it would be a different matter. But, in this case, it’s a matter of health for the good of the nation. Here is the issue: If the curve had peaked and was decisively going down, it is then a consideration – as is now the case in many European nations. We have yet to see the painful peak in South Africa. Winter is here – June and July could be the worst months. To gather together now, despite all the sanitisation and distancing precautions in place, would be foolish, in my view.

Gatherings of up to 50 people, no matter where, at this point, can become places of contamination. If restaurants and cinemas and other such places are not allowed to open at level 3, why churches? Restarting businesses is a different matter: It is so the economy does not collapse and people don’t starve, though work too comes with the health risks. In our disparate societal context, suburban churches have the resources to implement all the required safety measures (which are not in themselves a guarantee of ‘safety proof’). The majority of churches, however, do not have the same luxury (in townships, informal settlements, rural areas). God forbid that church meetings become an epicentre of spreading this virulent virus.  

We can continue to BE church in the home and in society without having to go TO church in a building. Gathering together in a facility for public worship is only A PART of being church, it’s not THE part. So, we can continue to find creative ways to be and do church without having to go to church at this time, for the health and good of our nation, as servant and example.

In conclusion: ‘to meet or not to meet?’. We must go slow. We could…

A) Continue the faithful social service engagement, relational pastoral care and online church, as has been the priority throughout lockdown;

B) Resume small home groups in a lounge – like visiting a few friends – with the necessary precautions in place (masks, washing hands, social distance). This is controversial as one source says house visiting is allowed at level 3 and another says not. If it is not, then we continue online small groups.

C) Relocate the recordings and live-streaming of Sunday and other services to the church facility (if there is one), but with up to 10 people present, such as helpers, worship team, preacher, etc. This is far more controllable than 50 people (in any case, how can we control who comes and who doesn’t come? And turn away people after 50 have arrived?)

D) And to encourage the vulnerable (elderly, sickly, etc) to stay home, and to continue to care for them in the current context.

Often socio-ethical decisions involves the choice of ‘the lesser of evils’. The ‘good’ or ‘best’ for us as church is not always for the good of society. Let us be patient, bide our time, and use it in service of the nation’s greater good, for health sake. This virus is vicious and highly contagious. May we, as Church, set the example and not be part of the pandemic problem! God have mercy on us! N’kosi Sikelela iAfrika!

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Guidance in Leading A Kingdom Response to Corona

A full solar eclipse

I was asked this week to share thoughts on giving leadership in response to the corona pandemic. Pastors and spiritual leaders carry a particular responsibility before God to guide churches, and society in general, with a godly response. How do we think about this crisis, and what do we do? Note that this is from a South African context in response to developments here. But it has application globally.

Biblical thinking, theology, does matter! It leads to right or wrong attitudes and practices, depending on our underlying beliefs. How do we respond to God in faith at this time, and not react in fear to the situation? We’re living in unprecedented times: a micro-virus holds the whole world to ransom, to a lockdown not seen in our life time, with all the socio-economic-political implications. It is very serious. Our lives have changed. Globally, as I write, there are 468,644 infected & 21,191 deaths (see live tally, It’s a kairos moment, a time of threat AND opportunity, of disaster AND of God’s Kingdom breaking through like we’ve not seen before. How do we maximise a ‘Kingdom response’ that is life-changing at this critical time?

Kingdom-Prophetic Perspective:  How do we think biblically about this pandemic?

‘Corona’ means crown. The scientists who, in 1968 came up with the term coronavirus, noted that the virus they were looking at under the microscope resembled a solar corona, the bright crown-like ring of gasses around the sun, visible in a solar eclipse. However, corona is not king!

Jesus is King! He is the Son that shines so bright with his crown of thorns, from his throne of the cross, that his beautiful light is blinding darkness. The darkness of human sin & sickness, suffering & death – of hell itself – that he took into his own body, to overcome evil and free humanity from its power. In his death AND resurrection, Jesus is victorious and rules over evil powers, all pandemics, all catastrophes. Not in arrogant triumphalism! But in humble compassion, because he suffered, and suffers, with and for all who suffer. Mercy is the mode and manner of his majestic reign that gives light and life to all who turn to him. This is the message we seek to live and preach, of the King to whom all other crowns (coronas) must bow, the King who is the hope of the world.  

What on earth is God doing at this time?  God is shaking all things, all the kingdoms of the earth, so that what is unshakable may emerge for all to see and receive: God’s Kingdom (Hebrews 12:26-28) in his Suffering Servant, by whose wounds we are healed (Isaiah 53:5). The entire biblical message is simply: God is King… God will become King. While God is – and always will be – sovereign over all reality, including our lives, something serious went wrong after creation and turned against God. So, God will become King by defeating that evil rebellion, putting everything to right.

How then do we view pandemics and natural disasters?  They are due to the fall of humanity into sin and death, part of the chaotic rule of ha satan – Hebrew for the opposer of God, his purposes and his people. Humanity in Adam and Eve lost their God-given authority – their kingdom – to the devil, who is now “the god of this age who blinds the minds of those who do not believe” (2 Cor 4:4). Satan is the perpetrator of all that works against God and God’s purpose of Shalom-Good for humanity, of all created reality.

So, has God lost control?  No! God is King, sovereign over all. God has no equal opposite. Satanand his kingdom of evil spirits are created fallen beings. The Hebrew Testament shows that God can even use ha satan as an instrument/servant of judgement. It also means that no matter what evil does, God can ultimately use it to fulfil his purpose. More so, no matter what happens, God works in it for our good, for those who love him and are called as per his purpose (Romans 8:28). This requires faith to see what God is doing in each kairos moment. “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God” (Matthew 5:8) – in all things – where God is present & active, to work with God!

What is God’s answer to corona?  The Messiah. God will become King. God becomes King in two accumulative historical steps: Jesus inaugurated God’s Kingdom 2000 years ago, in principle and power, and will consummate the Kingdom when he returns, in fullness and finality. This is to defeat and “destroy the works of the devil” (1 John 3:8), and free humanity and creation into the fullness of God’s Shalom Kingdom. Paul uses three tenses for this mystery of salvation: “God has delivered us (past)… will deliver us (future)… and will continue to deliver us (present)” (2 Corinthians 1:10). Evil has been defeated at the nailed-pierced hands of Jesus, is being defeated at the prayerful hands of the Church, will be defeated at the Second Coming. In other words, we’re in a war that we cannot lose, a life and death battle with evil in all its forms, including coronavirus.

Practical-Responsible Perspective:  How do we give leadership, what do we do?

We teach our people the Kingdom has come, meaning, we engage with conviction and courage as a time of great Kingdom opportunity to work with God (listed below). We also teach that the Kingdom is yet to come, meaning, we wait in prayerful hope for God’s breakthrough, facing reality head on, being honest about where we are at, and reaching out to others in need.

Our people must avoid two extremes: an overemphasis of Kingdom now that is presumptuous and arrogant, denying reality due to “faith in the blood of Jesus”, “corona is hyped/fake news”, “we can meet, touch each other”, “we’re immune to COVID-19 because of PSALM-91”. That’s presumption, not faith. The devil tempted Jesus with this, quoting Psalm 91; but Jesus said, “don’t put God to the test” (Matthew 4:5-7). Or, an overemphasis of Kingdom not yet that is faithless and fearful, succumbing to reality in doom and gloom, escaping into “it’s judgement, it’s the end”, “hoard stacks of food and withdraw”, “save yourself”, “the rapture can happen any moment”.

Therefore, the radical middle we lead and teach our people is…

  • As citizens of heaven PRAY ceaselessly, “May your Kingdom come and defeat this pandemic… have mercy, O God.” Pray continually for miraculous breakthrough.

  • As citizens of our nation, PRAY for the President and government as they lead us in this difficult time (1 Timothy 2:1). Pray for all health workers who put their lives at risk. Pray for all who are vulnerable, sick and dying. Pray for the poor & unemployed, for business & the economy.

  • It also means supporting and upholding the government requirements of “social distancing”, sanitization and lockdown. Distribute the list of requirements during isolation to all church members, that they may be good citizens as per Titus 3:1-2, “Remind the people to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good, to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and always be gentle to everyone.”

  • “Social distancing” is better reworded as “physical distancing AND social solidarity”. Keep bodily distance (1.5m) but socially engage via all the technological means available to us, for love and care of our families, friends and people in need.  LOVE = physical distancing + social solidarity. NB: think about what this (LOVE) means for so many poor and unemployed people living in townships, informal settlements, rural areas, for whom hand sanitization, running water, storing up food, working from home, social distancing, drawing on savings, means little or nothing. If we are willing, God will show us how we can do something to help those within reach. The Church can be the nail-pierced hands of Jesus to them – a shining witness of love.  

  • Make arrangements to pastorally care for your people through increased ‘high (tech) touch’ by video and audio calls, pastoral letters, Whatsapp groups, pastoral visits with bodily distancing, live-stream teachings, video recordings, getting food and medicine to those in need. Ask God to show you how to do church, and leadership, creatively different at this changing context.

  • Have special sensitivity for the elderly, singles, for those vulnerable to mental health issues, depression, loneliness, dysfunctional marriages and potential domestic abuse in the ‘pressure cooker’ of the home in weeks of lockdown.

  • Finally, the lockdown means we now have the space and time to do three things:

    a) Deepen our discipleship to Jesus by engaging more in spiritual practices like extended solitude, learning silence, hearing God, meditation & prayer, fasting, good spiritual reading & study, among other exercises. (My two books are available as a resource, Praying the Psalms, a 12 week program of meditative prayer in 12 psalms; and Doing Spirituality, where I discuss all 24 classic spiritual practices in the Christian tradition).

    b) Deepen our relationships with our closest others we live with, learning to listen and love, resolve differences & conflicts, play games together, read a book together, etc. The lockdown will test us and our relationships in new ways. Use it for personal and relational growth.

    c) Deepen our social solidarity with others in need – commented on above.  

God bless you with the grace and wisdom, the love and faith that you need at this difficult time to lead your people as Jesus would if he were you! I pray that over you in the Name of Jesus!      

I close with an honest, biblical, prophetic and practical quote from Martin Luther in giving advice to Lutheran pastors in a letter in 1527 when Wittenberg was overrun by the plague. When asked what he would do, this was his answer: 

“I shall ask God mercifully to protect us. Then I shall fumigate, help purify the air, administer medicine and take it. I shall avoid places and persons where my presence is not needed in order not to become contaminated and thus perchance inflict and pollute others and so cause their death as a result of my negligence. If God should wish to take me, he will surely find me and I have done what he has expected of me and so I am not responsible for either my own death or the death of others. If my neighbour needs me however I shall not avoid place or person but will go freely as stated above. See this is such a God-fearing faith because it is neither brash nor foolhardy and does not tempt God.”

(Luther’s Works Volume 43, pg 132, the letter “Whether one may flee from a Deadly Plague” written to Rev. Dr. John Hess).

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South African Crisis: Open Letter to my Church

“When the foundations are being destroyed, what can the righteous do?”
The Lord is in his holy temple; the LORD is on his heavenly throne.”
(Psalm 11:3-4)

“Cry the beloved country” – AGAIN – our nation is in crisis! A serious moral, political and socio-economic crisis. As your pastor it would be sinful if I did not speak out in this hour, speaking truth to power, and giving guidance to our congregation: What must the Church do?

Last night at midnight, under the cloak of darkness, President Jacob Zuma announced a cabinet reshuffle. He fired Minister of Finance, Pravin Gordhan, and his deputy, Mcebisi Jonas, and kept poor performing and corrupt ministers – clearly ‘Zupta Supporters’ in his system of patronage. He has made Malusi Gigaga, a corrupt Zupta supporter, the new Finance Minister. Gigaba is known to frequent the Gupta residence in Saxonwald, infamously called ‘Saxonwald Shabeen’. This is the most shameless blatant ‘state capture’ to control the national treasury and further rape the country’s resources. Pravin Gordhan’s response to this extreme act of state capture is simple: The nation must rise up for truth and justice, and organize and mobilize to resist – get on the streets and stop this evil taking over – else we will suffer the consequences.

Those who support Zuma in the name of “remove Gordhan because he protects ‘white monopoly capital’ and works against the radical transformation of the economy”, are blinded and captivated by the ideological defenses of Zupta corruption. Even Julius Malema, the most radical proponent of decolonization and justice for the poor (rightly so), does NOT buy this ideological deception – he fully supports Gordhan and Jonas’ integrity and competent work.

Our nation right now teeters on the edge. This can snowball into serious destruction, or be a turning point for good. How do we think Biblically, and not ideologically, about this situation? (Ideology means a system of thought and argument that justifies certain group interests over against another group – the ‘lenses’ through which we see, interpret and react to reality)

The Biblical idea of crisis is captured in the word kairos: a moment in time in the history of the nation that is a turning point one way or another, depending on our corporate choice. Kairos is both judgement/disaster, and opportunity of God’s merciful intervention, at the same time. We lived through a kairos in 1994 and chose a miracle of peaceful change in SA, defeating evil powers that threatened civil war. We are at the same place again as a nation. What will you choose? Truth or corruption? Good or evil? Action or passivity?

When the foundations of our nation, of our lives, are being shaken, what can the righteous do? King David’s answer is clear: See Yahweh, the Creator-God of the nations, on his throne, still in charge of his universe. Compare Psalm 11 with Psalm 2 and see what the Church must do:

  1. Not to panic, not be intimidated, not be psycho-emotionally defeated, not get all negative and depressed, and talk ourselves and our nation into a hole, into the hands of the devil.
  2. But this does not mean that we cannot, and must not, call it for what it is: pure evil. Some Christians bury their head in the sands of ‘positive confession’ believing that to say anything negative (to name, describe, unmask and rebuke evil) is wrong – that is Gnostic belief.
  3. It means, while we face reality full on, without denial and ideological blindness, at the same time we continually look up to see God on his throne. God is ultimately in charge, though he has delegated spiritual powers to rule over nations. These ‘powers’ become corrupt, as seen or ‘manifested’ in national leaders and governments. God can judge and discipline them.
  4. It means seeing things from God’s point of view: “Yahweh observes everyone on earth, his eyes examine them, the righteous and the wicked – who love lies, cheating, stealing, violence – which God hates with a passion” (11:4-5) God sees and knows it all. We can pray with his passion, that he exposes and judges and defeats that evil, as David says in 11:6.
  5. But it also means, we not only reactively pray for the downfall of evil, but we proactively love justice (11:7). We must model and do justice in our circles of influence, in our nation. We must show a different way of being the new South Africa that we all want. What this looks like practically must be discussed and implemented and lived. THIS is collaboration with Messiah to advance his rule of righteousness in the face of ‘the powers’, as in Psalm 2 (God laughs at presidents who chuckle while doing evil, thinking they will get away with it, 2:4).
  6. Why the above five points on prayer? Because we have direct access to God, the Ultimate Power over nations! To pray is to trust God and live in peace. If we pray for principled leadership, good godly government, as in 1 Tim 2:1f, God will give it to us.
  1. What more can Christians do? We must live our prayers daily by speaking up and standing up for truth. STOP lying, stop cheating, stop stealing, stop all corruption – expose and challenge it. Confront injustice; shout it out from the roof-tops.
  1. We can pour out into the streets to besiege parliament in the hundreds of thousand, NOT in the name of a political party, but in the name of Jesus, justice, righteousness, truth. The Koreans and Brazilians recently dethroned their corrupt presidents by occupying the streets with a million people. Mass non-violent resistance and public protest has great power for change in national histories, where injustice gained the upper hand.
  1. Vote the ANC out of power. It’s not about Zuma per se, it’s about the ANC that has allowed the Zuptas to capture the state for self-enrichment. The ANC, from Cyril Ramaphosa and Gwede Mantashe and all them, must take responsibility. They have lost the right to rule this country. Their credibility is down the drain. Vote them out of power! Don’t vote ANC!

I trust this gives perspective as to a Christian response.

Here is my FaceBook post:

“I call on all people of truth and integrity in South Africa, who love righteousness and justice, who believe God still controls the destiny of nations – the God who can bring either judgement or blessing through wicked or righteous leaders – to pray up, speak up, stand up, march up, and shout from the rooftops, against the firing of Gordhan and his deputy, against Zuma’s shameless blatant ‘treasuary capture’ to further pillage and rape the nation’s resources for his own ends of security and power. The conspiring of evil to hold onto power has played its card, may righteousness and truth defeat it.

If the leaders and people of principle, of truth, of justice (including the Christians) WITHIN THE ANC, WITHIN THE CABINET, WITHIN THE ANC ELDERS & STALWARTS, WITHIN LUTHULI HOUSE, do not stand up right now and confront and discipline and recall Zuma, they will have lost all credibility. NOW is the time, NOW is the hour for them to be counted, to intervene, to put their bodies on the line for the sake of the nation, to stop this naked shameless corruption of power. Pray for the leaders who now step to the fore over the next few days to confront this madness of Zuma, because they could lead us to a better place over the next few years. Above all PRAY, and speak up, and engage in whatever non-violent resistance that can confront the corrupt powers of Zuma and his cronies, his whole system of patronage that he’s built up… MAY IT FALL FLAT IN THE NAME OF JESUS!”

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Racist Polarisation in SA – Four Types of Racists

I want to comment on the recent social media storm generated by a certain Penny Sparrow (who called black people monkeys) and the retaliatory racist comments by journalist Zama Khumalo and a certain Velaphi Khumalo (who said blacks should do to whites what Hitler did to the Jews).

If we don’t break our denial as to our deep racial conditioning and prejudice in this country, we will never address, heal, or be free from the racism in our hearts and minds, in our nation.  We must face what is within us in order to renew our minds and attitudes in the truth of the equality and dignity of every person created as God’s image on earth, no matter what race. Otherwise, given the right situation or incident, our buttons will be pressed and our unresolved racist conditioning will overflow in words and actions. If you were born in SA, no matter if you are white, black, coloured or Indian, you are subconsciously racially conditioned. You need to consciously face it and turn from it daily. If we don’t proactively do this, actually doing reconciliation, we will continually be reactively dealing with racist outbursts – from within us and around us – as mirrored in the white Sparrows and the black Khumalos, who both verbalised what many in both constituencies secretly think.

I worked for justice and reconciliation in SA under apartheid in Soweto from 1984-1996, and wrote a book about that life changing journey. Published in 2004, I speak of  four kinds of racists in post apartheid SA… Which one are you?

What follows is from pp.124-125 in Doing Reconciliation – Racism, Reconciliation and Transformation in Church and World. Continue reading Racist Polarisation in SA – Four Types of Racists

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AVC SA Statement: Xenophobic Violence in SA, 15 April 2015

The Association of Vineyard Churches South Africa today issues an urgent and emphatic appeal to our nation and its leaders, in the light of the worsening situation regarding violence against foreign nationals in our country.

Scripture, as well as the best traditions in Africa, teach us that nations and peoples are judged, and earn either honour or dishonour, by the way they treat their strangers. We believe this to be true and critical to our national survival and spiritual well-being, and that xenophobia is a denial of and insult to our humanity, our national dignity, our democracy and the struggle against Apartheid. It is a contradiction of the introduction to our national Constitution that says: “South Africa belongs to all who live in it, united in our diversity.” In that sense, we believe, with the Apostle Paul, that there is no longer any divide between people into “insiders” and “outsiders”, that is not erased by the crucifixion of Christ. “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility. He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near.”

We therefore make a call to the people of South Africa, and in particular the leaders of our nation, whether local, regional or national, whether of churches, political parties or local communities: Continue reading AVC SA Statement: Xenophobic Violence in SA, 15 April 2015

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2014 SA Elections: Biblical Guidance on Voting

This year we celebrate 20 years of South Africa’s (SA) democracy. Remember the miracle of the 1994 elections? We go to the polls again on 8 May 2014. How should the church relate to the government – the ruling ANC party – at this time? How should we vote?

Historically there have been three general approaches to the Church/State relationship:

  1. Kingdom of God approach: Separation of Church and State; a critical partnership meaning constructive support on matters for the good of society and critical resistance on matters harmful to society (when Kingdom values and ethics are violated).
  2. Constantinian approach: Union of Church and State, called Christendom, from when Emporer Constantine (311AD) became a Christian. It’s an activist involvement either for the State (a State Church), or against the State (a Subversive Church). Traditional Churches still operate in this paradigm. The Anabaptists (in 1500s) were the first to break away from State-Church control, called Free Churches.
  3. Pietistic approach: Church withdrawal from the State – being a-political, meaning “don’t meddle with politics… it’s not the concern of the Church”. This “remain silent” approach is found in Evangelical, Pentecostal and Charismatic churches (especially during the Apartheid years). In reality it means support for the status quo. Continue reading 2014 SA Elections: Biblical Guidance on Voting
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Tribute to Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela – A Personal Anecdote

I’ve been watching Nelson Mandela’s memorial service today. Very moving. Almost 100 heads of state and dignitaries – some say the largest funeral in history! And it’s been pouring with rain since early morning. It’s still raining now at the end of the service – as if nature itself has been gently weeping, mirroring our mourning of Madiba, the father (‘Tata’) of our new democratic nation, South Africa. But in African (and Biblical) culture, rain is a sign of blessing, a promise of new life. May it be!

Tata Mandela will be sorely missed. We, this nation, and this world, will miss his reconciling presence, stately leadership and moral authority. God, in his sovereign design in our time of greatest historical need, raised up Madiba to bring about liberating reconciliation and justice – a shining light to all people and nations on planet earth. Extraordinary people like Mandela only come along once in a couple of centuries. Not that he was a saint; he himself freely admitted to his flaws and failures! (We must be careful of Mandela-worship as time passes) He’s known for saying “I’m a sinner. I’ve made many mistakes. I only pretend to be a saint when I’m among people!” As a South African, I feel so honoured and privileged to have lived in his life-time, to have lived through the miraculous change that we have experienced.

I never met Madiba – only saw him from a distance in a meeting – but there’s a story that lives with me, that has inspired me for years. Continue reading Tribute to Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela – A Personal Anecdote

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South African Crisis of Violent Rape and Murder

What is the cause of the unbelievable levels of violence in South Africa – specially in terms of rape and murder – what men do to women and children in our country? Our society and the public media, including the government, is debating what’s behind this, trying to isolate the cause of this pandemic of violence. What are your comments?

Continue reading South African Crisis of Violent Rape and Murder

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Update on Repentance Paper re SA situation

I’m reminded that I did not comment further on the repentance paper that my colleague and I wrote for a possible process in regard to the South African situation. We drafted the paper (see below), but it’s still in process of discussion and decision making with a group of church leaders. However, they have agreed that we publicize what we have written so far. Any later changes or papers will come online as and when they’re finalized.

A Kairos Moment: A Call to Confession & Repentance

“You have planted wickedness and have reaped evil,

You have eaten the fruit of deception and corruption.

Plough up your fallow ground,

Sow righteousness and reap mercy,

For it is time to seek the Lord

Until he comes and rains righteousness on you”

The words of the prophet Hosea (10:12-13) ring true in our ears in South Africa today. We have sown greed and reaped lies. We have said, “It is our time to eat!” But we are eating the fruit of deception and corruption. Where is righteousness and mercy? Where is justice for all? We have reached a kairos moment: It is time to face what is happening and turn to God by ploughing up our hard hearts with confession, repentance and action, to save our nation. God may then come and rain righteousness – the reign of justice – on our land.

Greek kairos means “a time” of impending disaster and/or opportunity for God’s intervention – a miraculous turn around for good. It can go either way depending on how we respond. Carry on as normal? Or intervene? We have reached a “tipping point” of decay due to the corruption of character in leadership and in ordinary South Africans. The way of the leaders is the way of people. We are indeed a corrupt nation! Unless we repent – intervene for a radical turn around – we will come under God’s judgement. Violent social unrest will overtake us all.

The Signs of The Times

Archbishop Desmond Tutu held a press conference on 4th October 2011 in regard to the Dalai Lama visa debacle. With prophetic fury he rebuked the ruling party as “arrogant and disgraceful… worse than the Apartheid government.” It marked a symbolic turning point in the Church–State relationship in particular, and in South Africa in general. As concerned Christian pastors and leaders we stand with Tutu and say, “Watch out! Watch out! I warn you, watch out!”

This prophetic outburst was not the isolated ranting of an old man as some have said. It came after a sustained period of constant revelations of corruption at high levels in government and all sectors of society – with deceptive cover-ups and arrogant denials. This has all but broken the good faith and morale of ordinary citizens. So much good has been done in our new democracy, but it’s fast unraveling. The miracle of 1994, built on the high moral ground and sacrifice of the Nelson Mandelas and Desmond Tutus and others, seems like a distant dream. How have we become so sinfully arrogant and corrupt so quickly?

Jesus said, “interpret the signs of the times” (Matthew 16:1-4). Beside the culture of entitlement – now unbridled greed and brazen corruption – other dark clouds are coming together, threatening a storm that can destroy our young democracy. Crime and violent-power have become endemic. Every twenty-six seconds a so-called man rapes a woman or child. Sexual trafficking is rife. Moral values and social ethics are in serious crisis. Our liberal laws have empowered a holocaust of abortions. The HIV/AIDS pandemic is overwhelming – surely God weeps? Unresolved issues of race face us on many fronts, the result of a superficial reconciliation. Political reconciliation without meaningful social and economic reconciliation has not worked; e.g. restorative justice, reparations, land restitution, poverty and unemployment, still define themselves along racial lines.

Polarization is once again taking place. Most whites are perceived as having opted out of the project of redressing the past and building a common future, becoming critics from the sideline. Black Economic Empowerment with affirmative action, employment equity, housing for the poor, etc, has not reversed past inequalities. In many instances it has fed nepotism and greed. The poor are not empowered. They cry out for justice. The lack of service delivery because of corrupt and incompetent government officials – local and national – is leading to violent protests. The call of the ANC Youth League to appropriate land without compensation and nationalize the mines, further fuels the fires of unrealistic expectations, white fears, and social unrest.

These are some of the signs… how do we respond to this?

A Call to The Church – Especially its Leaders

As concerned Christian pastors and leaders we believe it must start with us: “It is time for judgment to begin at the house of God” (1Peter 4:17). If we take on symbols of judgment – like wearing black armbands or black clothes, even sackcloth and ashes – and mourn and weep before we come under God’s judgment, then we might avert it. We are in God’s hands; we are not at the mercy of evil. Therefore we should take up the “lament” of Jeremiah… ‘Why should we, mere humans, complain when we are punished for our sins? Instead, let us test and examine our ways. Let us turn again in repentance to the LORD. Let us lift our hearts and hands to God in heaven and say, “We have sinned and rebelled, and you have not forgiven us”’  (Lamentations 3:39-42).

How can we pray for our nation, for our government, when we have not confessed and repented from our own sin? What moral authority do we have as the Church in South Africa to speak to the government and the nation? We are compromised by our own sin, by our pride and arrogance, power and lies, anger and violence, lust and immorality, greed and corruption. We mirror society. Our churches are more a copy of our nation than a model of God’s kingdom. Are we, as spiritual leaders, any better than the socio-political leaders? If we confess and repent, God will have mercy and forgive. He will come and rain righteousness on us – the reign of godly and competent leadership, of ethical and good governance as in 1Timothy 2:1-8 (and see Romans 13).

Our focus on spiritual leaders, and then on our churches, does not mean we do not share this vision of intervening in our nation with a broader forum. It’s a matter of reality and priority – the ultimate power and battle is spiritual – God is our savior and no one else, no political party or ideology, or nothing else. Having said that, we do want this kairos call with the attached document to go out to all sectors of society: religious, political, business, labour, educational, community organizations, etc, for awareness, discussion and action.

Proposed Action

If we take up one major sin with confession and repentance, it will overflow to other issues by the conviction and work of the Holy Spirit.

We call on all Church leaders and congregations of Jesus Christ to confess and turn from deception and corruption in our personal lives, in our families, in our local churches, in our places of work and in society in general.

We call on all Church leaders and members to be radical about this matter: To disclose any form of corruption they have knowingly participated in; to disclose anything they have acquired through unethical means, no matter what this may entail. We call on them to make restitution as much as it is possible – to go and confess and return what has been taken, or to bring it to the Church (that will be identified) that it may be handed over to the relevant person or authorities.

To enact this, we call on all Church leaders to gather their people for specific public services of confession, repentance, restitution and prayer. We call on the leaders and people to put on symbols of repentance as mentioned above, to mourn and weep for the sins of leadership, of the Church and the nation. We take Daniel as our model – see Daniel chapter 9. The worship service is the place to disclose any form deception and/or corruption we have participated in, and to receive God’s forgiveness and cleansing.

We further call on all leaders and members to courageously confront and/or report any and every act of corruption in the family, in the local church, in the work place, in government and in society in general.

In this manner we are calling on the Church – all its leaders and members – to come clean and recover our integrity in the name of Jesus Christ. Perhaps God may use that in some way to intervene and save our nation.

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“Black Tuesday” – Pray for South Africa!

Opposition parties and other organizations who opposed the ANC’s proposed “Protection of Information Bill” asked everyone to wear black clothes yesterday, and called it “Black Tuesday”. And rightly so! 22 November 2011 will go down in history in South Africa as Black Tuesday.

I want to register my sadness and mourning, and my outrage and protest, at the ANC vote that passed the “Information Bill” into law in parliament yesterday. This is a major step toward unaccountable and autocratic rule. It’s a major step back to what the Apartheid government did to control information, to detain and imprison people, all in the name of “state security”. In reality it’s about increasing lack of transparency with constant cover-ups of growing corruption and abuse of power.

Personally, I have no idea how ANC members of parliament who are born again Christians can live with their conscience after voting the party line. The ANC Chief Whip Dr. Motshekga told his MPs they have to vote what the ANC wants. Shame on them!

In summary, the “Protection of Information Bill”…

  • Is a draconian law that puts a shroud over government and undermines South Africa’s hard won freedoms for an open and just democratic society.

Continue reading “Black Tuesday” – Pray for South Africa!