Friday, December 13, 2013

Worship according to the Book

I look back with amazement when I think of the churches I’ve been a part of since my childhood. I must admit that I’ve been a church hopper of note, although most of them were even before my conversion. What has been of great interest though as I look back is the different styles and forms of worship that my church hopping exposed me to. 

 Days when I attended Sunday school in a small township Baptist church where we would sing from Icilongo leVangeli , listen to a long sermon about ‘holiness or hell’ and shake everyone hands at the end of the service, to days when we would being led by a rock band to Hillsong music and listen to a pastor deliver a 25 mins motivational sermon. Oh, how can I forget when we would ‘praise and worship’ for almost 2 hours, have tithes and offering collection for another hour (it would take time mostly because the pastor is not happy with the initial offering), then an hour sermon mostly about ‘My season…’

As much as I believe that our worship gatherings should be different, in terms of style and cultural context, I also believe they should be similar in terms of content.  I believe we should have a guide line on the non-negotiables with regards to what we do for our worship gatherings. In fact, we do have that guide line, the Word of God. We might be different in our cultural context and denominations but as long as we would consider ourselves a Christian church the Word of God has been clear with regards to some elements of our worship.  Such elements are reading and preaching of God’s Word, singing, prayer, and sacraments. In addition, elements such as creed readings, vows, and offerings have also been recognized in church history. Historically these guide lines of worship have been called the regulative principle. 

Furthermore, all these elements should have a focus on proclaiming or displaying God and His gospel.
I would like to briefly explain more on these elements on how we can faithfully flash them out regardless of our cultural context:

Reading of God’s Word: It is with shame that there [are] churches where the worship gathering will end without God’s Word being opened and read. When the Apostle Paul instructs Timothy on the matters of the church, he clearly tells him not to neglect the public reading of Scripture (1 Tim 4:13). Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God. Let us devote ourselves to this.  As my pastor once said, Scripture reading is the only infallible proclamation from the pulpit.

Preaching of God’s Word:  ‘Preach the Word, be ready in season and out of season; reprove; rebuke and exhort, with complete patience and teaching’ 2 Tim 4:2. Paul could not have been clearer. The preaching of God’s Word should rebuke in some days and others exhort.  It baffles me that we have preachers that insist that they specialize in feel-good messages. Paul also instructs that the ‘full counsel…’ of God’s Word should be preached. If this instruction by Paul was obeyed, we would not have ‘breakthrough’ messages every week in churches. Preachers should devote themselves in teaching that seeks to expose God’s people to the whole redemptive history; the person of God and creation, the fall and its implications, God’s wrath towards sin, God’s sovereign plan of redemption, and future consummation of all things. These truths should be the main diets of our pulpits. Preachers should refrain from sharing unnecessary things in the pulpit, just because you think your suit is the best thing since the solas doesn’t mean you have to spend 20 minutes talking about it. Preach the Word!

Prayer: ‘First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people.’ 1 Tim 2:1. In case we tend to forget, the house of God is ‘a house of prayer’.  Corporate worship should always be marked with different kinds of prayers. Prayer of invocation, prayer of intercession, prayer of thanksgiving, prayer of illumination, prayer of confession, prayer of adoration and prayer of benediction. These are some of the prayers we should devote ourselves to in our corporate gatherings. Our prayers should also be orderly.

Singing: ‘Oh, sing to the Lord a new song, Sing to the Lord all the earth, Sing to the Lord, Bless His name, Proclaim the good news of His salvation from day to day, Declare His glory among the nations, His wonders among all peoples.’ Psalm 96: 1-3. We see God commanding us to sing to Him through this Psalm. He doesn’t only commands us to sing but He also shows us what kinds of songs we should sing. Songs that are God-centered, Trinitarian, and Gospel-centered. Our singing should also be congregational; this implies that we don’t need superstars performing to us in our congregational worship. Our songs are not meant to be entertainment or a distraction from God. As God’s people the primary content of our songs, as we see in Eph 5:19; Col 3:16, are Psalms, Hymns and Spiritual Songs. Choosing the songs to be sung on a given Lord’s Day should be intentional and done with great considerations. ‘As the main Teaching-Pastor it is your responsibility to shepherd the congregation into the green pastures of God-centered, Gospel-centered songs and away from plains of theological vacuity, meditations of human experience and emotional frenzy…’ Mark Dever.

Sacraments: ‘Sacraments are holy signs and seals of the covenant of grace, immediately constituted by God, to represent Christ, and His benefits; and to confirm our interest in Him: as also, to put a visible difference between those that belong to the church, and the rest of the world; and solemnly to engage them to the service of God in Christ, according to the Word.’ - Westminster Confession. Sacraments, baptism and the Lord’s Supper, are among the means of grace for God’s people. Baptism identifies us with Christ and His people. In the Lord’s Supper we eat and drink in Christ spiritual presence, to remember His death, receive present nourishment, and look forward to the great banquet to come. Some churches have come to neglect the administration of these sacraments, brethren, these are not optional!
It would be unfortunate to see these elements carried out uniformly across every nation and tongue. The regulative principle should not confine us to uniformity but to free us from cultural captivity. We don’t have to follow the latest trends, we have the guide line. This is not about style, it’s about substance. When I’m gathered with God’s people in Livingstone, Zambia or when I’m in Soweto or Constantia, Pretoria, I would not expect a similar style and everything to look the same. ‘Our God has created diverse peoples, and any attempt to erase that diversity opposes His wise design.’ Trip Lee. 
As we seek to bring biblical worship to our townships let us not compromise what’s in the Book, and on the other hand let us not pretend that context doesn’t exist.

Written by Sihle Xulu

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

When words fail

AS 1 Samuel 3:19 Thus Samuel grew and the LORD was with him and let none of his words fail.

One of our professors used to make a funny but true statement at school. Whenever as a class we would struggle to come up with a natural interpretation of what a text meant and try to be deep or manufacture the meaning of a given passage. He would stand in front of the class, hold up His bible and as if talking to little children say to us “Guys, this is simple. God wrote a book. And He chose to use human language. He did not use bird language or fish language.” 

As simple as that may sound, that statement has huge implications for how we approach ministry. As I think about Township Reformation I’m reminded of a recent meeting I had with a pastor from a village in Swaziland. His approach to the bible is typical of what has become normal in our Townships. The Bible is a tool that people use to say what they want to say. The general feeling is that “God reveals something to me in private and the bible must line up with what God has showed me.”  We laboured with Him for 4 hours on the issue of spiritual warfare. We tried to get Him to read the actual words of the text. He would read the words but then give a different interpretation to what the words are saying. At some point in the conversation it became clear that there is another authority that governs Him besides the Bible. Although many Churches in the Township boast that they are Bible Preaching Churches. Upon close scrutiny to what is preached on a weekly basis, one concludes that it is not the Bible that is being preached but people’s opinions, psychology, self-help theology and private revelations. Biblical Preaching has become so light in our Townships that words don’t mean anything anymore. The situation is so typical. After a couple of minutes in the sermon, the pastor will build His case, the congregation will respond with loud “Amen’s”, and after heightened emotional ecstasy the pastor will tell how he feels that someone’s blessing is coming or some other prediction regarding what he feels God is revealing to Him. A man can stand on the pulpit and throw words around whilst people say “Amen” to that but nothing actually changes in people’s lives. The congregation goes home, and come back the following week and hears the same rhetoric. You would think someone would call a time-out and be shocked that a man who stands on behalf of God on the pulpit has made a statement that claims divine authority but nobody saw its fulfillment. But unfortunately people come again the following week and the show continues.  

History shows us that preceding every great revival was the true preaching of God’s word. If we are serious about Township Reformation then it is inevitable that we have to be serious about the true preaching of God’s word .As my Professor said that “God wrote a book.” He used subjects. He used verbs. He used objects and clauses to communicate truth to us. Any preaching of God’s word that does not take seriously first and foremost the basic building block of language (words) presumes on God. It makes God seem as if He was confused or did not really intend to say what He said in the book. I am aware that it will take some time for our people to get used to logical, systematic study and preaching of God’s word because of our cultural backgrounds. But anything that we use to shortcut that process will also shortcut what God meant to say to us. If there is one doctrine that we must hammer on in our Townships, it is the doctrine of the sufficiency of scripture. Let’s bring back the Book!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Written by Sibusiso Mlotshwa

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

What does ‘Reformed’ mean?

In the introduction of his book ‘What is Reformed Theology’, R.C  Sproul says 

The Protestant church is under assault more than ever to give up the biblical distinctive that made the Reformation a necessity. Unfortunately, most evangelicals don’t know when the Reformation occurred, don’t know what it was about, and don’t understand the debt they owe men such as Martin Luther and John Calvin. So the question “What is Reformed theology?” has become a critical question in my lifetime, not a mere marketing-savvy title to grab your attention’.

In light of the coming Reformation Day on the 31 October, I thought it would be appropriate to engage on what it really means to be ‘Reformed’.  If you have visited our Facebook page you would notice a big banner written ‘Reformed’ and maybe you’ve been wondering what we really mean by that word. You may be familiar with denominations such as Anglican, Baptist, Presbyterian, and Methodist or other. One of the ways in which some of these denominations identify themselves is by calling themselves ‘Reformed’.

Reformed theology gets its name from theological emphases of the 16th century Protestant Reformation, which was an attempt to recover the apostolic faith from Roman Catholicism. Although believers in the Reformed tradition highly regard the specific contribution of such people as Martin Luther, John Knox and particularly John Calvin, they nevertheless also find their strong distinctives in the giants of the faith before them, in persons such as Anselm and Augustine, and ultimately in the letters of Paul and the teachings of the Lord Jesus. ‘Reformed theology’ has also been widely known as ‘Calvinism’ because of one of the Reformers, who was at the theological forefront in the Reformation, John Calvin.

 This is unfortunate because this theology is much older than Calvin. Many of the church fathers taught it, especially the great Augustine. The reformed tradition carried on through British, American, Scotland, and Netherland preachers such as John Bunyan, Matthew Henry, and John Knox. Later preachers and theologians such as Jonathan Edwards, Charles Hodge, Charles Haddon Spurgeon, Martyn Lloyd-Jones became prominent in this tradition.    

But- what does ‘Reformed’ mean in practice today?

Reformed Christians hold to doctrines characteristic of all Christians, including the Trinity, the true deity and true humanity of Jesus Christ, the inspiration of the Bible, the atonement, the new birth, the church as a divinely ordained institution, the requirement for Christians to live godly lives, the Great Commission, the second coming of Christ, the resurrection of the body, the final judgment and eternal life. They hold other doctrines in common with all evangelical Christians, such as the inerrancy of the Bible and justification by faith alone. These may be the similarities that we may share with other evangelicals but let us now look at some Reformed distinctives.
For most Reformed Christians the chief and distinct doctrine in their belief system is the Sovereignty of God. The sovereignty of God means that God rules over his creation with absolute power and authority. 

He determines what is going to happen, and it does happen. God is not alarmed, thwarted, frustrated or defeated by circumstances or by the sin or rebellion of his creatures. The Reformed Christian is ‘God-entranced’.  Reformed Christians see the glory of God as the goal of all life and eternity and God’s purpose in all His work. It is of immense and ultimate comfort to the believer that God is Sovereign in creation and providence (Gen 50:19.20; Isa 46:9-11) and in salvation (Acts 2:234:28; John 6:37, Jonah 2:9; Eph 1:3-11)
Reformed Christians understand that God, in creation, made us; in providence, governs us, and in salvation He saves us.

All evangelical theologies will agree that salvation is solely by God's grace, but Reformed theology alone says that grace is sovereignly given to whomever God chooses to grant it. “The doctrines of grace,” or the Five Points of Calvinism, are summarized by the popular acronym TULIP
Total depravity, Unconditional election, Limited atonement, Irresistible grace, and Perseverance of the saints. We might add that Calvinism stresses the five great doctrines rediscovered in the Protestant Reformation: Sola Scriptura (Scripture alone), Sola Gratia (grace alone), Sola Fide (faith alone), Solo Christus (Christ alone), and Soli Deo Gloria (to God alone be the glory).

Reformed theology has also defended its views of Scripture for centuries from liberals and cults. Reformed Christians have always affirmed these 4 things about Scripture.

Authority of Scripture: ‘The authority of Scripture means that all the words in Scripture are God’s words in such a way that to disbelieve or disobey any word of Scripture is to disbelieve or disobey God’ Grudem. 

Clarity of Scripture: ‘This is not to say that everything in the bible is perfectly clear. But that the basic message of salvation is sufficiently clear that anyone can understand it himself or by using ordinary means of grace, such as talking to a fellow believers and elders’John Frame. 

Necessity of Scripture: The necessity of Scripture simply means that we are in the darkness without God’s Word. 

Sufficiency of Scripture:  ‘Sufficiency means simply that in Scripture we have all the Words of God we need. We should not expect God to give us further revelation of the same authority as the Bible’ John Frame.

Another distinctive of Reformed Christians is that we also hold a high view of the Church. It is the body of Christ. If we hold Christ as precious, the Church must also be precious. We are drawn together by Christ, therefore we regard our assembling together to be special. Reformed Christians believe that even our worship, when we gather together, should be governed by God’s Word.  

That idea is called the Regulative Principle, that everything we do in worship should have a biblical basis. So Reformed worship will usually consist of: the Word of God read and preached, praise, and the Lord’s Supper. Worship is also to be rational, simple and Christ-centred.

Reformed theology also lays special attention on the cultural mandate, which means the obligation of Christians to permeate society and work for the transformation of the world and its cultures. We are called to be in the world and not to withdraw from it. We are to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the prisoners, and such things. Yet, the chief needs of people are nevertheless spiritual, so that social work is therefore no adequate substitute for evangelism. Examples of Reformed Christians who have exemplified this include George Muller, Abraham Kuyper, William Wilberforce, and more.

This is by no means a comprehensive look at Reformed theology but I hope it would spark an interest to find out more about it. This is what Township Reformation is about and we look to spread this love for biblical theology to all of our South African Townships. 

Soli Deo Gloria!

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Do we need more church plants in the township?

If you would think of any township, you would agree that, on the face of it, churches are not in shortage. The open areas where we would play as kids have now been occupied by church tents, if not by a car wash or shisanyama.  Every school is packed with 3 or more churches using classrooms as places of worship on Sundays. This is on top of many old mainline churches that have existed for years, whose buildings are almost falling apart and not forgetting the hip mega-churches that attract thousands of people from that same township.

 Now, we that said you would think that the obvious answer for the headline question would be an emphatic No, the reality is with all that said I’m convinced that townships still need more churches and I would like to spend the rest of this post attempting to make  case: why we need more church plants in the townships.

I might be generalizing , but from my past observations and experiences, I have come to a conclusion that most of the churches that are in our townships are not healthy, bible centered. In most cases the bible is not faithfully taught, they may use extracts from the bible to support whatever message they want but there is no proper sound teaching of who God is, man is, and what the gospel is. In fact, you may ask a prominent member (the ones who sit in the front row) of any of those churches what the gospel is, you may not find a biblical answer. 

The unfortunate result of gospel-void preaching is that it produces false converts.  As Mark Dever once said “False conversions are a suicide of any local church”, the more false converts are in that local church, the slow death of that local church begins.  These churches produce them in numbers. These congregants are not concerned about the propagation of the gospel, discipleship, sound doctrine and living in light of the gospel in their daily lives.

They are just mostly in it for entertainment, socializing, fashion parades and material success.  One of the main reasons why this has happened is the men (unfortunately even women) who lead these churches.  They fit the exact description of Paul when exhorting Timothy in 2 Timothy 4:3, that ‘a time will come when people will not endure sound teaching but having itching ears they accumulate for themselves teachers to suits their passions’.  They have twisted the Scriptures in order to scratch people’s ears and give them false hope. I wish this was just 1 or 2 bad apples in a pack of good ones but this is a norm in our townships.  I have to look long and hard to find good teachers and churches, thank God there still is that remnant out there.

Oh, how our townships need faithful shepherds who will stand boldly to proclaim God’s Word, defend it and live it. Men who will preach the Word, ready in season and out of season, reproving; rebuking; and exhorting with complete patience and teaching. Men who will faithfully give themselves to teaching the whole counsel of God, rightly dividing the Word of truth. Men who would boldly teach the roles of men and women in the home and church, according to the Scripture. Men who would be Christ centered in their exposition of Scripture, exalting Christ as our only sin-bearer, wrath-bearer and curse-bearer. Men who will give God His proper place as our Holy, Sovereign Father, who will accomplish all His purposes for His glory. Men who would take 1 Peter 5:2 -4 seriously.  Men who are diligent in cultivating a pious life in themselves first. To constantly see moral failures of men with titles like ‘Apostle’ or ‘Bishop’ is not something that the church of Christ should be used to. The township needs men who will understand that by their piety, they will be setting a godly example before the flock over which God has made them shepherds.   

By God’s grace, there has been resurgence, though small, of young men who are committed to cultivating these qualities. There are a growing number of young men who have resolved in changing the status quo of the church in our townships. Some of them have even taken an initiative of intensive study in different seminaries around the country so as to better equip themselves for ministry. We need no stay on our knees for the Lord to raise more of these men, the welfare of our township spiritual state depends on it.

So to answer the question, Do our townships need more church plants? The answer is yes! Church plants that would be a beacon of light in our townships. Church plants that would be marked by the centrality of God’s Word being preached faithfully and expositionally.  Biblical theology being the foundation of that church, only sound theology can lead to right worship and obedience. Every church should strive to believe, confess, and live in light of a truly biblical theology and sound doctrine. Townships need more churches that are committed to prayer, evangelism and discipleship. A proper understanding of the gospel should be an important mark in our township churches.  A biblical understanding of the gospel should inform every sermon, every act of baptism and communion, every song, every prayer, every conversation.

Our townships not only need more churches, they are desperate for more churches. Churches that are biblical, confessional, and faithful. Not tossed to and fro by any wind of doctrine blowing in this land. Let us pray earnestly to God to raise a new generation that would plant such churches. Also, let us support brothers who are in process of planting or have already, by Gods grace, planted such churches.
‘There are other important causes in the world, but in God’s providence He raises up people and organizations to take of those causes. The church must not be turned aside from her most important work. Members of political parties will support their parties’ political work, let God’s church support gospel preachers. Doctors build hospitals and practice medicine, let Gods church build churches and practice missions. Moralists will struggle for moral issues, let the church struggle for the furtherance of the gospel. Educators will teach children the 3 R’s of reading, writing and arithmetic, let the church teach sinners the 3 R’s of gospel truth: ruined by the fall, redemption by the blood and regeneration by the Spirit.’ Don Fautner

 Soli Deo Gloria!

Monday, October 14, 2013

Reforming the Township

One of the signs of success for most people who have grown up or live in townships is moving to the suburbs. 

Many are the nights when we have drifted to sleep to the soundtrack of gun shots and sirens, dreaming of the day when we would have enough money to rescue us out of the townships and keep us safe in our double story apartments with swimming pools and triple garages.

But now, as the burden for the lost in our townships grows heavier on a daily basis, it is becoming dreadfully apparent that some of us might be called into a different kind of success; a success that requires us to go downward rather than upward.

After all, the Scriptures we love and uphold are replete with this ‘go down to go up’ language:

“Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.” – James 4:10

“Whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it.” – Matt 16:25

Furthermore, this was the glorious example of our Lord Jesus – “who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 

Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” – Phil 2:5-11

Brothers and sisters, Township Reformers, our salvation was accomplished by a God who came down and dwelt among us. Therefore township reformation cannot thrive on the basis of occasional weekend visits to the people we desire to win to Christ. 

Are we prepared to humble ourselves, forsake our dreams of moving up to the suburbs and go down to the poor, the crippled and the lame and dwell among them? Do we have food to eat that those who need earthly comforts in order to be happy know nothing of?