Somebody Unshackle The Church Please!

You know you’re talking to a Zimbabwean if one of the first things they want to know about you is what church you attend. In my city, Bulawayo, churches have sprung up in the ruins of abandoned factories, drowning out the screaming silence of derelict machinery with mirthful praise and upraised hands with bangle-laden wrists that place portraits of contemporary prophets on lounge walls.
Indeed, Africa is ablaze with celebrity pastors addressing stadia groaning with the weight of eager crowds. Some religious leaders flaunt their power, feeding their congregants with chewy green grass and petrol with insecticide mist for ambience.
On the other end of the scale, the old churches sit with senior members interspersed with a few children listlessly waiting for lackadaisical escapist sermons to end. Insipid church pot lucks and sports events sum up their feeble attempts to reverse the impending death whose stench fills the air. The few young people are convinced their elders are a motley crew of sanctimonious hypocrites and oblivious twits oscillating between nostalgia and escapist utopian longing while the elders see the young as air headed fools in desperate need of bridles and common sense administered with blows from sticks.
One must wonder if there is an alternative to mindless euphoria on one hand and drowsy lullabies disguised as worship services on the other. Perhaps the source of malfunction lies not in worship style but in making church all about worship services. When did we change from the dynamic movement in the Book of Acts that turned the world upside down to a sappy weekend getaway club competing with motivational speakers, entertainers and sleeping tablets? When did the Holy Spirit change from slowing Peter’s mouth and speeding up his brain to banning reason from faith?
It was when the church’s organisational structure became more important than its mission, when the church harped about itself so long and loud that it couldn’t hear the Holy Spirit whispering Jesus’ character to its soul that it became an instrument of oppression and a monument to unbridled ambition. Bereft of the love of Jesus, the church fills the vacuum with adoration of brutal power, be it exercised by a single person or by the entire group. Forgetting to join in the mission of spreading Christ’s kingdom, the church in its confusion becomes an incestuous enclave seeking who it may exclude, delusional in its adamant claim to relevance.
The church is to be a dynamic organism, unified because of its diversity, striving to find innovative ways of extending Christ’s graciousness to hurting world. Where men are superficial enough to divide themselves according to the colour of their skin, the church must teach them to see brotherhood in each other. When men place price tags on each other, the church must place inestimable value on all. Where men shrink in fear from God and seek to buy his favour, the church must reveal the great price paid for men at the cross and sing of God as a loving Father.
Only the Holy Spirit can lead us to this. Just as the church in Acts was led by the Spirit to step out into the unknown, seeing the world in new ways and doing the unthinkable in an effort to serve God by living in service to man, we the church of today must continue on the same journey. If we seek the comfort of the familiar instead of seeking God, doom will prove inevitable but if we realign ourselves with God’s mission, we will climb heights that no grass eating and petrol drinking can attain. The Holy Spirit seeks to infuse the church not with insecticide spraying euphoria nor to lull us to slow hymn induced sedation but to fill us with enthusiasm for service. He comes not to shutdown our brains but to guide our thinking to Christlike benevolent brilliance. He seeks to unshackle us but the question remains, how badly do we want to be free?
photo credit: Rod Waddington Church of the Upside Down Cross via photopin (license)