“The problem with the church today,” the man declared with the finality of absolute certainty, “is that we spend too much time discussing opinions. We need to follow what the Bible teaches and then we can agree on everything.” Filled with a growing sense of horror and feeling that familiar tightening of goosebumps, I took a moment to compose myself before giving my reply,
“The day we all agree on everything as a church is the day I leave because that is one of the warning signs of a cult. Even the Bible has four distinct Gospels.”
I am thankful for the presence of false teachers in the church because this presence is a sign that freedom still exists in our church. True love can only thrive when it breathes in an atmosphere of freedom. Truth can only be accepted by choice. Those who take it up on themselves to weed the church will do little but deface it as they form it in their own defective image.
I am also grateful for the presence of heresy in the church because the heated debates that it generates, forces all to think for themselves and carry out their own investigation. The ability, no, the impetus to think creatively and responsibly alter our environment is part of the image of God within us. We are never more Godly in character than when we seek understanding in order to affect our environment for the good of everybody in it. A system of religion that treats individual thought and understanding as inherently dangerous is antithetical to God’s purpose of making and remaking humanity in His image.
That is why I failed to maintain my attempt at nonchalance when a pastor addressing our youth group (at a church in Zimbabwe) told us to only accept teaching from South American and African theologians because the rest were apostate. After he nodded at my raised hand, I asked him if protecting an atmosphere of free thinking wouldn’t protect us from becoming a dangerous cult. His reply was affirmative but he added that discussion without conclusion isn’t progressive. I wondered to myself how meaningful discussion would be possible with his regional stereotypes while I noticed that since that discussion, he never looked at me without apprehensive suspicion marking his face.
Peter’s description of false teachers struck close to home because in my part of the world, cultural theology is ever in vogue. In most discussions, it becomes apparent that African traditional culture has worn a Christian garb and walked into the church. I don’t eschew all aspects of African traditional culture and find much to admire in it. However, African traditional culture has aspects that are antithetical to Christ’s mission. One of these, is the fatalistic, almost coercive subjugation to the will of authority.
The authorities are always right, especially when they are so wrong. This attitude latches onto Bible verses and twists them to suit it’s purposes. Resistance to change is bolstered with references to verses warning against causing the “weaker brethren” to stumble and of course, those instructing young people to respect their seniors. Parts of the Bible instructing parents not to provoke children and showing the progressive revelation of God’s will are stressed begrudgingly if at all.
Peter says false teachers can be identified by their slavery to sin evidenced by their proclivity to hedonistic behaviour. In my part of the world, cultural theology has shown its bankruptcy through unfettered sexual promiscuity in the clergy and laity alike, corruption at all levels of so called Christian societies and most disconcertingly, in a steadily growing apathy and hostility of young people to the church.
Extensive volumes could be written about the spiritual dysfunction created by the attempt to uncritically fuse incompatible aspects of African traditional culture and Christianity but the problem, and the solution lies in critically examining any teaching and asking,
1. How does this bring me closer to God?
2. How does this make me a better person?
3. How does this make me an objectively better person to live with?
4. How does this prepare me for the life to come?