Christianity in Africa is like...#2

So, we went to church. Who didn't?

Maybe the barbecue boys at the Chiremba shops (where they combine butcher and beer-stall in holy culinary matrimony). I think they probably stayed in bed. The two lonely muslims I have seen in Harare presumably passed church over. But elsewhere, suits came out across the city, dresses got pressed and school uniforms were brought out a day early for Sunday-best across town. The apostolic clans donned their white garments and took up their knotted staffs and headed for the tree-shades.We all went to church. Over this blog and the next I well tell a tale of three churches. It was a big Sunday.

United Baptist Church
We wen firstly to an open-walled, tree-trunk-and-tin Baptist church east of Harare. Gordon Dandato is the pastor there and you can tell by his suit and tie combo. We could be in Kansas, Dorothy. This was Baptist-serious. A chairman led the meeting, a secretary gave the notices, a Sunday-School Superintendent walked the kids in to sing 'Jesus Loves me this I Know'. It was like Wagga Wagga Baptist of my childhood, except the organist had been replaced by a dozen wailing black women. This, at least, is an improvement on the Baptist church of my childhood.

Apart from being phenomenally welcoming, and its clearly loving eldership, the great virtue of this church was another feature of its American Baptist roots - Sunday School.

Sunday School, in Baptist tradition, is not just for kids. Adults come to church an hour early and an elder leads them through a passage with a serious line of questioning. They opened Revelation 14 this day, a serious passage on any day. The depth of biblical knowledge and reflection was stunning. They attended to the context of the book in the passage, of the passage in its historical setting. They applied it to their lives. They rejoiced in it. They prayed through it.

We boast of our biblical depth in Sydney, though the truth is, the depth is deposited in too few, and others merely get the rhetorical benefit of being associated with good bible study. What I saw was a rebuke. To me, because I expect too little from my brothers and sisters in their grasp of the scriptures. To my brothers and sisters, perhaps, because if they had been there they would have felt out of their depth too. 

Try it - open Revelation 14 now and see what happens? Do you sink or swim in it? These guys did back-stroke and blew fountains of water out of their mouths.

If Christianity in Africa is a lake a mile wide but only knee deep, at United Baptist Church I had stumbled into a very deep trench. The old line about the lake does not hold true all the way through.

You can put a boat in at United Baptist, and let down some bait for big fish. It's deep there.

The Apostolic Movement
And then we drove home, dodging potholes, near-missing entirely unfazed pedestrians and passing great swathes of green, grassy land dotted with beautiful trees. Acacias and Jacarandas. There might be rubbish on the roadside, but God built trees high enough to stay beautiful beyond any human touch.

Speaking of beautiful, one of the most beautiful things about Christianity in Africa can be found under those trees. It is the groups of people clad in white garments, who stream out of houses and along roads to gather under tree-shade for church. 

But when I say beautiful, it is beautiful like a cheetah. This stuff will eat you alive. This is not really Christianity. It comes out of the Ethiopian African Methodist Episcopal Church, but this is cult. For all the crosses, and preaching, and white-linen-imagery, and Moses-talk, this apostlery thing is a concoction of Christianity, Moses-prophecy and pure, old-school African witch-doctoring. The 'churches' are often family clan-groups, led by a patriarchal or matriarchal elder who offer prophecies over those who come. People come with problems, and pay, and the wise-one gives them spiritual remedies. They often choose to use clay pots that preceded the white folks and their staffs speak of old-African chief-power. It is a desperate display of retro-Africana. 

These groups claim to be truly African - against the 'missionary' churches. As a result they barely speak of Jesus, prefer Moses (particularly the staff-going-snake-crazy stuff that resembles sorcery), and really revive old-school elder-dependent fear-filled religion.

Of course, the sheer aesthetics of it are stunning. I could almost become a disciple just because it soothes the sore modern eye to see people gather in white clothes under a green tree. It is truly otherworldly. But like many things merely beautiful, but not good, it is a mirage.

If Christianity in Africa is like a lake, then after such deep Baptist water, this is a brackish back-water, where dead trunks grow up from a sickly film, and the lake-grass rots in the sun at the edges. Do not go in the water here. 

And so, after 3 hours of church, we went to afternoon church with the man of God, the Prophet W.Magaya of PHD Ministries. But that remains for the next blog. It will take some space to relate, and some patience to read. It was big, in every way.