The Priesthood of All Believers

In previous articles, I have argued that the modern popular view of the pastor within Charismatic circles is simply another form of the traditional view of the village witchdoctor. It is full-blown African traditional religion that has returned dressed with a thin veneer of Bible verses made to say what the Holy Spirit never intended them to say when he first inspired the biblical writers to pen them.

In this article, I am answering the question, “How can we bring down this popular unbiblical view and chase African traditional religion out of the church in Africa. How can we restore true Christianity to the African church?” It seems to me that this will only happen when we restore the New Testament teaching of the priesthood of all believers to the place it once held within Protestantism.

The priesthood of all believers in history

“The priesthood of all believers” is a teaching that was particularly popularized by Martin Luther, the great reformer of the 16th century. Prior to the reformation in the church that he is known for, there was a very thick divide between the clergy (who were called “priests”) and the laity (the ordinary church members).

The priests were a specially trained and appointed group of people in the church who claimed to have special dealings with God. They alone could handle the Mass (an unbiblical form of the Lord’s Supper), baptism, weddings, and even prayers for the people of God. They mediated pardon too, and so God’s people came to them to confess their sins in order to receive God’s pardon. Through their mediation, the people of God could get their relatives who died outside Christ to cut short their period in purgatory (an unbiblical form of temporal hell).

In this way, the laity was totally dependent upon the priests in the church for everything…until Martin Luther came around. He showed that, according to the Bible, all Christians have equal access to God through prayer because all of them come to God through the mediatorial work of Christ. “For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 2:5). Through the death of Jesus Christ, he has paid for the sins of all his people and so God accepts them on the basis of Christ’s merit alone. Christians do not need a human mediator to receive any blessing from God, none whatsoever!

The results of the loss of this teaching today

These biblical truths are what Christians on the African continent today need to hear. Those who claim that we need to go to them to get a “breakthrough” or “deliverance” in whatever situation we are going through are impostors, cheats, and swindlers. There is no longer an altar in the front for you to go to in order to be prayed for. The brothers and sisters sitting next to you in church-indeed you as well-have the same access to God as those charlatans calling you to the front.

It is because we have lost this truth of the priesthood of all believers that we have now created a very sleek class of “men of God” in Evangelicalism. In the name of having special spiritual powers (which they call “anointing”), these guys are milking the church of its money and sexually abusing its women. They wear costly designer suits, drive the most expensive cars, and own property that even chief executives of our biggest business corporations only dream of. They do not even carry their own Bibles. Like chiefs, they have henchmen to do it for them.

Every weekend and during conferences, they invite us to go to them for spiritual breakthroughs and deliverance. As Johan Tetzel told the people in Luther’s day to buy indulgences by putting money into his tin box and once coins hit the bottom of the box the souls of their dead relatives would spring out of purgatory, today’s “Tetzels” claim that your socio-economic breakthrough will be bigger if you give them more money. Thus the poor are getting poorer as they give them their earnings, while they are getting stinking rich. This is daylight robbery!

The one difference between the priests of the medieval era and today’s “men of God” is that the former often falsely promised a heaven after you die while the latter falsely promise you a heaven on earth while you still live. They invite you to their meetings in order for them to pray for you so that you get married or you get your loved one back who has run away with another man/woman. They say they will give you a breakthrough so that you get a job or a promotion at work. They claim that through their prayers you will get delivered from your persistent sickness or failure to conceive. They prey on the souls and wallets of men and women through the door of human greed. And thousands are falling for it.

We all have access to God through Christ

Yet the apostle Peter declared to all Christians, “You yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ…But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellences of him who called you out of darkness into his marvellous light” (1 Peter 2:5,9). In other words, if you have been saved from sin, i.e. brought out of darkness and into Christ’s marvellous light, you are part of a royal priesthood that has direct access to God. You do not need someone else to act between you and God. No, you can go and talk to God yourself. Period!

Every Christian is a priest to God. He has access to God the Father through Jesus Christ. The only barrier that any Christian can have in terms of his access to God is his own sins. If you are living in sin the Lord will not hear you. We read this in Isaiah, “Behold, the LORD’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save, or his ear dull, that it cannot hear; but your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear. For your hands are defiled with blood and your fingers with iniquity; your lips have spoken lies; your tongue mutters wickedness” (Isaiah 59:1-3).

In this matter, there is enough evidence in the media today that these “men of God” who are claiming the powers to bring breakthroughs and deliverances in our lives are as steeped in sin and iniquity as the Herods of the Bible. As their wives sue them to court for divorce, we are discovering that while they were laying their hands on the innocent and unwary-and making them pay for this service-their wives were often catching them in immorality behind closed doors. In outrage these women are now saying, “Enough is enough!” and letting the skeletons fall out of the wardrobes. Alas, these “men of God” are as corrupt as the Roman Catholic priests were in Martin Luther’s day-if not worse!

Conrad Mbewe serves as the Pastor of Kabwata Baptist Church in Lusaka, Zambia.

Nelson Mandela Changed Me: How to Love a Terrorist

Nelson Mandela Changed Me: How to Love a Terrorist I grew up in the dystopia of Apartheid. As an English speaking White child in the 1980’s I had no idea that the country I lived in was not a democracy. My parents voted, and one day I would too. I was vaguely aware of banned books, censorship, and protest poetry, but none of that affected my life. I hadn’t an inkling that Whites were a minority, and that Blacks outnumbered us nine-to-one. I lived in a city, which meant that Blacks were only allowed there temporarily and if they had permission papers. They were there to do the dirty jobs. At night they slunk back to their distant and disgusting shanty towns. It never occurred to me that those hodgepodge shacks, built from our rubbish, housed 30 million real people.

I had no antipathy toward the Blacks who mowed our lawn and cleaned our home. They were good-humored and friendly folks. They were compliant and submissive, calling my dad Boss, my mom Madam, and I was Kleinbaas (little-boss). We were taught to respect them. When our full time domestic servant, “the maid”, babysat me, she was in charge and was to be respected. I once met with a memorable lesson from Dad’s belt when I accused the lady of stealing sugar. (As it turned out, it was a different pilferer I had overheard my mother complaining about.) I appreciated the Blacks I knew. But I also knew about the others.

The other Blacks, the Terrorists, were the ones to fear. I learned about them from the news and elementary school history lessons. They lived in the bush, were trained in Angola by Soviet Communists, and were responsible for the paranoia woven into our lives. They were the reason we practiced military drills in school and why every male over eighteen was drafted into the army. My parents owned a store in central Pretoria. My mom was there alone the weekend my dad took us hiking, when the Terrorists bombed the nearby Navy admin headquarters. She was showered in shards of window glass, but thankfully escaped the casualty statistics that day.

On my third grade classroom wall was a poster with plastic models of various limpet mines, letter bombs, grenades, and other devices the Terrorists used, so we could report any we saw in malls or stadiums. Our school rehearsed bomb drills and escape evacuation protocols; some were in response to actual threats, others just a welcome escape from math class. We saw sniffer dogs patrol occasionally, and our headmaster had code words that, if used over the PA system, meant the following instructions were being issued under duress.

Fear of the Terrorists was a way of life. Welcome to Africa. But if you needed a person to blame, his name was Nelson Mandela. Mandela haunted our collective consciousness. He was the Boogie Man. He was leader of the fearsome?Umkhonto we Sizwe, the military wing of the ANC (African National Congress). He pleaded guilty to 156 acts of violence and was now a political prisoner on Robben Island. The bombings were ANC retaliation for Mandela’s incarceration. I asked my teacher why they didn’t just release Mandela so that the fighting would stop? My naivete irked her: “To let a man like that free is to untie a dog you’ve been teasing. He won’t slink away. He’ll come get you.” That made sense. Maybe they shouldn’t have locked him up to begin with, but now that he’d been stewing in rage and plotting revenge, they had better keep him in or it could get all Count of Monte Cristo on us.

It astonished me to learn that the reason South Africa was banned from the Olympics, and that the USA was in favor of economic sanctions, and that we were denied visas to visit Disneyland, was all because Mandela was in jail. I though the world had gone crazy. Didn’t they know that a fiend like that belonged behind bars? Were they really falling for Bishop Tutu’s cockamamie side of the story? Hello everybody, of course Tutu wants him free, Tutu’s Black!

I was in high school when I first heard Mandela’s name mentioned as a victim. I was transitioning out of the embarrassing Roxette pop music stage of life into the more sophisticated alternative rock phase. Just like everyone else in the world, my favorite band was U2. It was Bono’s piercing impromptu monologue on the?Rattle and Hum?CD that chimed a resonance in my conscience that would eventually quake my parochial world. In the middle of Track 8, “Silver and Gold,” the singer launched into a diatribe about my country. I was surprised the Irish legend had heard about us, let alone wrote a song about us. But what he said haunted me.

Yep, silver and gold… This song was written in a hotel room in New York city ’round about the time a friend or ours, little Steven, was putting together a record of artists against apartheid. This is a song written about a man in a shanty town outside of Johannesburg. A man who’s sick of looking down the barrel of white South Africa. A man who is at the point where he is ready to take up arms against his oppressor. A man who has lost faith in the peacemakers of the west while they argue and while they fail to support a man like bishop Tutu and his request for economic sanctions against South Africa. Am I buggin’ you? I don’t mean to bug ya… Okay Edge, play the blues…” Wait, what!??We?were oppressors? It was as if the news Bono watched was different from the news I saw on our government-sponsored TV channels. I started to search for the facts; they were not easily found. There was no Internet, only the resources that were not on the banned list. And I was just a schoolboy, so I had more important?pursuits that occupied my attention: girls, grades, and gaming. I would just skip Track 8.

Then one day it happened. Nelson Mandela, the head Terrorist, was released from Robben Island prison. [Insert a montage of news clips and sound bites culminating in Mandela becoming the President of South Africa.] By this time sensible White families had stocked up on cans of tuna and bottled water, hunkering down for the inevitable civil war that was about to break out. We had seen it happen in Zimbabwe a few years before. When Robert Mugabe came into power he encouraged Blacks to seize the property of White farmers by force. Most of the survivors fled to South Africa: we called it White Flight. Now the nightmare was coming again.

But what happened next is nothing short of divine intervention. In the place of an enraged, vengeful anarchist, Nelson Mandela carried himself with quiet dignity, poise, and wisdom. Instead of wreaking revenge on his captors, he invited his former prison warden to his home for a meal. Rather than boycotting South Africa’s epic international rugby debut (the ultimate Whiteman’s sport), he donned the iconic green-and-gold jersey, sporting the captain’s number, and he danced for joy as the Springboks won the World Cup. We watched our new Xhosa president sing, in his mother tongue, our new anthem,?Nkosi sikelel’ iAfrika, “God bless Africa.” Mandela counseled reconciliation, modeled forgiveness, and pulled our fragmented nation into a family.

Nelson Mandela was no longer a Boogie Man to be feared. He was a peacemaker to be thanked, which the Nobel committee recognized. He emerged from the shroud of propaganda and his conduct earned our respect and won our hearts. He was a healing balm for our broken nation. He was the anodyne to sooth the painful past. We called him Madiba (his Xhosa clan name used by those with familial affinity).

I can never agree with Mandela’s socialist politics, and I shudder to think of his violent atrocities, but history shows that the erstwhile revolutionary who was cast into prison was not the peacemaker that came out. He had changed, which brought to his supporters much consternation and to his detractors genuine relief. I believe it was an answer to prayer for the nation.?

St. Paul told Timothy, ?”I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people,? for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way”?(1 Tim 2:1-2).

The religious freedom and political peace of South Africa has no explanation besides an answer to prayer. God really did bless South Africa through Nelson Mandela. ?If he wanted to, Mandela could have mobilized his supporters to start a civil war that would have killed or chased Whites from South Africa. But he was not that type of man.

It was the love for his enemies that affected my life in tangible ways. It was his forgiveness. And so, today our beloved country cries.?

Mandela was a terrorist I feared. Now he is a hero I admire, and a man I love.?
You will be missed Madiba.
Nkosi sikelel’ iAfrika.

Clint Archer serves as Pastor-Teacher of Hillcrest Baptist Church, Durban.

Prepared For Persecution? Pt.2

Western Christians most often think of persecution as being sponsored by atheistic governments or by antagonistic adherents of a false religion. However, Jesus also warned His disciples about persecution from a different, unexpected source: from the professing adherents of true, biblical religion. For example, in John 16:2 Jesus told His disciples that the longest thorn in their sides as they went out to preach the gospel would be their fellow unsaved Jews: They will make you outcasts from the synagogue, but an hour is coming for everyone who kills you to think that he is offering service to God (NAS). Today, South African Christians are experiencing something similar: not persecution by unsaved Jews, but persecution by unsaved Christians.

Faithful Christians always experience hostility, not just from the world, but also from professing Christians who desire a broader, more liberal, more embracing, less stringent, less doctrinal, unbiblical Christianity. To illustrate this, let me ask you a question: As a believer living in South Africa, does the mocking or animosity that you occasionally experience for loving God, the Bible, the church, and God’s morality usually come from people of other religions or from so-called Christians? In fact, ninety-eight times out of a hundred, the opposition you face comes from friends and family who profess to know Christ.

There is no fury like the fury of a professing Christian whose lack of love for Christ and lack of commitment to God’s Word is exposed by the devotion and faithfulness of a true believer.

In fact, Jesus warned that many of the most menacing persecutors of true believers in the days before His return will be apostate “Christians” who, after having abandoned Christ, will wheel their cannons around and unleash a barrage of hate on their former comrades: Then they will deliver you to tribulation, and will kill you, and you will be hated by all nations because of My name. At that time many will fall away and will betray one another and hate one another (Matt 24:9-10, NAS).

Surveying the landscape of evangelical Christianity in our country, it’s easy to see just how this could happen. A vast percentage of the professing Christians in South Africa define Christianity with three words: health, wealth, and prosperity. When imprisonment threatens their health and legislative penalties threaten their wealth, it’s not hard to predict that the counterfeit believers in the prosperity movement will quickly abandon the Christ they never truly loved in order to seek their personal prosperity elsewhere.

What about the professing believer who defines his Christianity in terms of the self-love of pop psychology? What will he do when the person he loves most – himself – comes under threat? Will he stand for Christ? Or how about the masses who saunter through the doors of the seeker-sensitive mega-churches each Sunday? If you go to church because it’s convenient, because you enjoy the humour, the skits, the music, and the stage show, and because you like the fact that they don’t ask you sing anything, sign anything, give anything, forsake anything, or believe anything, are you going to stand firm when persecution comes?

How about liberal theologians whose ministry seems to consist entirely of ridiculing and discrediting the Bible? It’s entertaining to play higher-critical games with God’s Word as long it’s safe to do so, but what will the critics do when owning a Bible might send them to jail?

The Emergents? Ambiguity and agnosticism might seem intellectually noble in days of peace, but playful questioning, “sincere” doubting, and a contempt for certainty are shaky grounds on which to withstand persecution. Traditional, cultural Christians? Will those in our society who attend church primarily out of ritual and habit seek the fellowship of the faithful when going to church could cost them their jobs or lead to their children being denied the opportunity to attend university?

When the first wave of real persecution sweeps the church in South Africa, all the prosperity, self-love, entertainment-enthralled, liberal, agnostic, Emergent, and traditional Christians are going to head for the exits en masse. What’s more, they’re going to be furious that you won’t go with them. They’re going to be enraged that you won’t join them in abandoning biblical Christianity, as they frantically “reimagine” their faith in order to secure the approval of the world.

If you’re like the people in my church, you are already experiencing censure and derision at the hands of unsaved Christians, primarily in the form of scorn or displeasure expressed by professing Christians among your family, friends, or co-workers. Don’t be surprised. Unsaved Christians will always do their best (and their worst) to discredit, marginalise, and even abuse those who have the audacity to believe that the Bible is true and authoritative, and that faith in Jesus Christ is the only way to be saved.

How can you persevere in the face of that kind of discouraging resistance? One way is to remember that the early church’s most bitter and violent enemy was Saul of Tarsus. He embodied John 16:2, believing he was serving God by expelling Christians from the synagogue and by lobbying for their imprisonment or execution. But when Christ intervened on the road to Damascus, Saul became the apostle Paul – the church’s greatest church-planting missionary and theologian. In other words, if you’re faithful, God might save your persecutor and turn him or her into a loyal and effective tool in His hand. Wouldn’t that be great? Be faithful, pray, and see what God does.

Joel James serves as Pastor-Teacher at Grace Fellowship, Pretoria.

Prepared For Persecution? Pt.1

Persecution is normal.

Jesus said, If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you (John 15:20, NAS), and Paul added, All who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted (2 Tim 3:12, NAS). If persecution is normal, then as Christians in South Africa, we have experienced very little normal. But as the song says, Times, they are a-changing.i The fact is, we are living smack-dab in the middle of a transition from cultural favour to potential cultural fury. Are we ready?

Today there are two flash points that seem sure to lead to an explosion of cultural and governmental oppression of Christians in South Africa and other Western countries. The first is exclusivity. Because it’s what Jesus taught, we believe that Christianity is exclusively true (John 14:6; Acts 4:12). We refuse to acquiesce to the postmodern notion that all religions and self-created versions of spirituality are valid. Christ says that He is the only way to the Father, and that settles the matter. And naturally, the exclusivity of biblical Christianity incites the rage and resentment of a pluralistic culture.

The second flash point appears to be homosexuality. Today, taking a firm stand against homosexuality as a God-condemned (and God-forgivable) sin sets off a forest fire of cultural rage. This issue is already leading to the “legal” persecution of Christians. For example, I was speaking with a friend in the United States recently whose church is hoping to build their first church building. However, it is uncertain whether the city council will give them a building permit because their city is considering refusing permits to any organisation that will not allow “transgender” men to use the women’s toilets on their property.

And, of course, the refusal of building permits is just the first drop of rain from a looming thunderstorm. More intensive restrictions, fines, punishments, and even jail sentences are sure to follow.

As Christians, should we fear this transition from cultural smile to culture frown? Actually, throughout history Christ has often shepherded His people through the transition you and I are facing. In fact, Jesus Himself experienced it. For example, Luke 4 says that the people of Nazareth’s initial response to Jesus’ preaching in His home synagogue was warm, favourable, and friendly: All were speaking well of Him, and wondering at the gracious words which were falling from His lips (4:22, NAS).

However, just minutes later, when Jesus mentioned the unpopular doctrine of Gentile salvation, the synagogue erupted in fury. Their response instantly morphed from benign to deadly, and Jesus’ childhood friends and neighbours tried (unsuccessfully) to throw Him off a cliff (Luke 4:28-29). As John Calvin said, “The Gospel cannot be proclaimed without the world straightway going mad. Hence, it will never be possible for godly teachers to avoid the world’s hatred.”ii

At times unbelievers will temporarily smile on the high morality and noble truths of biblical Christianity. However, the kingdom of darkness and the kingdom of light cannot peacefully coexist for long. When you point out the world’s sin or the intellectual and moral bankruptcy of their belief systems, you can’t expect them to applaud, slap you on the back, and raise a rousing chorus of “For he’s a jolly good fellow.”

Not surprisingly, the apostles experienced the same transition from general cultural acceptance to opposition that Jesus did. In Acts 2:47, Luke records that the early church initially enjoyed “favor with all the people” (NAS). However, that season of cultural charity came to a crashing halt (Acts 4-5).

First the Sanhedrin (their version of Parliament) threatened the apostles and issued a restraining order against their preaching. When the apostles refused to stop heralding their inflammatory message, Judea’s legislative leaders threw the Twelve in jail (5:17-18). Arrested yet a third time, Peter and the others stood their ground, We must obey God rather than men (5:29, NAS), and boldly used the super-charged atmosphere of an antagonistic parliamentary hearing to evangelise their persecutors (5:30-31). The result was a brutal whipping. In other words, the apostles knew all about the transition from warm-hearted cultural tolerance to hot persecution.

The apostle Paul repeatedly experienced the same transition. In Pisidian Antioch, in the course of one week, Paul went from having the synagogue congregation beg him for another sermon to being driven out of town (13:42, 50). In Acts 14, in Lystra, Paul was first worshiped as a god and then stoned and left for dead – that’s a transition!

Here’s the key: in no case did the persecution they experienced discourage the believers, cripple the church, or stop the progress of the gospel: And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they kept right on teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ (5:42, NAS); The disciples were continually filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit
(13:52, NAS).

As Bible-believing Christians look to the future, apprehension is understandable, but unnecessary. Be assured of this: Christ has called us to serve Him in South Africa in this hour, and there is copious proof that our Lord knows how to shepherd His people through a transition from a time of cultural tolerance to an era of angry oppression and persecution.

Do you feel the need for grace in order to stand firm? Good. Human desperation and divine deliverance is the normal rhythm of the Christian life. And when it comes to courage to face persecution – God gives that ticket when it’s time to get on the train. As believers, we are branches that have a living, vital, invisible-but-real connection with Jesus Christ, the Vine (John 15:4-5). He will sustain us no matter how fierce the heat and drought of persecution.

Joel James serves as Pastor-Teacher at Grace Fellowship, Pretoria.

The Dancing Dead Arrive in Africa

Recently I was asked what I thought about Joburg’s latest exhibit: human corpses on display. That’s right – actual cadavers, filleted and flayed, carved and strung up in an array of poses for your viewing pleasure, and signed by the designer himself.

One rides a skinned horse, while holding both of their brains. Another stands holding his own skin. Another is a woman eight month’s pregnant in a sensual pose, with her dead baby still exposed in her womb. Other corpses are dancing, playing, driving, or even copulating. Is this a ghoulish scene from a horror film, an artistic expression, or just an educational experience?

This is Body Worlds, the product of a German artist doctor, Gunther von Hagens, who has pioneered “plastination”, a way of preserving dead bodies in plastic. After 70 world cities and 36 million visitors, grossing over 34 million dollars, this exhibit has come to South Africa. Cape Town drew 100,000 visitors, and now it’s Joburg’s hottest exhibit, held at the Sci-Bono Museum.

When first shown in Europe, Body Worlds sparked intense controversy, with humanitarian groups and churches almost unanimously condemning the desecration of human bodies for commercial profit. Because of such opposition, Dr. von Hagens moved to America, and also moved his cadavers from art museums to science museums, which has helped his popularity ratings. Yet still controversy has followed him around his father’s involvement (who was once a Nazi SS sergeant) and around some of his bodies that were revealed to be executed Chinese prisoners.

How should a Christian respond to Body Worlds? Better yet, how should a Christian think biblically about the human body altogether? Scripture makes clear that how we treat our bodies matters to God, both in life and in death. This is but one aspect of the biblical doctrine of anthropology. Whether we realise it or not, we all have an anthropology (a view of mankind) – the only question is whether it is a true, biblical one or a false, unbiblical one.

From Genesis onwards, we learn that God has made us body and soul in His image, unique from all other animals (Gen. 1-2; Ps. 8:4-9). Thus the human body is not to be violated (Lev. 19:28), and murder is an assault on God’s image reflected in the whole person, body and soul (Gen. 9:6). We do not merely “have” a body; we are a body-and-soul person, and will be so in eternity (Matt. 10:28).

When a person dies, it is not just any body that their departed soul leaves behind. It is that person’s body, as seen in the way Scripture and Christ Himself speaks about those in the grave: “where have you laid him” (not just “a body”, or “it”)(Jn. 11:23, 34, 43; Mk. 16:6). Though at death your soul enters eternity, it is still part of “you” returning to the dust also (Gen. 3:19).

Never does Scripture rank the soul as more important, or more pure, than the body. At the heart of Christianity is the Incarnation, when God Himself takes on a human body (John 1:14). Christ’s body was raised, just as ours will be (1 Cor. 15)! Jesus still has a body today as He reigns in Heaven and intercedes for us (Rev. 1:12ff). Christ is equally Lord over all things physical and spiritual, material and immaterial, seen and unseen.

A biblical doctrine of the body then affects the way we treat the deceased. Throughout Scripture we see a pattern of care for the dead (even enemies) and shame for corpses left exposed (Gen. 23; 49:29-31; 50:25; Deut. 21:22-23; Josh. 8:29; 24:32; Num. 25:4; Jer. 25:33; 36:30; Amos 2:1). God Himself buried the body of Moses (Deut. 34:5-6). At the risk of their lives, the men of Jabesh Gilead retrieved the bodies of Saul and his sons, and were rewarded (2 Sam. 2:5-7). Likewise, the disciples of John the Baptist courageously retrieved his beheaded body (Mark 6:29). Burial is also a part of the natural grieving process in saying farewell to a loved one. How we treat human bodies matters to God, both in life and in death.

One thing that distinguished the first Christians from their pagan neighbours was their care for the dead. The Romans viewed the early church, meeting in catacombs, as a kind of burial society. Julian the Apostate wrote that Christianity’s concern for the deceased was one of the three keys to its rapid spread. It was pagans and Eastern religions that were known for cremation and disregard for the human body. Dismembering and burning your body was what your enemies did to you (Dan. 3; Heb. 11:34; 1 Cor. 13:3).

Ours is an age that has drifted far from a biblical doctrine of the human body. Gluttony is a taboo topic. Modesty is ‘legalistic’. People treat their bodies as a mere tool for self-expression, a canvas for art, a dartboard for endless piercing, a wall for skin graffiti, a billboard for marketing, or a museum piece to be stuffed and hung up.

Ours is an age that trivialises death. Constant news feeds numb us to violence and murder. Abortion and euthanasia are legalised and celebrated. Skull and crossbones is the fashion. Society has embraced a culture of death, and it desensitises us. We treat death as an anonymous, abstract thing, when death is actually very personal, and its consequences eternal.

Instead of conforming, Christians should be resisting “the spirit of the age” (Rom. 12:2). Although there is room for Christian liberty in applying biblical principle, we must answer this question: ‘How can I love God with “all my strength” (my body) and “glorify God in my body”, since my body is “a temple of the Holy Spirit” (Mk. 12:30; 1 Cor. 6:19-20)? How we treat our bodies matters to God, both in life and in death.

We can join the culture, hide the nausea, and tell our children not to be squeamish about corpses. Or we can protect them from such unnecessary exposure. We can teach them that seeing a dead body (in a casket, not a show) should cause us to reflect soberly on that person’s eternal destiny, and our own (Eccl. 7:2; 12:7; Heb. 9:27). Scripture depicts the dead as sleeping, one day to be awakened by the risen Christ and joined with their eternal souls to face final judgment (Dan. 12:2; John 5:25-29). These bodies may be dancing now on von Hagen’s stage; but unless they knew Christ, their souls are suffering eternal torment.

As one Johannesburg resident rightly reacted in the news, “There are two prices to pay for the show – the entry fee, and a further surrender of your humanity”.

Tim Cantrell is the Pastor-Teacher of Antioch Bible Church, Randburg.

Up In Smoke

It has been said that the first casualty of war is the truth. I was reminded of this recently when I turned on the TV late one night, and caught a recent episode of Special Assignment singing the laurels of legalizing that wacky weed, known in SA as dagga. True to form, the Special Assignment report was anything but unbiased and objective as they confused the issue by co-mingling two different aspects of the debate & homogenizing medical marijuana with its recreational uses. In truth, while related, these are two separate ethical issues that Christians need to approach differently.

Ever since the US states of Colorado and Washington legalized the recreational use of dagga, there has been major pressure from the world’s media and pro-pot advocates to push for legalization of the wizard weed for more than medicinal purposes. In part, the issue came to the fore here in SA when IFP MP Mario Oriano-Ambrosini, who has stage four lung cancer, told parliament he uses dagga oil for its palliative properties to help manage the ill-effects of his treatments.

As the issue of legalizing dagga ramps up, one can already anticipate the truncated logic and blatant propaganda that will be trotted out in hubbly-bubbly fashion to portray legalization of dagga as a Peter-Pan panacea. We can expect the same old worn out arguments that have been in vogue since the 1960s, when the counter-culture took Timothy Leary’s advice to “turn on, tune in, and drop out.” Sadly, many who took Leary’s advice failed to ever surface back to reality.

So what kind of smoke-screen logic will be presented endlessly as the pro-pot lobby marshals its forces, in effort to convince the public of the benefits of recreational dagga? What follows is just a sample of what is in store:

1. Public opinion has shifted dramatically in favour of legalizing dagga: But is this really a compelling reason to swing the gates wide open and legalize dagga? If public opinion overwhelmingly decides that laws related to reckless driving and speeding are “archaic” and “ineffective”, should lawmakers throw up their hands in defeat and concede to public sentiment?

2. The war on drugs has failed: This famous dictum is normally the first salvo fired in the debate. But the premise is flawed because it assumes, without any empirical data, that legalization will not be attended with any negative consequences. By the same line of reasoning one could just as easily conclude, based on current crime stats in SA, that the war on car-jackings, rape, violent crime, and murder have all catastrophically failed. So why not channel money used to fight crime into more positive pursuits like social upliftment? Since poverty supposedly causes crime, this would reduce criminal activity. Right?

In the US, the pro-pot forces have been using this rationale to great effect. Yet, when one looks at the war on poverty that began with President Johnson’s Great Society 50 years ago, it has epically failed. After 50 years, 20 trillion dollars in welfare distributed, the poverty stats today are comparable to those at the beginning of poverty alleviation. It has amounted to a zero-sum game — if 20 trillion dollars spent is a zero-sum game. But I don’t hear any liberal-like voices declaring, The war on poverty has failed. Why not?

3. Smoking dagga is no worse than smoking cigarettes or drinking coffee Such logic is stratospherically stupefying. Cannabis is well documented to promote numerous negative side effects some short term, some lasting: memory impairment and cognitive function for starters as it induces speech impediments, dulls thinking, limits knowledge retention, affects problem-solving, and hampers complex motor skills all of which is hardly the recipe to promote safe, responsible drivers, innovative thinking, or productive workers. In a small percentage of cases dagga produces psychotic responses like when 19 year old Levy Thamba, who was visiting friends in Colorado, ate a cookie laced with dagga. He went berserk and leapt off a balcony to his death.

Dagga smoke has more cancer-causing toxins than cigarette smoke, damaging both brain and lung cells. Where is the anti-smoking lobby now?

In short, let me ask you, would you rather board an airplane knowing that the pilot just smoked a cigarette and drank two cups of coffee, or that he just toked two refers? Which scenario would make you feel more comfortable as that plane barrels down the runway for take-off?

4. “People are going to smoke anyway: In a fallen, sin-cursed world, people are going to do many things that are harmful to both themselves and those around them. This is precisely why we need government and law enforcement. So do we really want to make this rationale the cornerstone for practical ethics and morality?

5. Prohibition on alcohol didn’t work, so we should legalize dagga for recreational purposes: This argument fails to acknowledge the staggering effects fuelled by alcohol abuse, alcohol related crime, domestic violence, and deaths on the streets and highways. In effect, pro-pot logic tacitly endorses, even if unintentionally so, more destruction of lives, the further demise of the family, the negative fallout on children, and the economic impacts of all this. In pro-pot logic, two wrongs make it a right.

6. Legalizing dagga will reduce social costs: No doubt some crime-fighting related costs could be reduced. But this will be offset by expenses related to enforcing government regulations legalization will require. Then, when one calculates the price-tag placed on the social consequences of legal dagga dagga related crime, drugged driving, welfare costs associated with familial breakdown, and the costs on state-sponsored rehab for the legion of new addicts & the tax revenues harvested from this new cash crop will hardly cover society’s THC induced coma. Can we really afford the unstated, unintended fallout from the recreational uses of this drug?

While a case can be made for the therapeutic and industrial benefits of dagga, it must be acknowledged that the pro-pot forces use medicinal marijuana as a backdoor entrance to recreational legalization. It has become a THC Trojan horse for dishonest proponents of the weed. My home state of California legalized medicinal dagga in 1996. According to my many law-enforcement friends in that state, the laws surrounding the implementation of medical marijuana are so porous and poorly enforced that California has no need to legalize pot for recreational purposes. Californians already enjoy recreational use of dagga by default of medicinal marijuana.

When you add it all up, what pro-pot lobbyists advocate will only serve to extend use of the drug. But if one dares to confuse them with the facts, they will use the media to take pot-shots, ridiculing their opponents in a haze of disinformation.

The sum of pro-pot logic amounts to placing a large, red juicy apple in a barrel of rotten apples hoping for the rottenness to be reversed. The sum of this equation is really quite predictable.

As Christians, we must remember we are called to be holy not high!

(Note: In my next submission I will specifically address the biblical response to pro-pot thinking.)

Three Muslim Christian Crossroads

Christine Caine on the call to be faithful right where we are.

If you’ve ever had a prolonged conversation with a Muslim on theology, you know that they are generally well-trained in discussing their problems with the Trinity and divinity of Jesus. It’s hard to break through all the prior teaching and get to a heart level when someone is parroting what they learned at the mosque. So why not consider looking for points of discussion off the beaten path and that may even engage us as Christians at a heart level too? There are three main intersections where Christian and Muslim thought crosses paths and where we might meet for heart-level discussion. At each intersection, our two faiths diverge. What if we could take Muslim friends to one of those intersections and show them how to take the path to Jesus, rather than the road away from him? Those three intersections are law, logic, and legacy.

Law

Both the Christian and Muslim faiths inherited, in one form or another, the Torah. In the 5th sura (or chapter) of the Qur’an, Muslims find a passage that upholds the Torah as revelation from God and instructs them to look to it for “guidance and light.“ Much of Islamic practice is a variation of Jewish law and customs. For example, during Eid al-adha, a Muslim holiday, Muslims sacrifice a goat or lamb to commemorate Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son in obedience to God. Muslim women must refrain from many of their regular activities during a monthly period of “uncleanness.” Muslims absolutely will not accept interest payments on a loan from another Muslim. And “hallal” food preparation and kosher food preparation is strikingly similar. The list of legal and religious similarities between ancient Judaism and Islam is much longer than most Muslims and Jews care to admit.

And it certainly illustrates a shared heritage for Christians and Muslims. Muslims have laws about almost every aspect of life. Their imams, or teachers, are the interpreters and teachers of that law.
There are three main intersections where Christian and Muslim thought crosses paths and where we might meet for heart-level discussion. At each intersection, our two faiths diverge. What if we could take Muslim friends to one of those intersections and show them how to take the path to Jesus, rather than the road away from him? Those three intersections are law, logic, and legacy.

Law

Both the Christian and Muslim faiths inherited, in one form or another, the Torah. In the 5th sura (or chapter) of the Qur’an, Muslims find a passage that upholds the Torah as revelation from God and instructs them to look to it for “guidance and light.“ Much of Islamic practice is a variation of Jewish law and customs. For example, during Eid al-adha, a Muslim holiday, Muslims sacrifice a goat or lamb to commemorate Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son in obedience to God. Muslim women must refrain from many of their regular activities during a monthly period of “uncleanness.” Muslims absolutely will not accept interest payments on a loan from another Muslim. And “hallal” food preparation and kosher food preparation is strikingly similar. The list of legal and religious similarities between ancient Judaism and Islam is much longer than most Muslims and Jews care to admit.

And it certainly illustrates a shared heritage for Christians and Muslims. Muslims have laws about almost every aspect of life. Their imams, or teachers, are the interpreters and teachers of that law.