CHAPTER THREE A NEW STAGE UPON WHICH TO ACT: PART 2 – A CHANGING RELIGIOUS CONTEXT OF MINISTRY
WIDER RELIGIOUS TRENDS
« The beginning of the twenty-first century is a good time to be a pastor, a time full of uncertainty and danger, » says John Piper (2002:ix). It is a time of momentous change, or ‘discontinuity’, as Brian McLaren calls it (2000:19), where five levels of change are intertwined: changes in knowledge, attitude, behaviour, organisation and matrix (2000:16). We have already seen, in the previous chapter, just how some of these elements have presented themselves in the socio-political dynamics. George Barna (2006:9) labels the context of radical change that we are in at the moment ‘a quiet revolution’. He goes on to note, through his research, that there are seven trends that are effecting spiritual change in America (2006:42f.). His insights are instructive for the South African milieu, and they resonate with changes we have already identified, and with some that will be set out in this chapter.
Barna speaks of a shift in the generations holding power in society (trend 1), a rise in a new view of life that favours postmodernism (trend 2), a dismissal of the irrelevant, especially with respect to traditions (trend 3), an embracing of variety in technologies (trend 4), the search for genuine relationships over mere acquaintances (trend 5), a desire for greater experiential participation in reality (trend 6) and the desire to find true meaning in life by exploring the twin features of sacrifice and surrender that can produce growth and fulfilment (trend 7).
Barna continues by observing that one of the most striking outcomes of these trends will be the shift away from the local church as the locus for the experience and expression of the faith of modern people. Through national research, he predicts that the local church will reduce in focus from 70% of the population in 2000 to approximately 33% in 2025, and that alternative faith-based communities will have risen in value from 5% of the population in 2000 to 33% in 2025. Also, by 2025, 33% of the population will realise their faith through the media, the arts and other cultural institutions rather than its 20% level in 2000 (2000:49). It may well be that we will find membership of institutional churches declining, in favour of project-driven Christian commitments.
The church of Jesus Christ can respond to these significant changes by seeing itself either in terms of a lake or a river, as Daniel Brown (1996) likens it. In terms of the lake, the church measures its success by the number of people it manages to assemble and keep within the lake. Such a static model highlights size and attendance, buildings and programmes as indicators of growth, and it attempts to resist the effects of the changes at every turn. By contrast, the process model, which views the church as a river, celebrates the transformations that take place while the people are in the swirl of events, before they move on, having grown within themselves to a stage further than they were before (Brown, 1996:20).
In the spirit of the ‘river’, then, let us try to understand some of the religious swirls in which we find ourselves. The researcher has reflected on seven elements of the changing religious climate, which he believes are crucial for understanding the current stage upon which Baptist pastors act:
1. The reappraisal of the involvement of Christianity in colonialism;
2. The steady dismissal of the influence of Christianity in South Africa;
3. The cultural integration of Christian churches;
4. A changing agenda within churches;
5. A clash of loyalties;
6. A gap for perversions and oddities;
7. The attraction of the megachurch.
Thereafter, we will examine changes specific to the Baptist denomination, before posing the question of what the pastor as spiritual antagonist offers us in our search for a new identity. Again, it must be understood that, in terms of Zerfass’ amended model, this chapter – like the previous one – is devoted to the historical and religious factors of the deliberate research.
RELIGIOUS CHANGES IN SOUTH AFRICA
Baptist pastors find that the position of Christianity in society has undergone extensive devaluation. They themselves are under pressure to minimise the Christian message, in favour of more acceptable explanations. In devising a contemporary strategy for locating the Christian message within the lives of South Africans, it is vital that they understand the changing attitudes towards Christianity that are discussed below. The emphasis of the discussion of several of the key points focuses on missionary history, rather than Christian history in general. Baptists have a special respect for missions and evangelism, as can be seen in the official objectives of the Baptist Union (South African Baptist Handbook 2005-2006:440), the BU Mission Statement accepted at the BU Assembly in Kimberley in 2003 (« Under the Lordship of Christ we exist as a multi-cultural fellowship of inter-dependent churches, functioning in territorial associations, to impact this generation with the Gospel »), in addresses by presidents of the BU (e.g. John Basson, in South African Baptist Handbook 2006-2007:197) and by co-ordinated local-church initiatives (e.g. Impact 2010).
The reappraisal of the role of Christianity in colonialism
The researcher intends, in this section, to re-position the role and understanding of Christianity in colonialism. The debate is often extremely one-sided and requires more nuanced presentations. This section is not intended as a long missionary history, but rather a selection of material to balance the debate.
The criticism of the unwholesome link between Christianity and colonialism has persisted down the years, one of the more recent being that of Magubane in his historical assessment of the African Renaissance, when he refers to « the Christian colonial system » (in Makgoba:1999:21). He goes on to condemn the hypocrisy of Christianity for its support of slavery. What Magubane omits to mention is the fact that slavery was abolished by the sterling and unpopular efforts of Christians such as William Wilberforce, who changed public opinion in all British colonies, including South Africa. He fails to mention that slavery was extensively practised by the Romans, as well as by Arab Muslims. What is particularly sad in this unfortunate connection is the devaluation of the noble contribution made by generations of missionaries who themselves were struggling to translate the wonder of the new life in Christ into situations vastly different to their own. Some African critics quickly overlook the fact that we in this continent have not managed to do much better in contextualising the mystery of the Christ-event in our times. Mbiti (1980:820) draws the distinction between the diminishing node of Christianity in the Northern Hemisphere and the expanding node of Christianity in the Southern Hemisphere. In line with WCC thinking, he alludes with some pride to the shift of Christian influence from north to south, yet fails to acknowledge that the shift might be more a matter of the demise of Northern models of spirituality than necessarily about the superiority of Southern contextualisations.
Frequently, Christian witness on the continent has implied that Christians colluded with colonial interests, but this is far from the whole truth. Granted, missionaries might not always have been convinced that the evils of colonialism warranted the abandonment of the entire system, or that the people were necessarily ready for independence. They might also have been unaware of just how offensive it was perceived by the local populations, and they might have feared that with the demise of colonialism, their work would be adversely affected (Kane, 1982:260). But missionaries were involved in opposing the slave trade in Mombasa and Zanzibar (Hildebrandt, 1990:126), protesting Belgian abuses in the Congo (1990:170), protecting local African land rights in South West Africa (1990:172) and, through the persistence of London Missionary Society representatives, shielding the local inhabitants of Botswana against the greed of Cecil John Rhodes (1990:174). It was missionaries who stood against the exploitation of Hottentots and frontier African tribes in South Africa (1990:88; Elphick & Davenport, 1997:38). We will explore this issue of the influence of Christianity in Africa, with special focus on South Africa, later.
When we speak of missionary endeavour on the continent, it must be clear that the appreciation is for both foreign and local Christians. Much has been written on the foreign missionary input, but there were unique contributions made by Africans themselves to the expansion of Christianity on the continent. Philip Quaque, an inhabitant of Ghana, was won to Christ in the early 1750s by the relatively unfruitful ministry of a foreign missionary. Philip went on to complete theological studies and was the first African to be ordained as an Anglican priest to serve his own people (Hildebrandt, 1990:74). Joseph Smith led William de Graft to Christ around 1830 and soon a thriving Christian community along the Ghanaian coast was running under De Graft’s influence. Both men were Africans (1990:92). The first witness in Benin was a CMS mission station that was run by an African by the name of P.W. Bernasko (1990:109). One of the first Church of God missionaries in Kenya was a Shangaan from South Africa called Yohana Mbila. He stands in a line of spiritual giants from the continent, which include Yohana Owenga, Shadrack Mliwa, Molonket ole Sempele, Joseph Jara (1990:186). The expansion of Christianity in South Africa has also rested, formally and informally, on African witness of the likes of David Magatha (who was found preaching in remote parts of Thaba ‘Nchu before white missionaries got there), Samuel Mathabathe (who pioneered Methodist mission in the northern Transvaal), Robert Matshaba (trained at the mission school of Lovedale and then headed for Mozambique where he founded nine mission stations and several schools) and Tiyo Soga (the first black South African to be ordained) (Hofmeyr & Pillay, 1994:131). Even relatively obscure Christian converts deserve mention, such as the Khoikhoi woman, Lena, who had come to faith through the ministry of the Moravian, Georg Schmidt, but who went on to hold religious services under a tree for her peers to whom she was witnessing (Elphick & Davenport, 1997:29). She is iconic in South Africa of the debt owed by missions in Africa to indigenous African converts.
So what did Christianity contribute to Africa? We can identify six elements (Hildebrandt, 1990:193; Venter: 2004:104):
1. The announcement of the Gospel which lifted the gloom of dark and fearful spiritual forces;
2. The codifying of spoken language into written forms for many languages on the continent which did not have an alphabet before 1878;
3. The establishment of schools which taught people to read and write, including men of such stature as Albert Luthuli and Nelson Mandela;
4. The establishment of hospitals to combat diseases that had held groups in bondage and debilitation;
5. New knowledge about farming;
6. The introduction of new technical and practical skills, such as tailoring and blacksmithing.
Hildebrandt’s views are supported, in part, by Nürnberger who critiques the view that Christianity brought misery to Africa. From the Christian value-base sprang the very ‘bug’ of emancipatory notions that grew into the thirst for independence (Nürnberger, 2007:171). The difficulty was that in the minds of many people, missionaries were representatives of colonial powers by virtue of national and racial affiliation, and therefore it did not matter that benefits of colonialism, such as improved communications, opened up African countries; or that systems of administration might have played a part in reducing inter-tribal wars that pre-colonial authorities were seemingly incapable of defusing. The reality that colonists dictated to missionaries and churches, that they introduced European rivalries instead of African ones, that they attracted self-serving traders and immigrants who were insensitive to local conditions have all had the effect of tarnishing the Christian witness (Hildebrandt, 1990:96). The ‘colonial slur’ is a principle that has survived in a different form down to the present, for whenever Christian identity is connected to national or racial background – whether it be at the Cape in the 1800s
(Elphick & Davenport, 1997:25), or in Soweto in the 21st century – the problem remains one of limited vision and diminished Christian witness. It then becomes easier for people to reject Christianity, when they might actually be rejecting something else, as Cape slaves did in rejecting the religion of their masters (1997:42).
If pastors in the present are to minister effectively, it behoves us to be aware of the ‘colonial slur’ that forms an underlay to the presentation of Christ on a continent somewhat suspicious of Christianity. Left unchecked, the aspersions tend suggest that the Gospel is tainted and therefore ought to be set aside in favour of more political options for the renewal of the continent. Subtly Baptist pastors can be manoeuvred into an embarrassed stance with respect to historical Christianity, as critics major on the encumbrances and not on the emancipations of the Christ-message. If this is true, it is unfortunate, since the nature of any worthwhile human enterprise is such that there is always a mixture of noble and ignoble expressions by people who are attempting to hold a mystery. The message of Christ has been incarnational from the beginning, and as long as we continue to be incarnational, we run the inevitable risk of clumsiness and even confusion. Notwithstanding the perils, Baptist pastors maintain necessary attention on the liberation that there is in Christ, that comes from surrender of all we hope to be to the cause of Christ.
The marginalisation of the influence of Christianity in South Africa
Due to the sensitivity of the ‘colonial slur’, it would seem to be expedient to marginalise Christianity from mainstream South Africa. Global trends coupled with a more secularised government in South Africa has inclined us towards such a diminution of the influence of Christianity. Yet in the face of such an intellectual movement, it is important to realise what a major role Christianity has played in orientating a nation towards hope.
The influence of Christianity has been poorly reflected in historical literature in South Africa, according to Elphick and Davenport (1997:2). Preoccupied with liberal and Marxist concerns over the struggle between White and Black, South African historiography has tended to sideline religion, and Christianity in particular. Yet, as Chapman notes (in Chapman & Spong, 2003:3), the role of Christianity is significant. Some of the earliest state officials had Christian background. Many politicians, later, on both sides of the apartheid fence had formal religious training, and the TRC was led by clerics rather than lawyers. When the political transition in the 1990s was gathering momentum, Christians in the National Peace Accord, for example, sought to create an ethos conducive to democratic engagement. With only nine days to go before the first democratic elections in South Africa, and against the terrifying genocide of Rwanda that was playing out at the same time, Buthelezi, the leader of the powerful Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) threatened to boycott the elections. Respected Christians prevailed on him to support the process. All the while, at an all-day Jesus Rally, some 30,000 Christians prayed above the room where the deal was struck (Chapman & Spong, 2003:9; Venter, 2004:109). Indeed, Christians have been advocates of better social conditions.
Though it may be convenient to paint missionaries and church leaders as politically obtuse and so culturally self-enraptured that they could not identify error, let alone do anything about it, the truth is more likely to be that they saw, with great distress, what was going on, but chose to respond using different methods. Missionaries were drawn inevitably into politics (Elphick & Davenport, 1997:79), in much the same way as later Christian leaders translated personal awareness into action, often jeopardising their own positions for the sake of justice. Bishop Colenso of Natal (1997:348), Trevor Huddleston (1956) and Catholic bishop, Denis Hurley (Elphick & Davenport, 1997:205) would be just three examples. Other Christians preferred to work less dramatically, such as the missionary Ray Philips, in whose home in 1929 eight South Africans met to form the South African Institute of Race Relations (SAIRR)(1997:362), an organisation that would exert its own kind of pressure on the apartheid government.
Missionaries did not operate in isolation, nor were they easily marginalised. They were geared towards assistance and community. Mission stations became the locus of skills and practical help, where a variety of proficiencies – agricultural, mechanical, medical – were taught and trades learned (1997:36, 130). From the 1950s, Dutch Reformed Church hospitals sprang up at a rate that exceeded any other church’s endeavours, all funded in the beginning by Christian giving (1997:147).
« Africa, » said Trevor Huddleston (1956:15), « is a cruel place rather than a beautiful one. She lives by extremes. Her storms and her sunshine are both fierce. Life itself is precarious and has to find a foothold by struggling against that barren rock, those scorching winds, that arid, sandy soil ». In such an inhospitable context, the missionaries, and their mission stations, emerged as refreshing centres of hope and reconstruction. For the Khoisan, whose economic prospects had been undermined by successive settler invasions, the mission stations offered a chance to regain some authority over their lives (Elphick & Davenport, 1997:35). Confidence could be restored, respectability rebuilt and women protected from exploitation (1997:46, 50, 49). They became ‘foci of change’ (Bundy, in Elphick & Davenport, 1997:84), affording dislocated peoples the opportunity of reordering their lives and taking on a kind of upward mobility. For Afrikaners scattered in rural areas, church Communion services (nagmaal) forged and strengthened links between them as a people. For others, community was fostered by church groups, especially as apartheid took its toll in lives. Funerals, organised by Christian leaders, drew shattered communities together and also helped to mobilise them for action (1997:165). As Huddleston remarked (1956:103) with respect to the black urban experience in the 1950s: « The only thing that is meeting the need for a sense of ‘community’ , of ‘belonging’, in a broken and shattered tribalism of the town-dwelling African is the Church. » Even as late as 1992, Christian churches were still popular assembly points for young people, catering for 80% of all South African youth, compared to only 15% who were members of political parties (Elphick & Davenport, 1997:147). Pentecostal churches, notably Indian and Afrikaner Pentecostals, adapted themselves to the needs of their poor, and became centres of hope for the disenfranchised Indians and for the poor Whites (1997:230, 294). In its missionary efforts among Blacks through the 1970s, the Dutch Reformed Church (NGK) found surprising success. Christian outreach in those ambiguous days managed to set the scene for unique and deep bonds of friendship across colour lines that Elphick and Davenport (1997:148) believe to be part of the reason why South Africa did not plunge into civil war. In a very different era, the church today is still offering hope, as it leads the way in the fight against AIDS (Dixon, 2004:11), a disease that is fragmenting community on a grand scale.
Christianity has been the nurturer of profound values of which society has been the recipient. For white settlers, the church was the hothouse for political ideas to the point that it has been said that South Africans « debated issues of segregation and integration in their churches earlier than they did in their legislatures » (Elphick & Davenport, 1997:5). Many of the later ANC leaders were educated by church-based institutions. Men such as Albert Luthuli acknowledges his indebtedness to a Christian upbringing and identified the road to freedom as being through the Cross (Luthuli, 1962:25, 208). Back in 1931, D.D.T. Jabavu, the co-founder of the All African Convention, remarked that « every [South African] black man who is a leader of any importance is a product of missionary work.
Outside of missionary work there is no leadership » (in Elphick & Davenport, 1997:362). Further indicators of the influence of Christianity in our national life can be seen in the ANC anthem which is now part of the South African National Anthem (Nkosi, sikelel’ i Afrika – Lord bless Africa). It was originally the first stanza and chorus of a poem composed in 1897 by Enoch Sontonga that was first sung in 1899 at the ordination of Rev. Boweni, a Shangaan Methodist minister. The poem seeks the blessing of God on the leaders, men, youth, wives, ministers, land and efforts of Africa. It recognises that there is wickedness on the continent, but implores God to blot evil out and bless Africa (Gray, 1989:149). The principles adopted by the ANC Congress in 1923 affirmed Christian liberal values that had been taught in mission schools (Elphick & Davenport, 1997:156) and Christian perspectives infused the liberation struggle and gave courage to political activism (1997:386, 14). Leadership of the liberation struggle that was severely decimated by security clampdowns and banishments, found temporary substitute in the form of Christian leaders like Tutu who sustained the voice of political dissent in the absence of exiled leadership.
Christianity and missions have played a significant role, therefore, in the development of this country. At times seen as forceful in setting an agenda in social life, at other times unobtrusive, it has predisposed a vast majority of the population (80%, according to the International Religious Freedom Report 2006) to its message and principles, however vaguely those principles might sometimes be expressed in daily life. Baptist pastors have not inherited a tradition which easily accepts marginalisation. There is an impetus within Baptists, probably birthed in historical struggle against overwhelming odds, that refuses to see so valuable a perspective on life and eternity relegated to the fringes of society. Fully cognisant that to speak up may position pastors unflatteringly among the many voices on the stage, Baptist pastors will continue to find their voice and let it be heard. Whatever the changes we might yet see ahead, a considerable religious platform has been laid that cannot be ignored.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
CHAPTER 1: PREPARING THE STAGE – VOICES OF ANTICIPATION
1.1 An awkward question
1.2 Hearing the voices
1.3 The research question
1.4 The aims of the research
1.5 A practical-theological study
1.6 Defining key terms
1.7 The Zerfass model – Personal adaptation
1.8 Predispositions (metatheory) in approaching the current thesis
1.9 Operationalisation of the study
CHAPTER 2: A NEW STAGE UPON WHICH TO ACT: PART 1 – A CHANGING SOCIO POLITICAL CONTEXT OF MINISTRY
2.1 It’s all changing
2.2 Socio-political changes
CHAPTER 3: A NEW STAGE UPON WHICH TO ACT: PART 2 – A CHANGING RELIGIOUS CONTEXT OF MINISTRY
3.1 Wider religious trends
3.2 Religious changes in South Africa
3.3 Baptist denominational changes
3.4 The search for a new identity as South African Christians and Baptists
CHAPTER 4: ECHOES OF PAST PERFORMANCES – BIBLICAL AND CHURCH-HISTORICAL EXPECTATIONS SHAPING THE PASTOR
4.1 An important audience in the gallery
4.2 The persuasion of a particular interpretation of Scripture (The voice of a significant primary group)
4.3 The persuasion of the wider church (The voice of a significant secondary group)
CHAPTER 5: THE APPLAUSE OF A MODERN AUDIENCE – PRESENT EXPECTATIONS SHAPING THE PASTOR
5.1 Modern theatre of the mind and emotions
5.2 The persuasiveness of the media (The voice of society)
5.3 The persuasiveness of pastoral role models (The voice of one’s own experience)
5.4 Role conflict and role ambiguity
5.5 Lack of a pastoral centre
CHAPTER 6: VOICES FROM THE STAGE – RESPONSES FROM BAPTIST
6.2 The design of the empirical instruments
6.3 Biographical data
6.4 The pastor’s role cluster
6.5 Their response to the proposed model of the pastor as spiritual antagonist
CHAPTER 7: SEARCHING THE STAGE – THE QUEST FOR A NEW METAPHOR OF MINISTRY
7.1 The search for a praxis-metaphor
7.2 The antagonist of literature
7.3 The antagonist of Scripture
7.4 Approaching the pastor as spiritual antagonist
CHAPTER 8: A STRANGELY DIFFERENT VOICE – THE ROLE AND MINISTRY OF THE SPIRITUAL ANTAGONIST
8.1 Stepping forward to perform
8.2 A spiritual person
8.3 Pastoral-poetic imagination
8.4 A crafter of ‘communicatives’
8.5 A user of conflict and anger
8.6 Presence – Being with people
8.7 Engaging from the side – Humble authority
8.8 The nature of the change being sought
8.9 A ministry ethos and a specific role
CHAPTER 9: MAKING A VOICE HEARD – IMPLICATIONS FOR FUTURE MINISTRY
9.1 Towards an operational theory
9.2 With a new identity – An antagonistic heart
9.3 With a new identity – Antagonistic strategies
9.4 A changing identity
9.5 A changing ecclesiology
9.6 Handling theological education
9.7 Gaining advantage from metaphor
9.8 A practical-theological reflection
9.9 Walking away – Handling failure
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