A CHRISTIAN UNDERSTANDING of KEYS to RENAISSANCE in AFRICA
Dr Michael Jarvis & Pastor Christian Ilunga
Africa is a continent with enormous potential, much of which has not been exploited for the benefit of Africans. Vast mineral deposits have not yet been exploited and where they have been mined this has not always benefitted Africa as it should. In many other ways Africa’s potential is being held back and there is a growing awareness that we need new approaches to solving problems. In fact Africa needs ‘renaissance’.
The word ‘renaissance’ means ‘new birth’.
The Organisation of African Unity (OAU) in 2013 adopted a document called Agenda 2063. This outlines proposed stages and goals on the road to full realisation of Africa’s potential. The continent has more minerals than anywhere else on earth and vast areas with potential for agriculture. Wise policies can lead the continent out of poverty and into a renaissance in all facets of society.
At present few would deny that Africa is vastly under developed, plagued by wars, poverty, food shortages, widespread corruption and political instability, poor infrastructure, unnecessary mortality from diseases and some other challenges. At the same time there is an increasing realisation that renaissance is being held back by many prevailing factors that should be researched and identified.
The colonial period introduced a combination of benefits and problems to Africa. However, as more of Africa’s young people obtained an education there arose an increasing desire for Africanisation. This led to liberation movements and negotiations with European colonial powers, resulting in political independence.
An essential step towards further renaissance and Africanisation is to thoroughly research the factors that are holding the continent back. Part of this research can include a study of the things that held Europe back for hundreds of years, prior to their renaissance and reformation.
In Europe the problems included poor education and dogmatic religious control over peoples lives. In Africa our search for renaissance also needs to look in depth at our religious and cultural beliefs to determine if aspects of these are holding the continent back.
Many people in sub-Saharan Africa consider themselves to be Christians. For this reason we look at African renaissance from a Christian viewpoint. Scriptures relate the progress and prosperity of nations to their relationship with the God of the Bible. A biblically based relationship leads to blessings while deviation from this inevitably leads to problems.
Many Christians are not fully aware of how their Christian and biblical heritage hold vital keys to renaissance, both in individual lives and in the life of communities and nations.--
A CHRISTIAN UNDERSTANDING of KEYS to RENAISSANCE in AFRICA
Dr Michael Jarvis & Pastor Christian Ilunga
The search for renaissance
Many political leaders in Africa speak of the need for an African Renaissance. Some point to the example of the renaissance that took place in Europe between the 14th and 17th centuries.
It was a slow process in Europe because the Roman Catholic Church of that time vigorously opposed any movement that threatened to shake their dictatorial control over the lives of people.
In May 2013 the OAU (Organisation of African Unity) endorsed a document called ‘Agenda 2063’ which outlines hoped for stages towards African renaissance. It was drawn up by Dr Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma and outlines proposed stages for transforming this continent. However, it is helpful to also look back on the European renaissance and its associated reformation within Christianity and learn valuable lessons that can help ‘fast track’ the African renaissance.
Middle Ages Europe is often referred to as the Dark Ages. Most people were kept in ignorance by depriving the vast majority of education. They were kept in fear of spirits, witches, curses and a dramatised picture of hell. This destination, or an intermediate one called Purgatory, were the destiny of all who dared to question the authority and teachings of the church. The church had wandered far from what Christianity was like in the first two centuries. The Bible was only available to a few selected priests and church services were all in Latin which most people did not understand.
Many people attempted to break free from this darkness but many were killed by the Inquisition Courts set up by the church and this held back progress towards renaissance. In addition people were not allowed to read books other than those sanctioned by the church.
Civilisation went backwards. Much early knowledge in writings of the Greek, Roman and early Muslim civilisations became lost and the dynamic and transforming power of early Christianity became ‘fossilised’ into a mockery of what Jesus and the early Christian teachers had taught.
The renaissance in Europe began in the 14th century and at first was seen mainly in the city of Florence. A combination of factors led to this city becoming the first area to experience major changes. Part of this was the migration to Florence of Greek scholars with important documents, following the fall of Constantinople at the hands of the Ottoman Turks. There followed a revival of debate and discussion that had been condemned for so long by the church.
Florence became a vibrant city in which new ideas flourished and progress was made in medical knowledge and living conditions of its citizens. However, this new freedom still lacked some vital ingredients needed for renaissance to take hold throughout Europe. Breakthroughs came with the invention of printing and the Protestant Reformation.
The Reformation was a break away from the Roman Catholic Church. It was initiated by Martin Luther, John Calvin, Huldrych Zwingli and other early Protestant Reformers in the 16th Century. This combination of a new freedom to question and discover, combined with a new dynamic within Christianity, led to the great discoveries initiated by scientific research and to a word-wide Christian Missionary movement that took the Christian Gospel message to may new places. The fact that much of Africa is at least nominally Christian today is a direct result of this missionary movement.
King David of old wrote in Psalm 19 The heavens declare the glory of God, the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge. Scientific studies started when people realised that the Creator wanted us to do research into his creation and to improve our surroundings. This was clearly stated right back in the Bible book of Genesis when God said Be fruitful and increase in numbers, fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground (Bible: Genesis 1:28). Humanity was told to overcome (subdue) things that needed to be changed. We were called upon to rule but at the same time to rule wisely and under the direction of principles laid down by our Creator.
The European renaissance led to a rediscovery of the true nature of the God of the Bible. He is a loving God who desires to have a personal relationship with people and he encourages us to explore his creation. He is approachable directly through Jesus, with no need to go via priests, popes, dead saints, the Virgin Mary, ancestral spirits, witch doctors, Imams or any ceremony or ritual.
Unfortunately Europe has now largely lost their Christian roots and the benefits of civilisation have led to many placing their trust in science and worldly wealth, rather than in the Creator. The Renaissance and Reformation enabled many amazing and society changing advances resulting from the accumulation of scientific knowledge, but we can see that these advances are not enough on their own to change the morality of people. Flourishing societies have to be based on God centred morality.
True renaissance in Africa will also depend on two major realities.
- A willingness to question, discuss and if necessary reject some of our religious beliefs and traditions.
- A discovery that a personal relationship between individuals and their Creator is vital if negative influences are to be avoided. God and his standards must be the basis of our civilisation and ‘Love your neighbour as yourself’ the foundation of our morality.
Lessons to learn from Middle Ages Europe
Summary of how the majority of people lived in Europe?
- People lived in fear of spirits, witches, curses and the church that controlled their lives and threatened them with a destiny in hell if they dared doubt the church’s teachings.
- People put their trust in lucky charms, fortune tellers and in bits of paper called ‘Indulgences’ sold by the church with the promise that it would reduce their suffering after death.
- People believed that whatever happened to them was due to spirits, both good and bad, and the only sensible way to escape the worst effects was to have unquestioning allegiance to the religious authority of that time.
- People were told that they could not approach God directly but had to go via saints, priests, the Virgin Mary, popes and the Church.
- People were taught to have unquestioning allegiance to kings and chiefs who were in turn devoted to obedience to the church. These rulers allowed their subjects to farm plots of land that still belonged to the rulers and in return the people gave the rulers a portion of the farm produce and had to fight his battles against rival rulers. This was a form of tribalism.
- Unquestioning allegiance led to many abuses being covered up, including sexual abuses committed by church officials. This culture of secrecy and covering up within some religious systems has continued till our times, as shown by the recent exposure of widespread abuse of children by some people in high positions in some Churches.
- Women were not treated as equals and seldom experienced the right to make their own choices.
How does this compare with Africa today?
Throughout Africa millions of people have religious beliefs that greatly impact upon their lives. For instance:
- The veneration, fear of and worship of spirits of ancestors.
- The belief that everything that happens to us, whether good or bad, is determined largely by the decisions of our dead ancestors.
- There is widespread belief in the supernatural power of lucky charms, medicines made from human body parts, the reality of witches, curses, fetishes and that the so-called witch doctors can be our link between the living and the spirits of the dead.
- Most people in Africa do believe in a great God who created everything but he is far removed from us and this means that we can only relate to him via the ancestors.
- Tribalism is very strongly entrenched through the belief that the living and the dead ancestors form a corporate ‘spirit of the tribe’. In some areas this is known as the ‘Ithongo factor’. As a result living members of the tribe must take great care not to disturb the unity of the tribe. This unity can be disturbed if any individual tries to take more than his or her fair share of the total good available to the tribe. This belief results in major limitations on individual initiatives and hard work. It results in pressure to promote people according to their tribal affiliation or their age, rather than on merit.
- Belief in re-incarnation is widespread in some parts of Africa. Munza (2005) says that in some areas of Africa it is believed that each new baby is an ancestor coming back.
- The fear of ancestral spirits and powers of witch doctors has helped cover up many evils such as the widespread abuse and killing of children for making ‘Muti’ (mixtures believed to carry magical powers). This has been largely covered up because many law enforcement officials fear becoming victims of curses if they try to expose these crimes.
- Women are often look upon as things to be possessed and often have little say over how they are treated. Child brides are a common practice in some areas resulting in both physical and psychological harm to the girls and it can mean that girls cannot receive the education and training that they desire.
Few people would disagree that the veneration of ancestors and the belief that they, the Amatongo (Zulu for people without bodies) have enormous spiritual power, is the predominant belief system in Africa.
At the same time many people in Africa have embraced the Christian message of forgiveness of sins through the sacrificial death and shed blood of Jesus Christ. However, many of these same people still cling to their belief in keeping good relations with the spirits of their ancestors.
Other dogmatic religious influences holding back renaissance
Within major world religions we find groups where adherents to these religions seek guidance from religious leaders before making major decisions, rather than seeking guidance directly from God. In groups where allegiance to religious authorities is more important than individual decision making, this can be a great barrier to progress.
Where the youth are brought up in a culture that demands conformity to very rigid norms, there are enormous pressures to conform, in order to be accepted. Controlling cultures, such as the Church in Middle Ages Europe, much of the Islamic world, and areas with ancestral worship, all place severe limitations on individuality and freedom of expression. Such environments prevent renaissance and prevent scientific and technological advances.
Early Islam was characterised by many different interpretations of writings considered to be sacred. As a result discussion and debate was very much part of the culture. This produced an environment that was suited to new ideas and Masood (2006) lists some 1001 inventions that date back to this period. However, this changed as the divergences within Islamic interpretations consolidated into three major divisions, namely Suni, Shia and Sufi. Each group sought to establish its influence by impressing upon followers that they must accept the viewpoints of their religious leaders without question.
An unfortunate side effect of this development of dogmatic conformity to religious leaders, was the destruction of a culture of enquiry and debate. As Masood (2006) points out, Today there is little high-quality science and learning in Muslim countries. Indices of patents and research publications make it clear that countries with mostly Muslim populations rate poorly for generating new knowledge. They have produced just two science Nobelists.
In fact there are four or five Muslim Nobel Prize winners not mentioned by Masood. However, the small number of Nobel Prize winners is surprising considering that about 20% of the world’s population is Muslim. High quality research needs a level of freedom to think, speak and publish, that does not exist in many Muslim countries.
By contrast we have the Jewish culture where debate and discussion are encouraged. As a result, although Jews constitute less than 0.2% of the world population, they have won by far the most Nobel Prizes of any nation or religious group. These Nobel Prizes include 12 for literature, 9 for world peace, 22 for chemistry, 36 for physics, 22 for economics and 38 for medicine.
The marked difference in levels of original thought and discovery between the Muslim world and Jewish world, should serve as a profound commentary on the need to encourage debate and individuality, in order to achieve progress. This truth is vitally important when we are looking at factors needed for renaissance in Africa.
What have we learnt from our past?
Much of Africa has suffered centuries of exploitation. First there was the slave trade conducted by European powers on the West Coast and on the East coast by Arabs. In addition, lack of education and tribal loyalties, fuelled by ancestral beliefs, led to numerous wars between tribes and women and child mortality was very high due to diseases and medical ignorance.
Colonialism brought a mixture of problems and benefits. Some colonising powers such as Belgium exploited the mineral and other riches without uplifting the African population, as was the case in the DRC. However, in other areas in spite of some real abuses initiated by colonising powers they also brought much good. In Kenya the colonial government and missionary organisations brought education, improved medical care, cessation of tribal hostilities and modern infrastructure such as roads, railways, hospitals etc. As a result the human populations have increased dramatically.
The colonial period brought education and new ideas that opened the eyes of Africans to the realisation that centuries of exploitation need not continue. There was a new awareness that Africa could emerge to an African Renaissance. This led to ‘wars of liberation’ and other pressures on colonising powers to hand back land to the African people. This has led to the post-colonial situation where we are right now in Africa. We now urgently need real heart searching to identify the factors that are still preventing true renaissance, and will continue to prevent a true renaissance until we face the key issues.
Right now a lot of money is pouring into the continent and the total income (GDP) of some African countries is increasing. However, this often only benefits a privileged few and there is no true renaissance benefitting whole countries and their populations.
We hope and pray that Africa will learn the lessons that were learnt by Middle Ages Europe. They were tough lessons that cost many brave people their lives. However, Africa has the advantage that we can look back and see what we can learn from the renaissance in Europe.
African renaissance requires an honest examination of our religious beliefs
A question few seem to have answered is why normal people such as you and I suddenly become dangerous and vindictive once we die and become ancestral spirits? Also, how can normal ancestors sometimes demand human sacrifices to obtain powerful Muti for casting spells, curses, or in other ways influencing outcomes of events?
Belief that ancestors ultimately cause all events, whether good or bad, can lead to a fatalistic outlook on life. Fear of these supernatural powers can cause people to seek supernatural answers to problems rather than practical and reasoned solutions. For instance, a herd boy may experience five of his father’s cattle being struck dead by lightning. The father then consults the witch doctor to find out how he has offended the ancestors. This costs the father time and money while part of a logical and practical answer would be to ask the herd boy where were the cattle situated during the thunder storm. Where they on top of a hill or under a tall tree? The practical solution is to tell the herd boy that lightning normally strikes the highest ground and so in future he must move the cattle away from high ground or tall tress when he sees a thunder storm approaching.
At the same time as seeking practical solutions to problems, it is true that there can be spiritual factors that influence events around us. In the Bible there are references telling us how obedience to God’s laws brings blessings to individuals and to nations. Even agriculture benefits when societies place God’s laws first. We will cover this aspect in more detail later.
Consider another story of how a very bright youngster in a village watched his parents ploughing the fields with oxen. He then invented a new plough that turned over more soil for the same effort. This invention was taken to the witch doctor by the village elders so that he could consult the ancestors about it. The answer came back “ Who does this young man think he is? We ploughed the land this way for generations. How can he doubt the wisdom of the ancestors.” As a result this bright young man was chased out of the village.
These sorts of stories highlight an important negative effect that ancestral worship can have on progress.
Munza (2005) writes that, fear of witchcraft distorts and negates the benefits of science and medicine. Belief that spiritual beings are the source of everything good or bad that happens in life means that all diseases are caused by these spiritual beings – including HIV/AIDS. We are not satisfied with scientific medical treatment because we KNOW there is someone behind the disease who is causing it.
This belief has led many to consult a tribal ‘medium’ (witch doctor) before receiving medical treatment. It has led to outrageous beliefs being proposed by some witch doctors (Sangomas) in South Africa, such as that sex with a virgin or with a child could cure AIDS. This became such a problem in South Africa that Nelson Mandela had to condemn it on national television. It was leading to rape of children and young women on an alarming scale.
Applying the lessons learned during renaissance and reformation in Europe
Renaissance in Africa will depend on at least three important overall factors:
- Developing a culture of asking questions and discussing problems, combined with a willingness to discard things from our cultures that are holding back true renaissance.
- Honestly facing the realty that an important hindrance to renaissance can be our religious beliefs. We need the courage to question beliefs that have been handed down to us from previous generations.
- Carefully considering what we mean by the call for ‘Africanisation’. It is vital to clearly define good Africanisation goals and potentially disastrous ones.
- A culture of asking questions
Fortunately the younger generation of Africans are increasingly asking questions and openly discussing problems. This has inevitably developed from being exposed to schooling and to increasing exposure to the internet. This shows people how things are done in other places and it can help us to desire change in our own situations.
- Our religious beliefs
African progress and true renaissance will depend on honestly facing our religious beliefs. We need to ask ourselves whether the spirits we consult and fear are really those of our ancestors. If we have accepted the Christian Gospel message we should know the words of Jesus when he described Satan as a deceiver, a liar and a murderer (John 8:44). His overall plan is to deceive, to kill and to destroy. Surely there is great deception when witch doctors require human body parts to make Muti (magic mixtures designed to achieve spiritual power). Muti is the name given to this in South Africa but it has other names. Satan’s character is further revealed through requiring painful mutilation of the victims before they are murdered.
When we read of the killing of adults and children to satisfy the demands of witch doctors for Muti, we should ask ourselves whether it can really be the spirits of our ancestors who are asking for this sort of evil? We should also realise that it is often these same witch doctors who are consulted by people wanting to know
what the ‘ancestors’ have to say about problems or decisions in our lives. Is it not more logical to conclude that it is evil spirits pretending to be our ancestors?
In Tanzania hundreds of albinos have been brutally killed by taking body parts from them while they are still alive. However, Tanzania is now leading Africa by arresting over 200 witch doctors linked to these crimes. Throughout Africa these horrific things are happening but usually not given the serious condemnation that has been shown by the courageous Tanzanian President John Pombe Magufuli.
An article in News 24 of 14 January 2016 shows how President Magufuli is a refreshing light in Africa. The article records how he cancelled expensive Independence Day celebrations, walked the streets collecting rubbish himself, upgraded the National Hospital in Dar es Salaam, he uses a car to travel around instead of a jet and he has clamped down on wasteful money expenditure, is fighting widespread corruption and has initiated a number of other positive actions. It is noteworthy that this President is motivated by his Christian convictions that he takes very seriously.
Munza (2005) writes that in parts of the DRC fetish customs can involve ritualistic cannibalism. In South Africa MCSA ( Missing Children SA) revealed in February 2016 that a child goes missing in South Africa every five hours. About 66% of these are found but about 4% of these were found dead. Many are never found and crime records show that most of these are victims of human trafficking or Muti killings.
- What about Africanisation?
Some people have equated Africanisation with a return to tribal religious beliefs that dominated Africa before the arrival of Christianity. However, this is only one aspect of the question.
There is no denying that colonialism led to many new ideas and ways of doing things, such as industrialisation, building of railways, roads and other infrastructure, introducing new farming methods, changing of place names, taking some tribal lands for development of commercial agriculture, predominantly by people of European origin. It also brought new approaches to diseases, resulting in an enormous population increase and colonisation enabled missionaries to bring Christianity to much of Africa.
In addition, western civilisation introduced new types of education and the ability to read and write. This led in time to the realisation that Africans should and could become much more involved in all aspects of society and should move towards the goal of full integration into the educational system, agriculture, commerce and politics.
These goals are essentially good, provided they are not implemented prematurely. For instance, if teaching posts or directorships of business or other responsible positions are filled with people who are not suitably trained for these positions. If that happens then standards fall and the overall aims of renaissance are hindered and the people of the country suffer.
One aspect of Africanisation that receives much publicity is the return of land to its original inhabitants. This is an understandable desire but meets with practical problems. For instance, how do we determine who the original land holders were? In South Africa about 80% of farmland is now owned by white farmers of European origin, although white people are in the minority regarding the total population. Historically some land was taken by white people from black ownership through legislation that was unjust. However, historically land was also taken by black people from other black people as the Bantu tribes moved southwards. This could also be classified as unjust.
Since land ownership has historically changed hands from before European influence reached Africa, a case can be made for accepting the present distribution of land ownership as a starting point and then to initiate programmes that can enable people who do not have access to agricultural land to progressively obtain land. Any process should take into account the national priority of food security. Policies leading to land expropriation, with or without compensation to the current owners, have resulted in disastrous declines in agricultural production. Zimbabwe under President Mugabe is a prime example of this.
The complexities of land ownership are not easily solved but certainly Africanisation will have a goal of moving towards far more land ownership residing in the hands of the population groups that form the majority. At the same time responsible decision makers will weigh up this desire with the even greater importance of protecting the food availability in the country. If land is taken over without the training and finance to farm it optimally, countries move from food exporting to a food importing, with resultant loss of many jobs and a decline of the national economy.
If we are motivated by ‘love others as you love yourself’ then the most important consideration is the need to maximise food production. This is vital in our world with its escalating human population increase and resultant strains on producing enough food to prevent malnutrition and starvation.
Africanisation has good goals regarding aiming to maximising advancement of previously disadvantaged populations and moving towards reversing injustices of the past. However, problems arise when Africanisation is also promoted to include returning to aspects of our past that will inevitably hinder true renaissance. By far the biggest potential hindrance to renaissance in Africa is any religious belief that relates everything we do to the decisions of ancestral spirits. From Bible teachings and Christianity, we know that the key to individual and national renaissance and prosperity is ‘You must not have any other gods before me’. Other gods are anything that we consult for guidance or place our trust in.
Some African leaders have promoted a return to the African religious beliefs that dominated the continent before Christianity arrived. For instance, this was promoted by the former DRC president Mabutu Sese Seko. Munza writes, Mobutu tried the strategy of unquestioning promotion of Africanism. He used the slogan “Nous voulons ettre nous-memes, et non ce que les autres voudraient que nous soyons’. It basically means ‘We want to be what we want to be and not what others want us to be’. He promoted rejecting everything western, including names and dress. He thought if traditional customs were restored, it would restore his country and solve its problems. However, the DRC descended into a worse condition while President Mabutu was in power. Although he still claimed to be a Roman Catholic he mixed this with other beliefs and he also amassed vast wealth for himself and his family. This was wealth that should have been spent on uplifting the people. If we look at the DRC today we can see that it is still far from experiencing true renaissance.
In Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe has pleased those in that country who believed that the way to appease ancestral spirits and bring about progress was to return farmland to its original inhabitants. However, this has turned a one time exporting ‘bread basket’ of Africa into a poor and food importing nation where in 2016 over 85% of the working population are unemployed.
In South Africa some leaders are also promoting a return to traditions prevailing before European influences reached Africa. At UNISA University a Thabo Mbeki Leadership Institute has been created to promote his ideas of African renaissance. Kistner (2009) notes , Africanisation in tuition at Unisa, for instance, comes with a list of mandatory “reorientations” closely in line with Thabo Mbeki’s version of the African renaissance, now bolstered by the establishment of a Thabo Mbeki Leadership Institute to be based at Unisa, in addition to the Centre for African Renaissance Studies.
The article continues, Afrocentrism, the valorisation of things African, Afro-dynamism and Afro-optimism are central to this mission...Ways and means have been announced to enlist staff participation in and support for Africanisation. Preferably, staff should support this initiative “freely and voluntarily”, failing which “it may become necessary to develop some specific instruments”.
We agree that many goals of Africanisation are good goals but It seems that some of those heading this Africanisation initiative are proposing to follow the same disastrous path tried by ex-president Mabutu of the DRC and Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe. It is a path back to religious roots that directly conflict with renaissance in Africa.
Already we are witnessing widespread deterioration in infrastructure and standards in South Africa. This can only be reversed if people accept that the key to true renaissance is the rejection of religious beliefs cantered on ancestral spirits, the need to benefit my tribe above all others, belief in fetishes, lucky charms, witch
doctors, belief in powers of Muti potions and other beliefs that hold back inventiveness, hold back striving for excellence and minimise practical and scientific approaches to solving problems.
The spiritual world is very real. Jesus spoke of demons and demonic possession. He cast demons out of people and warned us that Satan can make himself appear like an ‘angel of light’ but at other times he is the murderer who continually promotes wars and human cruelty and he and his demons can pretend to be our ancestors. He knows that belief in the ability of spirits of ancestors to control our lives will keep us away from discovering that we can relate directly to God through Jesus Christ. Satan also knows that these beliefs are a major stumbling block on the road to renaissance in Africa. He does not want renaissance because he enjoys human suffering.
The Bible condemns consulting the dead and tells us that the prince of rebellion in the universe (Satan) and his rebellious angels (demons) delight in deceiving mankind. Jesus said about Satan, “He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies (Bible: John 8:44).
The Bible warns us not to consult the dead. We read, Do not turn to mediums or seek out spiritists, for you will be defiled by them. I am the Lord your God (Bible: Leviticus 19:31). We read, The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons. (Bible: 1 Timothy 4:1).
Dark Ages Europe only broke free from their ignorance and fear when they challenged the distorted picture of God that had dominated and controlled their lives. Many discovered the life changing reality of direct relationship with God through Jesus Christ. They discovered a loving God who desired good for us not harm. Many of them discovered a relationship that enabled them to break down tribal barriers. In the early Christian Church Paul could write, Here there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all and is in all. Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which bonds them all together in perfect unity (Bible: Colossians 3:11-14).
The Christian Gospel message opens the way for every man and woman to enter into a very personal relationship with the awesome Creator of the universe. There is no need to approach God via priests, popes, dead saints, the Virgin Mary, Imams, ceremonies, rituals, ancestral spirits or intermediaries such as witch doctors. The way is open to approaching God directly through what God achieved when he became the man Jesus and shed his blood on the cross for the forgiveness of sins. He rose from death and now is in heaven as our intermediary, allowing us to approach God directly and to develop a real personal relationship with this awesomely great God. The shed blood of Jesus is far more powerful that any other sacrificial blood. It is powerful to break all other powers that Satan and his deceiving demons present to humanity.
The ideal God-given agenda for renaissance in Africa.
The Bible tells us that changes in society result from changes in individual human lives. God’s agenda is a renaissance agenda:
The Gospel message is for individual renaissance (new birth) through entering into a personal relationship with God through what Jesus Christ achieved for us on the Cross. His shed blood is more powerful than the blood of any other sacrifice. It is his shed blood that has the power to forgive all sins. The Gospel message of New Birth follows this pattern:
- Repentance or ‘turning around’ from a self centred life to a God cantered life.
- Accepting that Jesus was who he claimed to be, namely God become man, that he died and rose again, thus showing us that he really was who he claimed to be. If we ask him to forgive our sins and put the Holy Spirit into us then we become ‘Born Again’.
- It is then normal to be baptised in water as a sign to all around us that we are turning away from our self centred lives and our belief in other gods and ‘ancestral spirits’ and that we want God to start a process of reformation in our lives.
- If we are prepared to renounce all other gods (things we put our trust in, including our worship of spirits claiming to be our ancestors) then we can be ‘filled with the Holy Spirit’. This can be a separate experience once we have realised the need to get rid of all other gods in our lives. It makes sense that God cannot FILL us with his Holy Spirit until we have renounced all other spirits and false gods. Once we have emptied the ‘rooms’ of our heart and asked God to fill the empty rooms with his Holy Spirit then life changing things start to happen. There is no place for a Christian to still hold onto things of the world that are not godly. No place to hang onto consulting any spirit other than God’s Holy Spirit.
A great tragedy within Christianity today is that large numbers of church goers are not filled with the Holy Spirit. This is because they are half hearted Christians. They not only fail to be ‘salt’ and ‘light’ in their communities but in fact are a hindrance to the spread of the Christian Gospel message. They show a false Christianity to the world around them. They fit into what the Apostle Paul wrote that in the ‘last days’ many people will, have a form of godliness but denying its power (Bible: 2 Timothy 3:5)
This combination of individual New Birth and a God-given desire to be ‘light’ and ‘salt’ in the world, makes individuals ready to play a full role in changing society. This is the hope of Africa. This is the main KEY to African renaissance.
The main KEY to Africa’s renaissance is individual lives that have discovered the reality of a personal relationship with the great God of creation. The Holy Spirit now progressively changes each individual Born Again life. They discover a growing new love for their neighbours, an ability to break through tribal barriers, a new desire for honesty in all aspects of life.
When Born Again individuals take on their responsibility for society around them, this leads to renaissance in families, towns, countries and continents. It leads to true renaissance in Africa.
The Gospel message, enabling individual people to be Born Again, also includes the promise that we are empowered to change. It is not through our human efforts that we become better people. The Bible tells us that it is when the Holy Spirit dwells in our hearts that he enables us to develop our personal relationship with God. As we co-operate with God, through prayer, Bible reading, fellowship with other believers and through starting to follow Jesus, he progressively changes our desires and actions. The Bible says, For it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose (Philippians 2:13). It also becomes true that the Holy Spirit changes us, step by step. We read, But the fruit if the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
Blessing of renaissance or curse of stagnation
Many spiritual dynamics must be taken into account when Born Again individuals take on their responsibility to improve living conditions in their society.
In fact, nothing is more enjoyable for a community than a blessed society where transformed people build together a safe and sound environment that feels good to live in. King David, in the book of Psalms gives a clear description of what such a society could look like “Here is my description of a truly happy land where Jehovah is God: Sons vigorous and tall as growing plants. Daughters of graceful beauty like the pillars of a palace wall. Barns full to the brim with crops of every kind. Sheep by the thousands out in our fields. Oxen loaded down with produce. No enemy attacking the walls, but peace everywhere. No crime in our streets. Yes, happy are those whose God is Jehovah” (Psalm 144:12-15 TLB).
Unfortunately, despite its innumerable natural riches, Africa most often offers a very different picture where poverty is the rule and prosperity the exception, where injustice supersedes justice, where aggravation
replaces human flourishing, where the status quo rules over the spirit of constant improvement and where the culture of ‘more or less’ is more prevalent than the culture of ‘precision’.
There is a very important account in the Bible that clearly shows that living conditions in a society are a direct consequence of an individual’s actions, especially when they are in a leadership position. In 2 Samuel 21 the Bible gives an account of a famine that occurred in Israel when King David took power. The famine lasted three years. When at last David inquired of the Lord God he told him: “The famine is caused by Saul and his household who are guilty of bloodshed because he killed the people of Gibeon”.
The Israelites had previously sworn a solemn pledge to spare the people of Gibeon but Saul tried to eliminate them in his enthusiasm for the people of Israel and Judah. In a situation of famine, citizens and leaders do everything they can to find a solution. In a modern contexts leaders may take action such as using new types of fertilisers and employing more agricultural specialists. However, because this famine in King David’s time had a spiritual origin, no natural solution would have worked to resolve the issue.
Today, as we in Africa work to improve our societies, we must understand this fundamental spiritual truth. Every action that we undertake, especially when we are in a position of authority, affects the land where we live, either with favourable consequences that the Bible calls blessings, or with detrimental consequences that the Bible calls curses. This is a principle established by God himself who says in the Bible: “If you fully obey all of these commandments of the Lord your God, the laws I am declaring to you today, God will transform you into the greatest nation in the world. These are the blessings that will come upon you: blessings in the city, blessings in the field... If you won’t listen to the Lord your God and won’t obey these laws I am giving you today, then all of these curses shall come upon you. Curses in the city, curses in the fields, curses on your fruit and bread” (Deuteronomy 28:1-15).
It is important to note that many of the problems we face in our nations are the direct result of wrong behaviour. God has warned that these ‘curses’ will result but in fact they are automatic results of our own choices. For instance, wars lead to agricultural production being harmed and this in turn leads to famines and this leads to increased diseases. Exploiting land in a non-renewable way leads to soil degradation, soil loss, flash floods, landslides and other problems. There are many other examples.
A blessing from the Hebrew word b ‘raka h, is seeing God’s kindness and grace in our undertakings and in our lands. It manifests itself in several ways. The very first mention of ‘blessing’ in the Bible is a good illustration of how a blessing can be manifested. The following verbs and terms are used in Genesis 1:28-31 to express God’s blessing on mankind: “multiply, fill, Subdue... You are masters... I have chosen you...I have given you...Then God looked...it was excellent in every way”.
On the other hand, the word curse from the Hebrew word Arah means to execute, to bring great harm or trouble upon someone. Again, one of the first mentions of the word in Genesis 3:17 lifts a small corner of the veil as to how curses manifest. “...I have placed a curse upon the soil. All your life you will struggle to extract a living from it. It will grow thorns and thistles for you and you shall eat its grasses. All your life you will sweat to master it, until your dying day. Then you will return to the ground from which you came”.
Deuteronomy 28, as well as many other Bible passages, gives extensive lists of blessings and curses brought to men according to whether or not they chose to obey God’s commands. God’s commands are given for our good and the good of society. Jesus summarised all of them with his words, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it ‘Love your neighbour as yourself’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments” (Matthew 22:37-40 NIV).
In the book of Exodus, worshiping other gods is mentioned among the many acts that bring negative impacts on the lives and lands of individuals: “You must never bow to or worship it in any way, for I, the Lord your God am very possessive. I will not share your affection with any other god! And when I punish people for their sins, the punishment continues upon the children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren of those who hate me: but I lavish my love upon thousands of those who love me and obey my commandments”(Exodus 20:3-6).
The Bible also clearly condemns those who call upon the dead, such as dead ancestors: “Let no one be found among you who...call forth the spirits of the dead. Anyone doing these things is an object of horror and disgust to the Lord” (Deuteronomy 18:11-12).
Born Again individuals who take responsibility for their society must not neglect the spiritual dimension of blessings and curses. With the help of the Holy Spirit they can receive spiritual insights, just as it was revealed to King David why famine persisted in his country. Illuminated by the Holy Spirit, in such a way they can be aware of specific sins that their community needs to repent from and be inspired by the proper actions to take to get rid of every spiritual hindrance over their land.
The Bible mentions three main steps needed to break the power of a curse: repentance of identified or revealed sins and wherever possible revocation of the curse itself. This must be done on the basis of scriptures such as Galatians 3:13-14 that tell us that Christ became a curse for us and has made a way to replace the curse by the blessing.
Blessings work as a spiritual fertiliser that enrich everything we put our hands to. In Genesis 26:12 we read that Isaac planted and harvested a hundredfold. He harvested much more than naturally expected because God blessed him in the foreign land where he was living. This is the kind of blessing that Africa needs today. When such a blessing is active, natural and pragmatic, efforts are fruitful and society flourishes.
Practical effects of breaking free from ancestral worship
Some practical results of breaking free from fear of spirits and ancestral control:
- It is a fundamental step towards the death of racism and tribal loyalty. It opens the door to true ubuntu (caring for our neighbours), not just for my family or tribe but for all mankind. We can retain our tribal identity, such as our language and some of our customs but not at the expense of ‘loving our neighbour as ourselves’.
- It gives individuals and governments greater freedom to resolve disputes justly, without fear of curses being placed upon them via ancestors or other spiritual powers.
- It sets us free to adopt a new work ethic based on progress as a result of initiative and hard work. There is no longer the fear of offending the ‘ithongo spirit’ of my tribe by promoting someone above his fellows or promoting someone from another tribe and so upsetting the ‘harmony’ of the tribe by someone gaining more of the total good than other people in our tribe.
- It enables us to escape from fatalistic attitudes towards events. Instead of blaming good or bad events on the whims of ancestors or the influence of evil spirits who are outside of our control, we now realise that our God-given mandate is to ‘subdue the earth and bring it under our control’ (Bible: Genesis 1:28). This means that God has given us abilities and minds to research practical solutions to problems, rather than sitting back and saying ‘what shall be shall be’. Also, when we seek for spiritual reasons behind events we turn to God for wisdom and understanding, not to any other source.
- We are inspired to create a culture of responsibility founded on our realisation that God himself will call every man and woman to account for how they have lived their lives and how they have used their God given bodies, minds, money and opportunities. There is only one life and then the Judgment (no re-incarnation). The Bibles says, Just as man is destined to die ONCE, and after that to face Judgment (Bible: Hebrews 9:27).
- It inspires a new approach to the HIV/AIDS crisis and other diseases. We seek the most successful solutions based on accountability to God and love for our fellow humans. With HIV/AIDS it means changing our emphasis from ‘fire fighting’ with condoms, to tackling the fundamental problems. It means vigorously fighting against all factors in our society that encourage moral decline.
- It inspires a new approach to agriculture. This is based on the greatest good for the greatest number of people. It implies giving land only to people who have proven means and abilities to farm it productively. We are no longer giving land to placate ancestral spirits! It means recognising the need for mechanised commercial farms, because subsistence agriculture cannot alone supply the growing population with enough food. The world food reserves are dangerously low and there is no guarantee that African countries will be able to import food in the future.
- It empowers the forces of law and order to become impartial, uninfluenced by fear of curses or ancestral spirits and because the law enforcement officers are aware that they must all give an account to God on Judgment Day. It also means that appointments within the law enforcement structures will be on merit alone, not because of tribal affiliation. Attitudes also change because of the realisation that it is no longer just a job, it is part of a God-given calling to “love your neighbour as yourself’ and it is no longer just my neighbour in my tribe. It is now true ubuntu, applying to all tribes!
- It means those who are appointed to jobs are appointed on merit, not because they are from my tribe. This means more efficiency and less corruption. Appointment on merit within a complex modern civilisation is essential otherwise standards drop rapidly, lives are endangered and the economy deteriorates and so the masses suffer from poorer services and less employment.
- It will greatly reduce the danger of people in our country starving or being deprived of basic medical care. It will be a society where resources are channelled to meet real needs rather than prestige building projects and a society where the available money goes to up-liftment of the people rather than into a few pockets of corrupt officials.
- It means money or food hand-outs will go only to those who genuinely cannot find work. No handouts for the lazy or handouts that encourage unmarried women to have children outside of wedlock and no handouts to fictitious employees and no excessive salaries to people who do not deserve them.
- It means women become just as important as men. Women’s rights become established. These include the right to choose who I marry, the right to equal opportunities, the right to choose to be educated instead of forced into child marriages or marriage with someone I have not chosen myself and the right to full and equal protection under the law.
The most important KEY to African renaissance is a fundamental change in our religious beliefs and the willingness to accept that consulting ‘ancestral spirits’ is a major problem, and for Christians to accept what God so clearly says in the Bible, that consulting spirits of dead is forbidden. Furthermore, since Satan and his demons are deceivers, murderers and liars, we are challenged to accept that these evil spirits can pretend to be our ancestors. In this way they hope to keep Africa in darkness and prevent countless millions from discovering that God wants to have personal and intimate relationships with us as individuals.
The hope of Africa is for Christians to re-discover the dynamic of early Christianity. It was an ‘ubuntu like’ reality where people cared for each other, where honesty and loving attitudes towards all their neighbours regardless of tribe or language was the main characteristic. In order for Christians to re-discover the society changing power of early Christianity we have to fully accept that our God is a jealous God who will not fully bless us and our families and nations until we are ready to fully embrace the condition ‘No other gods before Me’.
This will usher in the reality of a type of Christianity that we might dare to call Ubuntu Christianity. This Ubuntu Christianity theme is expanded in the book ‘Ubuntu Christianity’ that is freely downloadable from the website www.factandfaith.co.za .
The African continent now stands at a critical time when bold decisions need to be made by individuals and leaders, so as to accept the main KEYS to renaissance. We pray that this opportunity will not be missed.
Jarvis, M.J.F. 2009. Ubuntu Christianity. ISBN 978-0-9802770-6-7. Fact and Faith Publications. Free download
from webpage www.factandfaith.co.za
Kister, U. 2009. Recolonising the mind: The rise of African National Education. Mail and Guardian. February 6
to 12: 6-7.
Masood, E. 2006. What the history books left out. New Scientist 1 April: 53.
Munza, K. 2005. A letter to Africa about Africa. ISBN 978-0-620-40430-3. Distributed by Trans World Radio.
About the authors:
Dr Mike Jarvis Pastor Christian Ilunga, BS, PM, M.Ed(c)
PhD in zoology (1971) from Cape Town University Word of Salvation Int. Church
Consultant: Agriculture and wildlife interactions. Director: SG Consult, GWD
PO Box 292, Wellington, 7654, South Africa