Something is fundamentally wrong with Kenya‘s contemporary church. This nagging dynamic is not the simplistic moralistic assessment. No! It’s something much more material: identity.
Glorifying in the past, like blind Samson, the church is a giant on a leash. Even armed with creeds and creeds, the church struggles to articulate what it truly believes, and even more how that belief translates into solutions to people’s questions.
Empire problems have caused the church to retreat into its denominational “back office.” While Wanjiku waits for the church to become its advocate, the church secures itself advocates – literally! Self-constructed sins continue to sap the energy of the church, forcing it into a regrettable retreat from effective and consistent public duty.
One would hope that resurrection power would come to the rescue of the church! But the contemporary church’s connection to this power from the grave is temporary and loose. We have a church that claims the greatest power but does not demonstrate it.
Politics throws energetic curveballs that the Church cannot catch and does not generate an equal and opposite response. The church plays hardball and then switches to softball in the middle. Not hearing from the Lord, the congregation is united in pedestrian silence. Emerging community issues are off the Church’s radar until the sun is high in the sky. By the time a distracted church weaves a plan of salvation and arrives on the scene, other actors have already brewed and seeded solutions. The Church – the power of prayer for the nation – needs intense intercession itself.
In this questioning age, the Church was bombarded with doubts about the authenticity of her priests; repeatedly challenged about his western baggage; questioned about oppressive doctrines and traditions that belittle women, children and youth; it is often invoked to achieve an elusive unity; shaken by the state’s intention to regulate it; having to engage in the analysis of others because it has no substantive analysis of its own.
This bombardment takes a toll on the Church’s identity. The Church lacks self-confidence and has no significant position of its own. With nothing to risk, the Church’s confidence dwindles. Lack of innovation, weakness in self-expression, and lack of theological imagination in the face of criticism enliven those who see the Church as a collection of grand claims, anchored in history and not portable over time.
The possibility of the Church moving down the Trust rankings is real. But many spiritual leaders don’t panic at having a church pushed into a corner of limited navigation and tamed influence. For “The gates of hell shall not prevail!” The shallowness of this thinking that hell is from without blinds us to hell within.
The extreme externalization of hell lives the internalized hell to move freely. If church leaders and Christians participate in the oppression by spreading it or by being bystanders, the gates of hell will not come down on the church. No! It’s Jesus with a whip!
There is a drought of divine drama. Those responsible for miracles that belong to the public place must awaken from their slumber. One of the attractions of the biblical narrative is the divine drama. Far beyond human exploits, the scriptures normalize breathtaking acts from the divine realm as signs accompanying God’s people.
When people hear of “God with us,” that divine drama is part of what they hear and what they hope for. But something is wrong. True to their lofty promises, politicians are the new miracle workers! They will remain so – as happened with Moses and the sorcerers of the pharaohs – unless the serpent of the priest is large enough to swallow that of the politicians. The priests of Baal have been busy erecting their altars. People look to the God of the Church to respond with fire. But long gone are the priests who took over. The brand we have is masters at taking cover!
Churches perform many elaborate rituals. But what is their actual effect? In a world based on data, an ecclesiastical analysis would help. A church member would rightly ask: how many people did the Eucharist heal? Don’t make up the answer. It has to be factual. Paul of Tarsus notes a tangible result when he warned against mocking the Eucharist (Holy Communion): “Some of you have died.”
Without revealing the mystery of the ritual, the ritual must point to some identifiable mysterious effects. Rituals are spiritual formulas. Her behavior is clear. Their fruits must be visible. Can the church show that the marriages it has are happier? While belief trumps facts, facts can inspire belief. Faith that is devoid of facts (testimonies) is perceived as a neighbor of fiction.
“Give me the old religion!” can be a good line. But the same ancient religion exclaims, “I make all things new.” The old is good not because it opposes the new, but because it transforms the new into timeless value.
When God allowed leaves to be shed, He did it so that the old leaves would not snap back to the tree. New ones come and old ones die. Nature is programmed in such a way that the snake can shed its skin in such a way that the snake cannot come back to it even if it wanted to.
An African proverb says that you cannot touch the same river twice – as soon as you touch the water, new water takes over the space. Jesus spelled out the possibility of the speed of the people of the world exceeding the speed of the children of light. Light may remain, but darkness can dominate. And it seems the speed of the world has broken the speed of the church.