A Biblical Response to the Resurgence of African Traditional Religious Practices Among Christians

Presentation at Africa International University Post Graduate Fellowship – 11th March 2020.

Rev. Harrison Mungai, GracePoint Church – Kikuyu.

Preamble

The last 30 years have seen a major shift in the landscape of Christianity in Kenya. We have seen strong cultural movements emerging and attracting attention from the highest church offices in the land. Just this week Roman Catholic Church, through Cardinal John Njue issued a letter warning against a new grouping calling itself Gwata Ndai. The Presbyterian Church has been on the forefront in fighting against the ‘re-emerging’ cultural practices as well as other churches in Central Kenya.

To some extent, I want to state there is nothing new about this. As far back as 1920’s there was a rejection of ‘Western Christianity’ among most people groups in Kenya in groups such as Gikuyu Karing’a movement[1], emergence of African Instituted Churches ec. These groups were reacting against under-contextualization of the western missionaries to the local cultures. The 1969 Oathing ceremonies in Kikuyuland were a defining moment of cultural clash between Biblical Christians and Kikuyu cultural adherents (Mugikuyu Mukristiano kana Mukristiano Mugikuyu)

A number of aspects that define the landscape over the last 30 years comes to mind.

  1. Political pluralism/multi-party state (competitive politics)
  2. Breakdown of social structures and institutions.
  3. Economic meltdown and unemployment. Lack of faith in government
  4. Growth of information technology, mass media and international travel.
  5. Liberal thinking (Postmodernity), feminism, liberal sexual values, rejection of authority.
  6. Shift from collective/communal to personal/individual mindset.
  7. Liberalization of Christian ministry. Mystical authentication of ministry.
  8. Growth of false teaching. Prosperity Gospel. Syncretism.
  9. Shift from the authority of scripture to personalities/experiences.
  10. Growth of the mega church concept. Anonymity/privacy being a paramount value.

 

Whereas this list is not exhaustive, these factors have led to a loss of meaning to most people and they are now searching for meaning, identity, significance. This has especially hit men who feel ostracized in the community having lost their traditional place in the community and now they are reeling back to traditional cultural practices in search of their place. How has this manifested itself?

  1. Cultural Pride. Demonization of other cultures. Little understanding that culture is dynamic and indeed a global melting pot. Hypocrisy of advancing our own (using other’s tools) while demonizing others.
  2. Through syncretistic rites like ‘Mburi cia Kiama’ and ritualistic prayers/offerings that seem to have a redemptive agenda (Gukuura Marigithathi)
  3. Through declining church attendance, especially by men. Depiction of the church as a western culture (or Jewish) hence wanting our own ‘narrative’. Rejection of facts
  4. Through mainstreaming of teaching on cultural rites and practices on Radio and other conversations. Fear mongering about what might happen in the event of default.
  5. Through outright greed/commercialization of culture. EG Dowry is no longer a token of appreciation but bride-price. Real trading of people. New activities are invented to get money from others [Kamweretho, Kuhumba aciari nguo, Kuguranira maitu etc).

 

How might we respond? Acts 19.

  1. Re-defining the enemy. A call to understanding the real issue. Can I suggest that although all human cultures are fallen, culture is not the enemy. It can be an expression of the enemy at work but the real enemy is the darkness in the human heart, caused by sin. There is only one known way to deal with darkened hearts – the light of the gospel, presented in love for the people. We must be careful not to come across as resentful of people or to create a ‘we’ vs ‘they’ dynamic. It does not serve the gospel when we come across as ‘adversarial’ in our approach. Let us call our people to turn away from idols to the living God through careful contextualization. Tim Keller says when we over-contexulaise we make an idol of the host culture and when we under-contextualise, we make an idol of our own culture (Centre Church)

 

  1. Re-evangelising our people. A call to reaching our people afresh with the good news. The average parson on the street doesn’t understand the what the gospel is. Our biggest task in most of Kenya (85% Christian according to 2019 census!) is not unbelievers but lukewarm and nominal Christians. Translating our theology into the local dialects is an important task. Taking the gospel to vernacular stations is crucial. Starting podcasts and Youtube Channels around the gospel is crucial. Acts 19 (Paul in Ephesus gives us a helpful motif in engaging a culture)

 

  1. Re-discovering and proclaiming the gospel. A call to authentic gospel living and ecclesiology. The root for any lasting change in a community begins with a rediscovery of the gospel. Every move of God in History has been a back to the Bible movement. From the reformation in the 16th Century to the Awakenings in the 18th and the Revival movements in the 20th.

 

  • The gospel had already been in Ephesus. Verse 1
  • Paul taught in the synagogue for 3 months. (Persuading them Verse 8)
  • There was opposition (verse 9) Paul withdrew in the hall of Tyrannus
  • For 2 years until all in Asia heard.
  • There was pretence (sons of Sceva) but the gospel grew.
  • There was open opposition (riot)
  • There was ongoing fruit (Chapter 20 and the book of Ephesians)

May the Lord help us to be bold and witness his unchanging gospel to a changing world in the 21st Century.

www.mungaimacharia.com

[1] See Douglas Kiereini’s reflection here: https://www.businessdailyafrica.com/lifestyle/society/Rebellion-that-gave-rise-to-independent-schools/3405664-4874656-1i2s8xz/index.html

Published by mungaimacharia

A christian with interests in Theology, Ministry, Politics and Social Justice.

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