We have wonderful opportunities to preach Christ in Zambia, and the people are so ready to listen!
Lusaka Baptist Church’s (LBC) weekly TV programme has a wide audience, and there are many positive comments from viewers. We are also greatly encouraged by the progress of our sister Reformed Baptist churches in Zambia.
This is all so different from the UK. We do not face arrogant and aggressive humanism nor is the country beset by the evils of homosexuality or the worship of pleasure. It has been a joy and privilege to preach the gospel and pastor a local church in this land.
Nevertheless, it is not heaven! Satan is always active and church leaders here need to recognise his strategies.
We must understand the social background, be burdened by the awful manifestations of sin around us, and preach in concrete terms the folly and wickedness of the human heart. Also, we must understand the spiritual and moral conflicts that the people of God face in Zambia.
Prior to 2002 the Zambian economy sustained enormous losses through misappropriation of funds. A large section of the community was deprived of medical and other resources.
International aid, allocated for development, found its way into private bank accounts and financed lavish lifestyles. In African society there is a massive self-centredness that is content to leave the greater part of the population in destitution while the few live in luxury.
But I suspect that the situation in Zambia is probably better than in many other African countries. The social and economic cancer of corruption is rife throughout the continent.
Developing countries that face enormous economic problems are being crippled by widespread corruption. Where national leaders are implicated, what hope can there be of eradicating this evil?
Then there is a high level of heterosexual promiscuity. I sometimes wonder if this is a modern form of polygamy. In a country where, thankfully, sexual images are not used in advertising or seldom seen on national TV, it is remarkable to hear of widespread immorality. But there is a low view of marriage — and the HIV virus is widespread.
I am convinced that one of Satan’s chief weapons against the gospel in Africa is popular, self-centred religion, promoted by TV programmes chiefly from America.
This embraces the Charismatic movement, but it also majors on ‘prosperity’ teaching. Issues of sin, justification, salvation and eternity are rarely mentioned. All the stress is on the comfortable and successful lifestyle that God apparently intends for us in this world!
I have heard preachers torturing Scriptures to prove that Jesus had a financially comfortable life. They insist that the ‘spirit of poverty’is to be rebuked and driven from our hearts.
We are told to give money to whatever ministry is appealing for support, in the expectation that we will receive much more back! Indeed (they say) we must be specific about the returns that we want.
For instance, I might make a donation and specify to the Lord that, in return, I expect a better job or an increase in salary.
As a Christian, I ought to claim a prosperous and comfortable existence in this world as my birthright! If I am not enjoying affluence, there must be something wrong with my relationship with God.
This, of course, is utterly absurd and unbiblical. It is also very painful for many in a country like Zambia, where three quarters of the people live in poverty.
This popular religion makes extensive use of modern music groups, entirely secular and profane in their style and behaviour. The grandeur and glory of the God of heaven is trivialised and his relationship with the believer is set on a sentimental, earthly level.
Another feature is the frequent appearance of female preachers, ‘evangelists’ and ‘pastors’. You sometimes find a husband and wife team, where the husband is the ‘bishop’ and the wife is the ‘pastor’.
Then, popular African religion loves to give its leaders exalted titles. The term Apostle is the pinnacle of ecclesiastical recognition and there is a growing army of apostles in Africa!
I was astonished to discover that a local Baptist denomination, which has grown out of Southern Baptist missionary endeavour, now has a bishop.
In countries where the gospel has been preached for centuries superstition may be less obvious, but the peoples of Africa are still close to the overwhelming spiritual darkness in which their forefathers lived for ages.
People give credence to those who deal in magical arts. Traditional religion is close to the surface throughout southern Africa. The witchdoctor is a significant figure even in urban communities.
People speak of the extraordinary power of these individuals. Many are convinced that the spirits of deceased family members can, if not properly appeased, act malevolently towards the living.
Some unbelievers see the local pastor in much the same light as the witchdoctor. They suppose that he possesses extraordinary powers. I have had numerous people telephone me, asking that I should pray for them in this sort of way in their particular needs.
I also had one lady come to my office with the request that I place my hands on the heads of her many children.
Sadly, Christians can be superstitious too. They can believe that satanic influences impose themselves upon the saints — perhaps because their parents had some ritual performed on them years ago. Unfortunately, there is no shortage of preachers willing to encourage this nonsense.
Peter urged his hearers, ‘Be saved from this perverse generation’ (Acts 2:40). When people profess faith in the Lord Jesus, we must look for a change in lifestyle and ambitions.
Christians should distance themselves from the standards of their contemporaries. Sometimes it is hard for a believer to keep away from corruption in the workplace or superstition in the family. But Christians must make a clear stand.
We must call men and women to obey the gospel and turn from sin. Those who turn to Christ must repudiate the sins that once they loved. They must not carry over, in some form or other, old sins into new lives. If we are not very specific about those sins, we risk welcoming into our churches many who are not truly united to Christ.
Perhaps that has been one of the greatest failings of missionary endeavours in Africa over the past 50 years!