Last week one of Malawi’s Paramount Chiefs, Chief M’Bwelwa V was quoted by the country’s media warning the Presbyterian church in northern Malawi to stop preaching against polygamy and drunkenness. The chief’s warning has received mixed reactions. However, one reaction I have found interesting is the one that argues for “decolonization of theology.” In case of polygamy, proponents of decolonization of theology argue that polygamy is a Ngoni culture or African culture hence African theologians and pastors should develop a theology that doesn’t condemn it because, the proponents further argue, the teaching against polygamy was imposed upon Africans by Western missionaries.
There is a lot that can be said about this fallacious argument; however, I would like to briefly point out two things: First, looking at the history of Christianity in Africa we know that even African theologians like Tertullian in 2nd and 3rd Century AD and St. Augustine in 4th Century AD condemned polygamy.
Tertulian wrote,”We do not indeed forbid the union of man and woman, blest by God as the seminary of the human race, and devised for the replenishment of the earth and the furnishing of the world and therefore permitted, yet singly. For Adam was the one husband of Eve, and Eve his one wife, one woman, one rib,” (Ante-Nicene Fathers: The Writings of the Fathers Down to AD 325 Vol. IV by Alexander Roberts).
St. Augustine in his treatise, On Marriage and Concupiscence, argued: “That the good purpose of marriage, however, is better promoted by one husband with one wife, than by a husband with several wives, is shown plainly enough by the very first union of a married pair, which was made by the Divine Being Himself” (Book 1, Chapter 10).
So, it is misleading to argue that preaching against polygamy is a Western theology. It is NOT! Our own forefathers taught against polygamy long way before Western missionaries stepped their foot on African soil because our forefathers were faithful to God’s word and not their culture.
Second, the proponents of decolonization of theology point to the fact that no where in the Bible is polygamy explicitly condemned except in the case of office bearers in the church (1 Tim. 3:2, 12). However, we know that when God the designer of marriage first established it married one man and one woman. More importantly human marriage is a reflection of the perfect marriage of Christ and his bride the Church. Christ has only one bride so should also those who say they follow Christ.
We should not forget that the first person to have a polygamous marriage was Lamech from the ungodly line of Cain (Gen. 4:19). In case of the patriarchs like Jacob or David we should note that theirs were not the ideal situations. Although they were God’s people what they did was not right and never reflected what their God had initially intended. So although proponents of decolonization of theology will cite these examples, they know that they are not good examples. So why dwell on bad examples when the Bible tells us to, “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (Phil. 4:8)?
From Monday to Thursday last week I had an opportunity to attend a gathering of ministers, elders, seminary professors, and seminarians called Twin Lakes Fellowship (TLF). The First Presbyterian Church of Jackson, Mississippi (PCA) organizes the fellowship with this vision in mind: “We seek (by brotherly persuasion, helpful publication, friendly discussion, and compelling example) to build a church that will be faithful to the following commitments: expository preaching, biblical worship, biblical and confessional theology, a biblical understanding of the Gospel, a biblical understanding of conversion, a biblical understanding of evangelism, a biblical understanding of church membership, a biblical understanding of mutual accountability in the church, a biblical understanding of church government, and a biblical view of Christian discipleship – and thus a church with a shared vision of ministry.”
As always, this year’s gathering was rich and full of sound and God-glorifying teachings, exhortations plus fellowship. This year’s TLF granted me an opportunity to fellowship with brothers from the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC), Evangelical Presbyterian Church (EPC), Presbyterian Church in Ireland (PCI), Free Church of Scotland, Southern Baptist, and other denominations. I was significantly edified and encouraged by various sessions and interactions with my brothers. While I cannot exhaust everything in this post, here are some of the highlights and lessons from TLF 2018:
We cannot do ministry without the Holy Spirit. The keynote speakers, H.B. Charles and Geoff Thomas, emphasized on our need for the Holy Spirit to empower us not only for ministry but also for our personal walk with Christ. Without the Holy Spirit our preaching and shepherding is in vain. I know that many of us know this truth very well but how often do we live as if we don’t know it. So, it was a blessing to be reminded again of our need and dependence upon the Holy Spirit who not only empowers us but also continually intercedes for us. As H.B. put it, the Holy Spirit is our ultimate prayer partner.
The best of men are men at best. Jon D. Payne gave a lecture on the life and ministry of Dr. David Martin Lloyd Jones fondly known by many as the doctor. We praise the Lord for the life and faithful ministry of Dr. Jones who as Payne put it is probably the greatest preacher of the 20th Century. Yet despite being used greatly by Christ, the doctor just like all of us was also a man of weaknesses both personal and theological. Payne focused more on the latter and highlighted some of the doctor’s shortcomings in the area of pneumatology (doctrine of the Holy Spirit). D. Martin Lloyd Jones like many of the Pentecostal and Charismatic Christians today believed in the baptism of the Holy Spirit subsequent to conversion. He even supported the charismatic movement of his day in private but never in public. As I sat and listened to the lecture, I recalled one of my professors in seminary who often reminded us: the best of men are men at best. The best among us are made of feet of clay. This truth calls for humility and teachable spirit when fellow brothers point us to our own shortcomings, which we might be unaware of.
Never neglect the courts of the church. I was encouraged to hear of what the Lord is doing in the Presbyterian Church of Ireland. The denomination is slowly recovering from the liberal direction it had taken over the past four decades or so. One of the factors that has contributed to this good development is conservative men taking initiative and being fully involved in the courts of the church, especially, at presbytery and synod levels. These brothers have with patience and endurance fought the good fight without despair. The Lord is now rewarding their faithfulness. One lesson I gathered as I heard this uplifting news was to never forget that the Lord is still at work even in our church courts although they might be imperfect and often heavily tainted with our sin.
The power is in the word itself. Using the parable of the growing seed in Mark 4:26-29, David Strain encouraged us to continue steadfastly with the means of grace ministry. He focused more on the power of God’s word. As preachers, we have been called to do two things: sow the seed and harvest when the fruit is ready. What happens between the time of sowing and harvesting is none of our business. “Growth is God’s business, faithfulness is ours.” The power of the gospel is not in our gifts, skills, academic abilities, or anything in us. So we should never be tempted to think that we could improve the gospel in any way. What a comforting truth! I praise the Lord that I was at TLF this year because this is exactly what I need to hear.
All is not lost in Scotland. I should confess that I have a special place for Scotland in my heart. As a Presbyterian from Malawi, Scotland is my “holy” land so to speak since it was the Scottish missionaries who first brought Presbyterianism to Malawi in the late 1800s. Over the years I have been hearing depressing stories of Presbyterianism dying in Scotland. But I was encouraged last week to hear stories of God’s powerful work there. I met some brothers who are involved in planting churches in the toughest and poorest neighborhoods of Scotland through 20 Schemes Project. My heart rejoiced and I praised the Lord for the great things he is doing in the once called ‘land of the Book.’ I will continue to pray for revival in the land of the Scots as I also continue to pray for revival in Malawi and North America.
“Brother, we are praying for you and we will get behind God’s work in Malawi.” During the fellowship I had a couple of opportunities to share my desire of returning to the land of my birth to plant confessional Presbyterian churches as well as train young men for ministry. Confessional Presbyterianism has been on its deathbed for a long time in Malawi. There is a need to revive it, the Lord willing, as one way of combating false teachers and prophets that have gone out deceiving people and hewing cisterns that will not satisfy. The work is huge and who is sufficient for these things? For sure, not me! But praise God that Christ is sufficient and has promised, “I will build my church and the gates of hell will never prevail against it.” Oh, what a promise! So I was greatly encouraged to see the brothers getting excited with the work and praying for it.
As the week came to an end, I packed up to fly out of the warm and beautiful spring of Jackson, Mississippi into the snowy and gloomy spring of Lansing, Michigan (not complaining at all for I have learnt to give thanks in all things). Throughout the way I praised the Lord for a rich fellowship of like-minded brothers. “Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity…It is like the dew of Hermon, which falls on the mountains of Zion! For there the LORD has commanded the blessing, life forevermore” (Psalm 133:1, 3).