September 11, 2017
By Rev Dr Levee Kadenge
Zimbabweans have accepted Christianity as one of the major religions. Christianity is seen among the locals as the message of hope and a means to get salvation through their faith in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Saviour. This faith came to us through different denominations/traditions, beginning with the mainline churches introduced by western missionaries. Times have changed and now there are several versions of the gospel that have either been locally founded or brought lately by newer teachings from inside and outside the country.
The phenomenon has not only affected Zimbabweans, but is widely spread across the region or even the continent. Some even claim that it is a worldwide occurrence that is sweeping all over. But, one can safely say denominationalism is a gift we could do without.
The multiplicity of the teachings have been a bother to our population. About 80% of Zimbabweans would claim to be Christian. Their dilemma now is which one is the way to follow amidst the various versions that are knocking at their doors of faith.
This article seeks to analyse this religious side of our lives and how we have been affected either for better or for worse. We do not seek to judge but to reveal the facts as people are affected by the teachings coming their way. The unfortunate thing that happened to African Christianity is that it came already divided. Yet the original message of Christ was that His followers may be one.
The history of Christianity has been chequered with division right from the time of its inception.
Paul complained when the first Christians at Corinth were labelling themselves as followers of this one and not of the other. This irked Paul to an extent that he had to write a strong warning by denouncing such divisions. (1 Corinthians 1 vs 12).
The church that was founded on the rock [Peter] that became the Roman Catholic Church or the Church of Rome eventually divided between the Eastern Orthodox and the Church of Rome.
As the Roman Empire spread across Europe, the rest of Europe became “roman” and the church followed the lands that were conquered The Pope became the head of the church in the Roman world as it was known. In fact, the church followed the flag.
When England came under the Roman Empire, things moved on well for some time until King Henry VIII wanted to marry a second wife because he wanted an heir to the throne.
The church could not allow that. Incensed by such refusal, the king decided to break away from the Roman yoke. As a result, the Church of England was born in 1534 with Henry VIII declaring himself the head of it.
In the 1500s, there were growing cries for reformation in the church. Martin Luther, who was a Catholic priest, became the prominent figure who protested against the many excesses of the Catholic Church. Primarily, he was against the payment of indulgences and celibacy in the church.
In 1517, Luther nailed the 95 thesis on the doors of his church at Wittenberg in German protesting against the church. Eventually, Luther was excommunicated in 1521 and he also excommunicated the Pope himself. He actually was sentenced to death by the church by ordering anyone who came across him to kill him. Such was the practice of the church.
The Great Evangelical Awakening of the 16th and 17th centuries saw so many brands of Christianity emerging as a result of the confidence that was ushered in by Luther. Because of space constraints, I will mention just the rise of Methodism that was initiated by John and Charles Wesley in England in the mid-1700.
John was a talented organiser while Charles was a great song-composer.These started a group of dedicated students at Oxford into a prayer cell. That was unheard of in the Church of England.The two died Church of England priests but their followers eventually formed their own denominations after the death of John in 1791.
The Great Evangelical Awakening period became the period of missionary activities across the world. Propelled by the voyages of discovery, wherever, these ships went, so the gospel was also taken there. At the time of discoveries and later colonisation period many denominations had come into being and these went into missionary activities across the world in such a big way.
The world was bombarded with a divided church right from the onset of missionary activities.Indeed, the Catholic Church had spread the gospel earlier on but such activities did not last in many instances.
The 19th and 20th centuries continued to see the church spreading like veld fire all over the place. The message the new converts got was that of a divided church competing for followers to accept their different brands of church practices.
Colonised places would be exposed to denominations that were following their subjects. This is how many parts of the African continent would be evangelised by differing denominations coming from the countries of origin. People seemed not to have minded the divisions.As the churches spread their influence, locals also saw possibilities of coming up with their own versions of church. African Initiated Churches started to be formed in colonial countries being led by vibrant former members of the denominational churches.
A number were divided because of racial segregation and others because of different interpretations of the gospel. Individuals across the African continent and in the newly evangelised colonies sprang up with vibrant churches that attracted multitudes of followers.
The choice of churches became so many that the locals found it easy to follow whoever they wanted.
Many of these new churches would major in one aspect of Christian experience like being Pentecostal in their approaches or emphasise on healing and other specialties that go with gospel promises. Members would migrate from one church to another with ease.
Break away became the order of the day.On any worship day, the African terrain is dotted with several groupings in immaculate temples, on rocks, in the open or under trees listening to the word of God.
Of late, there has been the proliferation of the new wave of Christian experience in the form of the prosperity gospel. This has primarily come from the United States.
Zimbabwe has had its fair share as Christians are invited to sample this brand of Christianity or the other.“Prophets” and “Men of God” have now become the centre of Christian attraction. Some of these leaders have instantly become very rich from the pickings they make from their hard-pressed followers who are seeking solace in their teachings.
The previous indulgences had come in a different way. Some prosperity gospel pushers started by selling “blessed towels” which people could use by wiping any car they wanted and they were promised they would get such vehicles.
Anointed items which ranged from oil to bricks would be sold at exorbitant prices.Seeding became another source of money. Rich individuals would be asked to seed their latest models of cars in the promise that they would get 10 times more.
The latest developments are that they have moved to one-on-one, consultations which are so expensive. You book the prophet and meet him or her privately. Recently,there has been several court cases involving the prophets and their erstwhile followers who would be claiming of having been duped.
These emerging churches have major business plans which have helped them to come up with projects which cost millions of dollars. It is like the reverse of the Gospel where Jesus feeds the 5 000 from five loaves of bread and two fish — the 5 000 are now feeding one prophet or man/woman of God. What a traverse of faith!
Let those with ears hear!
Levee Kadenge is a Theologian based at United Theological College in Harare.He can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org.
1 Response to Denominationalism is a gift we could do without
Janana wa Bikaz September 13, 2017 at 2:28 pm #
A well researched article,people like you Rev Kadenge,should stand up and preach the word of God as it is.These so called modern day prophets have realised that a people can do anything to slip away from poverty or to get healed from sickness and hence these prophets cum- con artists are always shouting about healing and prosperity.God never said everyone shall be rich or everyone shall not fall sick.One has to use his or her own faith to get healed,not by the gods of these shameless con artists,but by the living God Who belongs to everyone,Who created all mankind,Who created the whole wide world and everything in it NOT MWARI WA PROPHET NHINGI.For evil to triumph,let good men do nothing!