Saturday, September 16, 2017

Denominationalism is a gift we could do without

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

Kwese TV exposed the BAZ rot

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!

Monday, September 4, 2017

Church an accomplice in demonising local traditions

Rev Dr Levee Kadenge

September 3, 2017 in Opinion
The religious landscape in Zimbabwe is littered with various shades of beliefs and practices that range from the mild to the bizarre in both traditional and Christian beliefs.In local traditions, there are healers and diviners represented by Zimbabwe National Traditional Healers’ Association (Zinatha). There are also vana tsikamutanda (witch-hunters) who stride the length and breadth of the country causing havoc in many a family.  On the Christian terrain, we have the mainline churches on one hand and on the other the pentecostal ones, which preach the gospel of prosperity, siphoning millions of dollars from unsuspecting followers.

When will the religious Zimbabweans have a break and get treated like people who are godly and deserve respect as regards their beliefs? Desperate situations often demand desperate solutions.  The economy has forced many to seek spiritual solutions to personal problems.

African Traditional Religion got its full independence in 1980 when the country got its freedom.  Previously, there were so many restrictions which came as a result of the misconception of things traditional. The church became a major accomplice in demonising local practices. Understandably so, because the idea of doing away with everything African was at the core of both the missionary and white colonial administrators’ agendas.

The Europeans did not give their hosts due respect.  Conversely, when whites arrived, the locals were at pains as to how to accommodate them.  History says elders from various parts of the country travelled to Matonjeni in Matabeleland to ask for advice as to how to deal with the newcomers.  The shrine was the religious centre for the entire country.
The Oracle/Voice at the shrine was quick to come up with a solution on how to treat the white invaders. When the elders reported that some parts of the country had been invaded by “people without knees”, for whites came wearing trousers and thereby hiding their knees, local wisdom invoked its sense of inclusivity.  The voice responded by telling a story that a long, long time ago one of their sisters migrated to the North and probably had children there. Because of the weather, the myth had it they turned white.  So these were their aunt’s children coming back.  In short, they had to be accommodated as nieces and nephews.

In the Shona tradition, muzukuru (nephew/niece) or in Ndebele culture umzukulu have a loose relationship with sekuru (uncle).  Whatever muzukuru does should be at the behest of his uncle. So whites were accepted as vazukuru.  They were accorded freedom, but these vazukuru abused the hospitality by taking over the land.  Such was the relationship which progressed from acceptance to questions being raised as to the conduct of the newcomers.

As documented, these vazukuru used all sorts of methods to take over land which ranged from dishonesty to the use of force.  The indigenous eventually found themselves in sandy soils while vazukuru took the best in strategic places which would be serviced by both rail and road systems. 
Because vazukuru had their own agenda, they proceeded to treat their hosts with disdain.  Everything African was suspect — from religion to culture to the extent that the missionary and colonial authorities worked together to achieve their purposes.  Even though on the surface their agendas seemed different, in reality, they both wanted to control the locals so that they would be of use to their aims and objectives.

A system that was complete in terms of how it approached health issues was destroyed. Gradually, locals were encouraged to seek treatment from clinics and hospitals established across the nation.  Indeed, missionaries established their own clinics while government did the same in various parts of the country.  The teachings from both systems discouraged people from seeking help from the tried and tested local system in preference of hospitals and clinics. The missionaries preached against local herbs because they were associated with evil simply because they were different from the modern medicine.  
The education system was such that it promoted both the culture and the religion of the newcomers. The most dangerous thing was the mental shift that was being instilled in the locals to hate themselves and their practices.

While western medicine gained the upper hand, locals found ways of secretly seeking help from own medicine men. But with time and because of the sinking in of the teachings the local healers who were given names like witch doctors and diviners/herbalists, they became suspect because their medicines were not refined or tested in laboratories.

That was to change at independence. Things could never be the same. The new government was amenable to local practices to the extent that Zinatha was established. To buttress its importance, the organisation was led by an educationist of repute, the late professor Gordon Chavunduka — a sociologist at the University of Zimbabwe who eventually became the vice-chancellor in the early 1990s. He worked with other firebrand doctors in the mould of Herbert Ushewokunze and Simon Mazorodze who headed and deputised the Health ministry respectively.

In spite of the positive stance of the government toward Zinatha, the growing Christian community was torn between acceptance of local medicines and shunning them. The government encouraged traditional practitioners to be registered and to work together with western-trained medical personnel.  While the healers were excited to work in hospitals and with the Ministry of Health, the formally-trained health personnel never fully accommodated their counterparts.

Because of the inclusive approach by the government, the traditionalists felt vindicated and went about doing their trade with gusto. Little did they know that among them would arise all sorts of practitioners who would tarnish their image among locals.  There arose individuals who went across the nation claiming to sniff witches and flashing them out.  They call themselves tsikamutandas. The nation is divided.  Being Christian, most communities do not take the practices positively.

Communities and families are torn apart. The government has not taken drastic measures against these practitioners who impose themselves on unsuspecting villagers. They group people and sniff out witches and those alleged to have dangerous medicines in their homes. They force everyone to participate. If someone refuses to take part, they are accused of hiding something.

To make matters worse, clients are asked to pay through livestock. These witch-hunters are sometimes invited but in most cases they impose themselves, claiming to have come to cleanse the villages.

Those with ears, let them hear.
Levee Kadenge is a theologian based at United Theological College in Harare.  He can be contacted on