Government’s attempt to curb the mushrooming of churches at the fast rate we are witnessing has brought about a lot of debate lately.
I have had opportunities to engage on the subject at a public level on Botswana Television with Pastor Biggie Butale before he turned to active party politics, that is, before he contested for a Parliamentary seat and won it. While, like some, I was concerned at the proliferation, his stand, like some, was that it was healthy for the propagation of the gospel.
The question is, should there be a concern at all that many churches are established almost daily in Botswana? There are some who argue that it is something positive considering the moral degradation that the country is experiencing. They further are of the opinion that with more churches many people are reached for the Kingdom of God.
Secession is not a new phenomenon. One could bring to mind a secession led by a former slave Richard Allen who in 1787 led a group of Black people out of the St. George Methodist Church and formed the African Methodist Episcopal Church in America. He was incensed by the oppression of the blacks in all spheres of life including in the church. Allen sought to address black needs and fight the demon of oppression and discrimination inherent in the Church.
Coming closer home, in South Africa, Nehemiah Tile, originally a Methodist, founded The Tembu National Church in protest against the domination of the whites over the blacks where even at worship the blacks would be expected to seat on the floor, among others; this was closely followed by the founding of the Ethiopian Church in 1892 by Mangane Mokone and others, who among others protested the fact that black and white people met separately at a church mission congress.
In Botswana there was Mothoagae of the London Missionary Society in Kanye. He was a teacher serving under Rev. James Good and later an Evangelist in the church. Mothoagae refused to be transferred to Lehututu and he was also later to annoy the new minister when he started a non-fee paying school that rivalled the LMS fee-paying school. He was to later found the King Edward Bangwaketse Mission Church, presumably the first home grown “Ethiopian church.”
There is also an interesting, but very relevant story of the prophetic movements of the 1900s. Let us remember that in places such as among the Bangwaketse, Bakwena and Bangwato no other church but the London Missionary Society was allowed. Then out of the strong LMS territory of GaMmangwato, came a certain Sencho Legong, who is said to have prophesied rain and three harvest years. He is also alleged to have prophesied complete freedom from the white man. Legong, it is alleged, proclaimed himself an angel, a prophet, interestingly, even the Lord Jesus himself.
Many churches were to later secede but for completely different reasons from those of old which were nationalistic, even that of Legong who was a “self-styled” prophet. Prof. James Amanze of the University in his book “Botswana Handbook of Churches” published in 1994 captures over three hundred churches, more than 95% of which seceded from other established churches.
He captures a brief history of each reflecting circumstances under which they came to being and it is by and large due to misunderstandings and refusal to adhere to set standards.
No doubt, churches are founded for different reasons. Some churches found in Botswana were founded by foreign pastors, while others are founded by Batswana. Some churches founded by pastors from outside Botswana exist nowhere else but here.
Needless to say, there are some whose pastoral record is unknown at all. But the question remains; does the mushrooming of churches reflect good spiritual health or not? My humble, though considered by some as controversial and bordering on spiritual-malnourished arrogance thought, is that it is a reflection of spiritual ill-health.
The daily birth of churches shows that Christians are unable to resolve their issues in a loving way. That is, those who leave to found their churches out of frustrations and misunderstandings.
The church should be mindful that she has been given the ministry of reconciliation. This ministry is at the center of what it means to be Christian; that we have been reconciled with our God through Jesus Christ. This is reconciliation born out of the love of God, and let us be reminded that God is love.
Many start new churches because, as they claim, God has called them to some specialised ministries. Interestingly some secede from one ministry and found an identical one, the difference being that the new one is either called by the founder or is uncomfortably associated with the founder. The question is why is God’s calling more divisive than reconciliatory? Was this not Paul’s concern when he wrote: “Now this I say, that every one of you saith, I am of Paul, and I of Apollos, and I of Cephas; and I of Christ. Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified fir you? Or were you baptised in the name of Pay?” (1 Cor. 1:12-13).
There is no need to be having churches grow at the rate we are growing when the national population is not growing at a corresponding rate. These divisions only serve to reflect how divided we are as a nation. Churches divide the family at root and this cannot by any account be of God. Why can’t existing churches grow big, not just numerically but also in terms of love and survive.
Those called are so called to serve and not be served, to exalt the name of Christ and not of mere mortals. If we cannot deal with our issues, then the Government will step in. The mushrooming should be curbed, it is counterproductive for the gospel, the church of Christ must rise up or else someone else will. To God be the glory!