The struggle for transformation

From the archive.
Roger (left) preaching at the farewell service for him and Miranda (Photo: The Bowens/CMS)
Roger Bowen analyses why Christians and those they evangelise need to be ‘agents of transformation’ and how that might be achieved.

‘Africa has been evangelised but the African mind has not been captured for Christ … For decades …evangelism and missionary activities were directed at getting people saved (spiritually), but losing their minds.  Consequently, we have an over 50% Christian population on the average but it has little impact on society.  In fact it sounds like an irony that, within our own rank and file, such practices as witchcraft, traditional religions, orgies, tribalism and the like are regarded as normal.’ Adeyemo 1

In spite of the massive growth of the Church in Africa (from 8 million Christians in 1900 to 350 million in 2007), there seems to have been little transformation of society:

The Anglican Church in Nigeria is the largest Anglican community in the world, yet the country of Nigeria is a by-word for corruption.

In 1994, 85% of Rwandans claimed to be baptised Christians, yet the country descended into mayhem and genocide.

And what of the Church in the UK?  In the last census, over 70% of UK citizens claimed to be Christians.   Never before have there been more resources available, yet our society seems to be less and less influenced by the Gospel.   What prevents social transformation from taking place?

Sometimes the theology undergirding the work of evangelism has been at fault.  It has lacked the comprehensive biblical vision of God as Creator, Sustainer, Ruler, Lord, Father and Judge over the whole of history and nature.

‘My own conviction is that there are many people who reject our gospel today, not because they perceive it to be false, but because they perceive it to be trivial.  It is too small for the complexities of modern life.  We need a bigger gospel, we need the fulness of the Biblical Gospel.’ Stott 2

The pietist roots of many missionaries have resulted in a withdrawal of Christians from public life.  In the recent democratic elections in Burundi, young Christians refused to stand for election to represent their local communities because ‘Christians don’t get involved in politics’.

Too often we have unwittingly accepted the terrible travesty proposed by Joseph Goebbels, the Nazi propaganda chief, ‘Church men dabbling in politics should take note that their only task is to prepare for the world hereafter’ rather than listening to the authoritative command of Jesus Christ to be the salt and light of the world 3 .

I believe we are in danger of misinterpreting the current concern for inclusivity.  We rightly sing that we can come to God, through Christ, ‘Just as I am …’ 4 , but the Gospel does not say that I should stay as I am!

In Christ we are challenged to be transformed as Paul reminds the Corinthians: ‘Neither the sexually immoral, nor idolators nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the Kingdom of God.’  Rather, he goes on to say: ‘That is what some of you were.  But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.’ 5

Many evangelistic programmes use materials that lay out the ABC of the Gospel.  They are useful tools, but Jesus also commands us to make disciples and to teach them to obey everything he has commanded us 6

* about relationships with the state as well as how to pray;

* about how to behave sexually as well as how to deal with money;

* about how to exercise power and leadership as well as how to forgive.

A French priest in Burundi commented that the Catholic Church had sacramentalised the Burundian people but had not evangelised them.  Baptism is not a ticket to the stadium to watch the match but is rather the equivalent of a pair of boots needed for playing on the pitch!

Do we view the church as a sanctuary or as a sign?

Viewing it as a sanctuary leads to the church being preoccupied with numbers and nourishing its existing members.  The church needs to be a sign, reflecting Kingdom values and free to be relevant and to engage with the issues of society.  As long as a sign is communicating, it does not have to apologise for being small. 7

In the light of these difficulties, how can we be agents of transformation?  In our activist society we need to practise the presence of Christ and to contemplate his glory. 8

As we absorb the mind and vision of Jesus, we may learn to see situations differently.  The contemplative life is concerned with the unmasking of illusion and false identity 9 .
Miranda and Roger Bowen (Photo: The Bowens/CMS)
‘The contemplative who can stand back from a situation and see it for what it is is more threatening to an unjust social system than the frenzied activist who is so involved in the situation that he cannot see clearly at all.’ Leech 10

Part of our role is to pose the questions that no one else either asks or perceives as important.

‘Be prepared for the coming of the Stranger.

Be prepared for him who knows how to ask questions.’ Eliot 11

If society in the UK and in Africa is to be transformed, we need to be transformed by the renewal of our minds. 12   Too often, when faced with an issue, we respond according to our cultural/social programming rather than seeking the mind of Christ.

We must not be satisfied with conversion alone but, like Paul, we are called to be ‘in the pangs of childbirth until Christ is formed in (us)’. 13

Jesus has commanded us to be ‘salt’ and ‘light’ in our communities: to be present as agents of transformation; to be teachers, politicians, soldiers, businessmen, mechanics, shop assistants, parents; to respond to the unique calling that Christ has given us and to witness to the truth of his presence and glory in our words and our deeds.

1 Dr Tokumboh Adeyemo, founder and Executive Director of the Centre for Biblical Transformation, as quoted by the Rev Dennis Tongoi in the article entitled Shackles of the Mind in Yes , January-April 2007.

2 The Rev Dr John Stott. IFES Review 25 . Motives for Mission

3 Matthew 5.13-16

4 Charlotte Elliott’s hymn

5 1 Corinthians 6.10-11

6 Matthew 28.16-20

7 William Frazier. Mission Trends No.1 . pps 27-33

8 2 Corinthians 3.18

9 Kenneth Leech. True Prayer .

10 Ibid p. 85

11 TS Eliot. Choruses from the Rock . Stanza 3

12 Romans 12.1

13 Galatians 4.19

Miranda and Roger served as CMS mission partners in Burundi, where Miranda worked in the Diocesan Office, supporting the Co-ordinator of the Department to Combat HIV/AIDS, and Roger taught a variety of theological and pastoral subjects at the Provincial Theological Institute, Matana.  Miranda and Roger have now returned to Britain.  Roger will retire, but Miranda will be seeking new work.

Published 28 June 2007

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