“And if there were a God, I think it very unlikely that He would have such an uneasy vanity as to be offended by those who doubt His existence.” – Bertrand Russell
I love Christians. I am a Christian myself and no matter how many denominations we may have we, all praise the same God. I am a Catholic Christian. There is no need to pass judgment on each other or to imagine that heaven has categories for those who are more Christian than others. I must also admit that I have views which I hold today that I did not hold 5 years ago and they may or may not change in future. For now let me share my current disfavour with ‘Franchise Churches’ which their followers call Charismatic Churches or modern or evangelical or whatever they call it.
Many years ago I attended some Seventh Day Adventists bible classes. Part of what they taught there was how bad the Catholic Church is. Among a series of allegations they made about the Catholic Church was that symbolic baptism done by the Catholics on the forehead was hypocrisy, blasphemy and any other evil adjective you can think of. They argues that it means only the forehead will go to heaven. According to them the whole body must be immersed in water. At the time I forgot to ask whether the flesh or the spirit was born anew in baptism. This morning I read in the Sowetan (page 8 ) that a priest and a patient both drowned and died at Snake River near Soweto in a baptism to exorcise evil spirits that were causing sickness to the patient.
Yesterday I read on Isolezwe langeSonto (a Sunday edition of the Zulu newspaper from Independent Newspapers) that a woman had given R73 000 to the church, which she had received as pension payout as she left her job. While this left her and her family hungry and desperate, she believes giving to God in that much abundance can only breed more blessings and abundance in return. Her church sees nothing wrong with this faithful believer.
This pass festive season I spent time with an old friend I haven’t spent time with. He told me he is now saved. In his church they do tithing (a mandatory act of giving 10% of your salary to God). You can’t cheat tithing by giving less than 10% because God can see you.
Not all Franchise Churches are guilty of any of the allegations made here.
I belong in the traditional realm of original churches, viz. Catholics, Anglican, Wesley, Lutherans and so on. The kind that you don’t just erect a tent at the itching of the hand and collect ‘God’s gifts’ to fund your family’s opulent lifestyle. The institutionalized church where you go for specialized training to become a priest, you don’t just show up and allege that you dreamt an angel and therefore it is a calling, you are suddenly a priest. The kind where the Holy Spirit does not subjectively guide you on which verse to read on Sunday, but you read the verses as prescribed by the church itself where every diocese reads the same verse the world over. If you didn’t know, now you know. In the Catholic Church all churches reads the same verses on the same day all over the world in different languages. I argue that this explains why Catholics are most likely to know that Mary met Elizabeth while they were both pregnant with Jesus and John the baptist, respectively. The franchise church would rather always read Matthew 2:2 every Christmas.
On average, of the franchise churches that I know, they split almost every 3-5 years. This is not because the Holy Spirit itself splits into factions of its former self. It is all about power relations. Prestige. Find a calendar of the franchise church and you’ll see the photo of the Pastor and his wife in one of the corners. It is not easy getting there. It involves taking risks by breaking from your current franchise church when you have the courage that some of the believers will follow you. You can then add or remove words on the name to customise it, words such as international, pentecostal, covenant, community and so on. Your church must look and sound original. The bible is already there to guide you. The funding will come from believers as they will give to God every Sunday.
However, this giving to God involves mostly the pastor taking the money for the church which is mostly his entity anyway. Some pastors would even explicitly mention that your pastor must drive a better car than the pastor of the church next door. Fortunately, the pastor has no obligation to present audited financial statements of how the money was transferred to the heaven account or went to building the church or getting a better tent. This industry is not regulated, so telling people to give to God or tithe only to collect money to enrich yourself is technically not a crime even though it has striking similarities to unarmed robbery.
I think franchise churches that engage in such illicit conduct give a bad name to the franchise church community.
Others have argued that my lack of dancing skill contributes to my opposition to the franchise churches employing all sorts of musical instruments to music and dance like in night clubs. I say to them I imagine heaven as having an orchestra that plays instruments rather than Fruity Loops software for making House Music. As the Son mentioned that He will sit on his Father’s left, I think they sit and listen to a live orchestra played by angels. I can’t imagine Mary, the mother of the Son of Man, getting down with the Father of the Son of Man in the night club form of dance that is sometimes shown on Jika maJika (SABC 1 TV Show hosted by one Thembi Seete). Well, the pastors of the franchise insist that you’re youth and you must dance for God.
Legend has it that the Catholic Church was the very first Christian Church. The Martin Luther protested and formed the protestant Lutheran Church and the rest followed. The Catholic Church remains the biggest Christian denomination with estimated 1.1 Billion Catholics worldwide. It remains very traditional, principled and centralized. It reminds me of the oldest liberation movement in Africa which just turned 98 years last week. The parties that broke from it like the PAC have broken further into far too many pieces such that every year a court has to decide which one is the real PAC. The ANC enjoys the overwhelming support of the majority of South Africans. It remains a principled, unitary organisation that practices democratic centralism. I don’t mean to equate the Catholic Church to the ANC or Luthuli House to the Vatican. I was just noting the relationship between my religious and political beliefs.
It is interesting how the franchise churches insist that they are praising the same God and the opposition parties happen to be striving for a better life for South Africans too.
The theory of being saved with the Holier than thou attitude displayed by some members of franchise churches community is sometimes counter-productive. In fact the attitude just makes a bad name even for non-franchise Christians. Perhaps it needs to be reviewed.
The Catholic Church has it’s own share of bad publicity given its size, luckily that is not the subject of this text.
I have lot of respect for my leader and comrade Pastor Vusi Dube of Durban Christian Centre Ethekwini Community Church (an Ethekhwini Church with a branch in Pietermaritzburg), Pastor Nathi Zondi of, International Covenant Fellowship Church True Vine Community Church and many others. Just that I don’t like it when people of God are being lied to using the Word of God. More needs to be done to protect the franchise churches community from those who make a bad name for them.