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Opinions of Monday, 11 August 2014

Columnist: Coleman, Robert G.

Ghana’s Part-time Christianity

“Among my first impressions of Ghana was how deeply religious the country is. In fact the question I got asked most frequently by Ghanaians was, ‘do you have faith?’ With a religious mix comprising approximately 70% Christian, 20% Islam, 5% traditional beliefs and only 5% Irreligious, religion is everywhere in Ghana and it’s often found in the most unlikely places. ... The first thing that strikes you is how deeply religious a society Ghana is, with worship performed both regularly and with devotion. This struck home on my drive away from the airport after landing, with the preponderance of shops and stores that are named to reflect religious beliefs: ‘Praise the Lord Welding Services’, ‘Good Shepherd Plumbing and Building’ and ‘The Lord is our Provider General Stores’. The most souped up car I noticed was a ‘boy-racer’ type, with a massive custom spoiler, alloys and undercarriage neon which was emblazoned with ‘Lord is my Shepherd’ transfers on the rear shield in a ‘scary’ halloween script!.” These are words I read on the blog of a UK visitor to Ghana.

We would be hard-pressed to deny these observations. Unfortunately, these public displays of religiosity are worlds apart from the personal characters of many Ghanaian Christians, who form the majority of Ghana’s population. Whether you are looking at politics or business, academia or popular music, you will find many professing Christians. There are certainly Christians who are genuinely living Christ-like lives but one does not encounter them often enough, even within the church walls. They are embarrassingly outmatched by those who pay lip service. Many Ghanaian Christians love to make a show of the religion but when it comes down to godliness and moral uprightness, they are found wanting. Ghana is drowning in the filth of corruption, dishonesty, tribalism, indecency and sexual promiscuity yet the biblically prescribed morality of the Christian majority, whose songs, symbols and landmarks immediately stand out to visitors to this country, cannot be easily seen nor felt. This is one of the most disturbing and irreconcilable features of Ghanaian Christianity.

To a people just like us in the days of the prophet Isaiah, God declared, “These people claim to worship me, but their words are meaningless, and their hearts are somewhere else. Their religion is nothing but human rules and traditions, which they have simply memorized.” Isaiah 29:13&14 GNB. Many of us who profess to be Christians simply do not walk the talk. We know our Christian doctrines alright, we understand them, but we simply will not live them out. Perhaps we feel that life is too real for us to keep clinging to the “ideal” admonitions of the faith, which we are not sure will work in life proper. We give and take bribes before work gets done and we also lazy about in the office because the companies we are working for “is not my father’s property,” as we like to say in the local parlance.

We sleep with our fiancées and fiancés before reaching the church’s altar, and excuse ourselves saying “who in Ghana is not doing it these days. Even the Pastors know that most of the couples they bless in marriages at the altar are not virgins.” We lie chronically on our fancy and smart cell phones about our geographic locations to our friends, business colleagues and family. In spite all these things, we pay church tithes religiously because presumably our blessings are inextricably linked to the monetary tithes rather than the upright lives which we are refusing to live. We claim that God exists yet live as if he does not or is not looking. We love to go our own way and make it look like it is God’s way. All these have contributed to an overwhelming spiritual darkness and restlessness in this country, from the pulpit to the home, from the market centre to the boardroom, from the internet café to the seats in taxis and trotros. There is an evident spiritual “lostness.”

Poor Work Ethic

Chances are that you have worked with or seen a Christian who comes to work and puts in just a little effort but complains about not being recognized or promoted, as if he had been doing extraordinary work all this while. Some of such Christians may even attribute their lack of promotion to enemies and wicked spiritual forces. Again, chances are that you know a Christian who goes to work late and leaves early, although it is against the rules of his workplace. Do I need to talk about customer service? The Christian receptionist puts on a look that almost says the customer is disturbing her. It is so hard to even put your trust in the Christian employee. The employer feels uneasy when does not closely monitor his Christian employee at work because this employee is likely to do the work anyhow in the absence of close supervision. We would rather pray in the open office space for people to see us than work hard and dutifully as if we were working for God. We easily get angry at customers and work colleagues. The Christian Manager or Director is known in his workplace for his rudeness and lack of respect for human dignity.

Work which can be done in minutes or hours takes days and weeks if not months when the Ghanaian Christian is on the job. Yet he proudly reminds office colleagues that he has to leave early today because a powerful man of God will be gracing a church program. Making up lies to cover up incompetence has become a skill. We intentionally delay working on people’s requests so that they will be forced to pay bribes. We use dishonest prices and cheat people. Having done these things, we go to church and take part of the dishonestly earned monies and give it as an offering to the house of God. We have become like the Israelites centuries ago when God observed through the prophet Jeremiah: “Everyone, great and small, tries to make money dishonestly; even prophets and priests cheat the people,” Jeremiah 6:13 GNB.

Some might argue that this is a general Ghanaian work culture and therefore singling out Christians is unfair. But you see, in a country where Christians are in the majority this cannot be unfair. More so, Christians ought to be singled out because we are presenting a curious dilemma to the Ghanaian society and the rest of the watching world. We have shouted for years about how powerful and holy Jesus Christ is and how his death on the cross saves us from the guilt of sin but the country has been waiting unfairly long to see if the death and power of Jesus Christ is also able to save us from the power of sin which causes us to do the unethical, immoral and unholy things that we keep doing. The world has a right to know the answer to their question, “How are you Christians able to claim to be following a person as pure as Jesus Christ and yet live such impure lives?” I bow in shame and admit that I cannot answer this question. It is simply baffling. But one thing we can be sure of is that many of the people in the workplace who profess to be Christians do attend Sunday morning church services as well as other weekday and weeknight programs at their churches faithfully. Church programs have become more cherished than actually living like Christ.

Cosmetic Brotherliness

The Bible teaches that in Christ there are no Jews or Gentiles, no slaves or free men. This means Christians must behave like a people belonging to one family and who love each other. But in Ghanaian Christianity, there are Ewes and Ashantis, there are those who schooled in Cape Coast and those who schooled in the north, there are air-conditioned office workers and there are mechanics. And if your father is a professor or the CEO of a group of companies, you will be doing a very odd thing to fall in love with the tomato seller’s daughter, even though this young lady is well educated and has a good job. Admittedly, sometimes there may be some genuinely practical concerns. These observations are generalities of course, and there are many exceptions. But the point remains that our brotherliness seems more cosmetic than real. We easily allow ethnocentrism and social class to dictate the way we share fellowship.

If Christ lives amongst us then we must share true community and show genuine love. In the last prayer of Christ before his arrest and subsequent crucifixion, he prayed to the Father saying, “I gave them the same glory you gave me, so that they may be one, just as you and I are one. I in them and you in me, so that they may be completely one, in order that the world may know that you sent me and that you love them as you love me.” John 17:22&23 GNB. Think on that for a moment: “… in order that the world may know that you sent me and that you love them as you love me.” Christians can actually speak powerfully to this country about Jesus Christ by our love for members of the body of Christ. When this kind of love exists among Christians in Ghana that is when the rest of the populace can look on and say in amazement, “Behold, how they love one another!” They might even learn from us and Ghana will get better culturally and also Christians can gain a stronger voice which reaches deep into the heart of the culture. Further, when this kind of love exists among us we can confront the sin of the brethren more forcefully, (whether it concerns greed or pride or immorality or false gospels) for as Scripture says, “Love is not happy with evil but is happy with the truth” 1 Cor 13:6 GNB.

Indecency

The level of decency regarding Christian women’s dressing in particular has deteriorated so much today that it seems our preachers find it a fruitless effort to talk against it. From the Christian actress or songstress to the professional Christian business woman to the Christian girl on the university campus, the story is the same. Our women today do not only wear revealing clothes to lectures, work and social functions but they also wear them to church. The sense of shame is gone, after all the enlightened elites of our time are saying “don’t be ashamed of your body” and that you must “flaunt it if you’ve got it.” Try to complain about indecent dressing and you would be hushed with the popular refrain, “God looks at the heart and not at outward appearance.” It is not uncommon to hear a Ghanaian Christian make a statement like, “A woman may dress in an indecent way but you never know, her heart may be pure before God.” And this is usually intended to serve as a knockout punch for any pious moral judgement from an onlooker who feels irritated by a particular woman’s indecent dressing.

1 Samuel 16:7 is where the cliché “God looks at the heart and not at outward appearance,” is coined from. From the verse 1 through to the verse 7 we are told this story: God has rejected Saul as king of Israel and has asked Samuel to go and anoint one of Jesse’s sons to be king. When Samuel gets to the place where he is to do the anointing, he sees Eliab, one of Jesse’s sons and says to himself, “This man … is surely the one he [God] has chosen.” 1 Sam 16:6 GNB. But God responds to Samuel saying, “Pay no attention to how tall and handsome he is. I have rejected him, because I do not judge as people judge. They look at the outward appearance, but I look at the heart.” vs 7 GNB.

The context is clear – Samuel ought not to use the person’s physique or nice features to determine God’s choice. This verse has however been conveniently extended today to mean that God is really not at all concerned about or interested in how a Christian dresses. “All God is concerned about is how pure your heart is,” so the thinking goes, as if the heart has nothing to do with how a person lives his/her life. Those with this mindset think that we can do anything we want and for so long as our minds tell us that we still love God, everything is fine. But Ah, Jesus demolishes this thinking when he says, “To have a good fruit you must have a healthy tree; if you have a poor tree, you will have bad fruit. A tree is known by the kind of fruit it bears. … A good person brings good things out of a treasure of good things; a bad person brings bad things out of a treasure of bad things,” Matthew 12:33-34 GNB. The point is simple and clear. We live out what our hearts are full of and Proverb 4:3 tells us to guard our hearts. Our lives are shaped by the way we think in our hearts. If we are hypocrites at heart, our lives will manifest this trait in the form of a double life. In the same way, if we are indecent at heart, it will show on the outside in our dressing, speech etc. If you have a godly heart it will also show. Nobody lights a candle and puts it under a bowl, says Jesus.

Once when Jesus condemned the hypocrisy of the Pharisees of his day, he said, “Blind Pharisee! Clean what is inside the cup first, and then the outside will be clean too.” Matthew 23:26 GNB. Some Christians are so uncomfortable with this truth – that a pure heart does not live an impure life – but it is blindness to think that a person’s heart can be pure when this person’s life shows consistent impurity. Inconsistency is always a sign of error and the more we try to disprove the truth of God’s Word the more it will prove that we are in the wrong. The indecency we see among Ghanaian Christians today in the church, in the workplace and on the streets is only the outward expression of what has taken place deep in our hearts – we have become irreverent at heart and left the path of righteousness. We do not fear God anymore. How a person lives reflects what he/she truly believes deep in the heart. This is why Jesus starts the healing of our disease of sinfulness from the heart. When the heart is changed, our desires and character will be affected. They will all begin to reflect God’s nature of holiness. Jesus cures by giving new hearts that have holy desires and passions. And not only that, but he also gives us his Spirit to enable us live as we ought to. Until we give ourselves truly and fully to Jesus, the flesh will dominate us, even in our sense of fashion and choice of dress.

A False Dichotomy

Whenever a Christian separates his religious life from his secular life it becomes practically impossible to live a consistent and credible Christian life. The distinction leaves him with no hope of integrating all the complicated but wonderful aspects of human existence into his faith. Indeed this separation is likely to produce the situation where he is often plagued with the question of whether he is in the Spirit or in the flesh. The Ghanaian Christian needs to have a holistic worldview where he sees every aspect of life through the lens of Jesus Christ. Our bodies, spirits, and minds are all inseparably combined by God to make us what we are as human beings and he wants us to bring all of these in a life of submission to him. This is why the greatest commandment tells us to love the Lord with all our hearts, all our souls, all our minds and all our strength.

Christians have only one life to live, and it is a full-time Christian life. We are best placed to impact Ghana for Jesus Christ if we immerse our Christianity right into the political, academic, business and social life, rather than confining our piety to our numerous and often noisy church programs. Ghana is not feeling the spiritual, economic and moral influence of the followers of Jesus Christ because we are failing to live lives that are holistic. If we remain in Christ even in the political halls of power, in the company boardrooms and offices, in the academic halls of learning, in the shopping centres and market places, in the restaurants and on the street corners, then we will really bear much fruit, just like Christ promised. On the other hand, if we try to be “smarter” than Jesus and live without him, then just as he also promised, we can do nothing. We must not live part-time Christian lives since Jesus is not a part-time Saviour.

Robert G. Coleman is President of SimplyChrist Ministries, an evangelism and Christian apologetics group. (Author’s e-mail: info@scmin.org)