The Church as a Global Society

by Timothy M. Njoya

Timothy M. Njoya is a minister of the Presbyterian Church of East Africa.

This article appeared in Reformed World, December l998, pp. 178-189. Used by permission. This text was prepared for Religion Online by John C. Purdy.


The author asserts that God governs according to the legal principle of vicarious liability: God assumes culpability for human sin, for God’s own sake. Made in God’s image, humans are to accept responsibility for the way in which they are governed. African churches need recover the sovereignty they lost by accepting Western models of governance.

The Church's Governance--Deficiency Syndrome

The first thing Christianity did in Africa was to make people surrender their sovereignty to church hierarchies and governments. African dictators did not learn any lessons in democracy from the way churches were established, like fiefdoms.

Christianity brought to Africa nothing of the modernization, democracy and industrial revolution that the missionaries enjoyed in their own countries. The church made the divine right of political and church leaders part of its curriculum of evangelism. Africa became a junkyard for governments discarded by the Enlightenment and the American and French Revolutions.

The slave trade and colonialism ended, not because there was any conversion or improvement in western Christianity or democracy, but because slavery and colonialism ceased to be profitable enterprises due to improved technology. Evil carries its own seeds of self-destruction. But self-destruction is not the same as repentance, which means change into a new creation, being accountable and paying the penalty of evil, as God showed on the cross.

The church confused its own mission, instruments, agents, intentions and personnel with the gospel. As a result the church became the judge in its own case without any accountability to the gospel. The church looked in the mirror, saw there the reflection of its own life, mission, evangelism, doctrines, worship and history, and declared itself the gospel for all times and at all places.

But Christianity does not feature anywhere in the gospel, any more than the church's mission, theology, structures, pastoralism and evangelism in Africa. Whatever knowledge of the gospel Africa has, it has acquired it by revolt, as a consequence of a conversion experience.

The gospel is God's work of facilitating of God's reign in the world, as exemplified by Jesus' incarnation. The gospel converts people to convert the world into God's sovereignty. It transforms the world with which it collides. The action of incarnation takes place by changing the systems that receive it. The gospel is not Christianity, church or mission. The gospel was there prior to Pentecost, Christianity, and all the miracles, sacraments, missionaries, theologians, ministers, churches and institutions that it brought into being.

Christianity does not yet know the Lord Jesus Christ as the divine-human model of governance. The reason for churches and governments to stop being absolute is not because they are human and not gods, but because God became human, humble, vulnerable, fallible and subject to penalty for the world's defects.

God does not govern as Calvin and Luther told the pope -- by infallibility and omnipotence. In becoming incarnate, God's sovereignty assumed human fallibility. Calvin and Luther put the pope in a practical and theoretical dilemma by condemning his Godlike infallibility while at the same time not failing to offer the pope the model of God's fallibility and accountability in Christ. Had the European Reformation made a complete theological breakthrough, Christianity and its missionary enterprise would have dropped the theology of the divine right of kings and apostolic succession and adopted a theology of God's accountability with which to make a critique of the societies in which it found itself.

God governs according to the legal principle of vicarious liability. The principal is always liable for the crimes committed by the agent. The Creator is not immune from any faults of the creature that God created. God empties (kenosis) Godself of privilege, advantage and power over creation and becomes available, accessible, answerable and liable for the conditions of sin. Calvin and Luther correctly wanted the pope to stop behaving infallibly like God, but failed to explain why the papacy should be fallible. The reason was that God became fallible in Christ.

This is the kind of God who mobilized Kenyans into mass action. Their relationship with an accountable God made Kenyans accountable for what went on in their world.

God's Example of Governance

God governs according to the legal principle of vicarious liability. The Creator is always liable for the crimes of the creature. God is the seed that sows itself in every kind of human soil, along the path, upon rock, upon thorns, and on good soil.

God assumes culpability, blame and penalty for sin, not because God commits sin -- but for God's own sake (Is 43.25 and 48.9 -- 11). Parents feel pain, hunger and misery when their babies are sick, hungry and wet because they care. God's honour, glory, prestige and integrity would be at stake if God were to abandon anything God made in God's likeness.

Jeremiah 18:1 -- 6: The fact that the clay turned imperfect, right in the hands of a perfect Maker, despite the intention of the Maker to make it perfect pottery, demonstrates that God's governance depends on people's participation for its success or failure, not on God alone. Imagine that! In the very hands of an all powerful and perfect Creator, creation is free to turn imperfect! God is not a Third World military dictator who seizes power and then arranges to have himself elected president with a landslide, and by means of divine manipulation, rigging and bribery. God's grace does not operate by fiat, but submits itself to being accepted or rejected. God does not force me to be a goat or sheep. The choice is mine, the results inevitable.

God is amazing. And funny too. God does not only give freedom to what God s creating to take part in the process of being created, God becomes part and parcel of the process. God cannot be the Creator of things that change without drinking the cup of change with them.

The prophet Jeremiah envisioned the yeast-dough relationship between God and the world where the yeast and the dough worked jointly without compromising their independence. The gospel changes every context in which it becomes incarnate, but it does not lose its integrity. While God becomes human and accountable without losing God's integrity, the church fears incarnation out of fear of losing its western identity.

By not accepting liability for the ravages of capitalism and imperialism, the church becomes a liability. Christianity should stop playing the role of maintenance and repair in the capitalist system. The church cannot cure western guilt with charity, poverty alleviation projects, contextualization, indigenization or Africanization programmes. These are symptoms of the governance-deficiency syndrome and the accountability-avoidance spirituality bequeathed by western history.

God's death and resurrection take place in all cultural, political and institutional and personal situations. The gospel has a life-death-resurrection dynamics of its own and charts its own development. The gospel is for enabling, changing and helping people with the example of how a weak and vulnerable God who became a prisoner, hungry and naked overcame death.

A Quantum Leap of Faith

Africa must make a quantum leap of faith into God's governance out of the church's history, sacraments, ministries and Christianity. This sounds like a good new Reformed theology: quite iconoclastic! This is the gospel Isaiah learned from God when the religion and nation of Judah died, and the city of David, the temple of Solomon and the ethnicity of Yahweh were demolished by Babylon in 586 BC. Yahweh was to rise again, in Babylon, no longer as an ethnic deity, a prisoner of the temple cult, or the enemy of Israel's enemies.

In one of his most radical and uncompromising statements, Jeremiah distinguished God's reign from worldly contexts:

'Thus says the LORD: "If you turn back, I will take you back, and you shall stand before me. If you utter what is precious, and not what is worthless, you shall serve as my mouth. It is they who will turn to you, not you who will turn to them."' (Jer 15.19)

The gospel is a relationship and not a religion or institution. It is a divine-human relationship in which God becomes Lord to those who elect Christ to govern their lives. From this divine-human relationship flows the right of those who submit to authority to have a voice in their own governments.

The link between western Christianity and the gospel was broken when the churches formed the doctrines of the divine investiture of kings and apostolic succession without reference to the rights of those who were not kings or apostles. Christianity has yet to bridge the gap between itself and God's word as attested by the gospel in order for the church to have a credible witness and play useful role in African renewal.

The Gospel is not a Soul-Saving Machine

The problem of a politically anachronistic church is compounded by the fact that Christianity avoided the blame for slavery and colonialism by turning the gospel into an entrepreneurial work of trading salvation with souls. The missionary enterprise became a soul-saving machine devoid of any principles, systems and methods of governance consistent with the gospel.

Where God made creation an essential co-creator in being created and in determining the final outcome, Christianity did not allow the objects of its conversion work to play any essential role in being converted. Conversion required resignation and not faith. Where salvation in the gospel is the joint work of God's hand and human hands, submission to soul-salvation took place across the table as a deal between seller and customer, supplier and consumer, the professionals and their clientele. Where faith invites the Holy Spirit to participate in human decisions, in answer to God's invitation to participate in God's work of creating human beings, Africans accepted to be unmade, Christianized, catholicized, presbyterianized and pentecostalized as a price to pay for the salvation of their souls. The church that was conceived and born out of this trade persists with it as a beggar, consumer and client of western Christianity.

The Christianity we have now is a soul-saving machine with no awareness of the demands of the gospel. The main preoccupation of the church is to assure those who have no value in capitalism of the great value for their souls in heaven.

Soul-salvation is a tragedy. Missionaries treated Africans as cartons containing souls, just as poachers reduce elephants and rhinos to carcasses :carrying tusks and horns. This soul-saving Christianity is an anti-biblical heresy because it takes no account of God's responsibility for healing and feeding the body and mind. There is not a single verse in the Bible where salvation is mindless or bodiless. Soul-salvation distorts the Scriptures by making the soul, and not humanity, the heir of eternal life. Had Jesus risen as a soul rather than a person, Thomas could not have touched his hands and feet. The soul-saving enterprise works more or less like a mining company which after digging and extracting souls from the ground leaves the holes gaping and empty, causing environmental disaster.

Salvation is the outcome of the God-creature relationship. It involves faith, reason, conviction, acceptance and participation, not the soul alone. The soul does not have a special position in salvation. The only salvation possible is that of people.

The de-westernization and de-Christianization of the gospel are therefore essential in recapturing the meaning of salvation in Africa today.

The Need for Church Conversion

Africa became Christian by submission, not by conversion. African governments were similarly established, by conquest and not by consent. Democratization therefore means converting the church to the gospel of accountability and fallibility.

Human beings are not products, capital, or possessions fabricated in God's industry, but subjects involved in the whole process of being created and saved. This is one of the cardinal principles of God's democracy: people are not made by God without their participation in being made and in determining the final outcome, even if that means choosing to sin. God allows people to experiment with their freedom, even when their choice contradicts God's intention.

God's governance is a relationship in which people derive from God's love examples for their care for one another. To colonize, oppress or trade with people is the opposite of governance and antithesis of democracy. Governments cannot be governments unless they govern people in the same way as God governs.

Faith is automatically at variance with the governments given birth by African independence because these governments were conceived by colonial rape and autocracy, sexism, racism and tribalism into caring and nurture. Independence was only a shift of dominance from Eurocentrism to Afrocentrism. It was not a genuine independence but a counterfeit, a changing of the guard, a reshuffling of white masters with black masters.

Whatever knowledge of the gospel Africa has, it has acquired it by revolt, as a consequence of a conversion experience. To contain, control and isolate this conversion experience, indigenization appeared. This is why the whole attempt to make Christianity indigenous is anti-gospel. All people, Africans or others, are already created in God's likeness and need no further contextualization into God's image. Adam and Eve sinned not because they tried to be like God, for that is how they were made in the first place, but because they wanted to replace their true likeness with a fraudulent and counterfeit likeness.

The fact that 'All have sinned and come short of the glory of God' was Paul's maxim for Gentiles to refuse being circumcised into Jews. If Africa could have received the gospel without being circumcised into European Christianity, the call for indigenizing that gospel would not have arisen.

Mutual Accountability and Infallibility

Faith is the context in which God and humanity accept to be governed by each other. Christ became Lord by taking the risk and bearing the pain of being led and ruled like a human being. The cross is God's referendum on the acceptance or rejection of God's reign. Faith is the process and forum where people vote whether they want God to govern their lives or not. This gospel is the foundation and origin of democracy. We need to convert the American and European models of democracy into God's democracy to make them accountable for slavery, colonialism and the ravages of capitalism.

This year top western leaders, Pope John Paul II, and American president Bill Clinton, apologized for the holocaust and the slave trade visited upon Jews and Africans respectively by western masterdom. The apologies were based on the presumption that the world should recognize John Paul II and Clinton as heirs of western domination. True repentance would have done away with papal domination, freeing women from male domination and allowing them to be ordained. True repentance would have ended American domination. The apologies merely fortified the myths of the White Man's Burden and Manifest Destiny. Neither Pope nor President dealt with the ethos of domination. Apologies put more icons in the toolbox of papal control and more tear-gas in the knapsack of American globalism.

The Christian dualism of saved soul and unsaved body in one and the same church became embodied in the American dualism of free and unfree in one and the same country. When Tom Paine asked Thomas Jefferson why liberty did not include his slaves, Jefferson replied that his slaves were well treated and happy. Paine asked him 'Can you be my slave so that I can treat you well and make you happy?' He said 'No!' This was contrary to God's democracy in which God became the outcast, woman, tax collector, leper and gentile in order to demonstrate God's love for all. God's democracy works by God being accessible and available to all in all circumstances. When citizens fail to conduct their affairs responsibly, for their own good and for the glory of God, God does not claim immunity, but shares the blame.

God shoulders the cost of our failure because God does not profit from human mistakes and weaknesses and has no interest in anybody getting lost. This accountability of Christ for both good and evil, weak and strong, forms the underlying structure of God's kingdom, democracy, grace, politics and economics. Christ is the design model of God's sovereignty for the world. Christianity missed the link with this design in its conspiracy of the divine rights of kings and apostolic succession. The churches' internal architecture is like that of autocratic governments. Their anatomy deprives them of moral authority to speak to the world about Christ as their builder. They need as much alteration in their structures as the governments.

Challenge to Divine Right

Controversy arose in Kenya because my sermons pointed out that, according to the gospel, governments based on the divine rights of kings are not valid. The one-party state and the church were surprised to see the gospel demand governance as a system of accountability and freedom of choice.

'God was accessible and available to all questions. That is how God rules: by reason. And this, according to Njoya, is the way every leader or government should rule, by entering into dialogue with its subjects, who should be allowed to participate in decision-making if they are to develop a reasonable, rather than mystical loyalty and patriotism. Why should Kenyans be presumed to know the Bible, national constitution, KANU manifesto, session papers and important laws without participating in arguments about the wisdom and justice contained in them?'

The sermon opened Pandora's box. It ushered in a new context. It helped faith make a quantum leap from faith to faith (Rom 1. 16-17). This was an unprecedented assault on monolithic power and its religious justification. Bewildered by the new dynamics of faith triggered by the sermon, President Daniel arap Moi expressed shock and exclaimed:

"How could subversive documents come from out of the house of God?" He challenged the authors of such documents to stop hiding behind the church. They should resign and join politics if they want to make political statements. "It is not that we fear the church. We respect the church because it the house of God," the president said.'

Christianity panicked. The churches reacted by teeming up with the government to suppress rather than answer the questions raised in my sermons.

They reacted with such intense and emotional apologetics that they deified Moi, KANU and the government as a makeshift African Trinity.

A series of meetings organized by the Full Gospel Church in Kenya (FGCK) at Afraha Stadium, Nakuru, ended with leaders of the church reaffirming their total support and confidence in President Daniel arap Moi's leadership, the government and the ruling party, KANU. The statement, read at the closing session of the annual meeting by the FGCK secretary general, Rev Simon Kariuki, added that the church supported the Nyayo Philosophy of peace, love and unity as expounded by the president. They said that 'since its foundation in 1949, the Full Gospel Church in Kenya had remained faithful and loyal to the government and would continue to do so'.

In the same vein, an outraged writer said,

'Since the early eighties, Dr. Njoya has ceaselessly hurled attacks and insults against the government and popularly elected leaders. Surely, if Njoya is a true shepherd of God the Spirit of God would have inspired him to uphold Christian principles and teachings. He should have known that governments and authorities are ordained and installed by God and that they must be obeyed. Jesus urged his followers to abide by the laws of the land as well as those of the kingdom of God, as clearly exemplified in these words: "Render the things that are Caesar's to Caesar, and to the things that are God's to God." (Mark 17).'

My sermons undermined the common foundations of both the church and state order. Even the radical critics of government corruption turned 'royal'.

'"The church of the Province of Kenya supports President Moi and the one-party system," the primate of the church Archbishop Manases Kuria, said at Nakuru. The Most Reverend Kuria, who was addressing thousands of Christians at Nakuru Stadium to celebrate the Diocese's Silver Jubilee, disassociated his church from the activities of the church accused by President Moi of producing subversive pamphlets in the form of church sermons. On Saturday President Moi said a local church was producing subversive literature in the guise of Sunday sermons and asked how subversive documents come from the House of God. President Moi challenged that the denominations which distribute subversive leaflets in the guise of sermons have been unpatriotic, and their action an interference with matters that do not concern them. Speaking at a crusade at Likoni, Mombasa on Sunday, the head of Ushidi Baptist church, Pastor Joseph Maisha, asked such denominations to put the houses in order... In Kiambu, Christians were told to uphold peace within their families in order for Kenya to maintain peace and stability. The Anglican Bishop Rev. George Njuguna... called on Kenyans to be patriotic and to avoid situations that could land the country in unnecessary problems. He said while it was right to criticize, it was important to offer criticism with love and without desire to hurt. This way, we can avoid unnecessary friction between the church and the state.'

The church, its Christianity and theology are enemies of the gospel as far as the view of governance is concerned. For instance,

'The Presbyterian Church of East Africa (PCEA) yesterday warned Rev. Dr Timothy Njoya against confrontational behaviour toward the government. The Moderator of the PCEA General Assembly, Rev Bernard Muindi, also announced that the matter is being investigated and that another statement would be issued as soon as possible. The PCEA chief went on: "This church has always endeavoured to maintain peace and tranquillity and to operate in the constitution and laws of this country... Rev. Muindi's statement which was also signed by the secretary-general of the church, Rev. Dr Mwaniki, reiterated the PCEA's unreserved commitment for President Moi and government."

KANU General Secretary and Minister of Education Aringo accused the National Council of Churches of Kenya (NCCK), the umbrella organization of most Protestant denominations in the country, of being riddled with anti-government agitators'. Aringo's charges had the effect of making what up to then had been a campaign centred on Njoya into a general church-state verbal brawl. The secretary-general, Rev. Samuel Kobia, immediately replied with a blistering statement accusing Aringo of needlessly 'dragging' the NCCK into 'Njoya' s controversy.

The churches regarded the divine right of the government as the Christian Q'uran and my sermons as 'Satanic Verses,' Moi as God and the churches as his prophets. The churches need to have basic principles of governance: accountability and participation. They recently jumped into the bandwagon of democratization movement without undergoing any change in their own paradigms. God's governance comes by no other method 'but a change in what people believe, how people act, and how people relate to each other.'

Loving God: Enemies and Neighbours aren't Falling in Love

The gospel helps people not to be dictated to by the church or other worldly authorities. It is not a reaction to prevailing circumstances. One of God's principles of governance says, 'Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile.' (Mt 5.39-41)

The gospel is the only context in which everybody has rights and owns the initiative for whatever is happening. There are no winners and losers. Those who are governed assume the accountability for the good and evil affecting them.

'If your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.' (Rom 12.20) This pulls the rug from under the feet of caring only for those who earn care by caring for us. It deprives power, advantage and privilege of their initiative. Faith may not be able to avoid blows, insults or the cross, but faith remains untouched by them. It does not respond in kind. This means that those who are governed must assume responsibility for how they are governed.

Evangelism did not take into account the initiative and accountability of the converts. It tilted God's infallibility in favour of westernization at the expense of the converts. David Livingstone invited evangelists to Christianize, commercialize and civilize Africa without consulting the stakeholders. He appointed himself to know what is best for Africans just because he was white, 'civilized' and Christian. He set the modus operandi for dictatorship.

I wish Africa was being sculptured in the image of England, Germany or Canada where people have the right to commission and recall their governments. Kenya would have become a democratic, peaceful, developed and industrialized country. Now we are ruled with impunity by kleptocrats because Christianity made Africa the dumping ground for the feudal and infallible systems that the European Enlightenment and American Revolution discarded.

We still need to cast our lot with the vulnerable God who became the carpenter's son, Immanuel, who, to be responsible for what God had made ended up being crucified by political and religious authorities like a criminal. The church cannot play an effective role in humanizing Africa unless Christianity becomes fallible and accountable like God.

Making Christianity African went no further than amending western Prayer Books and Canon Laws, replacing prayers for the Queen with those for the President. The government followed suit by enacting the Public Order Act, National Security Act, Chiefs Act and other draconian instruments of making imperialism African, absolute and able to torture people administratively with impunity. The government used the euphoria of African pride in independence to Africanize the very imperialism independence was supposed to eradicate. African churches devised African traditional religion (ATR) for their seminaries for the same purpose of Africanizing infallibility.

African traditional religion (ATR) was a top-down attempt by the religious elite to legitimize Christianity with the very paganism the missionaries had demonized. For me, the issue is not whether Christianity is African or European, foreign or indigenous, but the kind of influence it has on politics and economics. ATR did not make political and economic life accountable, spiritual and moral in conformity to principles of God's governance.

President Julius Nyerere of Tanzania adopted a parallel strategy and made socialism Ujamaa. Mobutu and Modbo Keita christened their African versions of Belgian and French colonialism Négritude. The All Africa Conference of Churches baptized indigenization Reconstruction Theology. Before the self-crowned Emperor Bokasa of the Central African Republic died, he boasted, '1 crowned myself Emperor like all other African presidents. My only mistake was that I dared wear the crown.'

Evolutionary Defect

Even though Africa has trained enough people to the same academic levels as in Canada, USA and Australia it cannot democratize or develop unless it first cures the residual effects of the partial westernization, cognitive dissonance, and governance-deficiency syndrome created by missionary Christianity. The current mushrooming of churches and proliferation of Evangelicalism and Pentecostal spiritualities are not healthy phenomena but the results of desperation, disasters, hunger, disease and ignorance. The church is spreading by contagion, and by leaps and bounds, without purpose or direction, like wild fire. The gases (pneuma) fanning this unprecedented religious fervour are from decay.

Between the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, about 14,000,000 people were sold by and to white men without Christianity being accountable. Between 1980 and 1990, our African governments restored the slave market by bartering their populations for absolute domination. They drove about 14,000,000 women, children and men from their homes, freeing from the Cold War 'National Security'. In Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Sudan, Ethiopia, Somalia and Southern Africa governments spawned millions of their own internally displaced. Churches preferred to cushion the crisis with prayer, charity and other mechanisms of conflict-avoidance. Western Christianity gave the churches no gospel of accountability with which to confront governments. If the Nuremberg trials been extended to cover war crimes in Africa, many missionaries would have hanged on the rope for abetting genocide. Bishop Perraudin, a missionary in Rwanda, told a church audience on a Sunday morning: 'To kill a Tutsi is not a sin, it is to wipe out an enemy.' All these evils, corruption, human displacement and genocides took place where churches control 80 per cent of the populations.

The Way Forward

We started by showing that faith had to make a quantum leap from faith to faith in order to participate in God's governance as presented by the gospel. Faith has a life and dynamic of its own, free and apart from Christianity and the church. Had I not outgrown these, I would have suffered many post-traumatic disorders during the many times when the church has disowned me and deposed me from the ministry.

Neither Africanization nor contextualization helped the church to shift from its anachronistic understanding of power to human rights. Human Rights NGOs like the Centre for Governance and Development, Citizens Coalition for Constitutional Change, Human Rights Commission and Mazingira Institute, Law Society and the NGO Council helped to popularize the gospel of accountability as a culture of democracy. The church jumped onto the bandwagon of human rights. Some denominations succumbed to the President's threat to deregister them and pulled out of the National Council of Churches in Kenya. The very Christianity which depended for its growth on an unjust peace is now discovering that its idolatry is vulnerable to rational thinking. To assuage its guilt at dependence on western imperialism it has introduced theologies of reconstruction in the management of accountability-avoidance disorder. If the nationalists really believed colonial domination was evil what gave them the right to baptize, indigenize or contextualize the same domination? Contextualization, as a fetish of conflict-resolution-avoidance, peddled syncretism naming it Christianity. Having killed and buried African traditional religions, Christianity should have gone to celebrate and left the task of exhuming them to archeologists.

What Africa needs is not an extra Christianity, labeled 'Made in Africa.'? Africa needs the change that flows from God's example of governance. Afrocentric pride can be as deadly as Eurocentric pride. Indeed, indigenization is a poisonous strategy stranded between the ethnocentric African myths and abortive westernization.

Africa needs a quantum jump of faith into the future. Africa has potential enough. It has intelligent people and a relatively developed scientific mind. But even the best and most scientific people cannot make systems of anti-governance work, unless they first change them. If the church could make a leap of faith from being a carrier of anachronistic mission and defective theology to being accountable and responsible for both good and evil, Africa would benefit immensely.