For the word of God is alive and powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit, between joint and marrow. It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires. Hebrews 4:12, NLT
It sometimes seems to me that American Christianity focuses too much on the second half of that verse and not enough on the first.
What I mean is that we seem to approach the Bible therapeutically, as a prescription against bad habits and questionable values. And it is, but it is so much more.
The scriptures are not a pop psychology guide to abundant living. They are the Logos of God, the living, active, powerful and creative mind of God. "The word of God is alive," transforming and redeeming society as it redeems the lives of men and women.
Unfortunately, much of the American church seems oblivious to this powerful Logos. On any given Sunday morning in pews across America, everything seems too carefully programmed for any unauthorized outbreak of the power of God. Three hymns, a prayer, a sermon and we're out the door before the Holy Spirit even notices we were there.
In a fascinating and well-researched article for the New York Times, Andrew Rice has written about the explosive growth of Christianity in the global south, and a particular Nigerian church that has begun an ambitious Mission from Africa on American soil.
The Redeemed Christian Church of God is driven by a vision of the power of God shaking up America's dozing church. They see themselves as a vanguard, preparing the way for a reawakening to the power of God. They are deeply Pentecostal, a faith that I confess has always made me uneasy. Yet, it's a faith that speaks to people who see the need for a God who can overcome the entrenched skepticism and intractable problems of our secular world.
Even by the passionate standards of Africa, the Redeemed are renowned for the intensity of their prayer. In Nigeria, it has been called "the weeping church." During services, members of the congregation will clap, whoop and break into glossolalia speaking in tongues which Pentecostals believe to be the verbal expression of the Holy Spirit. They will collapse on the floor, burying their faces in the carpet, and writhe in the throes of divine communion. ...
"I just wasn't getting what I was after spiritually in the Baptist Church," [said Della Faye Sowunmi]. "To watch people praise and worship like that, it touched my heart."
With the ambitious goal of establishing churches in every state, the Redeemed Christian Church has adopted a strategy of dividing their congregations frequently, sending their own members out to plant new churches in new locations. Pastor Enoch Abeboye, the leader of the Redeemed Church Church, explains:
"If it appears as if initially our church is sent to target the immigrants from Africa and so on, it's because you have to start somewhere. But then, later on, the people who are natives of this land will sooner or later come to the realization that they need God, and we will be on the ground when that time comes to present God to them." Mission from Africa, Andrew Rice, New York Times, April 12, 2009
It is a message church members hear often. Pastor Daniel Ajayi-Adeniran reminded his flock one Sunday of God's command to the Jews in the book of Zechariah to rebuild the destroyed temple in Jerusalem. "We're going to pray for our nation, the United States of America," he said. "This is our Jerusalem!"
A hundred and fifty years ago, American and European Christians took the message of Jesus Christ to Africa. It took hold slowly, at first mixing itself with African animism. But gradually, the Logos reached into hearts and took hold, and as faith in these modern times has gradually faded in Europe, it has grown at exponential rates in Africa, as if placed there on deposit, for safe keeping. Now, a robust and mature African Christian church has turned its eyes to the agnostic mission fields of Europe and America.
Ironic, to say the least. And it seems to me proof that Christianity isn't merely good stories written in a very ancient book, but something much more. It is the Logos of God, moving powerfully, never still, always working to take back the hearts and minds of a new generation.
Photo credit: Church of Nigeria