Friday, April 3, 2009

Feeling the Effects of a Reductionistic Gospel that in Uganda has led to TWO Gospels- one of Salvation and one of Deliverance

When I was a teenager, wrestling with thoughts of heaven and hell, feeling the pull between going to church and doing what I wanted to do, I really just wanted to know one thing: WHAT DID I REALLY NEED TO KNOW and DO TO GO TO HEAVEN WHEN I DIED. I didn't know it at the time, but I (like many people out there) simply wanted the Gospel reduced down to its lowest common denominator so that I could be sure to go to heaven and yet continue on living as I wanted to live. The answer I received, of course, was that I needed to pray, confess my sin and need of a Savior, and ask Jesus to forgive my sin. Saved. I liked being saved, knowing I was saved, but not living like I was saved- that was the tough part- and after a while I fell into the common "backslider" category and had stopped going to church, entranced by the things of the world.

Unfortunately, this is a common story for many, and while many wouldn't like to admit it, the truth is that much of Western Christianity has bought into a reductionist Gospel that flows out of the very question posed above- what is the base line for being a Christian. This is a question that the early church would NEVER have asked, and if they had, there would not have been a short answer. Our reductionism, however, flows from the church's defense against liberal Christianity that with the Enlightenment and post-Enlightenment thought began to call into question the heart of Protestant Christianity- the doctrine of justification by faith alone. While it has been a much needed defense, the sad reality is that with that defense, much of the church simplified the Gospel down to a formula for getting to heaven, for forgiveness of sins, for living for the "pie in the sky", and that has become THE GOSPEL.

If you had to boil down the early church's understanding of the Gospel, it would have encompassed at least three components. There was an understanding that Jesus, in His death AND resurrection, defeated the three great enemies: sin, death, and Satan. There was an understanding of what this meant for believers for their lives HERE and NOW, and great doctrines (like the doctrine of adoption) were enjoyed and expounded. Interestingly, in a secular society dominated by science and the dispelling of the supernatural, the understanding of Jesus' victory over Satan and freedom from bondage to demons and spirits was lost, after all, what good westerner actually lives in fear of Satan or demons?

The truth of what I wrote above is seen quite clearly in the efforts of the western missionaries of the 19th and early 20th centuries. Take for example one of China's pioneer missionaries, James Fraser. He was 22 years old when he set out from England to China where he would spend the rest of his life working among a tribespeople known as the Lisu. Fraser would journey on horseback or on foot across rugged mountains for days and weeks on end to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus to people who had never heard that name before. Entrenched in demon-worship (spirit-worship/ancestor worship) Fraser was disheartened when an entire family that had professed faith in Christ (and an influential family at that) had been attacked by the spirits and out of fear had gone back to their old ways. His daughter writes, "In spite of the convictions growing upon him James was still slow to believe that demon-possession can be as real today as when our Lord was upon earth." And again she writes, "It was during this survey that the hold demonism had over these people came home to James. This was not a childish belief in something non-existent. The demons were real: their power was demonstrable. The fear the villagers lived in amounted to total slavery."

James Fraser had not been prepared for what he would meet in terms of the spiritual war that would be waged among the Lisu turning to God. He had proclaimed the Gospel, many had accepted the message of Jesus and wanted to follow God, but the hold of demonism was too strong and because their core beliefs (their core worldview) was not touched with the message of the Gospel, they naturally went back to what they knew and to what had controlled their way of life for years on end.

Interestingly, the same could be said about many Christians in Uganda today. Fraser was wise enough to come to see what the Gospel proclaimed about Jesus' victory and authority over Satan, and so he was able to lead the new Christians out of slavery and fear of Satan. Sadly, it seems that many of the early missionaries in Uganda were not able to present the Gospel in the fullness of its message concerning Satan and demons. It seems that when the Gospel was proclaimed and people were "saved", for most the "high" Christianity proclaimed by the missionaries (high meaning how to get to heaven) had little to offer the reality "down here" of dealing with Satan and demons.

Early on in my time here I noticed how controlled people are when it comes to fear of Satan. I found church services unable to begin until Satan was bound and removed, along with the "spirit of dozing" or any other spirit of something. I found people still paralyzed by the shrill of an owl at night, as culturally it is proclaiming the looming death of a family member. I found people up in the night binding and casting demons because they heard a noise on their roof, along with many other practices born out of fear. In reality, the more I got into the "Christian" culture, what I found was that because of the lack of understanding the Gospel's message concerning Satan, here there is in reality many who proclaim TWO different Gospels.

The first Gospel is the Gospel of salvation. This is what a person needs to know in order to be saved. But that Gospel doesn't deal with Satan and demons, so there is a second Gospel, a Gospel of deliverance. I have even heard some of these teachers try to scare people with the reality of demons and their power, telling them that they first need to get saved, "and then we can deal with the demons and your family curses". What I am speaking about is not a small "part" of Ugandan Christianity, but it is very active under the surface of almost every major denomination because it is under the surface of most Christians (it is entrenched in the worldview). Once, during my first year of ministry here and after doing a teaching on Jesus' authority over Satan, one of my students discussed the issue with me until finally he admitted that (to him) "Jesus has the authority, but Satan has the power." This is the reality regardless of what the Bible says. That is the mindset of many Christians.

Galatians 1 is very poignant in its proclamation about the guarding of THE Gospel, to the point where even if an angel comes and preaching another Gospel, he is to be accursed. The centrality of THE Gospel is seen as the motivator and the empowerment of Paul's ministry throughout the Epistles. There are not two different Gospels, but ONE Gospel that proclaims Jesus' victory of sin, death and Satan, the same Gospel that is inexhaustible in its scope and depth of both mystery and blessing for those who believe its message. I am thankful that my eyes have been opened up to this reality and my lips have been privileged to proclaim its message- and I love seeing my Ugandan brothers and sisters SET FREE from fear and bondage to Satan by simply coming face to face with Jesus' victory and authority over Satan.

May we as God's people not promote a reductionistic Gospel any longer, but may we begin to see the centrality of the Gospel to all areas of our lives and the freedom that it brings in all areas. I want to use my next post to dialogue about this a bit more, but specifically in relationship to the doctrine of adoption and the healing of the orphan heart.


Melissa Carter said...

Keith, I somehow found your blog and read this entry. Wow! You have nailed it on the head! I grew up in West Africa as a missionary kid and saw these "two different gospels". I have spent some time in Uganda as well. We are adopting 3 kids from there. Thanks for "exposing" this belief. It is so true. May we learn more and exercise the power of the resurrected Christ. Blessings, Melissa Carter

gina said...

"May we as God's people not promote a reductionistic Gospel any longer, but may we begin to see the centrality of the Gospel to all areas of our lives and the freedom that it brings in all areas."

let it be so.

Aaron said...

Amen! I love that you took us readers on a history lesson and then broke it down. You are such a "teacher" bro!

I see remnants of this in poverty sticken urban context as well. Because of oppression and injustices that have happen in the marginalized urban centers of the states the Gospel at times has been reduced to "a ticket to heaven and an escape from this world" message without injecting the other very important aspects of the Gospel and what it means in our day to day.

The "credit" that satan gets here is sometime just laughable. He is everywhere at all times and only he can make me do wrong. You know the popular phrase "the devil made me do it?"

Yes he is roaring but at the same time, as you pointed out, Christ has defeated him once and for all and he has no power over us but rather just threats and accusations.

Great work man!

Love you bro!

Keith said...

Thanks for these comments everyone. Melissa, I appreciate you adding in from the situation in West Africa and Aaron from the urban US context. The reality is that at the core of each context is the whole issue of worldview and our natural tendency to both syncritism and reductionism. Rather than coming at the Bible to allow it to confront and "master" us, we tend to want to master it and fit it into our own cultural context. I'm amazed at how in both western context and ugandan context our Christian cultures tend to be more influenced by our fallen "unredeemed" cultures than the Bible (this is seen clearly when comparing the two- which are so vastly different), though we all assume the Bible is supporting our core beliefs and practices. This was the sad reality of the racial oppressors of our time and continues on in our day. I'm excited to see more and more people rising up with a much greater view of the Gospel that is setting more and more free from the baggage that many of us live with culturally. Thanks again for your comments!