Is present day Christianity a caricature of today’s society? As it happened to our family system, so it may happen to the church. Africans, of which Ghanaians are part, have from time immemorial, practised a communal system of living. This way of life reflected the communal spirit inherent in Christianity. The Bible, which serves as the repository of the way of life for Christians, has always emphasised one thing: Brotherhood/brotherliness. In fact, this goes beyond the concept of Socialism and Capitalism.
This kind of brotherhood is birthed through the Spirit. In effect, Christianity seeks to create a sense of belongingness among a group of people who come from different backgrounds. This group of people derives its strength from its unity. The writer of the Book of Acts gave a vivid account of the life of the first Century Church: “And they were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. And everyone kept feeling a sense of awe; and many wonders and signs were taking place through the apostles. And all those who had believed were together, and had all things in common; and they began selling their property and possessions, and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need. And day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart, praising God,…“Acts 2:42-47
What is sad in Ghana today is that the waning away of the family system is creeping into the church and this is affecting the church negatively. There are people who argue that society is dynamic and thus we all have to evolve and embrace what is accepted worldwide. There are others who are of the belief that we are helpless and must follow the dictates of the present time. Now, my question is: will we all change the dictates of the Bible because others are doing so in other jurisdictions? In effect, what they are telling us is that we will be helpless when it comes to the time society seeks to change the pattern of the church to suit its taste. This is an argument I find difficult to accept. My answer to such arguments is that we should let the size and shape of the pot determine its cover.
Society can change but not everything that creeps into the church must be welcomed. Society can follow its taste and clamour for a different culture other than its own but Christians must ensure that such sweeping changes don’t tamper with the pattern of the Lord’s church.
Society can change its way of dressing, greeting, marrying, caring and according to respect to the elderly but must not tamper with that of the church. Society can decide to break its family system and decide to be individualistic but must know that the church emphasises a sense of belongingness. Justin Martyr, a towering Christian in the early church, sketched Christian love this way: “We who used to value the acquisition of wealth and possessions more than anything else now bring what we have into a common fund and share it with anyone who needs it. We used to hate and destroy one another and refused to associate with people of another race or country. Now, because of Christ, we live together with such people and pray for our enemies.” This is the culture of the church and must remain so.
What is happening today?
In our present day, it appears as if the church has not succeeded in helping its members adapt to the new culture in Christ. The church is a place that emphasizes ‘we’ and not ‘I’. However, over the years, there has been a growing culture of individualism taking root in the church. Emphasis is now placed on individual families other than the whole church as a family. It is thus common to see church members grouped according to families, even at the church premises. In a very rich environment, the church is segregated by family cars. People who refer to themselves as brethren do not even meet to exchange greetings.
Presently, the culture is that families move to church auditorium, sit at their regular sitting places and when service ends, they move straight into their cars. If this is how Christianity is to be practised, then we must as well sit in our homes and worship God. This is the extent to which the breakdown of the extended family system is affecting the church.
Another worrying trend is where people begin to form associations within the church according to their economic or social status. This makes the poor become lonely in the midst of the multitudes and this defeats the purpose of Christianity. Any practice that encourages classes in Christendom is anti-Christianity.
What are the effects?
A lot more people are going to suffer because of these developments. The church was built on the foundation of the extended family system where the strong cater for the needs of the weak. Consequently, if the concept of individualism is entrenched in the Lord’s church, the weak will suffer. We should be careful with whatever practice we copy. In jurisdictions where they have a family system different from ours, they have their own structures and systems that cater to the needs of the weak. Above all, they strive to go by what the Bible says and not according to the dictates of their culture when it comes to matters of the church.
In the same vein, the church has God-given laws that treat the behaviour of its members equally and fairly. However, if we employ any family system that has the tendency to create classes, we would end up fighting against the cause of Christ. A lot more people are becoming poorer and weaker because they have received a double slap. Their family system that is to serve as a safety net is near collapse and the church which is to serve as their last resort is now being affected by the ailing family system.
The church has a significant role to play in nation building and it must be seen to be playing its role. If we are Christians (Christ-like) then we must do what Christ did: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me because He hath anointed Me to preach the Gospel to the poor. He hath sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised,” Lk 4:18
A nation that has a great majority of its members boasting of being Christians should be seen to be exhibiting such characteristics. Like families do, we need to take care of the poor, the broken-hearted and deliver the captives. It’s the responsibility of the church to do all these. If the same family system that emphasises individualism is practised in the church, then a lot more people are going to suffer. The church serves as a place where the poor, the orphans and those rejected by their families receive solace.
The power of the church will be felt and people’s belief in the church will grow when the church is seen to be doing the work of God than merely “talking” the work of God. We are the light of the world and so should we be seen as such. We are the salt of the world and so should we be tasted.
The role played by some individuals in my family and the church has made indelible marks in my mind and heart. It's one thing that keeps me going. It's also one thing that propels my desire to champion a strong family system that provides a safety net for the weak. It will, therefore, be sad to lose these two important institutions in the name of social change.