Zebras at a Waterhole in Okaukejo, Etosha Pan, Namibia . PHOTO : J . Rieck

Friday, May 19, 2017

WHAT IS A PASTOR ?


In my last two blog articles, I asked the question, “Where have all the Pastors gone?” I have asked this question from a Namibian context and perspective.  Moral failure, personal discouragement, financial problems and the like contribute to a number of pastors leaving the pastoral ministry in Namibia.

There is another matter to which I wish to direct our attention now, and this concerns the lack of understanding in our community concerning the nature of the work and calling of a biblical pastor.  
So, what is a Pastor, and what sort of work does a Pastor do? These two questions deal with the Pastor’s essential being and doing.

In our community the expectations of the person and work of the pastor have more in common with the job description of a CEO or  an Events Co-ordinator.  The church, correspondingly is then also thought of mainly as a business or a cultural club or worse still, a place of entertainment, where the activities are carefully rehearsed and choreographed for maximum impact and the “Wow factor” that would draw an audience.  

Namibian churches   have, for some time now been under the influence of such leadership models, imported mainly from the USA.  Regular leadership seminars  focussing essentially on church growth methods are run by local organisations that represent  Bill Hybels from the Willow Creek Association, T.D. Jakes, the late Myles Munroe  and  John Maxwell.  Yet the fact remains that the church  in Namibia  is simply not  truly  getting under the skin of our people.  At present, too many pastors have no true sense of “calling” into ministry. It has become a mere job.  The emphasis consequently   has shifted to managerial technique, pragmatic strategies, technological expertise, and many other pragmatic methodologies for building churches.  The necessity of pastoring and loving people deeply and passionately even at great personal cost has been lost and resultantly many contemporary church members feel used rather than cared for.

Some time ago  I was  asked to help  to moderate in a leadership crisis  of   another church in our city, and in asking some critical questions,  I learned  that the church  council saw  the church as  a “club”, and acted accordingly  in seeking to  resolve her  leadership struggles. A biblical leader has a considerably different framework of reference to a leader of a club!

A number of years ago a pastor in our city committed suicide. As the shockwaves swept through the community, it was time to take stock of what had happened. The chief focus of the church that he served was the organising of an annual fund raising event of note, which then would sustain the church financially for the year. Much time and energy was required of the pastor to manage this event.  In thinking about this I was wondering how much time this dear man would have had to feed his own soul and also the souls of the congregation. How frustrating to know that you are called to be a pastor, only to have your job description changed into something that you were never called to be and do.  

So what  is a Pastor called to be and to do?

The word ‘pastor’ means shepherd.  A shepherd looks after sheep, and so a Pastor-shepherd looks after people.   One of my favourite little books on this subject is entitled, “The Work of the Pastor”, written by William Still who pastored a church in Gilcomston, Scotland for 52 years.  He provides us with a succinct description of what a pastor is and what he does. In the opening chapter he writes,

“Before we look at the work of the pastor we must look at the pastor himself. The pastor by definition is a shepherd, the under-shepherd of the flock of God. His primary task is to feed the flock by leading them to green pastures. He also has to care for them when they are sick or hurt, and seek them when they go astray. The importance of the pastor depends on the value of the sheep. Pursue the pastoral metaphor a little further: Israel’s sheep were reared, fed, tended, retrieved, healed and restored – for sacrifice on the altar of God. This end of all pastoral work must never be forgotten – that its ultimate aim is to lead God’s people to offer themselves up to Him in total devotion of worship and service. Many who are called pastors, having lost the end in view, or never having seen it, become pedlars of various sorts of wares, gulling the people and leading them into their own power. And when they fail to gather a clientele for their own brand of merchandise they uptail and away, for they are not really interested in the flock of God; they were using them only as a means of their own aggrandisement, to boost their ego and indulge their desire for power.[1]

The fundamental responsibility of the pastor is to make sure that the church is well fed on the Word of God. The goal of this feeding is that the members should respond to the Word of God by offering themselves up in heartfelt worship to God.

It is the Word of God, preached with the help of the Holy Spirit that produces real change in the souls of men and women. This presupposes that a pastor needs to be in touch with the God of the Word.  A Scottish preacher Robert Murray M’Cheyne (1813-1843) said, “It is not great talents that God blesses so much as great likeness to Jesus.”  A vibrant pastor knows the Living God and he knows the Word of God.   He who knows how to feed on the Word of God by prayer can effectively feed others.   There are obviously a number of ways to nurture the souls of church members.  Apart from preaching in the context of an assembled worship gathering, the pastor also leads small groups, as well as  meeting privately with individuals to counsel and instruct them in God’s Word and to pray for them in accordance with the Word of God. He also trains and disciples others to do the same. 

The goal of all pastoral leadership is found in Ephesians 4:12-16:

“…to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ,  until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ,  so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.  Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ,  from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.”

Notice the key phrases  that  describe the work of the pastor :
·         To equip  the saints  for the work of ministry
·         For the building up  of the  body of Christ
·         (for the purpose of) attaining to the unity  of faith and of the knowledge  of  Christ
·         (for the purpose of) maturity
·         (for the purpose of) no longer being spiritual  children… to grow up spiritually.
·         (for the purpose of) no longer being gullible  to all forms of false  doctrine.
·        (for the purpose of) teaching  their congregation to speak the truth in love … building the church up in love.

This is the goal  and end for which the pastor exists and works.  Anything that will detract him from this calling will   make him useless and it will not help the church at all.  

The failure to do the work of a pastor produces several symptoms.

As Jesus walked through the cities and villages of Galilee we read: “When he saw the crowds,  he had  compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without  a shepherd.” (Matt. 9:36). These words could well be used to describe the members in many of our churches today. The sheep are frustrated and discouraged because they are not receiving the feeding and the care that they need. Many of them are starving spiritually, and some have begun to stray. Failure to do the work of pastoring therefore, impacts church health.

This leads to another problem. Many church members do church hopping!  Discouraged sheep wander from church to church, and, in our Namibian context we have found that   many church members migrate from church to church, in search of the perfect church. There is, of course no perfect church and no perfect pastor, BUT dare I say, that the best church they may find is that  imperfect  church  and  pastor  where the Bible is faithfully  and consistently proclaimed, and where God and  people  are truly  loved in a visible way.    Such churches see little migration, for there the sheep know that they are fed and tended for the glory of God, and therefore they are satisfied.


[1] William Still: The Work of the Pastor : Rutherford House,  1996 , p. 1

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Where have all the Pastors gone (#2)? The Importance of Choosing well, Praying well and Providing well

In my last post I lamented the loss of pastoral integrity, as I observe it from the viewpoint of the Namibian Church. In this brief blog I   want to  focus on the other  side of the coin, namely  the  contribution of church members  to the  attrition or loss  of men  from the pastoral ministry.

Pastors in Namibia, as elsewhere are greatly tempted by various spiritual, emotional and physical temptation. That is not unusual in a sense, for the devil, the world and the flesh conspire against the shepherd leader. Pastors struggle with the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life[1]  as much as do the members of their respective churches. They, like everyone else must learn to overcome various temptations by the grace and with the help of God. But, pastors have a greater burden to bear in this regard, for their moral and spiritual failures have greater and more far reaching consequences upon the flock.[2]   Churches frequently fail to understand this and they do not help to protect their churches and their pastors from such moral and spiritual challenges.

There is a guilt that is borne by the church, contributing to the drop- out rate of pastors. There are at least three sins that churches regularly commit in relation to their pastor:
(i)                  An insufficient investigation into  the suitability of the man for their ministry
(ii)                A lack of prayer  for the man
(iii)               A lack of adequate provision  for  the man

1. An Insufficient Investigation into the Suitability of the Man for their Ministry
I have seen it with my own eyes in my 30 years of pastoral ministry. The drop- out rate of students, having graduated from theological seminary, and having entered the pastoral ministry, is high. Many drop out of the pastoral ministry after only a few years.  Some may have misunderstood and underestimated the terms of the divine call to the ministry. They may have underestimated the rigours and the self-denial that comes with such a calling. That is a real possibility. There are also those who have seen the ministry as a means of finding employment or for financial gain[3], in the words of John 10:12-13, mere hirelings that care nothing for the sheep who abandon the flock when the pressure is on. It is the work of the church to discern this by prayer. In our congregation prospective elders are tested over a period of two years before they are recommended for ordination. Calling a full-time pastor-elder from elsewhere should   receive even more urgency in prayer.
Many churches simply do not apply or take seriously the biblical criteria associated with the calling of a pastor. The Bible sets clear standards for the calling of such a man in 1Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:6-9. The scope of this essay limits a discussion or exposition on the relevant texts, and I would encourage my readers to study these texts at face value and apply them to the calling of a full-time pastor. Many churches are guilty of calling men into their midst that are not qualified to meet these minimum standards, and this on account of failing to prayerfully search the Scriptures  in  these matters. These churches must not be surprised if such pastors leave them after a short time. 

2. A Lack of Prayer for the Man

“The Holy Spirit said, ’Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.’ Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off.” [Acts 13 2,3 ESV]

“…praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for the saints, and also for me, that words may be given me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel.” [Eph. 6:18,19 ESV]

Having  already mentioned the importance of prayer we now turn our attention to the lack of prayer on behalf of the church for the choice and maintenance  of their pastor- shepherds.  To begin with many church members  entrust themselves into the hands of a pastoral search committee whose task it is to find a pastor, and when he is found, the church would accept him uncritically and without prayer being made on behalf of the entire congregation. In a sense then, a church will always get such a pastor as they have asked (or not asked) for, from God. It is unthinkable that a church at large should not be involved in   faithful prayer and petition to God to  give them a  pastor after God’s own heart, a man who is himself called by the Great Shepherd of the sheep, a man who shall love them  for his Master’s sake  and  feed them on the Word of God.[4]  Let the prayerless church not be surprised if she gets a person who is not truly committed to their spiritual welfare, and who would soon leave them because of some spiritual weakness, or ineptitude or moral failure!
Another aspect pertains to the continued prayer for the pastor or pastoral team. Battle fatigue in pastoral ministry is a real thing. Pastors are in the forefront of leading the church against the battle against Satan and sin and unbelief. They need our sustained prayer and encouragement. This is the congregation’s duty under God, and nothing like a sustained congregational prayer habit will keep a man, humanly speaking, in the pastoral ministry. Read Paul’s letters and observe how much he depended on the prayer of others.[5] Prayer is God’s means   for our spiritual survival in this fallen world.  Do not neglect to pray for your pastor, lest he becomes discouraged and you ask, why did our Pastor leave us?

3. A Lack of Adequate Provision for the Man

“Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honour, especially those who labour in preaching and teaching. For the Scripture says, ‘You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain” and, “The labourer deserves his wages.’”  [1 Timothy 5:17, 18 ESV]

“Obey you leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over yours souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.” [Hebr. 13:17 ESV]

A third reason for pastors leaving their congregations pertains to the matter of a fair remuneration.  I know of very few pastors in my circles that get a fair wage for their labour.   This fact, I believe, contributes greatly to the discouragement, despair and discontinuance of many a man’s ministry. A number of men have to look for additional sources of income in order to meet the monthly bills. Biblical teaching is urgently required at this level, and I know of at least one church that consulted with our congregation on this matter. They have responded well to our biblical counsel and exhortations on this subject.  They took immediate steps  to  alleviate  the  very real financial needs of their pastor  and are continuing  to work on the backlog  that they have created over many years  of neglect in this area.

It is a dishonour to God when members have homes and comforts and the pastor whom they have called in the Name of God has none of these. Although any pastor worth his salt will tell you that his trust and hope are in the Lord for his daily needs, the God ordained channel of provision is the local church which he serves, and if that church does nothing to care for the material needs of its pastor, then the church sins against God, the pastor and his family.  So, do not let your pastor leave on account of the poor material reward that you offer him. Do something about it. 

I have submitted these three reasons as a challenge to our churches to examine themselves and to see whether these things be true.  Pastoral leadership in the church is a God given thing. It is vital and when churches are leaderless they generally do not do well.  Churches must choose well, pray well and provide well in this matter. This, on a biblical-practical  level  will lead to their pastors staying and persevering considerably longer. 




[1] 1 Jn. 2:16  (ESV)
[2] See the warning in James 3:1
[3] 1  Tim. 3:3b; Tit. 1:7b ;  1 Pet. 5:2
[4] John 21: 17; Ezekiel 34:23
[5] Rom. 15:30-31 ;2Cor. 1:11 ; Eph. 6:18-20; Col 4:2-4; 1 Thess. 5:25; 2 Thess.3:1,2; Philem.v.22

Monday, April 10, 2017

WHERE HAVE ALL THE PASTORS GONE?

The late Pastor  Martin Holdt, an example of a faithful  pastor
“Seeing the people, He felt compassion for them, because they were distressed and dispirited like sheep without a shepherd” [Matt. 9:36]
So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is to be revealed: shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock.” [1 Peter 5: 1-3 ESV]
“Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture, declares the LORD. Therefore thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, concerning the shepherds who care for my people: You have scattered my flock and have driven them away, and you have not attended to them…” [Jeremiah 23:1-2]
The good office of the pastor, and the credibility of pastors have fallen on hard times in the church of Jesus in Namibia. The once respected office of the pastor has reached a low point.
What gives me the right to say this?  
I bumped into an acquaintance at a local supermarket the other day, and in a brief conversation he half–jokingly blurted out the thought that  pastors cannot be trusted. I confess that I was somewhat surprised by his rather blunt assertion, until I came to understand later that the leading pastor of his congregation, a married man, has had an ongoing adulterous relationship with another woman.  Apparently, he only confessed his misdemeanour to the leadership of the church after he had been caught out.  A week later I have heard of yet another pastor in our city who has been involved in an adulterous relationship. Pastors of virtually every denomination in our city have fallen into adulterous relationships over a span of years.  
Imagine what that does to the thought life and the emotions of the ordinary member of the congregation. Imagine what this all does to the image of the pastoral ministry in our city. Pastors are after all expected to be role models. The criteria for  becoming a pastor  are clearly stated in 1 Timothy 3:1-8 and in Titus 1:6-9. These criteria are all rooted in noble and virtuous character.  The one person in the church who ought to display  true Christian character  and  discipline is the pastor.
And so horrible stories of pastoral misdemeanour have emerged, leaving people confused, hurting and wounded.Some of those that have come to our church are being helped with great difficulty and with exceeding patience. After all, how do you trust or speak to any pastor when you have been hurt by another pastor?
The truth is that pastors are no longer the most trusted people in our community. When the heart is hurting and when perspective is lacking, people do not run to the church. They run to the psychologist and the psychiatrist. They run to medication, and all this does not solve the ultimate issues of the soul. According to one respected doctor in our city, the people of Windhoek are over medicated!   
On yet another  level, a senior and a godly woman from  another church visited our congregation on a given Sunday, and  over a cup of tea  after the service  she told us  that  the pastors of her  fairly sizeable  congregation  did not practise biblical shepherding  of their flock.  There was no visible pastoral care being given. There was no pastoral visitation and no pastoral counselling happening  in her congregation.  She said that her pastors loved the stage and the limelight, but when it came to the hard work of caring for the flock, they were nowhere to be seen.   
Recently, I conducted a funeral of a man who had begun to visit our congregation, whilst his family remained behind in their congregation. Before the onset of his last, serious illness, we had met for coffee and a chat from time to time. When   his illness became terminal nobody came to visit him from his previous congregation. There was no visit from the pastor of the family, no word of comfort and no perspective at this crucial time.
He had left his church for reasons that he could not adequately explain. All he said was that he felt very happy and comfortable in our congregation. He also said that he loved hearing the Word of God preached. He said that it comforted his soul. We believe that the pastoral preaching of the Bible is essential to the restoration of the soul. It is essential for the healing of the mumps and the measles of the soul, to quote from a sermon by Dr Martyn Lloyd Jones on Romans 6:13.  It is an important part of pastoral ministry. It is  that which Jesus means when He says, “Feed my sheep!”  The lack of biblical, expository, pastoral preaching in Namibian  pulpits is yet another aspect that has been lost, by and large  in the church.
Don’t get me wrong. I am not saying that I am the perfect pastor, and that our church is the perfect church. We know that we are not.  Much to my regret I, and we,  have not been able to minister effectively to every needy person that had come our  way. People have slipped through the net. But what I am saying is that we need to do the right thing, and that  is to  work  harder to bring pastoral care back from the brink of extinction. I am writing this reflection  as a reminder to myself! The Great, Good Shepherd, the Lord Jesus demands this from us. It’s His plan for us. The quote above from 1 Peter 5:1-3 says it all.
In a series of further blogs I want to discuss the following related themes:  

What is a Pastor?  What is the work of a Pastor? How do we build  a pastoral team that really cares? 

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Arguments for Legalizing Abortions in Namibia - Sowing to the Wind and Reaping the Whirlwind.

On Tuesday the 27th March 2017 just about every major newspaper in Namibia carried the statement of the minister of Health and Social Services, Mr Bernard Haufiku. The largest daily newspaper  “The Namibian“ reported  as follows in its opening paragraph:

“HEALTH minister Bernard Haufiku has called for the revision of the law criminalising abortion in the country after an unprecedented 7 335 illegal cases were recorded at state facilities last year alone. The rest of the article is contained in the footnote.[1]  

As I was reading the ministers’ statement,  it dawned on me yet again what we are up against and what we are lacking in Namibia.  In the first place, we need to understand that our government is completely bewildered by the facts as they present themselves in the statistics. 
We also need to understand that anyone can say anything with statistics. Every discerning citizen knows that. Behind every statistic is in fact a different person and a different circumstance. 
What we need more than anything is the wisdom to deal with the information as it presents itself, information not only at face value, but at a deeper level.  The minister with his  ‘face value’ information can only come to one conclusion on the basis of the superficial evidence. He says ‘decriminalize abortion’.

So too, we must make reference to  Dudley’s cartoon in “The Namibian” newspaper of the  31st March 2017. The message  says,  ‘Legalize Abortion’. The ‘body language’ of the cartoon says it all. An angry feminist fist upon an inverted cross, accompanied by quotes from Ruth Bader Ginsburg, perhaps the most liberal justice in the United States Supreme court! 
The adjacent editorial[2] on the same day and page says, “We can only imagine the minister is treading carefully for fear of a backlash from zealots, who view the issue as nothing but a callous crime committed by pregnant women.” 

We can only imagine who is meant by the zealots, who view the issue as nothing but a callous crime committed by pregnant women.  

Incidentally, the editor who is nameless, knowingly or unknowingly uses a  subversive weapon,   Saul Alinksy’s Rules for Radicals, encouraging the use of ridicule against one’s opponents. Rule five says, “Ridicule is man’s most potent weapon. It’s hard to counterattack ridicule, and it infuriates the opposition, which then reacts to your advantage.”[3]

If the editors mean zealots to be representatives from the church community, then we wish them to know that their pointing hand has three fingers pointing back at them! Many newspaper editors, in their zeal for their own causes, see themselves above and beyond contradiction. 
Bad news!

We want  them  to know that many of us, whom  they  call ‘zealots’ have a real  concern for the people and unborn  children  that  get  hurt  in the abortion debacle, and many in our circles  are working  as well as we know how,  to address the real issues  that  lead to abortion, and not simply with the tip of a poison pen.  

So what  we see is that both the minister and the press are seeking to address this problem via the law…. Decriminalize… legalize!  

We want to argue that the problem of abortion can ultimately not be solved via the law and that if we seek  to solve such problems via the law  then we must expect  that the law can deal with the problem only in a superficial way.  The law will leave  many people hurt, squashed and devastated, and worst of all, not really helped!  So, the minister has a point, but this point needs to be thought through much more carefully. In the hands of a  biased  press  such a call can easily  end up in messy hands. 

To get back to the matter at hand :  Making abortion a criminal offence by which the concerned person will simply receive a sentence or a fine may not prove to be the best approach or solution to the matter. The person, having undergone an abortion has far profounder matters to contend with, such as a sense of real guilt and loss. Let’s face it. In abortion a life is taken. There is just no other way to say this. And the conscience will  give  no rest, and if the conscience is suppressed, which is what many people in such situations tend  to do,  then it rears its ugly head in  other ways. Anger, Bitterness  and Cynicism become  typical response patterns of people that  have  suppressed their consciences. Further  down the line the road  may   lead to  soul deadening  alcohol or  drug addictions  and the like.  
We have yet to meet a woman who has had an abortion and  who has been OK with that.  There is no amount of reason or logic that can  erase  the pain  experienced  when making such a choice.  Those who are Pro-choice really do not  think very carefully about  the implications of their choices. Theirs is a short term solution,  and  the misguided counsel given that it is "a woman's right to decide " is really not helping any woman in the long term. 

At the heart of the dilemma is a theological problem which manifests as a social and emotional problem, and the law finds that it  cannot deal with that.
So, what are we saying?   
We are saying that life needs a shepherd more than a prison warden.  Life needs a shepherd, in fact, life needs the Good Shepherd! 
May God restore the church and society  to see this! 
Sadly,  this   superficial reflection by  our governing authorities, together  with  an aversion by a  liberal press to  the life affirming  morality,   inspired by the teachings of the Judeo –Christian  faith is not really  helping us at this time  of crisis.   

The government, which is the protector and servant of the people of Namibia, is at a crossroads.  

  • Will it continue to allow poorly performed backyard abortions to kill or disable women, 
  • Or will it allow the killing of children yet unborn?
  • The solution, it seems, is to be found between a rock and a hard place! 
So, the alarming headlines and the statistics may lead to conclusions and actions in which our nation may be responding to the wind, but in reality we may be reaping   the whirlwind.
God’s answer to this complex question (and sin makes everything complex, doesn’t it?)  has been given to the church which is in possession of the Bible -  the Word of God.  In it we shall find that sinful people like ourselves have  to come to terms  that their sin  is in the first place not against the law  per se, but against Him who is the End of the law and who is the  Give of Life.  When David had an adulterous relationship with Bathsheba, a union out of which a child would be born, he knew that he had  principally  sinned  against God.[4]

The church, under the direction of her God, invites women not to abort babies. 
There are alternatives, and if government can do anything here, then it  is to support baby shelters for abandoned babies, and to support responsible, tested  Christian agencies  that would  receive  and place abandoned  babies into loving homes. 

Such agencies would also love, care, nurture and counsel women that have aborted  back to emotional and spiritual health.   




[1] Haufiku said the figures could reach 10 000 since many such cases involving women aged below 25 years go unreported.  Under Namibia's Abortion and Sterilisation Act 1975, abortions are illegal for women and girls, except in extreme cases such as rape, incest, or endangerment of the mother's or child's life.  Health ministry figures show that the Katutura Intermediate Hospital with 1 503 had the highest number of cases, followed by the Windhoek Central Hospital with 878 cases. Oshakati State Hospital recorded 766 cases; Onandjokwe Lutheran Hospital, 621; Rundu State Hospital, 419; Outapi State Hospital, 405; Swakopmund State Hospital, 329; Walvis Bay State Hospital, 302; Otjiwarongo State Hospital, 246; Katima Mulilo State Hospital, 201; Gobabis State Hospital, 174; Engela State Hospital, 126; Rehoboth State Hospital, 121; and Okahao State Hospital 105 cases.Haufiku told a press conference yesterday that of the 7 335 cases, 138 were medical abortions (authorised cases), which constitutes 2% of the total.  He said in most cases, an illegal abortion is only presented to health facilities when it is incomplete, or if the woman develops complications such as haemorrhaging and infections.  According to Haufiku, it is of major concern, as unsafe abortions pose a major risk to women's physical and mental health. “We need thorough national reflection on the reasons why so many women risk their lives by resorting to unsafe abortions in a country where contraceptives are widely available. Most importantly, we need to ask ourselves whether it is not time to relook the legislation and decriminalise abortion,” he stated.   He added that it now requires everybody, not only the health ministry, but the communities, religious bodies and opposition to seriously think about what needs to be done to bring down these figures.   Although the health ministry will try its best to contain the situation, a national debate and consultations across all sectors are needed to pass new regulations which many people will agree with “In the end, we will have to take a decision. We cannot allow it to go on as is the case at the moment”, he stressed. Haufiku said as much as his ministry is aware that abortions are illegal, they do not report the women who seek medical assistance to the police because they do not want to scare away others, or be viewed as a “police agency”.  “It becomes a difficult situation if we report them to the police. We will actually lose a lot of them. If we reported 7 000 this year, next year the number might come down to 700,” he said, adding that he does not want to create animosity between the affected women and the medical fraternity. “I don't believe that reporting them to the police is the best solution,” he noted”. Apart from the high abortion cases, the minister also said the country was not doing well as far as maternal health was concerned because from April 2012 to March 2015, there were 3 434 neonatal deaths and 93 maternal deaths out of the 191 517 live births.  One hundred and three maternal deaths were also reported over 20 months between 1 April 2015 and 30 November 2016.“The major causes of maternal mortality are the hypertensive disease, obstetric haemorrhages, pregnancy-related sepsis, abortions and anaesthetic complications,” he revealed, adding that another indirect cause of maternal mortality is related to the high HIV-AIDS prevalence...“Abortion, being a moral matter, has been a concern for many years, regardless from which perspective it is looked at. It has to be dealt with at another level,” he added. Legal Assistance Centre lawyer Corinna van Wyk said it is important that abortions are legalised in order to create more opportunities for women to have safe abortions.  “The figures show that we need to revisit our laws on abortion,” she said.

[2] In the same newspaper on Friday, 30th March,  a cartoon by ‘Dudley’  together  with an editorial, entitled  “Abortion is Not the Only Killer”  raised the issue again. This is what the editorial had to say:   “500 WOMEN die from abortion every year.' Perhaps such should be the news headlines to make Namibians understand we have a crisis, and all because of a lack of empathy. Health minister Bernard Haufiku tried this week to highlight the magnitude of the problem when he announced that more than 7 300 women were treated at state health centres last year due to “illegal abortions” gone wrong. Haufiku said the figure could be as high as 10 000 –– at least 27 cases a day.  The minister called for “decriminalisation” of abortion, which is outlawed by legislation dating back to 1975. We can only imagine the minister is treading carefully for fear of a backlash from zealots, who view the issue as nothing but a callous crime committed by pregnant women. People who label pregnant women as murderers over abortions refuse to see the far more dangerous threats to lives.  Earlier this month, a young woman died at Ondangwa after undergoing a backyard abortion. Her helper was arrested for murder. Many women are hunted down like hard-core criminals, also accused of “baby-dumping”.  Last week at Walvis Bay, a woman was arrested and charged with murder after “abandoning” her five-month-old baby while she went to work as a security guard for 13 hours. Security guards often work half-day shifts for bosses who have no mercy. A lot is wrong with Namibians if we crush a mother who just lost her five-month-old infant. Whether abortion, baby-dumping, or abandonment, empathy is what is needed. No woman goes through pregnancy and birth only to get rid of it without incredible emotional and physical pain.  Minister Haufiku warned that the criminalisation of abortion only makes the crisis worse. He knows the poor people suffer most, because the rich can pay professionals to avoid complications, or go to South Africa where abortion is legal.  We support Haufiku that arrests in abortion cases (including baby-dumping and “neglect”) must stop immediately, as those responsible are not a danger to society.  In fact, Haufiku and his cabinet colleagues must immediately start the process to legalise abortion and offer counselling. Abortion is not the killer, lack of empathy and care is.
[4]  See Psalm 51 

Friday, November 25, 2016

Advent 2016 - Preparing for Christmas

When our children were young,  they loved  to watch  the movie,  “How the Grinch stole Christmas“, based upon the children’s   story written by  Dr Seuss. 

There is no doubt that  Christmas  has been stolen by the market place,  and for this reason many  thoughtful Christians have begun to view the  Christmas  season with great suspicion. They  would  point  to the pagan origin of  the Christmas tree, and the fact that  the 24th/ 25th December is probably not  the birthday of the Lord Jesus.

I know of  some  Christian households who,for this reason,will not celebrate nor acknowledge Christmas,  Easter, or any other  Christian festival.
The Jehovah’s witnesses,  a cult which denies the divinity of Jesus Christ,    as a rule  do not  remember   Christmas  or Easter,  nor  birthdays  for that matter. 
Whilst sharing the concerns  that thoughtful Christians have concerning Christmas,   I am not sure  that their thoughts  or reactions  are always biblical. The pendulum   in Christendom  frequently  swings too far.  Too often  one’s zeal  for  Christian reform swings into legalism and  a  judgmental spirit.   

Paul addresses this mind-set  in his letter to the Colossians  (Col. 2:16-23). The Scriptures leaves us  a lot of liberty  in matters of  food, drink and the festivals we choose to  celebrate. The  same Scriptures however also point out that  these  liberties are not the substance.  Christ is the substance (Col. 2:17)! 

We have to make  a distinction  between  people  who  only live for food, drink and festivities,  whose god is their belly  (Phil. 3:19), and those who eat, drink and celebrate with  great gladness  to the  honour and glory of God. Israel was  encouraged by God to eat,  drink and celebrate  (Ex. 23:14-16).  

We have been created to give thanks  to God  in everything (1 Tim. 4:3-5), and especially  for the gift of His Son (2 Cor.9:15)   

So then, is it wrong to  celebrate a Christ centered Christmas accompanied by  all the  singing, decorations, festivities and foods? Absolutely not, and especially  so when our Lord Jesus  Christ  occupies our hearts  and minds on such occasions.    

There is every reason for us to celebrate His birthday, for unto us the great gift of salvation  has appeared.
The fact that we choose to remember  Him on the 24th or 25th  of December is incidental.
The substance is that He was born for  us! And surely  that fact is worthy of  our celebration!  


Monday, September 5, 2016

Who Makes People Into Saints ?

On  this previous Sunday  (4th September 2016)  Pope Francis  declared  Mother  Teresa to be  a saint.  This  is one of the peculiar  Roman Catholic church traditions  which  simply do not  match  the Scriptures.  

As a defender  of  the authority of Scripture  alone (SOLA SCRIPTURA) I would like to help you to think  with me on this matter.  It is no small thing to substitute  the authority of the Bible for man made traditions. Jesus had  His  strongest words  reserved for those who   did this. 

According   to a Catholic website the  definitions  of a saint may embrace the following : [1]
  •         An example of holiness that we can follow with confidence.
  •         The person who kept on trying when everybody else gave up.
  •     'Spiritual force-fields', exerting a powerful attractive influence on followers but also touching the inner lives of others in ways that transform them for the better.
  •       A person who has been formally canonized (officially recognized) by the Catholic Church,    and is therefore considered to be in Heaven.
  •        A saint is always someone through whose life we learn what God is like - and of what we are    called to be. Only God 'makes' saints. The church merely identifies from time to time a few of these for imitation.
  •   Anyone who is in Heaven, whether recognized here on earth, or not (Eastern Orthodox definition)

Although  there is some truth  in  these statements, they do not  nearly match the  definition of the Bible.

WHAT DOES THE BIBLE PLAINLY TEACH ?

The word "saint" is derived from a Greek verb  “hagiazo”.  The basic meaning is "to set apart" or to "make holy". The New Testament uses the word ‘ saint’  or ‘saints’  sixty seven  times. In every instance, the reference is to all believers, and not simply to  a special group of believers who serve God better than others. Scripture is clear that all  true  Christians are saints. A true Christian is one  who has  been enabled by God to  embrace Jesus Christ as  their Saviour. This is seen by  the spiritual fruit  which are  borne in such a person's life.  The  Bible says  that  a  true Christian is a saint NOW.  Our understanding of the word 'saint'  must be based on what  the Bible says. 

In  the  Old Testament  the idea of separateness or holiness was inherent in the character  of God. The Old Testament temple , and in particular the  room called  the  “Holy of holies”  was the dwelling place of God on earth, and could only be entered by  set apart (holy) priests.
The people or the worshippers  of the true God  were  likewise recognized as a holy people, who were to be distinguished    from the  other  nations surrounding them.  
This idea of the separateness of God and his people is  continued in the New Testament.  Christians   are  frequently  called saints  in the Bible  e.g.  Acts 9:13; 26:10; Rom 1:7 ; 2 Cor. 1:1; Eph. 1:1; Php. 1:1; Col 1:4. 

The important  thing  to recognize here is that  saints in the New Testament  are  living beings. Saints, in the New Testament, are never deceased individuals who have been canonized  and given sainthood by the church!  They are living individuals who have dedicated themselves to the worship and service of the one true God as revealed through his Son, Jesus Christ.

And so, the Gospel coalition (Joe Carter)  has  written a helpful article  entitled  “9 Things you should know about Mother Teresa”,   concerning  the so called  canonization of  Mother Teresa  of  Calcutta.   

You can click on this link,   https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/9-things-you-should-know-about-mother-teresa,  but for  your convenience I will  also   paste the article below:

Joe Carter  says:  
"There are two main reasons why I think evangelicals should know something about Mother Teresa: First, she remains a popular historical figure. During her life, she was named 18 times in the yearly Gallup's most admired man and woman poll as one of the 10 women around the world who Americans admired most, finishing first several times in the 1980s and 1990s. Also, in 1999, a poll of Americans ranked her first in Gallup's List of Most Widely Admired People of the 20th Century. Second, for many people Mother Teresa’s name has become synonymous with Christian charity. For these reasons we should know something about this nun from Calcutta. While we ought to recognize Mother Teresa as a laudable champion against abortion who had a fervent concern for the poor, we should also be aware of her many foibles and failings so that we can correct the perception of her as an uncriticizable Christian leader.”

 9 Things you should know about Mother Teresa

On Sunday ( 04/09/2016)  at a Roman Catholic canonization service in Vatican City, Pope Francis will declare Mother Teresa a saint. Here are nine things you should know about the Nobel-prize winning nun who became renowned for serving the poor and dying:

1. Mother Teresa was born Anjezë Gonxhe Bojaxhiu in 1910 in what is now part of modern Macedonia. At the age of 18 she left home to join the Sisters of Loreto, a group of nuns in Ireland. It was there she took the name Sister Mary Teresa after Saint Thérèse of Lisieux. A year later, in 1929, Mother Teresa moved to India and taught at a Catholic school for girls.

2. In 1946 Mother Teresa received what she would later describe as a “call within a call.” She said Jesus spoke to her and told her to abandon teaching to work in the slums of Calcutta aiding the city's poorest and sickest people. In 1950 she received Vatican approval for Missionaries of Charity, a group of religious sisters who took vows of chastity, poverty, obedience, and to give “wholehearted free service to the poorest of the poor.” By the late 1970s, the Missionaries of the Charity had offshoots in Asia, Africa, Europe, and the United States.

3. Mother Teresa and her religious order gained international attention in 1967 when the famed journalist Malcolm Muggeridge interviewed her for a BBC TV program. Because of the popularity of the interview, Muggeridge travelled to Calcutta a year later to make a documentary, Something Beautiful for God, about Theresa's “House of the Dying” (Muggeridge would also write a book by the same name in 1971).

4. During her life Mother Teresa received more 120 prestigious awards and honors. In 1971, Paul VI conferred the first Pope John XXIII Peace Prize on Mother Teresa, and in 1979 she won the Nobel Peace Prize. The Norwegian Nobel Committee writes in their motivation: “In making the award the Norwegian Nobel Committee has expressed its recognition of Mother Teresa's work in bringing help to suffering humanity. This year the world has turned its attention to the plight of children and refugees, and these are precisely the categories for whom Mother Teresa has for many years worked so selflessly.” She also received the highest U.S. civilian award, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, in 1985.

5. During her 1979 Nobel Prize Lecture, Mother Teresa called abortion the “greatest destroyer of peace”:
We are talking of peace. These are things that break peace, but I feel the greatest destroyer of peace today is abortion, because it is a direct war, a direct killing - direct murder by the mother herself. And we read in the Scripture, for God says very clearly: Even if a mother could forget her child - I will not forget you - I have carved you in the palm of my hand. We are carved in the palm of His hand, so close to Him that unborn child has been carved in the hand of God. And that is what strikes me most, the beginning of that sentence, that even if a mother could forget something impossible - but even if she could forget - I will not forget you. And today the greatest means - the greatest destroyer of peace is abortion. And we who are standing here - our parents wanted us. We would not be here if our parents would do that to us. Our children, we want them, we love them, but what of the millions. Many people are very, very concerned with the children in India, with the children in Africa where quite a number die, maybe of malnutrition, of hunger and so on, but millions are dying deliberately by the will of the mother. And this is what is the greatest destroyer of peace today. Because if a mother can kill her own child - what is left for me to kill you and you kill me - there is nothing between.

6.  Mother Teresa was frequently denounced by secularists because of her opposition to contraception and abortion. But she was also widely criticized for her allowing her charity to provide inadequate care for the poor and for potential mismanagement of charitable funds. Although she leveraged her fame to raise tens of millions of dollars for her charity, the orphanages and care centers run by her religious order were often substandard. After visiting Mother Teresa’s Home for the Dying in 1994, Robin Fox wrote about the experience in the British medical journal, The Lancet. Fox reported that doctors only occasionally visited the patients (the care was mostly provided by untrained volunteers) and that pain relief provided for the dying was inadequate, leading them to suffer unnecessarily. In 2008, another observer reported, “I was shocked to see the negligence. Needles were washed in cold water and reused and expired medicines were given to the inmates. There were people who had chance to live if given proper care.”

7. Mother Teresa has also been criticized by Christians for downplaying evangelism and espousing universalist views of salvation. For example in her book, Life in the Spirit: Reflections, Meditations and Prayers, she says:
Our purpose is to take God and His love to the poorest of the poor, irrespective of their ethnic origin or the faith they profess. Our discernment of aid is not the belief but the necessity. We never try to convert those whom we receive to Christianity but in our work we bear witness to the love of God’s presence and if Catholics, Protestants, Buddhists, or agnostics become for this better men — simply better — we will be satisfied. It matters to the individual what church he belongs to. If that individual thinks and believes that this is the only way to God for her or him, this is the way God comes into their life — his life. If he does not know any other way and if he has no doubt so that he does not need to search then this is his way to salvation.
When a Catholic priest asked if she attempted to convert people, she reportedly answered, “Yes, I convert. I convert you to be a better Hindu, or a better Muslim, or a better Protestant, or a better Catholic, or a better Parsee, or a better Sikh, or a better Buddhist. And after you have found God, it is for you to do what God wants you to do.’ ”

8. After her death, Mother Teresa’s letters revealed that she spent almost 50 years in a crisis of faith, sometimes doubting the existence of God and frequently feeling his absence in her life. The absence began to be felt around 1948, soon after she began serving the poor in Calcutta, and would last until her death in 1997. As David Van Biema wrote in Time magazine:
In more than 40 communications, many of which have never before been published, she bemoans the “dryness,” “darkness,” “loneliness” and “torture” she is undergoing. She compares the experience to hell and at one point says it has driven her to doubt the existence of heaven and even of God. She is acutely aware of the discrepancy between her inner state and her public demeanor. “The smile,” she writes, is “a mask” or “a cloak that covers everything.” Similarly, she wonders whether she is engaged in verbal deception. “I spoke as if my very heart was in love with God–tender, personal love,” she remarks to an adviser. “If you were [there], you would have said, ‘What hypocrisy.'”

9. For Mother Teresa to be recognized as a saint within the Catholic Church, she had to undergo the lengthy process of beatification and canonization. The process usually cannot be started until 5 years after the person has died, but Mother Teresa received a waiver from Pope John Paul II. Before beatification (which recognizes the person’s ability to intercede to God on behalf of individuals who pray in his or her name) a person must have a verified miracle attributed to them after their death. After beatification the Church looks for a second miracle before proceeding to canonization. If one is found and they meet the other criteria, the pope can conduct a special mass at which the person is recognized a saint. The first miracle attributed to Mother Teresa involved the healing of an Indian woman, Monica Besra, whose abdominal tumor was so severe that her doctors abandoned hope of saving her. After a Miraculous Medal that had been touched to the body of Mother Teresa was placed on Besra’s stomach, the tumor reportedly disappeared. The second miracle involved a Brazilian man who reportedly was healed of a bacterial infection in the brain after he and his family prayed to Mother Teresa for her help.