Is the church in Kenya excelling in selling indulgences to a sick and sickening political class? Can freedom from God’s punishment be bought in the church as was done in the Medieval Age? Can Kenyans buy blessings? Is the church a modern spiritual shop?
Tomorrow Sunday 14 February you are likely to hear more about money than about God. You might also hear about love for sale. However, regardless that you go to the house of worship or that you are intruded at home by televangelists, you are likely to hear about the earthly kingdom thrice as much as you will hear about God. And when you hear about God, it is likely that He is only the highway to worldliness.
In the Middle Ages (5th to 15th centuries AD), money was personified and worshipped as a god. They called money mammon, borrowing from ancient Hebrew and Greek civilizations. The worship of mammon was typically characterized by excessive materialism and gluttony. Greed and unjust worldly gain and glory were its middle names. Even before these dates, the drift towards mammon disturbed the Patristic fathers of the Christian faith. Cyprian of Carthage railed against it, as did Jerome the son of Eusabius. John Chrysostom described mammon as pure greed.
Much earlier, Clement of Rome foresaw it all. He cautioned against welcoming it to the church. In 69 AD, Clement wrote an epistle to Corinthians, after the fashion of St. Paul. He classified Christian alms into three – daily sacrifices, peace offerings and sin-offerings. They were to be presented in the prescribed manner, “at the altar in front of the temple; and then only after careful scrutiny of the offering by the high priest and other ministers . . . Anything done otherwise than in conformity with God’s will is punishable by death,” he wrote.
But has mammon taken over the Christian church in Kenya – and I suspect everywhere else in Africa? Everyday you hear holy people screaming at God in hoarse voices. And they mostly scream about worldly wealth. Christian glory has come to mean getting rich overnight. And so the men and women of God impatiently scream at God to let glory descend speedily. They throw up tantrums at God, in the name of prayer. The god they worship must be deaf. For s/he can only hear them when they scream.
Have we taken John Chrysostom so literally? Traditional Christian liturgy is incomplete if the Prayer of Chrysostom is not said. “ . . . You promised that when two or three are gathered in your name you will grant their requests. Fulfill now, O Lord, our desires and petitions as may be most expedient to us . . .” Accent on “desires and petitions” and on “as may be most expedient to us.” And what seems to be more expedient to us than to get rich too quickly? To drive the latest model of cars and to live in gargantuan abodes, these are our most expedient desires.
Because of the foregoing, you will hear more about money than God in church tomorrow, Sunday. Ninety percent of the notices will directly or otherwise be on money. Only ten percent will be about evangelism and salvation. The modern Christian church truly gives God His ten percent. The modern clergyman has not understood John Chrysostom. Some have not even bothered to try to know him. If they did, they would keep profane political classes far from the altar. Or, they would accept them in their midst like any other congregants.
Chrysostom, the archbishop of Constantinople in the 4th and 5th centuries, distinguished himself for his eloquent and forthright sermons. People called him “the man with the golden mouth” on account of the substance and style of his delivery. He riled against abuse of authority by both religious leaders and politicians. He was not the type to interrupt the Sunday service because some powerful politician had walked in. He would not admit them to sit at the altar, to give “sadaka maalum,” or to “greet the people.” He would not defile his church with dubious money of unknown origins. Likewise, he would not place his hand on the heads of defiant politicians who came to church on Sunday to affect piety and would soon afterwards be on rooftops, abusing their political enemies and performing ridiculous rude dances before crowds.
Africa qualifies for a society that has eaten its values and left the crumbs and droppings for the rats to eat, too. We have heard of some countries on the continent where the man of God accepts blood-drenched money with trembling hands. They tremble not out of fear, but because of excitement in the holy man’s heart saying, “Money! Money! Money!”
The eating of our values began the day the church went to bed with the political class. And so we rile against the corrupt and greedily eat with them. The Church runs with the rabbits and hunts with the foxes. From the start to the end of the year, therefore, we hear about nothing but corruption, about which nobody seems able to do anything.
The moral and ethical pillars of society are rotten at the base. In 2008 Paul Washer published his Ten Indictments Against the Modern Church. Among these (not in his sequence) were: pastors malnourished in the word of God, an unbiblical gospel, a lack of compassionate church discipline, failure to address man’s malady and a silence on separation. Is this where we have reached in Kenya?
The war against theft and corruption is not about to be won. It cannot be won without the essential moral rearmament. Provided that politicians buy Christian indulgences with stolen wealth and blood money, corruption will not end. We can rile at the Judiciary as much as our hoarse voices can allow us to. We may call judges names and ask them to resign. However, nothing will change. The Judiciary is only the last firewall. It is the ethical pillars that we must address.
Our spiritual superiors must restore in us the capacity to feel ashamed of some people. We must restore the capacity to refuse to share even a cup of tea with some character, or to sit next to him. We must stigmatize, ostracize and traumatize thieves and their families. Only this can bring victory. It will not be achieved if our spiritual superiors teach us to prostrate ourselves before mammon and Beelzebub, the lord of the flies.