Where would Jesus go for worship?
By Rev Paul Bayethe Damasane
I did promise you dear reader that this week we would like to venture into the realm that is not so commonly discussed in a positive manner till recently. I am sure you are getting through the major hurdles of understanding the current movement in the spiritual realms. If Jesus were to walk into the City this Sunday where would he go for the worship service?
From the onset let me reiterate that the song and dance to the African is second nature. He nowadays is taken to dance school but really does not need to at all.
For a start one needs to state that when Christianity came into the country with the mainstream churches there was a deliberate effort by the missionaries to import the Eurocentric music style into the church. The intention was obvious. When the African convert had been encouraged to leave all the pagan ways it was also to include the African way of song and dance.
He had to take the Eurocentric way as if to say that is what came from the Lord. The spirituality of waltz, tango and the samba was never to be questioned. It was as holy as the Padre who said mass. Nothing could be further from the truth. The African’s song was as pagan as his witchcraft and he needed to be exorcised from it.
The influence took a different turn when in this instance they had to respond to the Pentecostal movement. The music came from America and the black Pentecostal had to adjust to the same. Rock and roll was still considered to be more akin to the Almighty than the Afrocentric rhumba!
The concept of worship is so broad and approached differently in African context. Mbiti argued that, “to consider worship from an African perspective is to consider the human body in all of its abilities\disabilities — senses and movements — in actions not limited to the mind’s capacity to reason”. Despite all the differences, the view of worship in African context is not far away from the biblical perspective; in fact, I think it is very biblical.
In most cases churches have relegated worship to the Sunday service or programmes. Worship is more than that. To worship God is to quicken the conscience by the holiness of God, feed the mind with the truth of God, purge the imagination by the beauty of God, open the heart to the love of God and devote the will to the purpose of God.
You can see that worship is broad and focus to God as object of worship “The audience in Christian worship is God. We as the worshipers offer to God sacrifices that will be acceptable.” It is an active response to God where we declare His worth. Africans regard worship not as passive, but participative.
For instance at the Evangelical Pentecostal church, during the whole service people are so active through singing, dancing raising up their hands and do so in many expressive actions. During worship service congregants ascribe to Him supreme worth; for He alone is worthy.
The essence of worship is also related to cerebration in African context. “Christian worship is aways cerebration; this is so because victory is the basis of Christian worship. No wonder most African worship styles today are contemporary styles. Whatever is done in Christian worship is done as participation in God’s victory through Jesus Christ.”
In Africa worship is both regarded as the act of an individual as well as corporate though corporate seems to be adopted most and preferred to individual by most Africans. “African” worship is necessarily dynamic, incorporating the entirety of creation’s experience.
“As human beings our expressions of worship are informed and shaped by our environments — including that which is ecological, cultural, socio-political, historical and contemporary.”
It is difficult to point out that there is one particular worship style that fit all African churches. Despite the issue of denominations, worship styles in African context are shaped by different cultures. It is common to find two different worship styles in one denomination depending on the cultures where the church is located.
The world of today is not static. There are so many things that are happening across the world. Different worship styles have been adopted by churches in order to meet the demands of the day. Today the church in Africa is at stake. So many influences from Western countries are shaping the styles of worship in Africa.
The issue of the songs is now a current debate in Africa whether people should continue with the old and tradition songs or Western songs. “The African churches that still hold and sing the old songs are regarded as primitive.” So many churches sing the songs that attract many young people. Technology has impacted much on the worship styles in African churches to the extent of losing its essence. “Worship services that are not accompanied with modern instruments are regarded as backward and have less impact on the people.”
In one youth service we were all happy in adoring and praising God. Suddenly in the course of worship, electricity power went off. I was shocked to see that people stopped singing and the worship team members started to diagnose the problem and let people to sit down. This is one of the practical challenges that the church in Africa in facing. Many churches have made a vow not to sing worship songs without modern equipment.
People schedule worship for the aim of fulfilling human emotions and desires. The other challenge still on the issue of songs is about the theology of African songs. Worship in Africa has been challenged by sycrenticism as well as norminalism. The African traditional religion has really affected the way of worship in most African churches. Cultural renewal in Africa has caused many people to rediscover their African past. Since culture and religion are so closely related in Africa, this has led to a return to tradition religion practices.
Some external challenges like poverty, hunger also affect worship in African context. As a communion of churches we live in various contexts all of which, in some form or another, challenge our confession that God has and does redeem creation.
This challenge is explicit in much of modern-day Africa, where war and disease, illiteracy and poverty, seem to counter our communal testimony that God, the Source of life, is just. How, then, in the midst of crisis, does the church proclaim with integrity God’s redeeming Word? More specifically, how does our worship, especially in African contexts, embody our conviction that all creation is restored and transformed through Jesus Christ?
In your view dear reader, where would Jesus go to worship if he came down on earth in bodily form? I still and will always hold that Jesus would look for an African Pentecostal church to worship and would do so not in English but in one of the African languages because of the the genuine serious and conscientious focus on “. . . Him that sits on the throne between the cherubim and the seraphim”.
That is where I would also join him! I trust that today you did find such a place where Jesus was the most awaited guest! I did and will always do. So till next week, shalom!