Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Missionaries of the Ax

Bojidar Marinov, Mar 03, 2010

Located in the very heart of modern-day Germany, in the province of Hesse, is a small humble town of only 15,000 inhabitants. In the middle of that town stands an imposing old cathedral built in the 12th-14th centuries of reddish stone. Situated in front of that cathedral is the statue of a man in a monk’s garb on a stump of a freshly felled oak, with a huge Saxon ax in his hand.

The humble town is Fritzlar, called Gaesmere in ancient times. It is known in Germany as the birthplace of two beginnings: Here began the Christianization of Germany, and here’s where the German Empire was born as a political entity. The statue is that of the Anglo-Saxon monk and missionary Wynfrith, also known as St. Boniface, the patron saint of Germany and the Netherlands. And the stump is the remains of the tree that belonged to the highest German god, the Oak of Thor. The Oak of Thor was the center of the pagan religion of the local tribe of the Hessians, and the most pagan Germans at the time.

In 723, on his way to Thüringia, St. Boniface stopped at Gaesmere. He had worked for five years as a missionary in Frisia, Hesse, and Thüringia, and he had some limited success. Unfortunately, as his biographer Willibald relates, those Germans that converted were never too stable in the faith; while giving lip service to Christ, they would secretly go back to their pagan ways, bringing sacrifices to the pagan gods, practicing divination and incantations, etc. Boniface decided to deal with the problem once and for all by attacking at the very center of their pagan religion. One morning he appeared at the Oak of Thor with an ax in his hand, surrounded by a pagan crowd who cursed him and expected the gods to intervene and kill him. He raised his hand against Thor and delivered the first blow. According to Willibald, immediately a strong wind came and blew the ancient oak over. Seeing that Thor failed to protect his holy tree and to kill Boniface, the Hessians converted to Christ. This event is considered the beginning of the Christianization of Germany. From Hesse, word spread, and other German tribes turned to Christianity. Boniface went to many places, destroying the altars and high places of the pagans, proving the superiority of the risen Christ over the blood-thirsty German deities. By 754, when he was martyred by a group of pagan Frisian warriors, Boniface was the archbishop and metropolitan of all Germany, with several bishoprics and other mission sites established by him, and all German tribes with the exception of the Saxons and the Frisians were converted to Christ.

What made Boniface expose himself to the wrath of the pagan Hessians and risk being slain by them for violating the central shrine of their religion?

The first five years of failures obviously taught Boniface a lesson: No matter how many personal conversions a missionary is able to produce, if they do not challenge the central idol of the culture, the new converts will fall away and go back to paganism. Every pagan culture has its central idol or idols. That central idol defines and determines every relationship, every practice, every institution, every word and sentence, every legal rule, every scientific and educational standard. The new converts, even while professing faith in Christ, are forced to define and determine all their relationships and practices according to the central idol in their society, and that is their main battle, their main source of stumbling blocks to fall away from the faith. The contradiction of believing in Christ while living according to an idol’s prescriptions for a society is the greatest struggle for those new believers.

Therefore, a missionary who doesn’t do his best to challenge the central idol of a culture is producing future apostates, not true believers. Boniface learned it the hard way. Therefore, he changed his strategy. He wasn’t a missionary to the individual souls of the Germans anymore; he was a missionary to Germany herself. And he challenged the central idol of Germany. To save his spiritual children from apostasy, he had to take on the chief adversary: Thor himself. Instead of breaking the twigs one by one, he laid his ax at the very root of the German pagan culture. And the result was the turning of whole tribes to Christ.

Boniface wasn’t the first to understand this important principle. The earliest church, as recorded by Luke in Acts, was not concerned only about fixing the personal morality and the private religious life of the new converts. The early church was not persecuted for producing worshippers of Christ, neither was it persecuted for the individual moral purity of its members. It was the bold and uncompromising declaration that “there is another King, one Jesus” that earned the Christians the privilege to feed the lions and to become living torches for the Emperors’ parties. The Christian Gospel was specifically directed against the central idol in that society—the cult to the Emperor—in its declaration that Jesus Christ was the King of kings and the Lord of lords. Only in the context of such a comprehensive challenge against the central dogma—or idol—of the social order can an individual soul find the emotional fuel and the strength to remain faithful to their Lord and Savior in their practical daily life; and only in the context of a comprehensive worldview as opposed to the dominant worldview of the culture can a believer find his place in the Kingdom of God as a civilization alternative to the wicked parody of civilization he has around himself. A Christian with a theology for the salvation of his soul only, without a theology for the reformation of his culture to challenge the idols of the day, is a Christian living double life: His spirit will serve God while his body and mind and money and work and relationships will serve the idols. Eventually, if he is not equipped with the knowledge that will close this gap, he will be severely tempted to let his spirit follow his mind and body and money and work and relationships, and he will submit to idols.

That’s what happened to St. Boniface’s spiritual children after his first five years on the field. He learned his lesson, and so he acted accordingly.

Very few missionaries today understand this important truth of foreign missions. Missions today are not comprehensive missions to the nations; they are missions only to “save souls.” You will be hard pressed to find any mission organizations that train or encourage their missionaries to identify or confront the central idols of a culture. Very few precious missionaries ever confront cultural idols; most are only focused on the mantra of “saving souls.” As if it’s possible to separate the soul of a man from his culture, from his relationships, and from the legal, economic, and political reality of his culture.

Societies today have their sacred oaks. And yet, we seldom see missionaries who challenge that central idol of societies. No wonder Europe—where it has taken the strongest hold on society—is believed to be “the graveyard of missionaries.” Missionaries would go and do evangelism, plant churches, convert souls, and establish regular services. And when they went back home, it was only a matter of a couple of years before those churches disintegrated. And no wonder: A new convert worships Christ on Sunday morning, but then starting from Monday morning through Saturday night his life is shaped, defined, and controlled by the idol of the almighty welfare state. And because the missionary is usually silent and never challenges this central idol, the new believer has no ideology, no worldview, and no alternatives, and he is left without any means to oppose that control.

Eventually, like St. Boniface found out, the god of Monday morning takes over, and the God of Sunday morning remains only an empty religious shell. A believer left without means to defend his faith against a powerful idol will eventually give in. And when thousands of missionaries in a culture see the fruit of their diligent work destroyed, they declare that culture a “graveyard for missionaries.”

But such description is wrong. No culture is a “graveyard for missionaries.” The fault lies with the missionaries themselves. The truth is, they never even started the real missionary work. A missionary is not a missionary until they set their ax against the roots of the culture’s sacred oaks. They are not a missionary until they have issued a challenge against the central idols of that culture. A mission that only addresses the individual soul and never the society in which that soul operates is an exercise in futility. Only a comprehensive challenge, a message that proclaims Jesus Christ as Lord over everything—including rulers and powers—can win a nation for Christ.

That is a lesson that modern missionaries need to learn.

St. Boniface’s strategy to destroy the shrines of the pagan gods cost him his life. Thirty years after felling the Oak of Thor, the aged archbishop was attacked by pagan Frisians, whose shrines he had destroyed a few days earlier. His biographer claims that they only wanted the treasures he carried in his chests. When they opened the chests, however, they discovered only the books he carried with himself.

But we’ll leave books and missions for another article.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Kadhi's courts ! should they be out of the constitution???

In this article I have given reasons why I take a different position on the issue and strongly affirm the status quo. There are good reasons why we should accept the Kadhi’s court in the constitution as has been proposed and having done that we should delve deeper to unleash our potential in doing the mission of the kingdom in this country and our world.

Re: The Kadhi’s court in the constitution

I have read the recent document on the Kadhi’s courts[1] and the call from Christian leaders to reject the Draft constitution if the Kadhi’s courts will be included. Reading Njonjo Mue’s open letter provided another Christian position that sees no issue in having the Kadhi’s courts in the new constitution[2]. The concern here is that the issue of the Kadhi’s courts clouding the constitution making now could whittle the labor of more than 20 years to get a document that could create environment for peace and prosperity in this country for all.

The article , the constitution must treat all religions equally comes through obviously as a Christian concern more than a view of neutral citizen on constitution and the fact that it is forwarded by a Christian group tells who are its proponents. There is legitimate concerns of the incongruity of the Kadhi’s courts in the judiciary clause, but these can be very well addressed by it’s placement as a subsidiary court. How can we approach this subject with clarity for the benefit of the kingdom as well as achieve the ideals of nationhood?

An authentic way to addressing this issue should emerge from a missiological and ethical perspective besides legal and philosophical one. This should be from the moral ground of truth and integrity of our reasoning.


a. Agreement at independence;

We cannot just do away with the tripartite agreement that put the Kadhi’s courts in our independent constitution. The agreement to give part of his jurisdiction and subjects to the newly independent country, by the Sultan of Zanzibar, cannot be violated and as a right it just must be given. Njonjo Mue articulates this position in his open letter and I cannot agree with him more. Our value as people of integrity should constrain us from taking what was rightly given to them in exchange of sharing with the rest of us what was theirs [territory]. We shall have used our numbers to take away their heritage. So our argument that we are doing a new constitution and therefore should push it away does not hold.

Because of shared citizenship we must accommodate and allow them space for existence and this is a vital part.

b. constitution making;

We need to recognize the gains we have made since 2002 when we overtly began to resist the plan to Islamize the country constitutionally. The original proposal to the CRCK by Muslim community was radical and would have caused greater problems if it went through. Their proposal then recommended the expansion of the Kadhis’ courts jurisdiction to include civil commercial and other arbitration issues besides family law. They sought to elevate the Kadhis courts to high court level and have their Kadhis lifted to the levels of high court judge and of course create hierarchical appeal structures that would have created parallel court systems.[3]

The pressure then forced the Muslim community to accept Bomas draft that maintained the status quo as a compromise. As a result the Kadhi courts as we now have them in the Draft constitution, has maintained that courts are subordinate courts, whose appeals can be heard in the high court and Islamic law may not necessarily be followed. Those appearing before the Kadhis must be both consenting to do so otherwise they would have an alternative in the high court and its mandates have been defined as marriage, divorce and inheritance.

This has effectively made the whole idea of Islamization via constitution impotent or untenable! In the Draft constitution, as we now have the chances for expanding the Kadhis courts will be really slim and if attempts are made by an act of parliament, we would have grounds to challenged it as unconstitutional or exceeding the provision of the constitution. Having it here shall have “inoculated” the constitution from the dangers we fear most of the introduction of Shariah law. This position is far forceful than not spelling it here to let the courts be formed by an act of parliament.

c. favored religion status

There is the concept of separation of state and religion and l loud the analysis done by my friends Pete and Waiyaki on the alterations on the draft. The value in the doctrine of separation of state and religion works very well where there is clear boundaries of what is sacred and secular. To bring it is an eclectic social context which is our will be a science. In Africa where ideologies are so fluid and hard to define, there will be more convincing to do to uphold this doctrine. Our ideas of secular states are often diluted with our own socialization of being religious. In the case of Kadhi’s courts we will find a thinner line to separate what is cultural, religious or social owing to the Muslim communities and nature of their religion. Any one with a good understanding of the religion will agree that the role played by the Kadhi’s have very salient religious impact. If we were to view this from a Muslim perspective it is the Imams and the religious scholars that hold religious sway on the community. The Kadhis would not be regarded as their religious leaders as their role is confined to legal guidance and addressing such arbitration. It will not be fair to use our parameters to judge the value of services they provide to Muslim communities.

Should we in upholding this doctrine bar our Bishops and pastors from accepting government appointments in committees and commissions where they work for government in observance of this doctrine? Or should they lead prayers in parliament or state functions? We have a task to define what this means so that we can weigh the favor bestowed on some religions or denominations. What of the obvious favors received by churches from governments, would that not violate the doctrine?

d. tax payers money for religious services

This question has been disturbing to many of us for long: ‘Should tax payers money go to service of a religion?’

It will be better to look at this issue not as money serving other religions but we should view that here are Kenyans whose government is providing services for. We should also understand that the frequency with which the visit the Kadhi’s courts they pay for each service rendered unfortunately they fees they pay do not go to the Mosques or Imams but to the state! There can possibly be a balance on this issue.


e. we are majority and we do not want the courts!

There has been a suggestion that we are a majority and therefore our wish, our abhorrence of the inclusion of the Kadhi’s courts in the draft constitution should prevail. The idea of majority is just tricky for when we are majority we are minority too. There are huge swaths of this country where Christians are less than 1-5 %, but we exist there as a people and church should we all move back to Christian ghettos? This thinking is lucking of missional pulse of our faith. We must be among the peoples of the world that include Muslim communities. We therefore must weigh the implication to missions of this position. Are we suggesting to Muslims that where they are majority to govern by shariah law? I think what we are dishing will be served us in some way and we should weigh this out before we act and regret.

This position being taken to remove the Kadhis court from the constitution is NOT right, nor tactical and we should radically review it for the reasons above and much more for the danger it can pose to the church.

Our social ethics cannot be attained effectively through legislation, we must be an intentional community living out our social ethics in all conditions and contexts. Our values must bear through all we do and visible in our protestations.

If the constitution does not provide the contours for this law by defining its mandate and jurisdiction we shall open the ground for Muslims to seek and could get a wider and therefore dreadful mandate of application and practice. The inclusion as in the draft constitution will clear any ambiguity that could be exploited to as we feared.

In these exchanges over Kadhi’s courts we are hurting missions endeavors. Our stands are not only radicalizing some on the other divide but we are sowing seeds of intolerance, we are erecting a wall of enmity and barriers that will take long to break. These will have huge implication on Christians who are settled among Muslim communities where they live and do their businesses? What of the church in existence among Muslims.

The fear of Islamization is genuine and should be a concern to all of us. Excluding the Kadhi’s courts will not affect it, neither will we have spread the good news of Christ! We need to develop appropriate approaches on how we can be witnesses of Christ in this land.

We obviously cannot reject the proposed constitution on the grounds of the Kadhi’s Courts. We should find other reasons to reject this draft constitution as we sharpen our missional knave.

Omondi Francis Rev.

[1] Constitution must treat all religions equally… Ondeng, Pete and Waiyaki, Peter [Feb 2010]

[2] Open letter Re Kadhi’s court Njonjo Mue [Feb 2010]

[3] Kadhi courts and the Muslim law in Kenya Constitution , Omondi, F [ 2002]