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Although it's been nearly 15 years, I remember the first time I visited Africa as though it were yesterday. What I remember most was how difficult it was to come home. (Those who've been there know what I'm talking about.)
There's something about the grace of its people, the diversity of its topography, the winsome sound of its music and language—even when you can't speak it—that burrows into your soul and leaves you itching to return again.
These warm and fuzzy feelings stand in contrast, however, to the desparate plight of a continent on which the fate of the rest of the world seems to hang.
It is in the furnace of Muslim Sudan that Osama bin Laden's and al-Qaida's hatred smouldered—and where he issued a "Declaration of War" against the United States in 1996.
Although it is the most impoverished continent on earth, greed for Africa's vast wealth of natural resources has created a fertile environment for the wars, colonialism and slave trade that have wracked the continent for centuries.
Until recently, the world stood idly by while Africa became an incubator for a global AIDS epidemic. The latest United Nations estimates say 26 million of the 40 million people infected with HIV worldwide live in Africa, and that Africa saw about 3.2 million of the nearly 5 million new infections recorded in 2005—most of whom are women and children.
In spite of what may appear to be the depressing realities of Africa's political and economic past and present, the nation's spiritual future could not be brighter. The observations of scholars (such as Philip Jenkins, in his book The Next Christendom) vividly reveal that the center of Christianity has shifted from the Western world to the East—and that Africa is at the epicenter of this shift.
For those who suspect the speculations of pointy-headed academics, we offer "Out of Africa" (page 28), just one example among many that the mission field of Africa has become a missionary-sending continent, and that God is using the creativity, spiritual sensitivity and courage of African church planters like Sunday Adelaja to take up where many of us in the West have left off.
These pioneers teach us that crises on the homefront are no excuse to neglect the Great Commission's call to cross-cultural witness. The students have become the teachers, and I, for one, don't plan on skipping class.
When denominations can no longer provide authentic connections of accountability and fellowship, they should be reformed or disbanded.
Recently I had a conversation with a friend who held credentials in a large denomination for several years. After confessing to his denominational officials that he viewed pornography online, his credentials were suspended, and he was placed in a program of restoration for several years.
At a gathering of ministers in his denomination, my friend stood up and confessed his failure to his colleagues. After returning home, he received calls from friends in ministry who also viewed pornography online, but were terrified to confess their failure to denominational officials for fear of losing their livelihoods.
The incident reveals the challenge denominations face in providing authentic accountability to their entire constituencies. (One official actually warned my friend not to tell him if he fell again—but to confess his sins to someone who would not be obligated to report his failure to the denomination.)
While denominations are composed of people who hold the best of intentions and the highest of ideals, the entropic effects of institutionalism are unavoidable. History is littered with institutions that lost sight of their reason for existence and embraced the goal of self-preservation instead. In the process, they neglected the very people they intended to serve.
Some who have left denominations have done so out of rebellion, bent on escaping the oversight of what they perceive as narrow-minded institutions. But others have departed in search of deeper accountability—not independence. These reluctant pilgrims should be encouraged, not criticized.
As Ron Carpenter says in this issue's cover story, "My generation will not be loyal to a denomination, but they will die for a man." This passion is not birthed in rosy idealism, but in the realization that effective ministry cannot be accomplished unless we relinquish individualism and commit to God and one another with a loyalty that transcends institutional structure.
Ironically, this commitment to relationship is not a revolutionary concept. In fact, it's what gave birth to every denomination that has stood the test of time.
Thankfully, it would appear that a new wind is blowing through denominational structures, and leaders are rediscovering the importance of spiritual parenting, relational leadership and flexibility in the face of changing times—further evidence that God is very much at work in His church.
Matthew Green is managing editor of Ministries Today. read more
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