Culture, Jesus

Grace and religious liberty

3 min read

This is my short response to an issue that a Christian brother raised on whether Christian ministers in Zambia should pass a government-sanctioned exam to authenticate their callings and ministries.  After all, other areas of expertise have to pass exams to qualify to work in a particular area.

My response was as follows

Exams are not the issue; the issue is state control.

I know with the rise of charlatans and heretics our governments want to protect its citizens from abuse and manipulation. Such is the case with the Bushiri’s here in South Africa. Unfortunately, because religion is inherently personal, such noble ideas by our governments are usually futile. What the Minister of Religious Affairs is doing is an overreaction and overreach. He or she will soon be challenged in the Supreme Court hoping that your courts are impartial, and not loaded with the religious right. 

Bro, you stepped on a land mine here. From your piece, you are for the idea that Christian ministers should do exams to authenticate their callings and ministries. You agree with the government’s position. But then you go ahead and contradict yourself.

If you say that a calling and anointing are free gifts, then let them be free gifts. Once the gift is held to “account” it no longer is a free gift but a reward for passing the accountability test. You might be conflating ideas here. Even if the idea is to “account”, this takes place within the Christian system and not from outside – in this case, government. The Christian faith is the only faith I know that has exemplary self-regulating mechanisms. It accounts to itself very well without needing any assistance from outside. It has done so for thousands of years.

I am hoping that you have been following the CRL rights commission debacle and debates here in South Africa. The same is being proposed by this commission, headed by a government appointee and led by famous Christian figures in SA. Opponents to this commission are arguing that the government is infringing on religious freedom which is a key pillar of individual rights. 

What is lurking beneath the surface of these so-called exams is state control of all religions. Absolutely! And history bears witness that when the state controls religion, the consequences are disastrous. The most consequential result about state control of all religions is this — fundamentalism which leads to nationalism, racism and discrimination. The Evangelical right in the USA, ISIS in Syria and Iraq, Islam in Iran and Saudi Arabia, atheism in Russia and communism in China, the Buddhists in Myanmar and the Christians in Nazi Germany are proof. In all these countries and cases, religion was co-opted by the state and the results were disastrous. 

What is lurking beneath the surface of these so-called exams is state control of all religions.

Most governments target mostly the Christian faith because our faith is considered “weak” in terms of retaliation. This is our soft underbelly. They will not dare touch the Muslim faith because of the opposition they will encounter – and especially in terms of the fiscus. It is an open secret that rich Muslim nations fund most of our nation’s budgets and as such our politicians will not dare regulate Islam. 

So yes, exams are not the issue. Anyone can take an exam. The fundamental issue is state control. If the Zambian government or South African government were kingdoms, they could issue a decree and everyone could take the exam by force. If these governments are democratic, then it is virtually impossible to regulate religion which as Tim Keller writes, “is a set of beliefs that explain what life is all about, who we are, and the most important things that human beings should spend their time doing.” Religion of any kind is inherently personal. 

While the notion that the church holds the government accountable is sincere, unfortunately, that is not the case. It is not even a scriptural precedent. The most a church can do in terms of New Testament precedence is to pray for those in authority (1 Timothy 2:1-3) The church can only appeal to the government’s conscience but the church has no power to hold the government of men accountable. We can only appeal to their “good angels” to do what is right for its citizens. It is this notion that we need to hold the government accountable that the government turns around and uses it against us. 

Exams are not the way forward. Who will set the exams? Fellow Christians or a committee of people from other religions? What will the test entail? Will they test for doctrinal proficiency or life transformation or both? How does one pass the exam? Can a non-Christian do the exam, pass the exam and be considered a Christian minister? Can an LGBTQ person do the exam and become a minister? Will women be allowed to be ministers which in some Christian circles is prohibited? Can Christians set exams for Muslims, Hindus, atheists and sangomas (witches) etc? This idea leads us down a rabbit hole with catastrophic results. 

The Christian Evangelical Right in America is now proposing that Donald Trump and the U.S government impose bible reading classes on all schools. Will they then allow for the Quran or Torah to be read in equal measure in schools after all they are a democratic state? If so, their imposition will not even pass their constitutional muster. It will fail even before it reaches the Supreme Court’s steps. 

Exams are a smokescreen for state control. Once the state starts to regulate a key aspect such as religion, they will infringe on your parenting rights, sexuality, etc and the center will not hold. 

Let all religions self-regulate. The Christian faith is the only faith I know that has exemplary self-regulation mechanics. The Christian faith critiques itself within itself and rids itself of all heretics and charlatans, naturally. The Christian faith has antibodies that will fight off any infection – Bushiri’s and their ilk.

And more importantly, Jesus fights for her bride – the church. He overthrows and pulls down these so-called “Christian ministers” and sets free his people held captive in their systems. These heretics and charlatans don’t have a long shelf life. They are like chaff which the wind blows away. (Psalm 1:4)

Exams are not the issue. Exams are smoke screens for state control.

That’s what grace looks like

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Schulter Etyang leads The Life Place in Johannesburg, South Africa. Schulter is one whom Jesus loves. He loves his wife, Jenny, and enjoys reading, travelling, cooking, running and playing squash. He also enjoys conversations with friends about Jesus and about life.

2 Comments

  1. Wow. Sounds more like persecution and an attempt to control the expansion of the Christian faith. I agree with your propositions. The church can only pray for the nation, that’s how to best take charge of things going on in the nation.

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    • Thanks Temi. Issues around religious freedom are infiltrating this part of the world and it’s best if we know how to make a defense for the Christian faith (1 Peter 3:5) and for all faiths for the matter. Btw I’ve been reading your blogs. Keep up the good work. Blessings

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