Till date I find myself telling my non-Ghanaian friends that Ghana is a Christian nation. With seven out of ten people professing to be Christians, it is easy to slip into such a hasty conclusion. A typical Sunday in Ghana is one where the streets are empty, with more than 50% of the population in a church service.
However, as excited as I am in making that bold assertion, I have also had to scratch my head a few times looking for answers to the obvious question that comes with it. If more than half of the population, i.e. more than 12 million people are Christians, how do you explain the lawlessness and corruption so prevalent in the country?
This is a genuine question considering the various claims of Christianity, not the least those made by Jesus Himself concerning His followers. In Mathew 5:13-14, He said “you are the salt of the earth…You are the light of the earth.” Paul picking up the same theme said, “…we are Ambassadors for Christ…” (Corinthians 5:20).
Ever since its first usage (Acts 11:26), the name Christian has always conjured an image of a people whose lives are positively different from the prevailing culture. Therefore, regardless of who I speak to about Ghana, the question is always the same, “how do you reconcile the beliefs of the nation with its present state of affairs?” I have agonised over this question for years, and the more I think about it the more the spot light falls on the church.
The church is tasked to be a lighthouse; providing guidance to its people as they navigate the turbulent waters of life, and equipping them to be the true light and salt Jesus intended them to be. However, the Church in Ghana has in my assertion failed in this mandate. As I look back on my time in several churches, it is sad to say there are five significant areas where the church has failed in its role as a lighthouse.
The Church Assumes People are Saved
The church is to be made up of people who have repented of their sins and received Jesus Christ as their Lord and Saviour. Admitting a person into church membership is a seal of approval, announcing to the world that we have examined the profession and evidence of this person’s life and we can confidently say he/she is a believer. It is sad to say this careful and sober consideration of would be members does not happen. In most cases it is assumed once a person shows up and gets involved in the activities of the church they are saved. In other cases prospective members are taken through new membership classes, which is more of an administrative exercise than a genuine desire to evaluate their spiritual state.
The danger is that neither the church nor the prospective members examine themselves to see if they are truly in the faith (2 Corinthians 13:5). As a result many churches have given false assurance to attendees that they are Christians, when they are not. I preached my first sermon when I was 19 years old; prior to that no leader of the church had ever spoken to me about salvation nor examined what I believed. The fact that I had grown up there and was heavily involved in its activities was enough. I have had the opportunity of interacting with many church-goers, and it is sad to admit that many so called Christians cannot even explain what the gospel is or what it means to be saved. Yet seven out of ten in Ghana profess to be Christians.
The Church Has not Taught the Complete Bible
The church should be a place where Christians are taught the word of God, for the purpose of godly living. Luke records of the first Christians, “And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching…” (Acts 2:42). A church which does not preach the complete counsel of God cannot call itself a church. Unfortunately, that is the state of our churches in Ghana.
We have denied the truth that “all Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” (2Timothy 3:16-17). We have cherry picked aspects of the bible which sound good to our ears and rejected those aspects that calls for self-denial, repentance from sin and godly living. There is a new breed of Christians who see wealth and health in every verse of the bible, and the church is to be blamed for it.
In Colossians 1:28-29, Paul tells us what kept him awake at night as a pastor. He said “Him [Jesus] we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.”
Sadly this has not been the heart cry of many churches in Ghana, we have been more concerned with shoring up our attendance than teaching the word of God. The church has preached what people want to hear, and not what God wants them to hear. The result is what we see in our country, a nation that professes to know God and yet we deny his power by our works (Titus 1:16).
The Church Has Failed In Calling Out Sin
The church is made up of sinners saved by grace, but it is also true Christians are people who are continuously being sanctified and transformed into the image and likeness of Christ (2 Corinthians 3:18). Therefore though we stumble into sin, we do not revel in it. We must quickly repent and rely on God’s grace to continue our pursuit of holiness.
The church should be a model of this, by calling sin what it is, and calling on its people to repent. The apostle Peter says, “For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God…” (1 Peter 4:17). If the church is going to be effective in calling out sin in our society, it must start judgement within itself.
The church in Ghana has lost its moral authority because it has condoned sin in itself. We have turned a blind eye to sinful behaviour in our midst, and have elevated our own reputation above that of Christ. We have accepted proceeds of corrupt practices as kind gifts to the church without questioning the sources of such sudden and windfall wealth. If there are five million Christians in the labour force, how do we explain the widespread corruption in the country, unless for the fact that the church has failed to challenge its people to live above reproach.
There are men and women who profess to be Christians but are living lives that are visibly against scripture, yet the church has kept silent over it. There are many who dishonour their marriage covenant, yet they are held out as leaders of the church because of their generous and supposed gifting. We have done considerable damage to the image of Christ as a result.
The Church has Become Worldly
The world and its systems are anti-Christ, therefore in all His teachings Jesus taught His disciples not to live like the world does. The apostle John said, “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world.” (1 John 2:15-16)
When we live a life that is visibly different from the world, we expose its evil deeds and through that call it to repentance. Sadly, the church has become bedfellows with the world. We measure success by the same yardstick as the world. The world measures success by the job, the house and the car a person drives. The church in the same way, measures blessings by the job, the house and the car a Christian drives. No wonder the church has become so ineffective and in some cases been ridiculed. We are playing the world’s game, and there is no way we can impact our nation for Christ.
The church in Ghana has failed to live a countercultural life, and the effect is so clear across the nation. Christians are preoccupied with accumulating material wealth than tending to the state of their souls. The church has become an auction house where blessings goes to the highest bidder.
The Church Has Lost Its Vision of Eternity.
Lastly, the church has failed to give its people an eternal view of Christianity. Throughout the history of the church, genuine Christians have seen themselves as pilgrims and strangers in this fallen world. The writer of Hebrews had this to say about Abraham, “By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God.” (Hebrews 11:8-10).
Prosperity preachers have always used Abraham as an example of why Christians should be rich and prosperous; but here the bible tells us that Abraham lived in tents with Isaac and Jacob, fellow heirs of the promise because they knew that their true inheritance was in heaven. They were looking for the heavenly city whose architect is God. It is very hard to find Christians today who truly believe their inheritance is in heaven. The church is teaching them that they can have their best life now. But the question is, if I can have my best life now, why go to heaven?
Part of the reason why corruption and the ‘winner takes it all’ mindset is so endemic in our country, even within the church is that, many of us believe this world is the end of it. Regardless of what we profess as Christians, our actions scream with the belief that there is no life after this one. We cheat, we take advantage, we manipulate, we steal, and we step on others, all because for many this is all the inheritance there is. Genuine Christians have always believed that our best life is yet to come.
The church has presumed on the grace and mercy of God, and has continued in its carnal ways. We seem to have a form of godliness but deny the power in it (2 Timothy 3:5). The words of Jesus to the church in Sardis should be a frightening warning to the Church in Ghana;
And to the angel of the church in Sardis write: ‘The words of him who has the seven spirits of God and the seven stars. “‘I know your works. You have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead. Wake up, and strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your works complete in the sight of my God.” (Revelation 3:1-2).