South Africa Journal 4: How Loudly Should The Church Be Heard?

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“The voice of the Church was neutralized by its lack of a shared vision.”

That statement, issued by a black South African leader, served as a defining moment on my first full day in Johannesburg. It’s a statement which I’m sure I will be thinking about long after I return to Canada.

On this day, my friends at World Vision had brought me and a group of Canadian pastors to the world famous Apartheid Museum. In gallery after gallery grainy black and white images filled the walls, each Apartheid Museumdepicting heart-breaking scenes of racially motivated injustice.

Later our group would meet to debrief our experience in the museum. And it was in this setting that I asked the question that had dominated my thinking that day.

“Where was the Church when all this was going on?”

It was then that one of our hosts provided a unique perspective on the role of the Church in his country’s history. “There were some churches who supported apartheid, even citing so-called ‘biblical evidence’,” he explained. “These churches, however, were in the minority. Most bible-believing churches spoke out strongly against apartheid. They were not, however, very effective in their opposition.”

I then asked the question that puzzled each of us.

“Why were the churches so ineffective?”

My friend answered with straight-forward clarity. “The voice of the Church was neutralized by its lack of a shared vision.”

He explained that South Africa’s churches had tended to work in isolation. He went on to say that, as such, rather than the Church speaking as one with power, conviction and authority, its voice was weak and marginalized.

As I thought about this insight, it prompted me to consider four questions we may do well to process in terms of the Canadian church:

  • Should the voice of the Canadian Church play a more vocal role in the spiritual life of our country?
  • What might future generations say about the voice of the Canadian Church?
  • Are there issues on which God might be calling the Canadian Church to speak with greater authority?
  • What would it take for this to happen?

Most leaders I talk with don’t believe that the Church in Canada should veer off-course and become a political influence. On this I would strongly agree. But when it comes to influencing our country’s spiritual direction perhaps there are things we can learn from South Africa’s history.

What do you think?

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Scott Cochrane

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