Our Lord Jesus Christ planted on earth the most powerful “institution”, the Church. His departure speech which seems to premise the fact that the Church will prevail come what may states, “I am with you always even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). It comes to fore that never will it be said of the Church that the people who God has called from the world to form a community of Christ have succumbed to the storms of life and retreated to become a ghetto movement. Pursuance of this hangs very much on the kind of ecclesiology (understanding of the nature, structure and purpose of the Church) that is presented to the people of this community of Christ. I discuss here that Apostle Eric Nyamekye, the Chairman of The Church of Pentecost has caused a shift in the understanding of the Church and this emboldens the church to face the storm of the present global pandemic. This is done with special reference to The Church of Pentecost (hereafter CoP). For the sake brevity, I shall limit myself in my exploration of the cases I reckon as given place to this homiletic treatise.
Apostle Eric Nyamekye comes into the scene as chairman of a classical Pentecostal church that has arguably translated into a global Christian denomination in the last decade. This era of the CoP is very critical. One reason is its presence in over 100 nations. Making incursion into over 100 nations within 67 years of its establishment is a great missionary feat. A graphical representation of the growth pattern will show that per its numerical growth the curve is still peaking. The CoP has enormous human resource at its disposal to live a great mark on world Christianity. The CoP is a leader in current world Christianity. One implication of this is that the kind of “doctrine of the Church” the CoP upholds, which would ipso facto inform its approach to Christian ministry is to be considered critically. Apostle Eric Nyamekye took this up and shaped the CoP’s understanding of the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ. He caused a sharp shift in the ecclesiology of the CoP that could make the CoP strive even within the present global pandemic. This shows a maturing CoP.
The Ecclesiology of the CoP
The CoP understanding of the nature of the Church follows the general classical Pentecostal tradition to a large extent. I shall touch on only two aspects relevant here. First, events surrounding the formative years of modern Pentecostalism play key role in the classical Pentecostal understanding of the nature, structure and role of the Church. The Church is seen by Pentecostals as “Pentecostal churches.” This is to the extent that non-Pentecostals are comfortably regarded by Pentecostals as being lost due in part to what they regard as over laxity in other Christian traditions. This understanding of the nature of the Church makes classical Pentecostals inward-looking and they will usually not associate with other Christians. To them, association with other professing Christians will “spoil the church.” Professor Allan Anderson, a renowned scholar of global Pentecostalism who visited Pentecost University in August of 2018, explains the reason behind the attitude of self-isolation of Pentecostals thus, “The older churches viewed them [Pentecostals] with various degrees of disdain, amusement and opposition because Pentecostalism attracted only the economically and culturally deprived classes – or so they thought.” This disposition poses a challenge for people who may want to adopt a Christian ecumenical approach to ministry in the CoP. This has been the orientation of the CoP. Despite the progress of Pentecostal missionary enterprise, this mindset lives many places of the larger society that could have been taken by Pentecostals unconquered with the Gospel.
Second, to the CoP, the Church is structured such that it will have nothing to do with the secular. To them, the Church must be completely “separated” from the world and must have no dealings at all with things outside the Church. The Church must be conservative enough to not engage itself in anything not sacred. Its ministry becomes reduced to proclaiming the Gospel, getting people baptized and translated into full fellowship of the church, gathering constantly for public worship and forming a community only of themselves. This creates the picture of the life within the first-century Christian community prior to the ministry of Apostle Paul which saw a new understanding that the ministry of the Church is not limited to gathering for public worship and promoting only the welfare of believers. Things are getting better in recent times.
“We need to stop thinking church”: The 43rd Council Meetings
Christian history has shown that council meetings have the knack of causing cosmic changes in Christianity. I deem the 43rd general council meetings as one of the most remarkable ones in the CoP. It is a remarkable event as its repercussion is the ushering of one of the largest Pentecostal denominations in the world into rigorous ministry “outside the church.” This statement would be one of the statements that would undoubtedly engage the thoughts of councillors and the members of the CoP at the close of the meetings. The statement is contained in the acceptance speech of Apostle Eric Nyamekye after his election as chairman. I find the backdrop to this statement as a response to the pervasive ecclesiology in the CoP. Having been in the full ministry in the CoP for 27 years prior to his chairmanship, Apostle Nyamekye is well aware of the widespread understanding of the nature, structure and role of the church in the CoP. He was speaking to such a perception. This insight was to inform the vision 2023 of the CoP. The statement has set a new tone and presents a sharp shift in the Pentecostal idea of the church. It’s arguably a thought-provoking highlight of the 43rd general meeting of the leaders of the CoP.
The Dual Identity of the Church
One focus of the “vision 2023” of the CoP is to teach its members “the dual identity of the church.” This has been very much discussed by Apostle Nyamekye. This nature of the church presented by the Apostle is directly a complex of Christian thought on salvation, church, and missions. The references given as biblical foundation for the “vision 2023”: Psalm 22:27-28; 76:1-2, 4; Revelation 11:15; Ephesians 3:7-11; and 2 Corinthians 10:3-6 carry these senses. The dual identity of the church is defined like this, “the church is called out of the world to belong to God and sent back to the world to witness and serve.” In his expose of the 2019 theme of the CoP during the November 2018 meeting of the heads of the CoP, Apostle Nyamekye reveals that the motivation behind the theme, “I will build my church” is to bring to bear the twofold identity of the church. He holds that the Bible bears witness to this identity.
With this focus, he questions the social segregation of the church from the world. Meanwhile, he charges Christians not to sacrifice the standard of the Christian faith. His clarion is for Christians to venture into the systems of the world and confront them with the principles of Christ. This is in sharp confluence with a staunch position of his predecessor, Apostle Opoku Onyinah who is of the view that Christians need to speak to contemporary issues emerging in the world. This is summarized in a statement he (Apostle Opoku Onyinah) made in May 2017 during the 15th extraordinary council meetings of the CoP thus, “don’t put church on one side and the world on the other side. The church must move into the world. You must move in with the language that they will understand.”
Apostle Eric Nyamekye in many instances points to the brevity of church public worship in contrast to the many hours Christians spend outside church meetings. He uses an interesting analogy to demonstrate this along this line. He presents that the Christian life is like a football match. Meeting for church service is like a half-time break where players come for refreshment and comments on their performance thus far. After the short break, the players go back to continue the football match. He maintains that the real influence of Christians is in the public space outside church meetings. This hangs on the double purpose of the church he posits. With this ministerial ethos of the church, no threat to public gathering will negatively impact the influence of the church for the Christians become aware that church life goes beyond church auditoriums.
Solving the Paradox of African Christian Spirituality: The Sacred and the Secular in Continuity
One of the staunch positions of Apostle Nyamekye which is a path towards solving the rather paradoxical phenomenon within Christianity in Africa is how he sees the interplay between the sacred and the secular (an in-depth consideration of this is being done in another work). African religious spirituality sees that religious beliefs and practices are intertwined in the everyday life of people. The whole of life in African is seen as sacred. Religious beliefs are not expressed only during public gatherings for religious reasons. Nuances of African primal religion is seen within Christianity in Africa. In this respect, to enhance effective penetrance of the Christian faith into African societies and in fact into other cultures, Christian thinkers have been calling for contextualization of the Gospel. Considering the fact the religious orientation in Africa is that religious beliefs and practices are inseparable from everyday life, it is quite puzzling that when the Africans became Christians they could not see their Christian religious beliefs, principles and practices as part of their everyday life. They struggle to bring their Christianity to bear in their public life. This is a paradox! An indicator of this is the soaring rate of social injustice amidst an increasing number of Christians in Africa.
Apostle Nyamekye is grappling with the issue of the huge percentage of Christians in Ghana not being in commensurate with the impact of Christianity in the public space. He incessantly refers to this situation in the last two years. He pins this on the gab Christians have created between the “sacred” and the “secular.” He builds a case from God’s nature of being spirit. Like Paul to the Athenians, Apostle Nyamekye presents that the Lord God does not dwell in mere temples. He posits that God can not be confined to one place. Thus Christians must worship in temples without boundaries. This translates Christian worship beyond church auditoriums. For the reason that God cannot be confined, Apostle Nyamekye asserts that whatever you do in whatever place you find yourself becomes your worship. The Christian engagement in the secular means that their worship extends to the public space. We see here a position that Christian spirituality finds continuity with the secular. He stated during a session of his series of extended sermons on Living a Victorious Christian Life that “There should be no dichotomy between the sacred and the secular; whatever you do is your act of worship.” This same position was presented earlier on February 29, 2020. Whilst speaking on Ghana’s national television, GTV, Apostle Nyamekye explains that humankind is a tripartite being. He endorsed the trichotomy school that holds that humankind is a spirit, have a soul and lives in the body. He indicated from this backdrop that, “you don’t see the spirit. What you see is the physical. If you are spiritual then show it by the way it is manifested. It is manifested in the day-to-day kind of life. So there should be no dichotomy between the secular and the spiritual.” As an example, he adds that when Christians serve in their workplace it is also worship.
This steadfast position of the apostle speaks to the age-old problem of African Christians inability to bring their Christian principles to bear in the public space. Such teaching that the worship of the Church extends to the secular space preaches the active presence of the Church even without gathering for joint worship as a community.
In Lieu of Conclusion: Rethinking Ecclesiology amidst the Present Pandemic
Whilst a global pandemic may not primarily be the underpinning of Apostle Eric Nyamekye’s paradigm of the church, it prepares the church to face and survives any threat to their gathering together in public worship. Such threat may not be limited to a pandemic like the present COVID-19 pandemic. It could be various persecutions, war, national injunctions or migrations of Christians. I dare say that any Christian denomination that hangs its survival only on public worship in this postmodern world is treading dangerously. Being an Apostle, Chairman Eric Nyamekye spoke to the times. I deem this a providence of God. The Lord God has shown forth himself once again as omniscient. He sends forth his servants in due season to prepare his people for work of service.
Whilst it is of utmost importance that Christians do not forsake meeting together (Hebrews 10:25), Christians in general and Pentecostals, in particular, must embrace the model of the Church being pursued by the chairman of the CoP. There are spiritual dimensions to the church that would not be explored here but indeed the marks and role of the Church go beyond gathering in an auditorium for public worship as Apostle Nyamekye is discussing. The Christian must look beyond the walls of the church. This puts on the cutting edge the profound charge of the Master to his disciples to “occupy till I come” (Luke 19:13, KJV). Whilst meeting together, proclaiming the Gospel, promoting koinonia, encouraging worship and upholding the welfare of the Christian community must be pursued with diligence, its incumbent on Christians to embrace this shift in the understanding of the nature of the Church. The Church would be toughened to stand tall in all circumstances and Christ would be glorified.
By Elder S. Ofotsu Ofoe