Between traveling and power outages that we are experiencing the new content here has been quite low. But today I’m at a cyber cafe so will share some reflections from a recent seminar with Mennonite Church Nigeria (MCN).
Most of the teaching that I have done with MCN has been part of a program that they call the Mennonite Bible College, an ongoing series of classes that meet a few times a week during the evening hours. However, because of the wide geographical area covered by the church, many congregations are too far from the Bible College site for their leaders to participate regularly in the classes. To remedy that situation the College has started to organize “Ministers’ Refresher” seminars. These are held over a three day period and classes go all day long. Many who can’t attend evening classes because of distance can manage to come and stay overnight for these intensive training opportunities.
While one of the advantages is that more people can attend, another plus is that it gives leaders from all over the church a chance to get together to discuss issues and exchange ideas about ministry. This past Ministers’ Refresher was attended by 60 pastors, evangelists, preachers, deacons, and other church leaders. One of the topics that was discussed in a plenary session was whether or not to join one of the federations of denominations that exist in Nigeria. One is called the “Christian Association of Nigeria,” (CAN) another is the “Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria,” (PFN) and there are others.
A number of the congregations and/or dioceses of the MCN have joined such groups and others are considering joining. The question that was raised was which group to join. A number of opinions and supporting reasons were shared, but participants finally arrived at a general consensus. It is best to join the PFN, but membership in other groups is also ok. Why? Because, they argued, MCN is “Apostolic and Pentecostal,” which means for them that MCN is modeled on the New Testament church. The things that happened in the church as told in the Acts of the Apostles should be part of what happens in the church today; healing, miracles, visions, and spiritual experiences of God’s presence. The presence of all that in the church shows that it is biblically faithful. Its absence suggests that things are not as they should be.
That corresponds with what Andrew Walls, an expert on the history of the church in Africa, writes about in an article that I recently read. He wrote about the challenge of understanding the witness of the early church and the documents that we have recovered from that period. His point was that the African and Asian churches can be an important resource for the rest of the Body of Christ because they are similar in many ways to the church of the first centuries. He wrote,
“But we now have better resources for understanding the patchwork of fragments of Christian literature that survive from before the age of the great councils by examining the recent histories of the churches in Africa and Asia than the Bodleian or the Vatican libraries can yield.”
Hence understanding the African church can be a step towards better comprehending the New Testament witness. And furthermore, the African church likely understands better than we in the West the issues and context of the New Testament writers. In that sense they can help us towards a fuller appreciation of the biblical story. Certainly we have much to learn from our Apostolic and Pentecostal brothers and sisters!