Tuesday 3 July 2012
Societal change, not zeal, is the mark of Christian revival, according to African Enterprise founder Michael Cassidy. But Africa isn’t there yet.
“What you have is church growth,” says Cassidy. Africa certainly has plenty of that. On a recent visit to Australia, he says that on any one day there are about 25,000 people who profess a commitment to Christ or come into the church across Africa.
“There are open hearts and open minds, and you’ve got positive responses in great numbers,” says Cassidy. “But I think the word is ‘openness’ rather than ‘revival’.”
Cassidy, who is in Australia for 50th anniversary celebrations for African Enterprise, the organisation he started to evangelise the cities of Africa, points to the Wesleyan revival that swept England in the 18th and early 19th centuries as an example of what revival really means.
“It was a response in depth – people were really serious about their faith, and not just on a personal level. It went on as a societal change. You saw reformation in schools, hospitals, prisons, and eventually the abolition of slavery.
“In other words, in revival you see the whole social framework impacted by the gospel. And very often, in Africa, that’s not what we’re seeing.”
Stories of hundreds of thousands coming to Christ in Congo, or meetings of close to a million people in Nigeria are extraordinary and exciting, says Cassidy. But he holds firm to the fact that revival has only hit those places “when it starts to affect corruption and immorality”.
“Africa is in a state of renewal in the Holy Spirit more than it is, as yet, in classical revival.”
When Cassidy founded African Enterprise 50 years ago, with a calling to reach urban African churches, his dreams were big. But he knew God’s timing was different than his own.
“I look at African Enterprise and Africa, and there’s lots that I hoped would have come to pass already which hasn’t, or is only just happening now, 50 years on from the things we dreamed of in the beginning.”
He says at least part of his ministry has been a challenge of “faith for the in-between times”.
“34 years of my ministry were carried out against the background of apartheid, and all the trauma, racism and barriers that came with that,” Cassidy said.
But, he believes, faith must operate between when a vision is given and when a vision is fulfilled – like Joseph in the Bible.
“Joseph was given a dream that he’d be a powerful person and people would bow to him. Then think what happens: his family turns against him, he’s sold into slavery, he’s falsely accused and lands in prison. He must have said: where’s the dream? Where is what God called me to fulfill?”
“I like to believe that [Joseph] had a faith for the in-between times, and he kept it until the time when God fulfilled the dream that was given to him.”
Cassidy’s “faith for in-between times” saw him and his African Enterprise colleagues hold strongly to the belief that you could not hold apartheid in one hand and the New Testament in the other.
“You can’t make those two [apartheid and the New Testament] compatible. They just aren’t. It was a point of principal for us that we did not do ministry on a segregated basis. That caused a lot of suspicion, and many people and churches were threatened by it, but it was the right thing to do.”
Post-apartheid, with scars still evident, Cassidy says what Christians in Africa need most is teaching, discipling and training.
“Faith in Africa can’t be just a superficial thing, like the famous adage that says the church in Africa is a mile wide and six inches deep. That’s changing and it’s got to change. Teaching and discipling those coming to Christ is the major challenge for Africa in the next 20 years.
“If we can do that, something very exciting will emerge from the African continent.”
Cassidy, who was named Honorary Chair of the Lausanne Movement, a global collaboration of Christian leaders concerned with world evangelism, says Africa will play a leadership role in a world quickly flattening when it comes to global evangelism.
“It’s not just the west bringing mission to Africa; it’s going to be that Africa brings mission to the west. There’s no longer one group of people with money showing the African church how to do things. The African church is becoming much more mission-minded. They’re saying ‘we need to share our riches – what God has shown us – with other parts of the world’.
“They’ll be ‘re-evangelising’ the northern hemisphere. I really think that’s going to happen in the future.”
Cassidy says the Australian church can learn a lot from what’s happening in Africa.
“There’s a strong movement in Africa of sharing the gospel, moving out in an unashamed way to tell people about our Lord Jesus Christ. The church in Australia must not lose its nerve about the message it professes.
“The hearts of people, whether in Australia or Africa, are hungry and open. People are hurting, people are in pain. People are looking for answers, searching for meaning. We have the answer to that in the message of Christ.”