The terror attacks in France, like the Boko Haram attacks in Nigeria, have disgusted us all. Radical Muslims, who believe that Allah is the one true God and that Muhammad is his prophet, have done terrible things in Allah’s name. Masked gunmen methodically killed twelve people, including a newspaper’s editor, as they shouted “Allahu akbar!” Are Muslims correct in their view of Allah that he is the one true God and Mohammed is his supreme Prophet? Or are Christians correct when they assert that the God of the Bible is the one true God and he has revealed himself through Jesus?
One of the contexts in which we do ministry in Africa is the background and influence of African Traditional Religion (ATR). In ATR the sangoma (witchdoctor) has special access to God, the spirit world and the ancestors.
The sangoma is able to make contact with the spirit world in order to guarantee protection from evil spirits, to ensure good luck in a job interview or even to lift a curse someone else might have placed on you. The sangoma is able to provide blessing, healing, deliverance and protection (among other things).
Ephesians ch. 1 has a great prayer for Christians in Africa, especially considering our backdrop of African Traditional Religions with their strong belief in spirits, spiritual powers and the influence of the ancestors.
Thankful for your faith
(15) For this reason I also having heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and the love towards all the saints, (16) I never cease giving thanks for you. (Ephesians 1:15-16)
Paul began his prayer by thanking God for his readers – the Christians in Ephesus. In Ephesus it was not unusual for families to offer public thanks to the Greek goddess Artemis, such as dedications inscribed in stone. In 1:15-23 Paul wanted to publicly thank his God. The reason Paul thanked God refers back to 1:3-14, especially 1:13-14, where the eulogy was applied to Gentile believers who were now in Christ and on an equal footing with Jewish believers. Paul had good reason to thank God for his work in the believers’ lives, especially because the Ephesians had heard and believed the gospel and were sealed with the Holy Spirit. The phrase “having heard of your faith” explains why Paul was giving thanks and. The brevity of this thanksgiving report may give credence to the theory that this was a circular letter intended to various home churches. It should be remembered that Paul had not been in Ephesus for a few years and there were most likely many new converts whom he did not know personally. The recipients’ faith was “in the Lord Jesus”. Their faith was originally in Artemis, but now it was in the Lord Jesus.
Christians with an African Traditional Religion background may wonder from time to time if Jesus is enough. Can Jesus protect me from a curse invoked by an angry neighbour? My sins may be forgiven at the cross, but can Jesus protect me from angry spirits? Christians from a more “western” background may have similar thoughts. Is Jesus enough or should I consult the horoscope just in case the stars aren’t alligned? I have Jesus, but everyone’s been telling me about this new book about finding the true spiritual path. Ephesians 1:3 says,
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ.