Of Church Engaging Pop Cultures: A Necessary Strategy Or A Futile & Disserving Exercise?

Justifying secular artists’ appearance at his church events, Prophet Magaya admitted that he engages them to lure people to God as he confidently described them as “the best worms” to attract people to God.

Of Church Engaging Pop Cultures: A Necessary Strategy Or A Futile & Disserving Exercise?
On this year‘s Father’s Day, Prophetic Healing and Deliverance (PHD) Ministries leader Prophet Walter Magaya invited popular Zimbabwean dancehall chanter Winky D to perform at his church service.

For a significant period of human history the institutions and systems that drive and sustain culture (education, arts, entertainment, government, technology) not only included but aligned their efforts with the Christian Church.

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While Christianity (encompassing Mainline Protestant, Catholic and Evangelical groups) is still the most popular religion in the world, current research reveals that a relatively low percentage of practising Christians are actually operating out of a Christian worldview consistent with the Bible.

That means a good number of the world population is actively driving culture in a secular direction while others who identify as Christian are interested in driving culture toward God’s redemptive vision revealed in the Bible.

This says much about the church. Despite efforts over the past few decades to be relevant and “engage the culture,” evangelicals still face disrespect and marginalisation. Anything that has to do with Christianity and faith is being purged from the culture.

Church’s efforts to become more culturally progressive, movies, media, society, etc. continue to see and portray the Church in a negative light. A show I recently watched portrayed followers of Christ as unintelligent, intolerant and unloving.

“Christians watch this and they’re horrified and their reaction is I really need to set the record straight. I need to dress better. I need to look cooler. And there’s a whole series of things that result when they see something like that,” says George Durance of TeachBeyond.

And, he says, miracles have been purged from society. Retellings of miraculous historical events no longer include Christ.

“Anything that has to do with Christianity or faith is being carefully removed from the story, from the narrative, and again, after all the efforts that the evangelical Church has made, there’s still this marginalisation. And so, is it because our attempt to engage has failed or is it because there is something else going on in the wider world?”

Christian culture makers seem to be running out of fresh ideas They keep recycling the old stuff.

Thus one educator quizzed; it makes me think about what we should be doing in our schools and universities? Are there other approaches we should be taking and attitudes we should be addressing?

While we are told that back in the old days Christians used to compete with one another to see who could reject culture the most, many Christians movements of today have come to realise that it’s important to engage those in the surrounding culture with the message of the cross.

Many evangelical churches have begun to get rid of pipe organs and became more relaxed in their dress codes. Music has since become more upbeat, and sermons have felt more conversational. Cool celebrities, musicians, actors, business moguls and all the famous folks are invited to the house of God.

The rise of these unaffiliated “nones” is having a profound impact on our society. Notably, millennials and younger are more likely to identify as a “none” than previous generations, so we expect their numbers and influence to grow.

As our society sheds a “shared Christian morality,” many of us find ourselves living or believing differently than the predominant norms and standards. This has spurred a much-needed conversation about living a public faith. This type of life is not exclusive to what we do in our homes or churches on Sundays but includes work, school, sports, entertainment and everywhere in between.

A huge number of operations designed to inculcate a Christian worldview and provide apologetics training are booming. The evangelical effort to reverse the world’s slide toward secularism and decadence has been vigorous and pervasive.

On this year‘s Father’s Day, Prophetic Healing and Deliverance (PHD) Ministries leader Prophet Walter Magaya invited popular Zimbabwean dancehall chanter Winky D to perform at his church service.

“The prophet said come let’s chill together at my church today, so I want to thank Prophet Magaya for this opportunity I never thought of,” cheered Winky D as he asked for a handshake from the man of the cloth.

Apart from Winky D, Prophet Magaya — who had in the past paid other secular artists the likes of Alick Macheso, Sulumani Chimbetu, Tocky Vibes, Isaac Chirwa, Nicholas ‘Madzibaba’ Zakaria and Taso to headline his church services — said he will continue to bring different artists to perform saying they (artists) have messages that are better profitable to people of sober minds than performing in beer halls.

With artists continuing to be influential popular culture drivers in the world, the trend of hosting the commercially successful but spiritually vacuous artists to church has recurred in recent times and has become a subject of great debate.

In 2011, another popular prophet Emmanuel Makandiwa’s church United Family International Church (UFIC) attracted several local musicians who all jostled to get slots at the church. Among them were Peter Moyo, Leonard Zhakata, Biggie Tembo junior, Diva Mafunga and Joice Simeti.

This is ubiquitous. The socialites and celebrities of this world who have no relationship with Christian divinity are seen and entertained at megachurches everywhere in live recorded and top billing church services where they are given VIP treatment.

The move has been applauded by many who believe strongly that sometimes we reject things that maybe we shouldn’t because rejecting them means cutting ourselves off from contact with people who need to hear about Jesus. What an opportunity we have to remake our culture for Christ’s glory and for the good of our neighbour, some have said.

Early Christian theologian and philosopher Saint Augustine of Hippo — a Roman African by the way — famously said Christians have to “take the gold out of Egypt,” meaning you save what’s valuable from the secular culture because God made it all. Ultimately, it‘s His gold. We just need to reshape it—hopefully not into a calf but into the temple.

Justifying secular artists’ appearance at his church events, Prophet Magaya admitted in 2015 that he engages them to lure people to God as he confidently described them as “the best worms” to attract people to God.

Asked whether the musicians become permanent church members, Magaya said:

“There are so many musicians who have attended several services here — the like of Isaac Chirwa, Nicholas ‘Madzibaba’ Zakaria, Taso and others. They have come to perform and have remained with us.”

Perhaps unsurprisingly, other Christian thinkers and authors have divergent views about this subject.

In a widely shared article published on Patheos, the writer contended that Church’s and ministries’ efforts to “engage the culture” by moving toward secularism in order to bring more people in have dismally failed because Christianity has been a sign of low status from the yore.

State the piece:

It has also been, largely, a failure. The evidence is plain. In spite of the resources poured into these efforts… culture has increasingly embraced the cultural and sexual Left. Any impact of evangelical efforts to reverse this trend has been vanishingly small. How can millions upon millions of evangelicals have so little effect on the culture around them?

The article added that the answer was that evangelicals have failed to reckon with the fact that Christian belief is a mark of low status and has been so for a long time.

Before, it says, it was more difficult to see Christian belief as a marker of low status as a form of Christianity dominated many countries as the civil religion. During that time, some religious figures were widely admired, and millions of people still attended church.

But, even then, in elite circles, Christian belief was a mark of low status. Traditional Christian belief was largely considered the province of the weak, the bourgeois, the misinformed, the gullible or the wicked. At the same time, Protestant liberalism dominated as this less stringent form of Christianity sought to relax the tension by accommodating traditional Christian belief to the worldview of the secular elite. Eventually, that project failed.

We have now arrived at a moment when this dynamic can no longer be hidden, further states the piece. The hostility of our elite institutions and those who run them are well documented. Only now, as the reality of Christian belief as a marker of low status has become undeniable, have evangelicals taken note. Failing to do this earlier explains the previous ineffectiveness to “engage the culture” profitably.

The idea behind the “engaging the culture” movement was that, rather than withdrawing from the surrounding culture as their fundamentalist cousins did, evangelicals should go forth to meet and embrace it. The expected outcome of this going forth was a revival of the Christian faith.

It sort of makes sense. If enough evangelicals, the idea was, could be trained to engage the surrounding culture, especially in the culture-making arenas of politics, education and the media, eventually these well-placed agents of change could turn things around.

What this plan never took into account are the dynamics of social status. Evangelicals sought to engage the culture by being relevant, by creating works of art, by offering good arguments for their positions on various things like food, dressing and choice of music.

The article went hither with the argument, establishing that the exercise was futile as it did not address the real problem: that Christian belief simply isn’t cool, and that very few people want to lower their social status by identifying publicly with it.

Many evangelicals sensed something was going on and they responded as though the problem were a matter of style rather than content. They created churches calculated to prove evangelicals could be as hip as anyone else. The result was churches that had secular musicians performing at church, contemporary, upbeat praise and worship bands, a million cool programs and no cultural impact.

The only lasting success to come from this trend was to make the hip pastor in a goatee and skinny jeans a universal object of derision. When the elites see him, they aren’t impressed. Rather than seeing someone so cool they want to emulate him, they see desperation. They see a low-status guy craving their approval, and they are rightly repulsed.

The author of the piece concluded by confronting Christians that the right path forward is murky. But whatever that path requires, it requires the truth.

To continue acting as though the approach of the last two or three decades is productive is to avoid the truth. Let traditional Christians, of all people, embrace the truth. And perhaps, in doing so, we will set an example that might finally impact this culture.

Let it be put on record that we will live to examine whether being a Christian isn’t cool or hip enough to stand out in the world with a plethora of non-conforming cultures.

Watch Winky D performing at PHD


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