Wednesday, May 27, 2020

A witness to a church gone astray

From his vantage position, Miki Hardy can speak with authority about what seems to be wrong with the church today, and how to bring back sanity. Clearly, there is a lot that is wrong – and, strangely, it is those who should be trusted to deliver an unadulterated message that happen to be “the” (underline “the”) problem.

At a recent church leaders’ conference of the Church Team Ministries International (CTMI) in Gaborone, Hardy’s central message was for those who stand in the pulpit to preach to re-evaluate their every word and deed – and see if they haven’t departed from the path of their calling. He would constantly revert to this theme a few days later during this interview, clearly frustrated at what he calls the church’s backsliding.

In a ministry spanning close to 40 years, he has been through a lot, and seen even more. Nothing would have prepared him for the reaction of close family and relatives when, as they say in evangelical Christian parlance, he got born again in 1982. Mauritius, Hardy’s home country, may be predominantly Hindu but Catholicism has considerable sway among those who indentify as Christians. (The island state’s 2011 census put Catholics at 26.26 percent and other Christian formations at 6.45 percent of the population). So with over a quarter of the population deferring to the Bishop of Rome, it’s no brainer that Catholicism is very much part of the fabric of Mauritian society. And it was within Catholicism that Hardy was raised. So it was read as nothing short of heresy when he turned his back on the Catholic Church to embrace a brand of Christianity that was different from the religious staple he was brought up on.

“There was a lot of confusion and incomprehension because when you leave the Catholic Church it was as if you were giving your life to the devil, and that is how it was seen. But my wife and I persevered. We went through all that time of persecution, and it was not for nothing because we learnt a lot out of that experience. We realised that it was the path that God had laid before us to follow. It was tough sometimes, but by the grace of God we continued on our journey and here we are today,” he says.

That life-changing decision happened in 1977, and five years later he made what seemed like yet another inexplicable choice. This time he gave up a thriving civil engineering career in South Africa for the ministry.

“Since the very first month of being born again I felt the call of God in my life; that someday, somehow – I didn’t know when and how – I’d serve the Lord in the ministry,” Hardy explains.

He was working in South Africa’s port city of Durban, and there was a local Bible school, so that’s where he was enrolled for pastoral studies.

Either fate or someone in the church leadership must have been intent on throwing him into a lion’s den to test his faith because on completion of his studies he was sent to Mauritius to begin the ministry. Was it not Jesus Himself who spoke of a prophet being without honour in his own country, among his own kin, and in his own house? The record of Jesus’ homecoming, which led to this observation about a prophet’s relation with his home crowd, as told by both Mark and Luke, show a cynical reception. In fact, this crowd is so dismissive of Jesus that an attempt is even made to throw Him off a cliff.

Although in his unassuming manner Hardy would disapprove of such comparison, there is striking similarity in his homecoming experience to that of Jesus. Like his master, the message Hardy brought to his people also attracted hostility in his “own country, among his own kin, and in his own house” – the “persecution” referenced in the preceding paragraphs.

In the ensuing years, not only did his ministry take hold in Mauritius, but he is increasingly doing a lot of work on a number of African countries. In 2001, Hardy and leaders of different churches in Kenya, South Africa and Zimbabwe formed CTMI, an informal Christian network of different churches, denominations and ministries with a vision to equip and strengthen leaders and churches in their apostolic work. The network has since extended to more countries, including Botswana. To accomplish its vision, CTMI – which Hardy leads as its president – organises events and conferences for church leaders such as the one that was in Gaborone.

Part of what led to the formation of CTMI was realisation that though churches were bourgeoning all over, they were not built on the right foundation, some espousing weird philosophies and teachings. While Hardy and his team have reached “hundreds and hundreds of pastors and churches from nearly every African country, except the north”, it appears a lot of work still remains. For instance, to a question whether Jesus would feel comfortable in the company of some of today’s pastors or in their churches, Hardy answers, “It’s a good question”.  He then gives an unflattering dissection of what happens in places of worship: weird teachings, lots of heresies, lots of false doctrine, and manipulation of people – which all lead to the final summation that, “the church as a whole has backslidden”.

“The church is nowhere near where it should be,” Hardy says. “So if Jesus were to come down and walk among the people I think there is a lot that he would do and say like he spoke to the Pharisees, or when he used a whip and chased the guys who were doing business in the place of worship. So the bottom-line is that these pastors need to grasp and embrace the foundational message of the church, which talks about our identification with Christ and that is the foundation in itself. So when pastors embrace this message and are willing to give their lives, lose their lives, take their cross and follow Jesus then there is a relationship that is built with the Lord.”

He points out that the current state in which pastors boast of their material wealth, people come to the church in search of instant riches, and money has become the basis of everything is further demonstration of how far the church has deviated from the true doctrine of Christ. What he finds even more despicable is that the self-styled pastors, prophets, or men of God grow rich and are able to finance flashy cars and grand mansions at the expense of the congregations they lead.

The reality today is that these churches appeal to certain people because of the promises that are made to them, and the people come to church not to seek the Lord but to seek the things that the pastors are promising to them. You don’t serve God for the benefit of what you can get out if it. You serve God because you want to be a servant and you want to give your life for His service. This whole thing needs to change, and it can only change when the true message of Christ is being preached and these leaders are ready to humble themselves and to embrace the message, and to be able to straighten up their lives.

“So it’s completely upside down and it’s a shame. It’s very sad to see the church like that because it is not a good testimony, but that is how it is unfortunately,” he says.

He doesn’t go far to explain the gullibility of people who believe that their pastors’ intercessions and prayers can bring them instant wealth. He traces most of it to the material conditions that most people in Africa find themselves it, especially the abject poverty and hopelessness.

“The people are in need, so when they are given a bait to bite and a promise that they will come out of their state of poverty, they will come. But what they are offered is not the Jesus that will ask them of their lives and want to do work in them to perfect them. So it is complete deception. The Lord, yes, blesses people, but that is not the foundation of everything. God is calling men to give their lives. That is what Christianity was in the beginning. The early Christians gave their lives; they came and sacrificed their lives. But today no, it’s a comfortable gospel and lots of promises, lots of blessings but nothing about oneself, about the person. Who am I, and what does God want to do in my life? That should be the starting point.”

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Sunday Standard May 24 – 30

Digital copy of Sunday Standard issue of May 24 - 30, 2020.