The sprouting of more churches in the country has brought back controversial thinking on whether God listens to a particular language or not. This is so because some preachers have resorted to preaching in English albeit through an interpreter although the congregation understands Chichewa.

One would imagine that the reason for preaching through an interpreter could be that the preacher is a foreigner, therefore cannot preach in vernacular language.

It is indeed astonishing that the preacher, born and brought up in Malawi and knows the vernacular language very well insists on preaching in English to an audience born and brought up in Malawi and knows the local language very well.

The Roman Catholic Church, which is now fighting a section of some conservatives who would like to revert to Latin masses, even took a step further to ‘Africanise’ church ceremonies including the whole process of mass.

The Vatican Council II, which was convened by Pope John XXIII, but mostly presided over by Pope John Paul VI, is known for its extensive church reforms and new theological frameworks for traditional Catholic doctrines that have far-reaching effects.

In the past, Christians had to change their tradition names to Biblical names. It was indeed unacceptable to be baptised as Vinjeru because it is a Tumbuka name and ironically, in order to get the nod of the Parish’s Reverend Father one needed to change the name to a Biblical English name, for example Wisdom. This was absurd because the name Vinjeru means Wisdom.

In other words, the meaning was that there was no African name in the list of both the saints and the sinners in God’s Kingdom and when other people noticed this; they argued that it was not true that we have no African Saints within the Deity’s Realm, which only meant Christianity was not for Africans.

Although some individuals in the Catholic Church are so firm that they still cannot allow you to baptise your kindred because s/he has a vernacular name and until it has been changed, the fact remains that these few individuals do this without the knowledge of the church.

The mere fact that it is now acceptable I think to me reveals more of the true understanding of the meaning of the fact that God created man in his own image, therefore the skin colour or language has a better image of God than the other.

Image in a larger sense encompasses language as well as professed by God Himself when He says ‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word is God.’

Although theologians have tried to give this verse different ‘sensus plenior’ one thing is certain; ‘there is no speech without language’. Moreover, there is no language without words, therefore God Himself is language.

Therefore there is no need to talk to Him in a language that is not one’s tongue, and in which one’s command is in laughable tatters.

‘The African Bible’ states in its introductory page that the Word of God is at the beginning, the end and the heart of creation and the history of the world; it was pronounced at the moment of creation and was completed by the Word made flesh.

The Word of God is the centre of everything. It impregnates and gives life to faith of God’s people. It inspires, directs and guides the existence and history of humanity. The scriptures and the tradition contain this Word; church teaching transmits it; the liturgy celebrates and actualises it.

The question one would ask is whether the manner in which our churches are teaching this word of God is achieving the desired transmission of it to God’s people.

Perhaps this comes from the general perception that makes most black African visualise God in the image of a white man considering all the drawings of God and all the biblical people who are always illustrated in the form of white people.

This perception is even evident in research efforts by some black scholars who wanted to prove that there is more presence of black people in the Bible.

What was always there, Dr. Felder and other religious experts say, is incontrovertible evidence that noted biblical figures, such as the Queen of Sheba, Moses’ Cushite wife Zipporah, Prophet Jeremiah’s right-hand man Ebedemelech, and Sarah’s Egyptian handmaiden Hagar are among royal Black personalities in the bible.

“Black people have been duped into running from the Bible, thinking it was the white man’s book,” says Rev Walter A. McCray author of the two Volumes of The Black Presence in the Bible. “Many notable biblical personalities were black.”

It is therefore demeaning that in this day and age, notwithstanding the low levels of our English competence, our preachers want to preach to us in Queen’s lingua franca.
I think we need not to accept this, or am I being devilish?

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About Gregory Gondwe - Malawi Best Blogger 2014

Gregory Gondwe is a Malawian journalist who started practising journalism in 1993. Until March 31, 2012 he was regional editor and bureau chief for Zodiak Broadcasting Station (ZBS). Gregory is also a media consultant assisting several international journalists pursuing assignments in Malawi. He holds a Diploma of Journalism and an Intermediate Certificate in Journalism among other media-related certificates. He is also columnist for Malawi's first and oldest weekly, Malawi News. He can be contacted on gregorygondwe@gmail.com.
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