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Costing Christianity

Published:Thursday | June 28, 2012 | 12:00 AM

By Devon Dick

A recent story by Jack Rivlin in the London Evening Standard related that Arquimedes Nganga, a retired semi-professional footballer who claims his Christian faith ruined his chances of playing football for Manchester United and is, therefore, suing the Baptist Church of Great Britain for £10 million. He is also suing the Baptist World Alliance.

In a case reminiscent of the 2001 Billy Connolly film The Man Who Sued God, where lawyer Steve Myers went fishing in a boat which was struck by lightning and destroyed, his insurance company declines his claim on the grounds that it is not liable as his fishing boat was destroyed due to an 'act of God'. Frustrated, Steve files a claim against God, naming church officials as representatives of God, and thereby the respondents. It is in court that God's representatives will have to admit that the destruction of Steve's fishing boat was actually God's act, accept it, and compensate him, or deny that God did it.

Nganga accused religious leaders of deceiving him "into following false beliefs". Forty-six-year-old Nganga said he could have earned £20,000 a week when he quit the sport at age 25 when he converted to the Baptist faith. He said: "I see many players playing today who I am not inferior to - and perhaps even better than."

Destroyed social life

After converting in 1989, Mr Nganga spent 19 years as an evangelist, devoting his life to the Bible and abstaining from sex. Now he is suing the leaders of the Baptist Union of Great Britain. In papers filed in the High Court, he accuses the church of destroying his social life, causing him "psychological harm" and defrauding him of money through compulsory donations. The writ also blames church leaders for physical assaults Nganga suffered at the hands of people he was trying to convert.

Is it possible that Nganga was not told the full gospel and that following Jesus the Christ could lead to hardships? Unfortunately, it appears that some preachers are cheapening Christianity - what could be called 'cheap grace' - in order to increase membership. There are some who want to be a member of a church but they do not want to be a disciple of Christ and to accede to the demands Christ makes on our lives. Being a member of a church, for some, is like joining a social club where the emphasis is on rights and privileges of membership and not on service to those in need. And some members do not want any restriction on sexual conduct, claiming that sexual propensity allows for sexual licence based on one's taste. This is indeed 'cheap grace'.

Wrong view of the religion

Perhaps, too, with the popularity of prosperity gospel, many have the wrong view of Christianity.

Prosperity gospel claims that faith, positive speech, and donations to Christian ministries will always increase one's material wealth. In addition, sickness and poverty are viewed as curses to be broken by faith. These are unrealistic expectations that being a Christian will always lead to wealth and health based on worldly standards.

There is a need for balance and to highlight the sufferings of Job, Paul and Jesus.

We need to read The Cost of Discipleship by the German Theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, that spells out what he believes it means to follow Christ. It was first published in 1937 when the rise of the Nazi regime was under way in Germany. It was against this background that Bonhoeffer's theology of costly discipleship was developed and the outworking of which led him to confront Hitler, and this ultimately led to his death.

Christians should heed Matthew 16: 24 where Jesus said to his disciples, "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me."

Devon Dick is pastor of the Boulevard Baptist Church in St Andrew. Send comments to: