Sharon Hofisi Legal Letters
I write my articles mainly from the point of view of the law, but in this article there may frequently be reference to spirituality — indeed when it comes to the need to deal with splits in the body of Christ — the church.
Dr James Emery White once said that “a church is a family, so leaving is like a divorce. And, like a marriage, you shouldn’t divorce on a whim.”
His remarks are insightful regarding when God’s church must resort to divine or national laws to resolve spiritual matters.
The remarks also suggest a way of dealing with the problem of what sometimes is considered “secularisation of Christian matters” through the use of national courts to resolve Christian matters.
The Apostle Paul, a systematic theologian and lawyer on Jewish law, once resolved problems at liturgical assemblies of his day by expressively advising the Corinthian church to use spiritual dispute resolution mechanisms before resorting to litigation in non-spiritual courts.
Commendably, the Pauline approach was one which discouraged lawsuits among believers.
Paul knew that the Corinthian church was facing several problems that had created religious factions based on personalities such as Apollo, Peter, Paul and Jesus.
Some believers even practised ultra-spiritualism, much to the detriment of the church.
Paul had to assume the role of a spiritual father to discourage the believers from quickly taking their lawsuits to secular courts.
But for the Apostolic Mission in Zimbabwe (AFM), the leadership crisis has seen pastors and elders litigating against each other mainly at the High Court.
From Azusa revival to South Africa, and from South Africa to Zimbabwe, believers sat down, were sat down, elected their leaders, followed the unction of the Holy Spirit in decision-making, and used the five-fold ministries of pastor, evangelist, prophet, apostle, and teacher to advance the kingdom of God.
Still, from the president of the church to the believer in the children’s ministry, the Bible has frequently been used as the standard for the believer’s faith.
The love of God, the blood of Jesus Christ and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit continue to unite believers.
The Holy Spirit, the great advocate for the believer, continues to convict believers.
AFM was and still is known as one of the largest and perhaps oldest Pentecostal churches in Zimbabwe.
In divine law, a discipline which I love the most, believers in Christ are exhorted to hear or listen from the voice of God which always bears fruit.
The members of the body of Christ enjoy the gifts and fruits of the Spirit.
Even their zeal for the house of God sustains the church through projects such as participating in the purchase of church properties or contributing to the welfare of the church pastors, widows and orphans.
Those of us who have some legal training and spiritual inclination have heard the cry so often, “Please tell us if AFM’s divisions will cause a spiritual crisis?”
Will spiritual reason prevail?
How is this possible when denominationalism has punctuated the Christian community from Roman Catholicism, Protestantism, Pentecostalism, charismatic churches or Independent African Churches (including Zionists and Apostolic sects)?
But the use of both litigation and negotiation may avert a crisis.
Now that there are two camps led by evangelists on the one hand and pastors on the other, the rival sides must focus on “building gold bridges” (BGB) to negotiate a lasting solution.
The major source of the conflict, the draft constitution in AFM’s reform process, must be understood and compared with the current constitution to enable the pro-reform and anti-reform camps to build agreement.
Admittedly, sectarianism has historical roots which can even be traced to the early church but church history shows that figureheads such as Gamaliel, who was trained in divine law, focused on building gold bridges than pointing fingers at rivals.
Gamaliel’s disciple, Apostle Paul, again an expert in divine law, appealed to spiritual reason to help the Corinthians find each other.
Similarly, AFM can use its leaders, international partners from the AFM international and Christian lawyers who understand AFM’s doctrine, to negotiate using the BGB method which allows parties to save face, adopt hardline stances and criticise their counterparts’ ideas while still coming to agreement.
This strategy enables those who are for the old constitution and those who support the draft constitution to offer each other spiritual choices or choices relating to properties as well as power and control at assemblies.
At the end of the day, the two camps will be allowed to determine the manner in which they can cooperate to create spiritual value and when to compete to claim their human shares.
They can understand their own biases on whether to support the incumbent president or his deputy.
The use of religious platforms of negotiation will also proactively change the litigation game in the national courts.
The cases that were already filed and are yet to be finalised may be consolidated together and judgment may be entered by consent.
This judgment will still protect biblical principles in a significant manner. Even Paul felt at one time that he had to use his Roman citizenship to appeal to Caesar.
After achieving negotiation success, God, the giver of divine law, will take all the glory.
AFM would outlast the devil if the leaders avoid trading egos. Unity is something the church struggle with maintaining. What that means is, AFM and the Christian community, must strive to outlast the devil. But nothing can be further from the truth. God truly obligates believers to also mark them that cause divisions.
Sharon Hofisi is a lawyer and a reader in Theology. [email protected]