Communion Matters XXII: Focusing in- the Balokole (the saved)
We sometimes suppose that there is a simple contrast between what is borrowed (or inherited) and what is local, as if ‘inculturating’ the Gospel were just dropping the former for the latter. But what if the more important thing is to listen to believers in a certain place, to understand without first imposing what we think they ought to value?
In the 1930’s Anglican Christianity, after a spectacular beginning two generations earlier, had stalled. Believers seemed to ‘limp between two opinions’ (I Kings 18:20). Many were irregular in their following the Biblical teaching on marriage, as polygamy continued to be practiced. There was resentment of the white missionaries and the sometimes cavalier style. The original fervor had died down. It was into this context that revival broke out, unexpectedly, first in Rwanda, then Buganda, and then throughout east Africa. What happened?
Missionary and local lay leader sat down together, put their mutual grievances ‘in the light,’ and so came to be more deeply reconciled in Christ. This was at once spiritual renewal and racial reconciliation! It gave birth to a movement of small groups in which others could put their own sins ‘in the light,’ and receive a vivid sense of divine forgiveness and newness in Christ. It also bore fruit in an enormous energy for witness and evangelism. These were spontaneous events, though they had once had echoes of traditional healing and clan life, of Methodist beginnings, and of New Testament preaching. The indigenous and the missionary and the Biblically Christian were intertwined. Those involved, ‘who called themselves the saved’ and who summoned their neighbors to a more consistent and serious life in Christ, saw the movement as reviving as well the vigor of the first days of martyrdom of the east African Church, including the contribution of the first English missionaries who, in the case famously of Hannington, gave his life. These groups took part in ministries of healing, of watching and praying, of sending a generation of young evangelists into the surrounding villages, as well as burst of creativity in Church music.
There is always a tension, one hopes creative, between the renewal of the Church, and its leadership ‘in ordinary time,’ as it were. So the early leaders of the Balokole came in time to be themselves leaders of the Church, themselves in need of reminder, and ‘awakening.’ Still, to this day, this original, orthodox, evangelistic, and yet fully east African, expression, has left its imprint on this remarkable, and fast growing, branch of our communion.