Recently the government of Kenya introduced new regulations that affect churches, mosques, and other religious groups claiming to be stepping up its efforts to weed out rogue preachers. This is not an isolated case; issuing of regulations by the Jubilee government can be seen in other new regulations that has affected Media fraternity and NGO’s. Seemingly, the state is slowly but deliberately usurping more and more power, and this time round, power to control the church and church affairs. This systematic ploy started a year ago when the government stopped registration of churches.
The Communication Authority of Kenya in a new regulation restrains preachers from using broadcasting channels to convert people to their opinion or faith or ask to get ‘saved’ as they often do in their broadcasts. This is a blow to evangelical broadcasters because a call to be ‘saved’ or ‘born again’ is one of their primary tenets.
Other new rules by Attorney General require clerics to submit certificates of good conduct and their theological certificates from credible institutions of learning that have been reviewed by the umbrella organizations. In Kenyan context, this is a big blow to many Pentecostal and Charismatic churches who have not heavily invested in the education of their clergy. With this new law they risk a closure. Religious societies in Kenya are also required to have its constitution stating its programs, ministries, charitable activities and education activities it is involved in and details of persons coordinating these activities. The rule requires all religious leaders must make a declaration of familial relations with other religious leaders and officers-officers include secretary, treasurer, trustees and committee members. All religious societies are to seek registration and be subject to Registrar’s inspection.
The Religious Societies rules also require branches of churches with headquarters abroad to produce letters authorizing them to operate and also produce letters of recommendation from embassies in Kenya. All foreign clerics in Kenya must get work permits and 30% of officials must be of Kenyan origin. The rules further state that religious societies are required to display prominently their certificates of registration from the Registrar. Clerics who breach the new regulations drafted by AG will be liable for prosecution or sh 20,000 fine.
Once the rules are gazetted all existing religious groups have one year to comply with the new laws.
Church leaders have strongly condemned the regulations arguing that the state harbors ulterior motives and infringing on the constitutional right of freedom of worship. They claim they were not involved in drafting the final document that has been published. However a section of leaders drawn from the mainstream wing perceive it differently. The regulations, they believe, will protect desperate followers and help bring order in many new churches.
The opposition party leaders have also come out strongly opposing the new regulations.
Sustained pressure from religious leaders and opposition party has let the president to direct the AG to further consult with religious leaders.
Admittedly, there are fake preachers out there who are not interested with the true gospel but enriching themselves with “seed” money from their desperate followers. Distortion of the gospel is not a new thing. Jesus, the good shepherd, forearmed the church when he forewarned of fake shepherds who abandon the sheep and runs away when they see a wolf coming, Jn 10:12. Further he warned, “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves.” Matt 7:15.
Apostle Paul noted that there are those who “preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely” Phil 2:17. They “pervert the gospel of Christ” Gal 1:7 by preaching a “different gospel-which is really no gospel at all”. The Bible also warns of a time “when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.” 2 Tim 4:3. So the truth is, there are false preachers but there are also audiences who will always entertain their messages because it suits their own desires.
The government has justified the introduction of the new regulations using the case of Victor Kanyari of Salvation Healing Ministry (who was exposed by investigative KTN journalists to have been faking miracles to enrich himself). This is unsound and misinformed, for the government to use few examples of con men to issue a blanket accusation to all preachers. This amounts to persecution of the church. There are a lot of faithful preachers out there who sacrificially labor, live, and preach the true gospel. Normally, you do not use bad examples to suppress those doing right instead you empower the ones doing right to overpower the wrong. But the case here is the opposite.
I am not advocating that those who manipulate people for selfish ends should evade justice. Rather, cases are better handled individually and due legal process followed. Each one should carry his/her own cross if found guilty of stealing from people.
In my opinion the state has no power to regulate the church. And by seeking to regulate churches, it is overstepping in its divine mandate. Biblically, the state is not the head of the church, Christ is (Eph 1:22). Jesus is the head and the church his body, 1 Cor 12. In addition, it is not the role of the state or even the church to preoccupy itself with separating tares from wheat.
In the parable of wheat and tares Jesus exhorted, that the servants were not allowed to uproot the weeds because they may root up the wheat with them. Instead, they should “Let both grow together until the harvest” Matt 13:30. At the time of harvest, the Harvester will come with “His winnowing fork is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire” LK 3:17. Jesus knows how to purify his church, he has been doing it and he will ultimately do it.
Again, this does not mean that the state has no role whatsoever in protecting those that are vulnerable to exploitation. The point is, on church matters and activities the state need to let the church be. In fact there is no crisis to warrant the new regulations. The church should be left to govern itself. It is able to.
The government could have handled this matter amicably by giving recognition to church bodies like NCCK, Kenya National Congress of Pentecostal churches &ministries, and EAK and the role they do to supervise what goes on within the churches under them. These bodies collectively can come up with biblical interpretation of what the church is, central tenets that define orthopraxy and orthodoxy (like the Apostolic and Nicene Creeds) and guidelines that safeguard the true gospel. This is possible and agreeable. I strongly suggest this can be one of the ways to move forward. These bodies can also be helpful in preliminary process of church registration before they are forwarded to the Registrar of Societies. Again, these umbrella bodies can be point of contact between the government and the individual churches or denominations.
Meanwhile these church bodies should do some housekeeping matters to ensure order in the churches under them. Personally, I think some of the regulations make sense. For example we need preachers trained in theology, and we do not need government to tell us. My argument against the regulations by the government is based on the interests of the wider body of Christ (as opposed to my denomination/ministry) and that should guide the opinion of all church leaders. And so the move to amend the document is welcome.
But how can Christians today define truth from error and avoid external interference? I have argued elsewhere that we need Christian apologists and polemics to arise and expose error and defend the truth. This is one way of helping desperate people to know the truth and not fall prey to fraudsters.