Influence of Denominations in Uganda today

Lessons from the National Prayers 9th May 2020 @ Statehouse;

From my seating room I attended the National Prayers held at the State house Kampala, something that left me with unanswered questions. The whole mass was led by Archbishop Syprian Kizito Lwanga of the Catholic church, religious introductions done by Sheik Shaban Mubagye of the Islamic faith, Prayers led by His Eminence Jonah Lwanga the leader of Orthordox church and another Pastor from the Pentecostal church, 3 readings were read by a Seventh Day leader, an Anglican Canon and a Moslem leader while the sermon was led by our own the Anglican Archbishop The Most Rev. Stephen Kazimba Mugalu. Then I remembered John 17:21  (NLT) I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one as you are in me, Father, and I am in you. And may they be in us so that the world will believe you sent me.

Then I asked myself, is it by the act of National prayer that we become one, is the act of councils such as inter religious council or Uganda Joint Christian Council enough for us to become one? Then I asked myself the relevance of 3 readings by different denominations; was it meant to have all denominations feel represented in the national prayers? If the sermon was made by the Anglican Archbishop did it benefit all believers?  As the entire mass was led by the Catholic Archbishop did all believers feel his leadership at the moment? Was all this enough to make us one as Jesus prayed in John: 17?

The first reading was taken from Psalms contained a message that God is our refugee and we ought to seek the Kingdom of God. This also left me pondering whether we have the same God and whether we are seeking for the same Kingdom; do we serve the same God, do we follow the same Jesus, are we seeking the same kingdom as Anglicans, Catholics, Pentecostals, Moslems, Orthodox and SDAs? Or each section has their own separate God, separate Jesus and separate Kingdoms? And if they are the same, what then divides us into these different denominations? Would Jesus say what he said in John: 17 if he came back and find these religious divisions? Probably by the time he left this earth there were no such divisions among the religion.

But why denominational divisions among believers of the same God, followers of the same leader Jesus Christ (save for Muslims), seekers of the same Kingdom? Where is the difference? Its probably on governance, administration of sacraments and the order of service. But are they important than the Kingdom of God? Are they important than Jesus our savior? How are they important before God? If we believe that we are all seeking the same Kingdom of God, then why divide ourselves? Why take different directions while going to the same destination? Or when we reach in heaven we will find Catholics in their own kingdom, Anglicans in their own kingdom, the Pentecostals, Orthodox and SDAs alike.

As Christians, look at the way we take the sacrament of Holy Communion; and other sacraments alike. A catholic cant share in the Holy Communion administered by an Anglican priest, and an Anglican can’t share in the Holy Communion administered by a Catholic Priest, and none of the mainstream denominations will accept a Pentecostal to share in the same communion. What is Holy Communion? Holy Communion is simply sharing of the body and blood of Jesus Christ; the same Jesus Christ who died for all of us. A catholic Priest cannot baptize an Anglican child, and if it happened the Anglican Church will re-baptize this person in order to accept this person in the church. Is it necessary? Is it important?

But, how did it begin? How is this divisionism on denomination lines growing and affecting people who are meant to be one? I did not study history, but I am an interested follower of history. History tells us that in Africa there were no denominations from the beginning until the coming of European religious missionaries. However, this didn’t mean that there were no religion in Africa; religion was there and Africans knew that there was God and they all glorified God. As it is written in the bible that ‘‘a full says in his heart that here is no God’’, in African tradition there were no such a full. In my Kinyankole culture everyone knew that there was God, they called him Ruhanga Kazooba Nyamuhanga; Kazooba (the one above the sun), Nyamuhanga (the creator of all things). And each culture glorified God the creator in their cultural means. Until the Religious missionaries from Europe came with different denominations and Africans were given a challenge to choose which religion to follow; these divisions continued to grow into what we see today.

Is it necessary to continue with these religious divisions in Africa even today? I don’t move to Europe and probably I would not want to; but a question for our leaders who have moved to Europe and who have seen religion in Europe, is it necessary for us as Africans to continue being divided along the religious divisions which we got from Europe? Do we still have anything religious to learn from Europe? Are we not told stories that what were originally churches in Europe are now dancing hall, casinos and bars? That what were houses for religious leaders around those churches are now houses for homosexuality and lesbianism? They came, they divided us, they achieved their missions and it ended. Do we then have to continue dividing ourselves as Africans along those religious lines?

Here we ask; who are the promoters of these divisions in Africa today? The Europeans introduced these divisions and left, who are the promoters today? The reality is that its not the believers in our churches at the centre of these divisions, but our leaders are. Several times I see for example Pentecostal pastors invited into Anglican families to conduct prayers. I see many Anglicans and Catholics from up country going to the capital city to have prayers with powerful Pentecostal pastors. I see Anglicans, Pentecostals and Muslims going to Bukarango (a catholic prayer mountain) for prayers. Certainly, believers do that because they don’t see these divisions as important; they see Jesus at work in all the prayer points and the leaders. But, do the believers do all this with the consent of their leaders? Can an Anglican Bishop or Priest go for prayers at Bukarango? Haven’t believers been rebuked by their leaders for going into Pentecostal churches to meet prophets for prayers?

Do we remember John: 17? So, do we have authority to say that we are one? Isn’t it deception? How do we become one when we cant serve each other, when we cant share sacraments such as Holy Communion? Do we then believe that by holding communal prayers at the National Prayer day makes us one when an Anglican leader thinks it’s a mistake for Anglicans to attend prayers at Bukarango? What would happen for example if there is a Catholic priest who takes his daily morning prayers from the Anglican Church? Or an Anglican priest who goes to the Pentecostal church for morning prayers every day this Pentecostal church in near his home?

I have been moving a lot within this country, and wherever I find a church and depending on the faith of the people am with I feel comfortable attending a mass from any Christian church. All the time I feel the togetherness, I feel loved, I learn new things and bring glory to the Lord. But there come time for Holy Communion in a Catholic Church; its time to realize that I am not one of them; probably that Jesus whose body and blood they are sharing is not the same Jesus who died for me. ‘‘How I pray that we become one’’.

How do these religious divisions affect our society today? It has led denominations to stick to their own things and refusing to be part of those things that belong to other denominations such as educational institutions, financial institutions and other developments. For instance, at the beginning of this year I met my friend who was struggling to get a place for his son at St Josephs Secondary School, a Catholic founded school but a good school in the region. Unless a child has a Catholic name or a rosary in the neck or introduced with a recommendation from a Catholic leader it will be difficult to be admitted in this school. See in our communities how Anglican parents cant put their children in a nearby good Catholic primary school and their children must walk the distance to an Anglican school even if it is not so good. Is it how we become one under the same God as followers of the same Jesus?

Recently I was invited to attend a meeting of Old Students of my Secondary School Kitagwenda High School. During our time 1993-1998 KHS had grown to over 1000 students. It was the best performing school in the entire Kamwenge district both at O and A levels. During that time we knew KHS was an Anglican founded school because we used to Rev Canon Dan Katarihwa of Ntuntu Parish who was then the Chairman of the school governing body, used to come there to conduct masses and to give us Holy Communion. Now KHS is Catholic founded after very hard struggles which have left the school in a dire state. The school now has an enrolment of less than 500, no more first grade at both O level and A level. It is hard to blame these struggles at the followers of the Anglican and Catholic denominations, but the very leaders of these denominations are to blame.  Leaders serving the same God, following the same Jesus, seeking the same Kingdom dividing a community that was originally united to such levels

‘‘How I pray that they may be one’’; by continuing in these divisions are not ignoring God’s call on oneness? How does Jesus feel about these divisions among Christians? He must be feeling the same way you would feel as a parent if you had in your house children who do not believe in your instructions and each one is taking their own instructions which are not in line with the values of your family.

Recently, I found a group of our staffs at work place in a conversation about denominations. One of them asked what is the difference between Catholic Church and Anglican Church? The other replied that the difference is that Catholics do not consider beer or alcohol as a sin where as Anglicans consider the taking of beer as one of the major sins in the life of a believer. A third person asked ‘‘what is the percentage of members who take and those who don’t take beer in the Anglican Church’’? they all concluded that its about 10% for those who take beer and 90% for those who take beer among the Anglicans. Then one concluded that if taking beer is sin, the Anglican Church is built by sinners on the basis that the Church is highly built by the 90% than the 10%.  It was a very tough argument, the rest part of it I can’t go into now. But, imagine taking of beer being an issue of division among the Christian believers of the Anglican and Catholic denominations.

What is the meaning of the word denomination?

The most literal analysis of the word “denomination” shows that it is the very definition of division. In fact, this is how Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary defines the word. It can easily be reasoned that, by their very nature, denominations promote division among a religion that is supposed to be united, as one, under the same God. Even as far back in history as the sixteenth century, there were people like Martin Luther, the theological scholar and founder of the Protestant reformation, who believed that the existence of denominationalism went against biblical purposes. 

Is it therefore important to advocate for a universal church that looks beyond denominations?

Isn’t today the high time our leaders in their councils to start thinking and advocating for one united church in Africa? Isn’t it time to say no to denominations, to say no to divisions among the people of the same God?

The measure of any church, whether inside or out of a denomination, is not how it is organized nor what name it is called, but rather how faithfully it adheres to the teachings of the Word of God. No church is inerrant, because churches are made of people who are capable of error. Even the apostles, with all the gifts God gave them, were not without error. Paul records in Galatians 2:11 that “when Peter came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he was clearly in the wrong.” Peter, the first to give the gospel to a Gentile, gave in to pressure by the Judaizers to separate himself from Gentile believers. Paul’s ability to confront Peter was not based on his position as an apostle, but on the revealed truth of God’s Word. Paul complimented the believers in Berea (Acts 17:11) for checking his own teaching against the Bible to find out if he was telling them straight doctrine.

With an increasing number of interracial and intercultural marriages, frequently between two people of differing religious beliefs, the diversity that can be found within a no-denominational church can be very attractive to those who don’t feel comfortable in the old, conventional religious divisions.

There is truth in a sense that the Christian church was always meant to be non-denominational. There are no such divisions within the Bible itself, certainly; a passage from Paul’s letters to the Romans in the New Testament claims that the Bible offers salvation to everyone who believes in it. It is also true that the church was always supposed to be united under God, rather than divided into different sects. It is clearly seen that each denomination’s traditions and beliefs serve to distract people from the messages and moral principles espoused by Christianity, and thus do more harm than good. Many of the tenets of these denominations have no roots in the Bible at all, but rather in tradition and decrees by their governing bodies, or principles held by their founders.

With this in mind, it can hardly be surprising that Christians today can read the Bible and follow the same logic that Martin Luther himself did; it is possible to be a true Christian without wanting to participate in denomination rituals and politics. While it is true that many denominations were founded in good faith and with the best of intentions for following the word of God, most of their foundations are in nature not of Christianity and the Bible itself.

We cannot continue to have our churches (houses of God) serving just a section of people who believe in that particular denomination and neglecting others who don’t belong to the same denomination. We can follow John: 17 and become one. Jesus makes reference to two passages of scripture in the bible. The first is Isaiah 56:7, ‘‘I will bring them to my holy mountain of Jerusalem and will fill them with joy in my house of prayer. I will accept their burnt offerings and sacrifices, because my House/Temple shall be called a house of prayer for all nations’’. The second is Mark 11:17, “Is it not written: ‘My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations’?” How then, shall it be a house of all nations if it continues to divide nations along denominational differences? God’s house is the house of prayer for all nations and God is the God of all Nations. Revelation 7:9  “After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb”.