Mr President: We shall err on the side of Caution

Cyril Ramaphosa facing upThe death of Jesus Christ facilitated the tearing of the temple curtain that served as a partition between the holy and the most holy place. This symbolic act represented a proclamation, a reformation and a shift into a new spiritual dispensation of direct and personal spiritual relationship with God. From this time onward, we would not need representatives and mediators between us and God. Jesus Christ had become our Mediator. We no longer needed representative spirituality that was centered around a physical building, activated on certain days or months and based upon a human representative. Instead, God was now indwelling our hearts, wherever we were. When the Gospel reached the shores of Africa, it interfaced with a culture in which spirituality was exercised in the context of the home and the household. European missionaries who sacrificed their lives to bring the Gospel to Africa, having themselves received it from the Middle East, missed a moment in understanding cultural leverage points that would make the Gospel even more powerful in the African context. The African needed a conversion of belief, but not a replacement of a platform of spirituality. That is, the African (just like any other people-group that received the Gospel) needed God in his heart and home first, before the public place of worship – of course the two have a mutual relationship. In saying that, we are forever thankful to God for the missionaries who brought the Gospel to Africa. There is nothing that surpasses the opportunity to hear about the saving grace of Jesus Christ!

In talking about a dispensation of direct and personal spirituality, we are not meaning that church leadership is now unnecessary. The God who saved us and who has established this new system or covenant in which we have direct personal relationship with Him, has equally established the structure of the church. This involves structures of leadership (pastors or elders), leadership gifts that edify the Body of Christ (apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers) and the continued practice of fellowship and constant gathering. Thus, the New Covenant is built on the foundation of direct personal spirituality that is exercised within a structured church community in which there are leaders. We cannot deny the one for the other. But equally, we must appreciate the foundation of direct and personal relationship with God upon which the structures of the church are built.

During the address by the President last Tuesday evening, he correctly outlined for us that South Africa is a spiritual nation. Growing up as young boy, I witnessed this very reality – we prayed when we were happy and we prayed when we were grieving. And this was not just in our family, but in the entire village and neighborhood. So, the President was correct in his statement. It was also clear in the President’s address that certain structures of the religious community in the main, and of church in particular, had lobbied the government to include the opening of church gatherings at alert Level 3 of the Lockdown, with a compromise of gatherings of 50 people. The word “lobby” defines a democratic process in which a groups of people engage the government to influence legislation and policy. “Lobbying” comes from the historical practice in which people met with legislators in hallways or lobbies of parliamentary buildings, to discuss laws. Thus, the word “lobby” reflects the ideals of advocacy, active citizenship and a healthy democracy. In other words, the mechanism of lobbying is absolutely necessary, but the agenda of lobbyists can sometimes be flawed, producing an undesirable legislative or policy outcome. Pontius Pilate experienced this firsthand. He was the governor who was handcuffed by the masses who were lobbying for the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. It was a difficult moment: Pilate had no legal basis to execute Jesus, his own wife was having nightmares and begging him not to get involved in what was clearly an unjust cause, religious leaders were lobbying powerfully and the masses were also demanding the death of Jesus of Nazareth. Eventually, the governor washed his hands and declared: “I am innocent of this man’s blood…it is your responsibility. All the people answered, “let his blood be on us and our children””. (Matt. 27:24-25). The outcome was that Judas Iscariot – the one who had betrayed his own Teacher, committed suicide and the religious leaders (known as Pharisees) slowly lost their authority in society. It therefore remains to be seen who will take responsibility in the possible winter outbreaks of Covid-19, within churches that decide to resume gatherings in June. Is it going to be the government that allowed churches to meet amid winter, or is it going to be church leaders who lobbied government? We would not want to take the approach of having to process figures of Covid-19 fatalities in relation to what we could have prevented.

In all of this, here is the issue before us: The President mentioned the fact that we are a spiritual nation – as his basis for the need to allow church gatherings of 50, under alert Level 3. I would assume that the religious lobby group equally applied this very same argument in making proposals to the government. This argument misses the mark! The first thing to consider is that believers are not experiencing religious persecution. On the contrary, they are permitted and well capable to worship God in their homes (that foundation of New Covenant spirituality has not been threatened, and so we should be taking advantage of it, for a time). Therefore, we should not have to lobby a Government that is trying its best to manage a public health-related lockdown, on the grounds of anything outside the perimeter of New Covenant spirituality. Secondly, in stating that South Africa is a spiritual nation, the President inevitably acknowledged the nation’s native ability to walk through this pandemic – yet in the same breath, perhaps compromised further delaying the untimely winter outbreak, by allowing church gatherings of a people that have a soul rich enough to carry the moment and hold the line, for a couple of months, at least until the fog of winter is over.

The other argument that was put forward by the church, was that since funerals of 50 persons were allowed in Lockdown alert Levels 5 and 4, there was no basis for not allowing weekly church gatherings of 50, in alert Level 3. This argument is not quite convincing, for the following reasons: we never plan to have funerals weekly (that is a decision only God can take). And when we do have funerals, families play a significant role in administrating social distancing regulations, of course under the oversight of the officiating pastoral leader. Sunday morning gatherings and funerals simply have very different administrative processes – the family can plan who attends a funeral, whereas Sunday morning has an element of surprise in that you can have visitors (which is a good thing from a church point of view, under normal circumstances). In this argument, we effectively compared apples and oranges.

Well, the good thing that this lobby process reflects, is that we have a government that listens. This is what we have heard from the President and some cabinet ministers from time to time. Our government must be commended for this. And perhaps our President’s background in the Trade Union movement has come to his advantage in this moment, in the sense that he has consulted widely during this State of Disaster regime. This means that the lobby process between the church community and the government was reflective of a healthy democracy. Nonetheless, the agenda, content and outcome of lobbying missed the real need of the nation – the exercise of caution, in an effort to save lives until we’ve at least cleared the fog of winter. On the one hand, the government must listen, on the other hand, it must still lead. How do we open church gatherings in winter season, when people are going to be sneezing, coughing, and having all other flu related symptoms associated with winter? In my opinion, this is what the church community should have lobbied for. And perhaps this is what the Government should have then acceded to: opening up pastoral care and counselling (including church buildings and offices), as well as relief related church ministry, without worship congregations, until at least the fog of winter is clear. It seems to me that the church community presented two things to the government: (1) people’s need for spiritual worship, and (2) pastors’ need to care for the people. These conditions could have been met by allowing pastoral care while encouraging people to worship God from their homes, as a temporary condition.

To effectively engage this lobby process, church had to shake off the idea of putting its activities in the same basket as permitted economic activities. Essentially, church is neither an activity or a commodity; church is the spiritual consciousness of a people – their personal and collective faith in God. That is, in relaxing the lockdown, we have to navigate the two imperatives of LIVES and LIVELIHOODS. Instead of seeing itself as a third component to these two lockdown imperatives, church had to see itself as a steward of spirituality and spiritual consciousness of the nation. That is, as people go back to work, for the sake of their livelihoods (which should be the concern of the church, that people are able to work so they can eat), people do so driven by the principles of the faith. The easing of the lockdown for the sake of livelihoods, is in itself a spiritual principle and domain. The primary thing that church should be concerned about is that this whole process of establishing and easing the lockdown, is under-girded by spiritual principles and consciousness. This is a much more powerful leadership role in society by the church, than advancing limited interests.

When considering what the government strategy has been thus far – a gradual relaxation of the lockdown or the risk adjusted strategy, it is difficult to understand how we open up both the Schools and Church all at the same time, when we still have unresolved issues within the Education sector itself. After all, as we look around, it seems that some churches are deferring re-opening their worship congregations (and this includes the one I lead). A prevalent fault in the lobbying process, is that those who engage political power sometimes do so on behalf of segments of the constituencies they claim to represent. On the other hand, the government must ascertain and be fully satisfied of the representative nature of the lobbying process.

Let us remember, we are a constitutional democracy. This is the context within which all of this is happening – where “Law is King” and where our Citizenship is facilitated by the Rule of Law and not by the interests of the majority. Therefore, the idea of opening activities of the religious communities, on the grounds of them being the “dominant group”, potentially presents some constitutional challenge for those who are not necessarily integrated into religious life. For this reason, the religious community in the main and church in particular should view themselves alongside fellow South Africans, not because they are obligated by lockdown regulations, but because of the Gospel. Needless to say, we as Citizens, must continue to put our constitutional lenses, understanding the constitutional jurisprudence (or philosophical outlook) of democratic South Africa, which is to restore the injustices of the past while upholding the principle of equality. Our vantage point in this pandemic and the resultant lockdown should be the poor and the vulnerable. The vulnerable are most likely to be severely affected by this coronavirus. These people exist mostly in environments of spatial crisis, where there is lack of resources and space to observe social distancing. Are we not adding to the complexity and therefore putting them at unnecessary and untimely risk by this decision to open church gatherings at the start of winter? Is it not better to continue to sound the trumpet for the need for people to stay home and refrain from unnecessary movement? Wouldn’t it have been better for the church on the one side, and the government on the other, to use winter months for advocating and educating communities about what is going on? As we now talk about non pharmaceutical interventions (NPIs) like social distancing and washing of hands, which hugely depend on behavioral change and cultural reform, are we convinced that we’ve done enough under the limited time to drive an educational campaign on this virus?

Essentially, opening up church gatherings whilst we are still advocating for “staying at home as much as you can” is to treat the church as a community that exists in a social island apart from the rest of the nation. This goes against the fundamental principle of the faith and of the Kingdom of God, which is “to love your neighbor as yourself”. This command does not only refer to fellow church members, it also includes fellow citizens. The word “neighbor” describes a member of the same human community, a fellow countryman or a person of the same country. It is difficult for the church to pursue its devotional life (captured in the command, “love your God”) without being considerate of its civil obligations (“love your neighbor”). Biblically, it is equally true that our love for God is displayed in our love for His people – we cannot claim to love God when we are inconsiderate of our fellow South Africans. That is, the Christian faith and the Kingdom of God is built on the foundations of spiritual devotion and civil obligation for public wellbeing. The two are not in conflict, and the two may not be separated. In this context, three issues must be considered: (1) in the undesired case of cross-infections in church gatherings during this winter, the church shall be the spreader of the virus back in communities (i.e. the risk of the spread of virus in church gatherings must be understood in the larger context of communities). (2) By choosing to overlook the conditions of her fellow South Africans, church is choosing to be that “selfish and self-absorbed priest and Levite”, instead of being the “Good Samaritan” who allows interruption of his life and program, in order to take care of his fellow country man (in this case, to minimize the untimely spread of the virus in this winter season). (3) When considering the twin principles of devotional faith and civil obligation for public wellbeing, then church should perhaps have lobbied on behalf of the wider community, especially the vulnerable.

It is difficult to think of any crisis that will be as severe as this coronavirus during the presidency of Ramaphosa. In other words, this presidency or administration shall be made or broken by how it manages this pandemic, the lockdown and related matters. Someone rightly said that initiating the lockdown is easier than relaxing it. It is understandable that we are now lifting our foot off the pedal as we return to “normality”, but the idea has been to do this cautiously and gradually, for obvious reasons. While we cannot underestimate the burden upon the shoulders of the president and the government, and while we understand the imperative for a consultative process, we continue to look to the president and the government to lead us. For this reason, we are praying for the president and the government. Not only so, but we are also advocating and sharing wisdom and insight, so that we exercise good judgment as a nation and secure peace and wellbeing in the land. Jeremiah 29 verse 7 says we must pray for the city (nation), but it also says we must seek the prosperity of the city. The word “seek” means to repeatedly research wisdom and insight in the administration of public life. That is, church is called to utilize both devotional faith and administrative wisdom to mitigate crisis in the land. We cannot choose the one over the other. The idea of “choosing” (life) and making good judgment is always put alongside devotional faith in the Bible. In fact, faith outworks itself in the very administration of life. By faith Noah built the ark – he established a system of immunity to preserve life. This is the heritage of church!

As church prays, engages and supports the government, there must be leadership from the government. If God has called our president to steward the nation in this pandemic, then history shall judge this presidency on how well this moment was administrated. For this reason, it continues to be better to err on the side of caution Mr President, than to lead the nation into the fog of winter, where it might be ambushed by coronavirus. In military context (which our Minister of Health has used a lot), the ambush is usually a risk and a probability based on the intelligence on the table. Where ambush is suspected, armies put measures to avoid it, because it is always better to err on the side of caution, Mr President.

We are praying for you, Mr President, we are praying for this government. And we are praying for our nation.

Robert Ntuli

Pastor – LivingStones Agency

Visionary Leader – Kingdom Humanity Fellowship


Please follow the links below to access other resources relevant to the current pandemic…

  1. On the Issue of Essentiality of Church
  2. The Lockdown Debate and the Issue of the Vantage Point
  3. The Doctrine of Suffering – Part 1
  4. The Doctrine of Suffering – Part 2
  5. Covid-19: A Prophetic characterization of the current pandemic (part 1)
  6. Covid-19: A prophetic characterization of the current pandemic (part 2)
  7. Restating the foundations of the New Covenant
  8. Drivers for effective life in the current season of the pandemic
  9. Doing church in the crisis of coronavirus

On the Issue of Essentiality of Church

empty church 2When we follow the ministry of Jesus Christ in the Gospels, we get a picture of the political culture within which He is ministering. Some scriptures give this picture in a much more pronounced way than others. The very birth of baby Jesus triggers a political crisis as Herod is threatened by the idea of a born king. “When Herod heard this, he was disturbed and all Jerusalem with him” (Matt. 2:3). The word “disturbed” means to be “troubled, agitated or to stir water”.  Contrary to modern or popular culture, the birth of Jesus did not come with well wishes and exchange of gifts, instead, it triggered political chaos, shenanigans, and maneuverings – the King was born! The Magi (wise men from the East who had come to worship baby Jesus) were not just scientists or astronomers, they also had intuitive understanding of the nature of politics and knew how to engage with politicians in the process of scientific mission (i.e. the complexity of relationship between politicians and scientists is not a new thing). After interacting with Herod, the Magi realized that he was threatened by the birth of baby Jesus, and they decided not to give him the full details of the whereabouts of the baby. “When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious…” (Matt. 2:16). On the one hand, the word “outwitted” means “to mock and to scoff”, on the other hand, it means “to play sport with or against someone”. By outwitting Herod, the Magi were basically not only putting him in his correct position in relation to the mission (Herod was simply an earthly king within an earthly empire and had no authority to interfere with this divine mission), but they were also outmaneuvering him and showing him that his intelligence structures were not capable of dealing with the situation at hand. We know the end result – Herod was furious and decreed a genocide of babies. This marked the “first Christmas”!

Later on we see Jesus in full action as John the Baptist is about to be executed by another Herod – Herod the tetrarch (see Luke 3:19-20). Confronted by imminent death and considering the impact of his ministry, John sends messengers to Jesus, to ask if Jesus is the Christ (Matt. 11:2-3). In the process of giving a response, Jesus says the following…

Matt 11:7 As John’s disciples were leaving, Jesus began to speak to the crowd about John: “What did you go out into the desert to see? A reed swayed by the wind? 8 If not, what did you go out to see? A man dressed in fine clothes? No, those who wear fine clothes are in kings’ palaces. 9 Then what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. NIV

Jesus continues…

Matt 11:12 From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been forcefully advancing, and forceful men lay hold of it. 13 For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John. 14 And if you are willing to accept it, he is the Elijah who was to come. 15 He who has ears, let him hear. NIV

The first thing that Jesus does is to distinguish between the ministers of the gospel of the Kingdom of God and those in king’s palaces. Jesus implies that John is not a man in fine clothes and who enjoys political power over a jurisdiction. John is a prophet! Jesus connects this to another reality, that even though John does not have political authority, but he is able to advance the Kingdom of God. The implication is that even though John has neither enjoyed earthly political authority nor received honour from an earthly king, he has been able to advance the Kingdom of God. From a place of obscurity, in the desert, he has established kingdom advanced, and has influenced masses of people. The Kingdom of God cannot be authorized by earthly kings! And yet like John the Baptist, those who are ministers of the Kingdom of God must accept the fact that they operate within the limitation of the laws and legal authorities of the jurisdictions to which they have been sent by God.

Later, Jesus is confronted by another situation as Pharisees ask a political question, “is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not?” In answering the question, “Jesus said, “show me the coin used for paying the tax. Whose portrait is this and whose inscription?” Caesar’s, they replied. Then He said to them, “give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what God’s”” (Matt. 22:15-22). There is no better place to ask this question other than in Jerusalem, a city that was surely under constant surveillance by the Intelligence of Rome. And there is no better company in which to ask this question other than in the company of the Herodians or supporters of Herod, as Matthew 22:16 reveals. This is clearly a political situation playing out.

The answer of the Lord is fundamental for us as church: “give Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s”. This answer goes beyond the paying of taxes, it provides a kingdom worldview that helps us navigate the constant tension between the Kingdom of God and the kingdoms of the world. If the coin has a portrait and an inscription of Caesar, then the Jews must acknowledge the authority of the political jurisdiction they find themselves in. Jesus is saying that not only does the portrait of the coin reflect the political authority of a king, but also the responsibility of the one regulating the order of life in that jurisdiction. For a people to have peace and wellbeing within a jurisdiction, someone must assume authority and responsibility over that jurisdiction. Jesus is saying that our honour to Caesar is not in conflict with our honour to God. And our honour to God cannot be hindered by anyone who is sitting on a throne. Jesus is saying that we can exist in the most limiting, brutal and oppressive political regimes, and yet be able to honour God and advance His Kingdom. Like John the Baptist, we can in fact advance the Kingdom of God even though political authorities do not honour or acknowledge us.

Daniel the prophet had earlier written…

Dan 2:20 “Praise be to the name of God for ever and ever; wisdom and power are his. 21 He changes times and seasons; he sets up kings and deposes them. He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to the discerning. NIV

Paul declared…

Rom 13:1 Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. 2 Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. NIV

And the apostle Peter also declared…

1 Peter 2:13 Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every authority instituted among men: whether to the king, as the supreme authority, 14 or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right. 15 For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish men. 16 Live as free men, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as servants of God. 17 Show proper respect to everyone: Love the brotherhood of believers, fear God, honor the king. NIV

In the scriptures above, we are provided with a framework of how to navigate through political authorities and processes. We get the idea that the nature of our citizenship and of political engagement must always seek to promote the values of the Gospel of the Kingdom of God, above those of our own interest, Political Party or Political Ideology. We also get the reality in these scriptures that it is God who establishes the king (or a political authority), and it is God who deposes the king. God does not only establish political authority, but He also has a position about the nature, character and conduct of political authority. In navigating political processes, we must therefore be guided by how God deals with kings, as reflected in the examples of the Pharaohs (who were a symbol of political power). In times of a good Pharaoh, church is expected to be a “Joseph”, to offer cooperation, wisdom and resources. But in times of an evil Pharaoh, church is expected to be a “Moses”, to stand for justice and righteousness, and to declare, “let my people go”. The character and behaviour of the one sitting on the throne determine the prophetic position of the church in society.

To further illustrate this point, we see that the story of Christ and His crucifixion reflects this reality that the grand and eternal plan of God flows within earthly, limited and sometimes imperfect political authorities and laws of the nations of the earth.

1 Tim 6:13 In the sight of God, who gives life to everything, and of Christ Jesus, who while testifying before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, I charge you… NIV

Acts 2:23 This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. 24 But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him. NIV

The full cooperation of the Lord in the crucifixion, to even appear before an earthly authority – Pontius Pilate – a political and judiciary authority that did not even know what truth was (John 18:37&38), became an example of how to advance the kingdom of God in the earth. Jesus was subjecting Himself to the laws of the land. Thus, the crucifixion is a multi-layered experience that reflects the earthly and imperfect judicial process on the one hand, and the eternal plan of salvation on the other. By descending upon a world that was under the government of Caesar and the Roman empire, even the King of the universe was consequently going to be subjected to the kind of judicial process in which He was going to be publicly crucified and hanged on the Cross. But this was in fact the eternal and predestined plan of God, that Jesus would come to be offered as a Lamb for our sins. If this was playing out in modern-day nation-states, instead of the Cross, we would be talking of the rope, electrocution or lethal injection as a symbol of redemption. The point is, just like Christ, church functions in an imperfect world with laws and regulations, to advance a perfect and eternal kingdom. And just like Christ did not interrupt His execution and crucifixion, by trying to raise the issue of his rights as an innocent and falsely accused convict, church cannot seek the authority of the State, to advance a Kingdom that is not of this world, and yet Church must always seek to function according to the laws of the land. This is the tension of kingdom ministry. Like Christ who came in the form of a human, who was born of a woman and under law, to redeem those under law (Phil. 2:7&8, Gal. 4:4&5), Church must be found functioning in the very imperfect and limiting conditions of the earth, in order to redeem those who exist in the same limiting conditions. If the church protests against these earthly conditions and against governments, because she cannot fulfill the Great Commission of the Lord Jesus Christ, then surely she cannot expect ordinary humans and believers to navigate the Kingdom of God in the same conditions.

No Political Authority has power to decree the essentiality of Church

Having reflected on these issues, we must state that there is no earthly king, president or prime minister that has authority to declare church as an essential community or service. Any president or prime minister who stands behind a podium to make such declarations is not only overstepping their authority, but simply does not understand the very existential nature and identity of church. Equally, if church erupts in joy as a response to such proclamations, she is assuming a position that is not only unbiblical, but that may see her “in bed with the Herods”. The trajectory and outcome of this reality is deeply dangerous for the effective functioning of church in society.

The essentiality of the church has already been declared by the King of kings and Lord of lords. Let’s remember whose we are…

1 Tim 6:13 …I charge you 14 to keep this command without spot or blame until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, 15 which God will bring about in his own time — God, the blessed and only Ruler, the King of kings and Lord of lords. NIV

Jesus is King: the Greek word for “king” defines one who is sovereign and who is the basis and foundation of power; a monarch.

He is Lord: the Greek word for “lord” defines one who is a master and who possesses authority.

He is the Ruler: this word defines an officer of great authority, a possessor of power and authority who occupies a high position.

Col 1:15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. NIV

By Him thrones were created: the word “throne” defines a stately seat or sit attributed to kings. In modern terms, these define political constituencies and legal mechanisms (constitutions) upon which presidents and prime ministers exercise their power.

By Him dominions or powers were created: the word “powers” defines dominions, governments, civil power, magistracy. In modern nation-states, this refers to the spheres of the state – i.e. parliaments, the executive and the judiciary.

By Him principalities or rulers were created: the word “principality” defines those who are chief in a political order. It defines he who is chief in time, place or rank; beginning of something or beginning of a line. In modern terms, this word describes those at the beginning of a political process. Originators of law and policies.

By Him authorities or powers were created: this is the Greek word exousia which is used in the Great Commission in Matt. 28:18-20, “all authority has been given to me” and in Luke 10:19, “behold I give you power. This word means permission, liberty, the right and power to do something, capacity and ability.

This King – Jesus Christ – declared…

Matt 16:18 …I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.   19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”  NIV

There is no president or prime minister who has the right to put his voice over this declaration. The existence of the church was established by the ultimate President, King Jesus. This is all that the church needs to function in the earth. Any church whose functionality is derived from some proclamation by an earthly authority will be limited in its authority and reach.

As the church deals with the frustrations around coronavirus containment or lockdown measures, she must consider and reflect on the following issues…

It is understandable that any shepherd is currently burning to see the flock and that any church community is burning to return to normal and full operation of its programs and activities.

As we relax the lockdown, there is a point in granting permission to the church ministers and workers involved in the ministry of community relief (churches have now been getting these permissions).

A lockdown aimed at containing the spread of the virus does not constitute infringement of the rights of belief and religion. It is only a prohibition of the right of movement and gathering – these two realities are hugely different. No one has put a gun on anybody to demand that they renounce Jesus as Lord. Neither is the lockdown a permanent reality. The rights of belief and religion have not been violated or affected.

While is it true that church’s inability to engage in biblical practices of corporate worship and public teaching of the Scriptures is limiting, it does not amount to an infringement of the rights of belief and religion, under current circumstances.

To suggest that there is an infringement of freedom of belief and religion under current conditions is not only legally problematic, it is also not consistent with the principles of the New Covenant. We as church must mean what we say. If we have declared that we are not a building but a people or community, then this lockdown window is an opportunity to powerfully demonstrate this principle.

The purpose of the pastor is to empower believers to face conditions such as the one we are faced with in this pandemic. If believers are not able to walk through this experience, this is a reflection on the church, for which the government cannot be blamed.

Any suggestion that church is being targeted and victimized is simply incorrect – other sectors of society (and even other faiths and religions) are going through the same difficulty as church. And any classification of the lockdown as a form of persecution of some kind, is simply an insult to the martyrs of the faith.

Whilst church communities are not able to fulfill their programs currently, under the New Covenant principles and definitions, church is not on lockdown. Believers’ personal faith, worship, prayer and the personal reading of the Scriptures must continue unhindered, until such time that we are able to have public gatherings. Reflecting on the Principles of the New Covenant is paramount in this context.

It is true that the broader challenge of livelihoods applies to the minsters of the gospel as well. And it is also true that as church, we’ve generally accepted a practice in which people do not give their offerings except in church gatherings. There is no doctrinal basis for this – it may be a preference of ours. On the contrary, Paul made arrangements for offerings to be collected prior to gatherings… “Now about the collection for God’s people: Do what I told the Galatian churches to do. 2 On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with his income, saving it up, so that when I come no collections will have to be made. 3 Then, when I arrive, I will give letters of introduction to the men you approve and send them with your gift to Jerusalem” (1 Cor. 16:1-3, NIV). Therefore, the limitation of income of the church due to the inability to collect offerings in the absence of gatherings points to the need for doctrinal and ministry reform within the church. It is not a problem on the side of the government.

Equally, the church must not make its own challenge of division and inability to facilitate transfer of wealth from rich to poor churches a problem of the government. When the early church was faced with economic hardship, it mobilized and organized itself to facilitate transfer of wealth from the rich to the poor. The church did not go to Caesar for help: “During this time some prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch. 28 One of them, named Agabus, stood up and through the Spirit predicted that a severe famine would spread over the entire Roman world. (This happened during the reign of Claudius.) 29 The disciples, each according to his ability, decided to provide help for the brothers living in Judea. 30 This they did, sending their gift to the elders by Barnabas and Saul” (Acts 11:27-30, NIV).

In this coronavirus pandemic, church must understand the social and economic conditions of its members and must in fact advocate for these before the government. Church must be like “Esther before king Xerxes”, it must speak not only on behalf of its members but also of the marginalized and vulnerable within society. In this sense, church must practice government, because we are God’s ekklesia – a body of citizens of a free kingdom, called out of the world to govern the conditions of life around us. That is, church must distinguish between advocating for its own organizational interests and advocating for the interests of its people (including the society at large). Church is not the “poor cousin” within the system, she is called to be the expression of the government of God in the earth.

Church must use this lockdown as an opportunity for prophetic and operational reflection on the kind of environment (the new world) that it will be functioning in, post the lockdown.

In times like this, church must appreciate its own complexity as a community of faith. Our biblical heritage is that church is like “a voice in the wilderness”, it does not operate from the palace. The Head of the church was born in a manger, in a time where there was no accommodation in hotels and lodges. There is nothing that prevents the birthing of the Purpose of God, even inside the lockdown. Part of our heritage is that church was born in the streets of Jerusalem, it prayed and worshiped in temples, in homes, by the rivers and in prisons. It was never a part of the established Pharisee order.

Church must refuse the temptation to flex itself through democratic populism. It should not matter whether a dominant section of our population is “Christian” or not. We stand in the midst of the nations not as a democratic community but for the Gospel of the Kingdom of God.

Church is not essential by political decree. We are essential because the Lord Jesus Christ says so in the Scriptures. We are not only essential when we have public gatherings. We are essential even when we don’t have public gatherings. We advance the Kingdom of God in lack and in abundance, in limitation and in opportunity, in season and out of season.

Robert Ntuli

Pastor – LivingStones Agency

Visionary Leader – Kingdom Humanity Fellowship


Please follow the links below to access other resources relevant to the current pandemic…

  1. The Lockdown Debate and the Issue of the Vantage Point
  2. The Doctrine of Suffering – Part 1
  3. The Doctrine of Suffering – Part 2
  4. Covid-19: A Prophetic characterization of the current pandemic (part 1)
  5. Covid-19: A prophetic characterization of the current pandemic (part 2)
  6. Restating the foundations of the New Covenant
  7. Drivers for effective life in the current season of the pandemic
  8. Doing church in the crisis of coronavirus



The Lockdown Debate in SA and the Issue of the Vantage Point

SA-flag- coronavirusGod judges a nation not on the basis of how well it treats its billionaires, millionaires, owners of capital or even its middle-class, but based on how its decisions, laws and policies impact on the vulnerable in society. In the Bible, the conventional categories of the vulnerable include – the orphan, the widow, the poor and the alien. This category also extends to include children in general, both orphans and those with parents (who were sometimes sacrificed to gods like Molech in order to secure some fortune in life), as well as the elderly. Concerning the elderly, the Bible proposes a social order in which the elderly are respected. The command goes, “honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you” (Ex. 20:12, NIV). The word “honour” means to weigh heavily. The command continues: “You shall rise before the gray headed and honor the presence of an old man, and fear your God: I am the Lord” (Lev. 19:32, NKJV). The word “honour” in this verse has a different meaning – it means to favour, to be proud of and to make glorious. The apostle Paul later instructed children “to honour their fathers and mothers” (Eph. 6:1-3). He used the word that does not only mean to respect, but that also means to establish the monetary value of a thing. Paul used a business-economic word in the context of social life. Implied in the Scriptures above is the fact that societies tend to sacrifice vulnerable groups when they have limited options in the process of public choice and administration. A pandemic like the one we are currently facing, puts a severe strain on public resources, leaving societies with ugly and undesirable decisions to make. But the case that these Scriptures are making is that we must have a moral compass and a system of public ethics in our political process, in which we are clear about the need to protect the vulnerable in our society – “in the presence of the elderly, we must stand up”, i.e. we must give priority to the vulnerable. We must not push ourselves to a point where we find ourselves unable to fulfill this moral and public duty.

The idea that God judges the nation based on how it treats the most vulnerable in society therefore suggests that when we establish laws and policies, we must do so from the vantage point of the vulnerable. It suggests that our guiding principles in society must be fairness, justice and the need to establish equity and equality. The issue is that this is not always the case in capitalistic societies. Modern capitalistic societies are guided by the famous words of the fictional character, Gordon Gekko, from the movie “Wall Street”, who said, “money never sleeps”. This perhaps captures the imperative of Capitalism, which is not just that money never sleeps, but that money should not be put to sleep. Like this coronavirus, which spreads through human movement, the activity or dormancy of money is equally determined by us – humans. So the real issue is not that “money never sleeps”, it’s that “humans never sleep”. Humans in general and owners of capital in particular, never sleep, as they think about ways of making more money. In other words, Capitalism is not just the thing of the “capitalist”, it’s a social construct in which economic activity and transaction must not be put on pause. The sin of Capitalism is not in the need to make money, it is in the idea that the process of making profit must never stop, even when such a process poses a public health threat. Capitalism tends to destroy the very goal of human wellbeing that it advocates for, because in a capitalistic society, not only does the capitalist have sleepless nights thinking about profits, the laborers themselves hardly get to experience proper physical sleep. In such a system, the health of laborers gets compromised quickly, they age faster than their affluent counterparts. The words of James come to mind: “Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming upon you. 2 Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes. 3 Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last days. 4 Look! The wages you failed to pay the workmen who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty. 5 You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter. 6 You have condemned and murdered innocent men, who were not opposing you” (James 5:1-6, NIV). In a capitalistic world, continuous profit making is a sacred altar whose fire must never be put out, and upon which societies sacrifice human souls of the vulnerable (Rev. 18:11-13).

Capitalism is driven by the laissez faire principle, which does not simply drive the nobility of human freedom as it relates to economic activity, but which always tend to have an unwanted and inevitable consequence of the survival of the fittest. In this context, Capitalism is the jungle of modern human civilization. This capitalistic drive is now playing out in the current debate between public health and economics. To even position public health and economy as opponents is in itself a reflection of how entrenched Capitalism has become in the soul of nations.

Now, pandemics don’t happen all the time, but when they do hit us, they bring a significant threat to human health, on a larger scale. This particular pandemic has taken many lives within a very short space of time. To date, there has been over 4 million infections in the world and just over 300 thousand lives have been lost. We have seen the global epicentres shift from Asia to Europe and now in North America. This surely should leave other continents like Africa not only with epidemiological advantage and insight concerning the character of this virus, but also with a clear knowledge of what not to do. The city of New York has been hit hard by this virus, and the victims have mostly been the vulnerable minorities – the elderly and those who had underlying health issues (comorbidities).

Thus, the current debate on the lockdown needs to be clarified and properly framed for the conversation to help us arrive at a rational and publicly beneficial conclusion. The following considerations are important:

  • There can be no argument against any effort to preserve life.
  • We are no longer in a fixed level 5 type lockdown; we are now in a process of a steady and cautious relaxation of restrictions back to normal life – a process the government refers to as a risk adjusted strategy. President Ramaphosa indicated on Wednesday evening that in the month of June, we are moving to level 3, provided the spread of infections allow us to do so. Therefore, the issue under question cannot be the lockdown itself, but the pace of movement back to normal life. We are basically arguing about whether we should be driving “back home” at 60km or 120km per hour. The opposite end of the argument has to do with the need to see a speedy and perhaps even an abrupt relaxation of lockdown restrictions, no matter what the public health consequences may be. Like in any argument, you will of course find middle positions.
  • We have evidence before us to suggest that the government is in the process of relaxing the restrictions. It may not be at a pace that we would like it to be, but there is movement towards a direction we all want to see.
  • We must consider what is the justifiable pace that allows us to open the economy without causing massive public health risk.
  • The government has injected billions of rands into the economy, to compensate for the economic gap created by the lockdown. This meets the Keynesian economic principle, of the need for a government to pump money into the economy through fiscal means, mechanisms and processes, in order to preserve and stimulate the economy.
  • Our lockdown began on the 26th of March. It has been in place for less than 2 months. And it will surely not be a permanent reality.
  • If we consider other nations: China imposed the lockdown in Wuhan towards end of January, and only started to relax restrictions end of March / beginning of April. Italy activated the lockdown process end of February, they are only now starting to relax restrictions. It therefore seems that you are looking at a baseline of 2 months before you can consider relaxing lockdown restrictions.
  • The leadership approach in a pandemic should be to proactively save lives. We do not have to encounter a massive outbreak first, in order to justify a lockdown. Leadership must be powered by foresight and imagination that is inspired by intuitive knowledge of the nation that this government is leading. That is, you cannot implement policies that would work well elsewhere, in South Africa. The policies of the government must be applicable to the nation of South Africa, in 2020.
  • We must consider the opportunity cost principle – and that is, what are we prepared to lose, in order to preserve life? Equally, the balance of scales principle is important to consider – when economics and public life are put on the scale, in a pandemic situation, the scale should tip in favour of public life.

Unpacking the Debate

In a situation where you are faced with a serious public health risk, the debate for a speedy return to the economy is not only a reflection of the hegemon of Capital, but it also reflects the voice of the class making the noise – it can only be those who have in fact been active in the economy, prior to the pandemic. If you have not been active in the economy prior to the pandemic, you have no economy to return to. Thus, there is a class dynamic to this argument. And so those leading the protest against the government, must not only be clear in terms of the constituency for whom they speak, but they must also make a clear and a convincing proposition on what should happen to the economically inactive population, that faces serious public health risk, with no economy to return to, and with no personal means or resources to retreat back to, in case of an outbreak. Equally, the argument for a speedy return to the economy does not incorporate the voice of the “missing middle” in this pandemic conundrum – those who are laborers within the system, who understand the need to return to the economy but who are also equally fearful of being infected by this disease. These constitute the face of the economy. They are in the front-lines of economic activity and so face a higher risk of being infected. Unlike corporate executives and owners of capital, who would have space and means to observe social distancing, and who have the privilege of working from home etc., this group is torn between the need to save their lives on the one hand, and the need to save their livelihoods on the other. They know that they work in spaces of continuous and close human contact. Basically, the economy does not return back to life without the front-line laborers going to the fields. To go to the fields is to move back into the reality of human contact. And then you must consider the statistics in terms of the percentage and social profile of those front-line laborers in our nation. Now this is the vantage point from which we must approach this debate.

In their state of inner tension and confusion, this missing middle does require a trustworthy political voice and leadership that will not only represent their interests in corridors of power, but that will also help lead and guide them on what to do.

It is perhaps easy to talk about a speedy return to the economy, when you have a house to return back to, in case of an outbreak. It is easy to talk about a speedy return to the economy, when you can drive to work in your private car, without having to use crowded public transport. It is easy to talk about a speedy return to life, when you can drive your children to school. And when we talk about “economic loss”, we have to be asking the question, “whose loss?”

Equally, economic modelling in the debate of the lockdown must consider not only economic loss caused by the lockdown but also the potential economic loss that can be caused by the outbreak of the virus. That is, the lockdown is not only about saving lives, it is also about lessening the economic burden of the pandemic.

Others argue for a speedy return to life so that we may build public or herd immunity. Well, the one who suggests this does so because they believe they have a good chance of survival. If we consider this from the vantage point of the sickly, the poor and the elderly, we would not even begin to make such a proposal.  No one makes a proposal for an abrupt return to life in order to quickly build public immunity, when they know that they don’t have a good chance of survival, to enjoy life after the pandemic. In other words, this policy approach is great, but perhaps not for the South African reality.

No matter how you look at it, this is a class debate, a push between the strong and the weak…

Ezek 34:20 “‘Therefore this is what the Sovereign Lord says to them: See, I myself will judge between the fat sheep and the lean sheep. 21 Because you shove with flank and shoulder, butting all the weak sheep with your horns until you have driven them away, 22 I will save my flock, and they will no longer be plundered. I will judge between one sheep and another. 23 I will place over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he will tend them; he will tend them and be their shepherd. 24 I the Lord will be their God, and my servant David will be prince among them. I the Lord have spoken. NIV

The economic debate against the lockdown is not simply that the poor will become poorer, it is that capital lies dormant, it is accumulating dust, leaving the capitalist with a burden to service it when there is no profit coming in. This is understandably difficult, exceedingly difficult! But when this is considered against the need to preserve life, it fails the test of rationality. On the other hand, in times of the pandemic, it is not economics that saves lives, it is containment measures and the public health care system. Through the lockdown and the process of gradual relaxation, the public and especially the vulnerable, are given a temporary place of safety from the invading virus.

The solution to the shoving among the citizens is a shepherd – a leadership that has intimate and intuitive understanding of all sides of society, especially the vulnerable…

Ezek 34:23 I will place over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he will tend them; he will tend them and be their shepherd. 24 I the Lord will be their God, and my servant David will be prince among them. I the Lord have spoken. NIV

The president has thus far played the role of being that shepherd. He has equally acknowledged the mistakes and weak areas of the government – and mistakes must be fixed. But there is no doubt that we’ve seen the process of shepherding of the nation, and a deep sense of care for life. Nations that will survive this pandemic are those that prioritize life above all things. This is what the Bible refers to as “sheep” versus “goat” nations (Matt. 25:31-46).

South Aftrica’s timing: Whats’ before us?

We have the following conditions that make for the perfect storm in case of an outbreak…

  • Spatial design that does not allow for social distancing (townships and shacks).
  • A crowded public transport system.
  • A significant portion of our population with underlying health issues (comorbidities).
  • Winter season.
  • Poor and immobile villagers who do not have immediate access to public health care system.
  • Households with elderly people who are breadwinners to orphans.
  • Crowded public schools.
  • An overwhelmed public health care system.

In case of an outbreak, the following will happen…

  • Those with resources will return back to their homes for protection, if they are infected, they will get best available help faster.
  • Those without proper housing will be left stranded.
  • Those without immediate access to public health care system will be left vulnerable.
  • The government will be left with the public health care burden.
  • Instead of making a case for economics against the lockdown, we will then need to think about the economic bill of the outbreak.
  • Communities will be left with severe psychological and cultural trauma associated with pandemic related public health protocols.
  • Simply put, this would be a disaster!

Given this reality, if I have need and means to take the government to court, I would rather do so as a way of ensuring that the government is well prepared to take care of the elderly, the poor, those with pre-existing health issues etc. in case of an outbreak. In a situation like this, I would opt to make noise on behalf of the vulnerable.

The need for a trans-political leadership collective

The government has played its role in trying to protect the public, not without mistakes. Beyond our President, what we now need is a leadership collective that will help engage the communities on the ground. We need leaders of communities, faith-based organizations etc. to amplify the voice of the government, driven by the conviction that the current processes are informed by the need to save lives. Beyond a leader, you always will need a leadership collective. There are two stories in the Bible to consider in this context…

Moses and the 12 spies

Moses was a great prophet and a revolutionary leader who led Israel out of bondage. When Moses reached the Promised Land, he sent twelve spies to spy the land and to bring back the report.

Num 13:26 They came back to Moses and Aaron and the whole Israelite community at Kadesh in the Desert of Paran. There they reported to them and to the whole assembly and showed them the fruit of the land. 27 They gave Moses this account: “We went into the land to which you sent us, and it does flow with milk and honey! Here is its fruit. 28 But the people who live there are powerful, and the cities are fortified and very large. We even saw descendants of Anak there. 29 The Amalekites live in the Negev; the Hittites, Jebusites and Amorites live in the hill country; and the Canaanites live near the sea and along the Jordan.” 31 But the men who had gone up with him said, “We can’t attack those people; they are stronger than we are.” 32 And they spread among the Israelites a bad report about the land they had explored. NIV

Moses was let down by his own leadership collective. They spread a bad report among the people, causing a counter-revolution in the camp. This is the danger of having splinter voices in society. This is the danger of allowing our frustrations to overtake us, and of moving our eyes from the public vision and objective. When they spread a bad report, leaders affect and shape and or frame the public debate incorrectly in the minds of the people. In the end, lives get destroyed and the national destiny gets lost.

Nehemiah, Ezra and the Levites

There is a good example in the Bible that shows us what happens when the leadership collective works together towards a common vision…

Neh 8:1 all the people assembled as one man in the square before the Water Gate. They told Ezra the scribe to bring out the Book of the Law of Moses, which the Lord had commanded for Israel. 5 Ezra opened the book. All the people could see him because he was standing above them; and as he opened it, the people all stood up. 7 The Levites-Jeshua, Bani, Sherebiah, Jamin, Akkub, Shabbethai, Hodiah, Maaseiah, Kelita, Azariah, Jozabad, Hanan and Pelaiah — instructed the people in the Law while the people were standing there. 8 They read from the Book of the Law of God, making it clear and giving the meaning so that the people could understand what was being read. 11 The Levites calmed all the people, saying, “Be still, for this is a sacred day. Do not grieve.” 12 Then all the people went away to eat and drink, to send portions of food and to celebrate with great joy, because they now understood the words that had been made known to them. NIV

The Book of Nehemiah is a case study of Community Building and Public Leadership. In this story we see Ezra reading the law for the people, with the support of the Levites, who went down and engaged with the people, explaining for them the meaning of what was being read. In our case, there has been a lot of information that we’ve had to process. As we engage a gradual relaxation of the lockdown, we will need leaders on the ground to explain the meaning and objectives of the lockdown relaxation process to the people. While the need to see the president on our TV screens will remain (just as Ezra stood on a high wooden platform for all to see him), this will have to be combined with a community-based leadership process. Without this, we run a risk of community outbreaks.

The duty of the government is to establish public wellbeing. It is to be the agent of justice, ensuring that the muted voice of the vulnerable is heard (Rom. 13:1-5).

The lockdown relaxation process is underway, perhaps not at a pace that some of us may prefer. We shall eventually have to face this virus and build public immunity. However, given the conditions and socio-economic profile of our nation, there is a strong case for a steady, gradual and cautious adjustment of lockdown restrictions.

We who are engaged in this debate need to clarify our own vantage point, without which we lose the opportunity to provide effective leadership in society – now and in the future. The pressing issue in this debate is not in the details of the lockdown relaxation process, it’s one of the vantage point from which the debate is engaged. The conclusion of the matter in this debate will directly be determined by the point and angle from which we start it.

Robert Ntuli

Pastor – LivingStones Agency

Visionary Leader – Kingdom Humanity Fellowship


Please follow the links below to access other resources relevant to the current pandemic…


  1. The Doctrine of Suffering – Part 1
  2. The Doctrine of Suffering – Part 2
  3. Covid-19: A Prophetic characterization of the current pandemic (part 1)
  4. Covid-19: A prophetic characterization of the current pandemic (part 2)
  5. Restating the foundations of the New Covenant
  6. Drivers for effective life in the current season of the pandemic
  7. Doing church in the crisis of coronavirus

The Doctrine of Suffering – Part 2

The Cross Gal 2:20 I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. NIV

In part 1 of the Doctrine of Suffering, we looked at some biblical definitions and principles around this topic. The motivation behind this reflection on suffering is twofold: 1) suffering is an important principle of Christ and of the faith, 2) we live in uncertain and challenging times in which we must not only affirm our faith but where we must also understand the principles by which we can lead a victorious life, as we walk through this personal, local and global disaster. We noted in the first article that suffering must not be confused with “false humility and a self-induced harsh treatment of the body for religious reasons” (Col. 2:23), or put differently, a self-induced difficulty or crisis, in an effort to “please God”. In its basic definitions, suffering is the determination to live for Christ in the midst of adversity; the resolution to advance the Kingdom of God even when it is costly to do so; the attitude to deny yourself in pursuit of the Will of God.  The principle of suffering does not describe mere pain or a position of powerlessness, on the side of the believer. This principle recognizes that the flesh, evil forces and the world system are inherently and structurally opposed to the life of the Kingdom of God, that the believer must walk through cycles of joy and pain, and that the journey to the end of time involves natural disasters. Acknowledging this reality empowers the believer to expect opposition and difficulty in the journey of salvation, and to decide beforehand, to always choose the Will of God. It is only in this context of obedience to the Will of God, that the conversation of suffering becomes relevant. Biblically, we understand the Will of God to be both life missions God may want us to engage in and a Way of Life that He wants us to adopt and express, daily. In this sense, the Will of God is not only “an occasional thing”, it is also a daily, ongoing reality. Jesus tells us “to take our Cross daily” (Luke 9:23). It is as a result of these two dimensions of the Will of God, that we encounter hostility, adversity and suffering. Sometimes we can have an imbalanced or limited view of the Will of God as something that relates to occasional life missions, and not to a Way of Life we are called to lead daily. In this regard, Peter speaks about “suffering for doing what is right” (1 Pet. 2:20, 1 Pet. 3:14&17). Peter is talking about suffering as a result of a Way of Life. Ultimately, love surpasses ministry – “where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away… and now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love” (1 Cor. 13:8-13).  “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal…” (1 Cor. 13:1-3). 1 Corinthians ch. 13 reminds us, that it is easy to excel in the Will of God as it concerns to life missions, and to find ourselves stumbling in the Will of God, as it concerns to God’s Way of Life. This scripture further exhorts us, to carry the two dimensions of the Will of God, in proper balance – love will always outweigh ministry (love is eternal, and ministry is temporary), and love must be the motivation of all ministry.

The bible clearly teaches us that in the faith, we are like solders in the battlefield, that the life of salvation is one of warfare and wrestling…

Phil 1:27 Above all, you must live as citizens of heaven, conducting yourselves in a manner worthy of the Good News about Christ. Then, whether I come and see you again or only hear about you, I will know that you are standing side by side, fighting together for the faith, which is the Good News. 28 Don’t be intimidated in any way by your enemies. This will be a sign to them that they are going to be destroyed, but that you are going to be saved, even by God himself. 29 For you have been given not only the privilege of trusting in Christ but also the privilege of suffering for him. 30 We are in this struggle together. You have seen my struggle in the past, and you know that I am still in the midst of it. NLT

When we embrace the Word of the Lord in our lives, it triggers suffering…

Matt 13:20 The one who received the seed that fell on rocky places is the man who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. 21 But since he has no root, he lasts only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, he quickly falls away. NIV

We are wrestling against our own flesh

Gal 5:16 So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. 17 For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law. NIV


1 Peter 2:11 Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul. 12 Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us. NIV

The verses above give a picture of structural conflict between the spirit and the flesh. The word “contrary” used by Paul in Galatians 5 vs. 17 means to be placed against each other, to be adversaries or opponents. The word “war” used by Peter in 1 Peter 2 vs. 11 means to wage war, to serve in a military campaign, to lead an army. The picture that we get in both these verses is that there is active war between the spirit and the flesh. This war is resolved by our intentional obedience to the leadership of the Holy Spirit – “but if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law”.

We are wrestling against the world system

John 16:33 “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” NIV

John 15:18 “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. 19 If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. NIV

1 John 2:15 Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16 For all that is in the world — the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life — is not of the Father but is of the world. 17 And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever. NKJV

1 John 5:4 For everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. 5 Who is it that overcomes the world? Only he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God. NIV

The scriptures above give a clear indication of the hostility that exists between the people of the Kingdom of God and the world. Since the world hated Christ, it will hate us also. The word “world” used in John 15 vs. 18 is the word “kosmos”, which means orderly arrangement. This word refers to the surrounding culture, arrangement and way of doing life. In context, Jesus is referring to the order of human life corrupted by sin and or established by fallen humans (Rom. 5:12). The nature and structure of such an order does not incorporate God and His commands. It is built out of the lawlessness of man and against the command of God. According to 1 John 2 vs. 16, this world order reflects three principles of sin and of the Fall: A) The lust of the flesh – this reflects the supremacy of human feelings and self-will against the command of God of ; B) the lust of eyes – this reflects the supremacy of human perspective, desires and pleasure against the command of God; C) the pride of life – this reflects the imperative of self-life and human prosperity over the command of God. Everything that is built according to the principles of the world, whether family, church, economics, politics etc. will always reflect these three components, and can therefore be described as worldly. If it is worldly, it will always be hostile to the Kingdom of God – because the world hates Christ!

The word “hate” used by Jesus in John 15 vs. 18 means to detest and abhor, to not show love and embrace. Such is the relationship between the Kingdom of God and the world. Jesus also says that in this world, we shall have trouble. The word “trouble” means pressure, anguish, affliction, tribulation and distress. There is structural conflict between the world and the Kingdom of God. This conflict will always have impact on the journey of the believer. However, the believer (and the church) is called not to be worldly, in order to be loved by the world, but to have faith that overcomes the hostility of the world.

We are wrestling against evil spiritual forces

Eph. 6:10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. NIV

We must put on the full armor of God – components of the life of salvation – because we are struggling and wrestling against powers of this dark world. The word “wrestle or struggle” means hand-to-hand combat, either in the context of soldiers in the battlefield or of athletes in a sport contest. The principle is based on ancient military battles which required proximity, physical contact and face-to-face combat. During these ancient military battles, a soldier would pick an opponent for a battle. And the winner would always be the one who possessed strength, skill and agility. Our warfare against evil is that personal – evil forces pick on us as individual believers, but they must always find us well prepared, wearing the full armor of God (not some components of the armor) and able to wield the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God. In other words, we must be well trained in matters of doctrine – we must be able to apply doctrine in matters of life.

The Cross – A Symbol of Suffering

Matt 16:24 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. NIV

In Matthew ch. 16, Jesus tests His own disciple’s understanding of who He is. He asks them the question, “who do you say I am?” (Matt. 16:15). Peter answers, “you are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matt. 16:16). On the basis of this conversation, and having been satisfied with the answer of His own disciples to His question, Jesus begins to talk about His suffering…

Matt 16:21 From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life. NIV

Peter, failing to understand that Jesus is not simply “venting” and complaining about an unfortunate future but is outlining His purpose and mission, pledges his support and declares that “this shall never happen to you” (Matt. 16:22). Moreover, Peter rebukes Jesus! The word “rebuke” means to evaluate, disapprove, admonish and charge. Basically, Peter evaluates Jesus’ thinking and utterance and finds it to be inappropriate and incorrect, and he therefore seeks to reprimand and “shush” Him. Jesus responds with a counter-rebuke…

Matt 16:23 Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.” NIV

Jesus recognizes the source of Peter’s concern to be from the devil. He then rebukes the spirit behind the statement. The phrase “stumbling block” is the word that means the trigger of a trap on which the bait is placed, and which, when touched by the animal, springs and causes it to close causing entrapment (Strong’s Dictionary). In other words, Jesus realizes “the concern” to be the attempt of the enemy to abort the mission of God. The phrase, “you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men” reflects the conflict that exists between self-will or humanism and God’s Will.

The Process of Peter: “This shall never happen to you”

The statement, “this shall never to happen to you” shows us that what Jesus has just said is beyond Peter’s theology, worldview and mindset. Peter cannot reconcile God and pain. He cannot reconcile God and suffering. The Peter, who later would write, “to this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in His steps” (1 Pet. 2:21), still needed to have His doctrine refined and improved. Peter represents our journey. We too cannot reconcile God and pain. We “judge” God on the basis of the five senses of our flesh, and of our basic human need – which is human wellbeing and prosperity. But this is not how the Kingdom of God is structured. The basic need of life in the Kingdom of God is to obey God. On the basis of obedience, we are guaranteed human wellbeing and prosperity (Matt. 6:25-34, especially vs. 33),  but in disobedience, we are guaranteed death – for the wages of sin is death.

After resolving Peter’s issue, Jesus then makes the statement to His disciples…

Matt 16:24 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 25 For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it. NIV

These words, “if anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me”, must have fallen into the hearts of the disciples with weight. We can imagine Jesus speaking to the disciples, but with a sharp and an intent look at Peter, who would become a significant apostle a couple of years later. Jesus was basically saying, we have nothing in common, unless you embrace the Cross. Thus, Jesus established the Cross as a symbol of suffering, long before He was crucified. These words must have marked a significant crossover for Peter himself, who beyond his pledge of support to Jesus, still had to process his own fear of death (as was seen during the crucifixion). Fear! This was in fact the basic motivation that led to Peter’s stance against suffering, in the first place. Clearly, when we have basic motivations of either fear or success, this always inevitably affects and shapes our doctrine or theology. To truly walk with Jesus, we must possess the Will of God as our cardinal reference point in our dealings with life. That is, the Will of God, and not success or safety of our lives, must in fact become the basic motivation or driver of our lives.

Let’s state this again, Jesus established the Cross as a symbol of suffering, long before He was crucified. That is, the symbolism of suffering in the Cross, was not determined by the Romans, but by Jesus, long before the drama and shenanigans of the Pharisees and the Romans came to a climax. It is upon this foundational reality that we should embrace the Cross as a living spiritual principle in our hearts. The Cross is neither a symbol of jewelry nor a religious element – it is a living principle in our hearts. It is a symbol of spiritual determination in the heart of the disciple, to walk through the valley of crucifixion in this world, joyfully taking on “the 39 stripes and the insults”.

Developing Spiritual Psychology to engage Suffering

Spiritual Psychology refers to the attitude of the mind and a frame of thinking that originates in the knowledge of truth in Christ. Spiritual Psychology is the fruit of spiritual formation of our humanity in Christ (2 Cor. 3:18). It defines an identity, mentality and emotional outlook that is anchored in the truth of life in Christ. It is a product of applied knowledge in the process of human thought. Of significance to Spiritual Psychology is the substitution of the right to life with the duty to obey (God).

Luke 22:41 He withdrew about a stone’s throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed, 42 “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” NIV

Jesus is the second human and the last Adam, in the order of creation. He came to show us how to be human, so that we would follow in His example (1 Cor. 15:45-49, 1 Cor. 11:1).

1 Cor 15:47 The first man was of the earth, made of dust; the second Man is the Lord from heaven. NKJV

The word “man” used in the phrase, “the second man”, is the word “anthropos” from which we get the English word “anthropology”. This word (man) deals with the nature of humanity. Jesus is not just the second man; He is not just a “distant-historical Saviour, but He actually represents a model of humanity that we must adopt, as His disciples (1 Cor. 15:49).

1 Cor 15:49 And as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly Man. NKJV

We must bear the image of the heavenly man (or a heavenly humanity). The word “borne” (or bear) means to wear as clothing. We must put on the clothing of the image of Christ (Eph. 4:22-24). The word “image” is the Greek word eikon (or the English word “icon”) which defines a profile of something, a resemblance and a copy. The word eikon implies the existence of a prototype – it defines both a copy and a prototype after which a copy is made or developed. Jesus Christ is the prototype of our humanity, after Him we must establish a Kingdom Humanity here on earth that is a resemblance of His Nature. We must establish a Community of People who do not only identify with the humanity of Jesus Christ but who also take after its form (2 Cor. 3:18).

Eph 4:22 that you put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man (the old humanity) which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, 23 and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, 24 and that you put on the new man (the new humanity) which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness. NKJV

Through the Cross, we get to see beyond the veil as we interact with the kind of humanity that heaven is calling us towards…

Phil 2:5 Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus… NKJV

Luke 22:41 He withdrew about a stone’s throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed, 42 “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” NIV

In the Scriptures, we are advised against standing from a distance to “receive grace” and then walk away, wiping our mouths in “selfish thankfulness”. Rather, we are invited to come close into the same experience of the Cross, in full identification with the crucified Christ, to carry our own Cross and resemble the same attitude as His in our process of life. We must conform to the death of Jesus, so that we may attain to the resurrection from the dead (Phil. 3:10&11).

What is the point of all this?

There is a psychology that is displayed by Jesus during the crucifixion, that reflects the kind of humanity and psychology we must reflect in our own life experiences, even during this time of a global disaster. This psychology is reflected in the following words…

Luke 22:42 “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” NIV

The words, “not my will, but yours be done” reflect the basic structure of the psychology of Jesus – it was one of substitution of the right to life with the duty to obey. During our Fall in Genesis, we reflected the exact opposite…

Gen 3:6 When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. NIV

The principle of the Fall and of sin is one that emphasizes our sense of right to life – that which is “good for food, pleasing to the eye and desirable for gaining wisdom”. In other words, fundamental to the Fall are the three principles of, 1) the right to human wellbeing (good for food), 2) the right to pleasure and self-desires (pleasing to the eye), 3) and the right to success and prominence (desirable for gaining wisdom). Note that there is nothing wrong with these things, it only becomes a problem when we hold them as fundamental rights even when they are conflicted with the Will of God. Thus, the basic block and the first step to a successful kingdom life, is one in which we have clarified and resolved in our hearts the tension between the right to life and the duty to obey.

The right to life was given in the context of the duty to obey

Gen 2:15 The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. 16 And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; 17 but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.” NIV

The first freedom that was ever declared to the human being was placed within a broader context of the duty to obey God. “The Lord God commanded the man…you are free” – i.e. in the command of God, we found our freedom.

Gen 3:1 Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?” 2 The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, 3 but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.'” 4 “You will not surely die,” the serpent said to the woman. 5 “For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” NIV

If the first temptation of the human by the devil carries any fundamental clues in understanding the way Darkness operates, then we have to realize that this involves both the (a) twisting and manipulation of what God has said (doctrine), (b) and the placement of a human’s sense of right to life, in conflict with the Will of God. This is what Jesus had to overcome through the Cross. He therefore demonstrates for us that the lineage of the Second Man and Last Adam (or of Kingdom Humanity) is one through which we reverse the order of sin, and where we don’t only place the duty to obey as the first block of life, but also as a fundamental necessity to human wellbeing. There can be no peace where there is violation of the order of God.  Kingdom Humanity (which is structurally unlike the humanity of the world) is built on the fundamental principle of obedience – the duty to obey God. This duty to obey God is born out of our love for Him; it is the fruit of our spiritual affection and devotion, it is not coerced.

John 14:15 “If you love me, you will obey what I command. NIV

John 15:10 If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love. 11 I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. NIV

It is because of our love for God that we obey His commands. Unlike in “religion”, where we obey out of humanistic fear, in true kingdom life, we obey out of love and a holy fear of the Lord, because we know that His commands release the true potential of our humanity. Not only so, when we walk in obedience, we experience a divine exchange – as we show God our love, He also keeps us in His love. In the process, we experience the full and complete joy of the Lord.

The Duty to Obey: The Foundation of Psychological Strength in Suffering

Ps. 119:46 I will speak of your statutes before kings and will not be put to shame, 47 for I delight in your commands because I love them. 48 I lift up my hands to your commands, which I love, and I meditate on your decrees. NIV

Ps. 119:126 It is time for you to act, O Lord; your law is being broken. 127 Because I love your commands more than gold, more than pure gold, 128 and because I consider all your precepts right, I hate every wrong path. NIV

Prov 6:20 My son, keep your father’s commands and do not forsake your mother’s teaching. 21 Bind them upon your heart forever; fasten them around your neck. 22 When you walk, they will guide you; when you sleep, they will watch over you; when you awake, they will speak to you. 23 For these commands are a lamp, this teaching is a light, and the corrections of discipline are the way to life, 24 keeping you from the immoral woman, from the smooth tongue of the wayward wife. NIV

Deut. 5:32 So be careful to do what the Lord your God has commanded you; do not turn aside to the right or to the left. 33 Walk in all the way that the Lord your God has commanded you, so that you may live and prosper and prolong your days in the land that you will possess. NIV


Matt 7:24 “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. 26 But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. 27 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.” NIV

Obedience is both the basic human need and the highest form of human consciousness. On the other hand, self-life is the lowest form of human consciousness – this is what temptation brought us into. Obedience gives us a sense that our lives are the outworking of a command from a higher authority – a command which comes from God through human conscience. When humans respond to this reality, rather than their physiological needs, they realize their true potential. Even outside of spirituality, when humans are committed to something deeper and higher than their “stomachs” (some may call this “conscience” or “ideology”), they realize their true potential, and they also unleash destinies for themselves and their generation. In other words, this is the generic principle of life. When obedience is understood outside of “religion” but as a life principle, it unleashes a sense of purpose and meaning, which in turn unlocks true and godly humanity. Humans are most dangerous and evil when they are motivated by self-will, fear and indulgence. This is how Paul put it, “for me, to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Phil. 1:21). Paul equally spoke against those (within the ranks of the church) whom he called “the enemies of the Cross of Christ, whose destiny is destruction, whose god is their stomach, and whose glory is in their shame” (Phil. 3:18&19).

The true potential of our humanity in God (or of Kingdom Humanity) is realized not when we walk in self-will, but when we walk in obedience to God. And obedience to God reflects our affection and devotion to Him. The reason why suffering can produce maturity and a harvest of righteousness in us (provided it is administered correctly – see Rom. 5:1-5, Heb. 12:4-11) is because it resolves the conflict between the right to life and the duty to obey, and it crystallizes and distills our sense of love for God. This is because we realize that without Him, we can’t even dream of “a right to life”. Any branch that is cut off from Him will wither, it cannot produce life (John 15:1-17). Jesus therefore went to the Cross with full understanding that if He obeyed God, He could not lose life – not even the grave could keep Him. Those who walk in obedience will produce life even during difficulty and adversity. Obedience keeps us in union with God – and in God, nothing dies. Death is not the fruit of mortality; it is the fruit of being separated from God. Like Daniel and his friends, those who walk in obedience, even though they may be living out of a lean diet, will always look healthier and well-nourished than those who indulge in the pleasures of self-life (Dan. 1:8-16).

Rom 8:31 What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all — how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? 33 Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died — more than that, who was raised to life — is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? 36 As it is written: “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”  37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. NIV

To do justice to this scripture, we must pause and re-read it to understand what Paul is dealing with. The answer to the question, “who shall separate us from the love of Christ?” in verse 35, is implied in the things listed afterwards, i.e. trouble, hardship, persecution, famine, nakedness, danger or sword. Paul continues to say, “in all these things (mentioned above) we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us” (vs.37). “These things” are the troubles, hardships, persecution etc. In other words, it is our own attachment of greater value to “these things” (our sense of right to life or the right of not going through hardship, as an example), that can separate us from the love of God. But if we can continuously live as “more than conquerors”, implying our continuous victory over hardship, persecution etc. (i.e. our sense of duty to obey God even in suffering), due to our commitment to God over our lives, then we will be guaranteed that we shall live in perpetual union with Him. What “these things” come to test is not our threshold of pain, it is our affection and devotion for Christ. There was nothing that was going to come between the Son and the Father. The Son’s love of the Father would stand, even during the most feared or gruesome death during the Roman Empire.

The foundation of Spiritual Psychology is a correct internal structure of priority between the duty to obey and the right to life. When the duty to obey comes before the right to life, then life in God is guaranteed. But equally, we humans must be careful of “a sense of duty to obey” that is born or founded upon the pride of life and a deep-seated desire to build a name for ourselves. This too is a dangerous presumption that leads to death. This sense of duty to obey must be carried in the human heart with a deep sense of sincerity and humility, tempered and measured by the Holy Spirit, tested in the process of time and administrated in the right spiritual temperature of healthy fellowship.

The foundation of Spiritual Psychology is a correct internal structure of priority between the duty to obey and the right to life. When the duty to obey comes before the right to life, then perpetual union with God will be the result, and victory in suffering will be guaranteed.


Robert Ntuli

Pastor – LivingStones Agency (

Visionary Leader – Kingdom Humanity Fellowship (



Please follow the links below to access other resources relevant to the current pandemic…


  1. The Doctrine of Suffering – Part 1
  2. Covid-19: A Prophetic characterization of the current pandemic (part 1)
  3. Covid-19: A prophetic characterization of the current pandemic (part 2)
  4. Restating the foundations of the New Covenant
  5. Drivers for effective life in the current season of the pandemic
  6. Doing church in the crisis of coronavirus