I’ve spent the last week bombarded by people asking me “can Christians go to Afro Nation’. This article will address this. For those unaware, Afro Nation 2019 is self-described as,
“Europe’s biggest urban music beach festival, taking place from 1-4 August on the stunning Praia da Rocha, bring[ing] together some of the most exciting names in afrobeats, hip hop, R&B, dancehall and bashment.”
I suspect this question comes from two different places and so this article is written for two different types of people:
- Christians who attended Afro Nation 2019; who perhaps feel guilty and are earnestly seeking to know whether their decision was wrong and how they should approach festivals of this kind in the future.
- Those who didn’t attend Afro Nation 2019, however, are in eager anticipation of the next festival and are wondering what the bible says about this.
This article is not about Afro Nation (the organisation). Instead this article will focus on how Christians ought to consider the impact of decisions on their soul, others and their own personal witness.
Perhaps at the top end of this article, we ought to reframe the question. To grow as Christians, we must move past the type of questions that dominated most of my early-youth. I can recall the prepubescent whining now… ‘can Christians do this’, ‘can Christians do that’. Part of Christian maturing is no longer starting questions with, ‘can I’, but starting to consider more weighty and important questions like, what impact does this decision have on me and/or on others around me? Does it aid my consecration? Does it add to my witness or spoil it? Does it aid my enjoyment of God? Does it glorify God? Does it feed my flesh or my spirit? Does it help me worship God or does it place an idol in his place?
When making decisions, ‘can I’, should be circumvented with ‘should I’, and then a Christian must also be open to correction and teaching. This is another crucial marker of maturity. After all, this is the Apostle Paul’s helpful advice, in 1st Corinthians 13.
‘All things are lawful [that is, morally legitimate, permissible], but not all things are beneficial or advantageous. All things are lawful, but not all things are constructive [to character] and edifying [to spiritual life].’
The idea here is simple enough. There is more to consider when making decisions than simply whether the said activity is fun/makes you feel good, or even whether you are justified in doing it. Some things may be lawful to you but destructive to your soul.
The truth is, we have to be open to correction and we have to be malleable. Any Christian that is not teachable and/or only considers trivial questions like ‘is this fun’ when making decisions is naive and fails to grasp the ramification of his/her decisions. This Christian must also repent and take the bible more seriously.
“I’m a Christian” “Me too”
We live in an age where the lines between genuine authentic Christianity and secularism are extremely blurred. When you tell a stranger you are Christian, these days you are more likely going to get a ‘me too’ or ‘my nan is one too’ or ‘we go to church every Christmas’. As opposed to genuine intrigue at why you have chosen to die to the world, pick up your cross and follow Jesus. In our society, where everyone can be anything they declare, imagine or at worst feel; the behaviour and decisions of Christians have become the final frontier for telling people apart. See, believers must actually live differently in an age where people only often speak differently. That is what makes us stand out; we make different choices. With this being said, our conduct is hyper important and people are genuinely watching. Those who think people aren’t are misguided. Those that think this article or perhaps these questions are much ado about nothing are also misguided. It concerns remarkably important themes which we will now dive into.
Where does desire come from? – Koinonia gone wrong
We are all social beings. This is, for the most part, what festivals and gatherings like Afro Nation offer. A chance to meet and catch up with friends, make memories, perhaps forget work and altogether, have a good time. The desire to socialise is not a self-generated desire. As human beings, we are specially designed by our creator to be social creatures. We live in groups, work in groups, and socialise in groups. So when we desire to party, we are responding to the need for human interaction, fun, and relaxation. This is normal and natural. Even the Holy Spirit dwelt in fellowship. Look no further than the trinity (1 Corinthians 8:6, John 1:10) to see The Father, Son and the Holy Spirit in an eternal and unbroken fellowship.
However, it is important to trace back this idea of fellowship. For Christians, the desire for human interaction has the added dimension of wanting and needing fellowship. The Greek word translated “fellowship” in the New Testament is koinonia, which means “partnership, participation, social interaction, and communication.” The important concept for Christian fellowship is “partnership.” The Bible tells us we have been called into fellowship (partnership) with Christ (1 Corinthians 1:9), with the Father (1 John 1:3) and with the Holy Spirit (Philippians 2:1). John tells us that, as believers, we have fellowship with one another by virtue of the blood Jesus shed for us on the cross (1 John 1:7). This means in the heart of every believer is a specific desire for fellowship. Deep and meaningful partnership with God and with each other. We crave it and for the most part, we need it.
The problem with the question “should Christians go to Afro Nation” is that Afro Nation and festivals of this kind are not “fellowship parties.” There is no reason to even ask the question regarding parties that are focused on Christian fellowship. No, this question is almost always in regards to parties that involve alcohol, drugs, and/or sex. Certainly, there are non-Christians who can party innocently, but a party that involves things that are immoral and/or illegal must be avoided. Gatherings that leave us empty afterwards, are aided by drugs and alcohol or has us revelling in immorality are not gatherings we should attend. They are a cheap imitation of the fellowship Christians are to enjoy with God and each other. They are a bastardisation of the fellowship God offers us through Jesus Christ. Choosing these events over Gods offering is akin to leaving a beautiful and responsible Bride jilted at the altar for a floozy. It simply isn’t worth it.
You are not above temptation
Much is made of Christians who say. “Clubbing and partying is not my weakness” or perhaps, “I don’t struggle with this”, “I just go to have a good time”. There is no denying some are being sincere when they reveal their intentions. However, professing Christ doesn’t make you immune to temptation. Are you really saying you’ve never had one lustful thought? Stared at a low cut dress just that bit too long? Danced just that bit too intimately? Drank that little bit too much? Become envious of other people? If attending these festivals is causing you to think wrong thoughts, the biblical advice is to cut it off! Stop going! Matthew 18:8 tells us
“If your hand and foot causes you to sin cut if off and throw it away.”
It is important to ponder on this imagery, Consider the ramification. Whatever leads you to sin cut it off and throw it away. ‘If your hand leads you to sin, cut it off and throw it away’. This means it is better you cut off your hands, and as a result never get to feel the sensation of running your hands through your daughter’s hair, than to sin. It is better you cut out your eyes and never get to see the sunset again, than to sin. Through this scripture, God shows us that he is very serious about sin and holiness. The idea here is that God expects you to make some sacrifices to protect yourself from sin. Sometimes this means denying yourself some lawful things, some enjoyable things which may be mired in immorality. As believers, we are to guard ourselves against temptation, remembering that “bad company corrupts good character” (1 Corinthians 15:33).
The fact of the matter is this: we don’t like to admit how sinful we still are. But, to not admit so is placing confidence in ourselves rather than God. Yes, we are the righteousness of God in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:21),however sin can still drag us down! It still deceives us as it deceives you now if you think wild parties are ok.
Even if you are currently not being tempted at these festivals, a question to consider is, just how long will this last? Going to these festivals means placing yourself directly in the path of temptation. It’s unwise. You’re putting too much trust in your ability to resist the Devil. Be wise, remember how pitiful you are, how prone to sin, how often you break God’s law. Don’t go. Galatians offers some helpful advice regarding this.
Galatians 5:19-21 When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, the results are very clear: sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures, idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division, envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these. Let me tell you again, as I have before, that anyone living that sort of life will not inherit the Kingdom of God.
Saved but trying to fit in (I’m a cool Christian)
Let us be honest, even as a Christians, there can often be (an albeit fading) desire to fit in and to be socially relevant. I still get excited every time I make a successful pop culture reference. Although we have left the club, we may still feel the desire to keep our membership card, just in case. We attend the same parties but miss the ones that are really bad, we speak the same but avoid really bad speech, we watch the same things but avoid really bad shows. We have been sold a false Christianity.
Being a Christian does not mean being “less bad”… it means being different.
Moralistic therapeutic deism (MTD) is a term that was first introduced in the book Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers (2005). The book is the result of the research project the “National Study of Youth and Religion. The author’s study found that many young people believe in several moral statutes not exclusive to any of the major world religions. A central statute in this book is that most young people think the point of religion is to help you behave better and make you into a better person. This is false. Alarming as it may be, this is what some Christians may have been hoodwinked into or knowingly started believing. This is the view that Christians are to be less bad than the world. To attend wild parties but not sin, to drink but not get drunk, to dance intimately but not have sex.
Many Christians believe Christianity is about being less bad than the world. Sure, this is a part of the Gospel, but not the thrust of the Gospel. The thrust of the Gospel is about making you right with God. It’s about satisfying eternal and weighty wrath and being born again. It’s about a change of nature and essence and not solely managed behavioural change. That comes after. Why is this important? Well because when we consider that we have been reborn (John 3:1-21) and set apart (1 John 4:4-5), we begin to understand that standing out and being different is the very call of the gospel. It’s not a choice or an optional module, its the very point of being saved. Saved from what? Yourself!
In the gospel of Matthew, Christians are likened to a city set on a hill that cannot be hidden (5:14), this is very different to our approach some times as Christians, who want to be consecrated and set apart but also fit in and cool.
Here is a sobering thought for those of us struggling with this pull. The world does not need ‘less bad’, irrelevant copies of itself. The world needs more aliens. More folks that are willing to stand out and be different. Who are willing to be called prudish, bizarre and old fashioned. Who are willing to embrace the ‘shame’ of the world and let it do its work. After all, look at the effect shame had on the life of Jesus. Shame stripped away every earthly support that Jesus had: his friends gave way in shaming abandonment; his reputation gave way in shaming slander; his decency gave way in shaming nakedness; his comfort gave way in shaming torture. It reminded him that he was different, set apart and holy. Crucially, mature Christians must embrace a similar type of shame and instead rejoice in Gods approval of their behaviour. The truth of the matter is that we (Christians) cannot hope to change the world if we are motivated by the same things they are motivated by. What’s the difference? How can you aim to influence people who don’t see you as different? If they only see you as ‘better’ than they are, then they will wrongly assume that they just need to work harder to get to your ‘level’ when in reality they need to be saved and born again. Here are some helpful passages on standing out.
1. Romans 12:1-2 Brothers and sisters, in view of all we have just shared about God’s compassion, I encourage you to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, dedicated to God and pleasing to him. This kind of worship is appropriate for you. Don’t become like the people of this world. Instead, change the way you think. Then you will always be able to determine what God really wants—what is good, pleasing, and perfect.
2. 1 Peter 1:13-15 Therefore, your minds must be clear and ready for action. Place your confidence completely in what God’s kindness will bring you when Jesus Christ appears again. Because you are children who obey God, don’t live the kind of lives you once lived. Once you lived to satisfy your desires because you didn’t know any better. But because the God who called you is holy, you must be holy in every aspect of your life.
3. James 4:4 You people are not faithful to God! You should know that loving what the world has is the same as hating God. So anyone who wants to be friends with this evil world becomes God’s enemy.
Don’t spoil your witness
Before Jesus left the earth and ascended into heaven, in Matthew 28:19- 20, he tells us ‘Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age’. This is sometimes called the Great Commission and details Gods final instruction to us through Jesus. Our life decisions should be made through this prism. How does my behaviour help me fulfil the great commission?
Attending festivals of this kind where sinful activities occur—even if we don’t participate in them—weakens our witness and brings reproach on the name of Christ (Romans 2:24). I’m reminded of this helpful scripture “Everyone who confesses the name of the Lord must turn away from wickedness” (2 Timothy 2:19). Consider, just what sort of witness are you setting? Ok, maybe you don’t get drunk or don’t dance that intimately. But so what? A lot of people might not drink or like dancing. Appearing at these festivals is your tacit consent to what is going on. You are willingly supporting and funding a system that you know is harming and hurting other people. You’re sending out the message that Christians are no different to everybody else. We can go to clubs as well! Dance, drink, sin.
Conversely, we are called to live in the world but not be part of it (John 17:16). To be distinctive in our lives. Now imagine that when you’re friends invited you to a club you said no. And you explained it was because you rejected all the sexual and lustful sins that go on there. What an amazing witness! What a spectacular example of Christ-like behaviour. As believers, we cannot maintain a strong prophetic witness if we do not keep a prophetic distance. That is to say, it is hard to speak about the virtues and vices of swimming when you are in the pool yourself. It is imperative that you live differently and are not in the midst of these things. Here is a wise proverb “The integrity of the upright will guide them, but the perversity of the unfaithful will destroy them… Better is the poor who walks in his integrity than one who is perverse in his lips, and is a fool.” (Proverbs 11:3; 19:1)
Sanctification takes time
When we accept Jesus Christ as our Lord and saviour, we are justified (Romans 3:21-26, Romans 5:18-19, 2 Corinthians 5:21). Immediately we are forgiven for our sins and declared righteous and holy. Jesus takes on our sin and his atonement buys us a relationship with God. This is called imputed righteousness (Romans 10:3). There is nothing a believer can do to embellish this or change it. Our justification is forensic and final. However, our sanctification is progressive and modal. Parallel to our Justification, our Sanctification begins. God begins the work of making us progressively holy (2 Peter 3:18) and we start becoming privy to our own growth and development. It takes a lifetime for our behaviour to change and to be progressively made better. Sanctification and justification are two sides of the same coin. “Sanctification” is a translation of the Greek word hagiasmos, meaning “holiness” or “a separation.” In the past, God granted us justification, a once-for-all, positional holiness in Christ. Now, God guides us to maturity, a practical, progressive holiness. In the future, God will give us glorification, a permanent, ultimate holiness.
You may be wondering why this foray into theology? Well, this knowledge teases out a very important point to consider in closing. When we read Romans 8:1.
There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.
We are reminded of our Justification. Through his sovereign providence, nothing we do can separate us from him. There is no condemnation for Christians who have sinned or have fallen short. However, the second clause of that scripture lets us know “who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit”, that is to say, there is an expectation that Christians would walk after the Spirit. They would only go where the Holy Spirit would lead them and would not be grieved. Demonstrated in scripture is God’s commitment to beautifying you and your life. As you make decisions about what you do for leisure, who you relate with. Questions that must come to the foreground are, how does this aid my sanctification? Does this help me grow in the way God would have me grow or does this take me back? Does this fatten my flesh or my spirit?
Our decisions are like pebbles thrown into a pond. Sure, initially we see the pebble make a splash. We are sometimes naive in thinking this is the sole impact of our decisions. What we don’t see when we turn around and walk away is that, after the initial splash, the pebble makes its way down the pond, disturbing local ecosystems and habitats, causing ripples through the water and causing wildlife to change their routes. It then hits the seabed and again sends mico tremours through the Earth’s core.
If we started to consider the sheer impact our decisions may be having, we may make better ones.