Harare, December 05, 2013 – When the biblical Moses received the famed Ten Commandments written by the Creator on stone tablets he would never have imagined the technological versions of ‘tablets’ that would come centuries later.
The 21st century’s Later-Day-Saints have become techno-savvy, throwing out of the window the traditional Bible as the use of mobile technologies in churches, congregations and other Christian communities has taken a step forward. Smart phones such as i-phones and tablet computers now make it possible for church goers to use their smart phones or follow passages from the Bible, hymns and sermons of a religious service.
United family International (UFI) founder Emmanuel Makandiwa or his colleague Uebert Angel does not carry the traditional bibles anymore.
Instead when they emerge from their top of the range vehicles one cannot help but notice the small gadgets that have replaced the bible. It’s a bible of a king from which they swipe as they move from one verse to another.
However, those from the traditional churches like the Catholics, Anglicans, Methodists and those from the Salvation Army who are more conservative than the Pentecostal churches seem to differ.
The differences of opinion range from those who approve of the way the likes of Makandiwa, Angel and their congregants are “abusing” the gadgets in the same breath seemingly oblivious to the fact that most of their members have neither the gadgets nor access to the internet.
Doctor Isaac Soda of the Evangelical Church said the changes that have been brought by technology are inevitable but are a double edged sword.
“Mobile bibles are portable and easy to use for those that are up to date with technology. On the downside technology seems to have exacerbated the already widening gap between the rich and poor, the haves and have nots. Ordinarily the church is for people seeking salvation and from usually poor backgrounds. Those without access to these gadgets and the internet feel alienated and that is a recipe for disaster within the Christian Community,” Soda said.
Another cleric Goodwill Shana said there is need for caution in the way Christians take to technology. He said the Church needed to be cognisant of the fact that the majority of Zimbabweans may be educated but do not have access to the latest technological gadgets.
However, Shana, the Zimbabwe Heads of Christian Denominations chairperson and Senior Pastor of Word of Life International Ministries added that the Church cannot avoid technology.
“The coming of technology is nothing new at one time some people in our rural areas did not have radio but now they have cellphones. The pervasion of our society by technological gadgets and technology in general is an unavoidable concomitant of the 21st century. However, it should never be used for the exclusion of those who do not have access to technology. Technology will continue to be useful in the spreading of the gospel but should never be used as a tool for exclusion. It should be neutral,” Shana said.
An elder with the Anglican Church in Glen Norah who refused to be identified begged to differ.
“You see most of the people who want to sit in front chairs are only there to show off their gadgets. It’s chaos and they also want to answer their phones and other such gadgets. We have told them they will have to choose to switch off the gadgets or have their own church sessions,” he said.
A leading figure with the ultra-conservative Salvation Army Church which has strict disciplinary codes revealed mobile phones and such other gadgets are “banned” during sermons.
A senior member of the church with the rank of Lieutenant-General said the Salvation Army will never allow phones in their sermons.
“It is abominable. It is against everything that has to do with the salvation of the spirit that brought people to the church of God in the first place. That is why we all have one uniform.
“It is to make sure no one feels out of place now if they are bringing in these shinny gadgets and showing them off it defeats the whole principal of equality before God and man,” he said.
Some Apostolic Sects known for their queer beliefs go even further.
The African Apostolic Church headed by Bishop Paul Mwazha has for decades banned television sets and radios even in congregants’ homes.
Their argument according to members is that it goes against the values that define the life of Jesus Christ. It is also argued that the church’s members might lose it by adapting and adopting foreign cultures that might turn their hearts away from God.
As for mobile phones, African Church members can only use them anywhere else but at Church usually under a tree.
With the biggest Christian holiday only days away, Christmas comes with gifts and in this day and age technological gadgets are at the top of every person’s wish list.
A visit to most Pentecostal churches show that those who sit in the front row seats are the well-heeled who are always jostling to take a picture of either Prophet Makandiwa or Prophet Angel. Spare a thought though for Mbuya Ruidah who can read the traditional bible but is not able to operate a mobile phone sitting at the back of the church.
She does not even understand what the internet is. Her situation is more pronounced in the rural areas.
One is left questioning whether it is a matter of adapt or die for the Lord’s gospel or the technological invasion is a double edged dagger at the very heart of salvation.