Tag Archives: priest

Witch doctors and priests

The following is from Vincent Donovan’s Christianity Rediscovered, pages 103-105. In reading the entire book you can see that Donovan was by no means opposed to leadership in the Church; he was only opposed to that kind of leadership which separated the laity from God, resulting in a new incarnation of the Old Testament priesthood that Jesus did away with:


As I learned more and more about the pagan religious life of the people I had been working with, I took it all in with mixed feelings. I realized that these actions of theirs and the belief of the people existed in a context of life that was filled with piety and goodness. I felt a sense of respect for the life I saw, because I could only agree with St. Paul that all nations can seek and find God, and that each nation goes its own way with the evidence of God available in the good things he gives each nation. But as I witnessed the work of the witch doctor I also felt sad and slightly sick, if not ashamed. Every single thing I saw him do, I recognized, not from my acquaintance with other pagan religions, but from my experience as a priest in our own Christian religion.The temples or sacred places kept up at the people’s expense and labor; the class apart, witch doctors or priests, the privileged ones, the ones who make themselves the most important in the religious community, the ones who alone can talk to God, whether it be through words of incantation and blessing, or words of consecration and absolution; the ordinary people, especially women, completely at the mercy and whim and arbitrariness and exclusiveness of the holy one–not reaching the throne of God, or even understanding the word of God, except through him; the discrimination against women; the offerings for the sacrifice, and the daily sacrifice itself; the manipulation of sacred signs and relics; the air of unfathomable mystery about it all. There is scarcely a pagan trick that we Christians have overlooked or missed.

But surely all this is the very reason why the Christian religion came into being. This is why the early Christians cried out in anguish that their religion was different from the pagan religions, why they felt it necessary to disassociate themselves from temples, altars, sacrifices, and priesthood.

Was it for nothing that Christ entered once and for all into the holy of holies and offered the one and only Christian sacrifice?…

…I really could not go to the Masai and tell them that this is the good news I had brought them: they would no longer have to rely on the power of the pagan witch doctor; now, they could transfer their trust to the power of the Christian witch doctor. That is no good news at all. It is not worth traveling eight thousand miles to impart that news. Does not the good news consist in the proclamation that we no longer need contemporaneous mediators or a privileged caste to lead us to God? Is it not so that we believe that the people of God, the laity, can reach even to the throne of the living God, by the power given to them as a Christian community by Christ? Is not this what the good news is all about?

St. Peter described this new situation: “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a consecrated nation, a people set apart to sing the praises of God who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people at all, and now you are the people of God” (1 Pet 2:9, 10).

In insuring that a young church has everything necessary to become a mature, adult, and independent entity, more important than financial subsidies for the clergy, and academic programs and seminary structures for candidates for the ministry, is the imparting of a truly basic, Christian understanding of the ministry and priesthood.

(Above photo courtesy of sparky4927)

Christianity Rediscovered

Our friend and church planting coach, Rob, loaned me a book called Christianity Rediscovered by Vincent J. Donovan.  I have been picking through it just a few pages at a time before I go to sleep at night.  Donovan is a Catholic priest who was a missionary to the Masai tribe in the country of Tanzania in East Africa.  He became disillusioned with the seeming ineffectiveness of many of the traditional missions tactics (schools, hospitals, etc.) that had not yielded one adult believer after seven years of work.  He got permission from a bishop over him to pull free from those activities and “just go and talk to them about God and the Christian message.”  In the book, he shares many of his experiences with evangelizing and discipling the Masai, and he offers reflections on what he learned about God, missions, and the Church through it all.

I have found Donovan’s book both interesting and challenging.  It has stretched me and caused me to reflect.  I’m realizing lately how much you learn about Christianity when viewing it through the lense of a different culture, and that was Donovan’s experience, too.  I think his book is a little more off the beaten path of popular books with Western missionaries, and I recommend it for precisely that reason.  He offers a somewhat unique perspective.  I thought I would share an excerpt I read a couple of days ago, where Donovan reflects on inward versus outward turned Christianity:

“How does one prevent a distorted meaning of Christianity from creeping into a community right at the start?  It is only in the imparting of an outward-turned Christianity that we have any hope of achieving Christianity.  An inward turned Christianity is a dangerous counterfeit, an alluring masquerade.  It is no Christianity at all.

The salvation of one’s own soul, or self-sanctification, or self-perfection, or self-fulfillment may well be the goal of Buddhism or Greek philosophy or modern psychology.  But it is not the goal of Christianity.  For someone to embrace Christianity for the purpose of self-fulfillment or self-salvation is, I think, to betray or to misunderstand Christianity at its deepest level.

The temptation to look inward is one that affects not only individuals, but also whole communities, parishes, dioceses.  In such cases the physical or spiritual well-being of the Christian community becomes the very goal of the community, the whole reason for its existence.  Any ulterior motive for the community’s existence is completely forgotten.  Indeed the only valid reason for the community’s existence is forgotten.

Christianity must be a force that moves outward, and a Christian community is basically in existence ‘for others’.  That is the whole meaning of a Christian community.  A Christian community which spends all its resources on a building campaign for its own needs has long ago left Christianity high and dry on the banks.  Or all its resources on an education program or youth program for that matter.  A Christian community is in existence ‘for others’ not for ‘its own.'”

What thoughts do you have as you read what Donovan says?