Open Letter to the Reverend Doctor Ross Olivier

Dear Rev Dr Ross Olivier,

I find writing this note rather daunting; the post-nominal letters following your name confirm you as an academic and your title as President of Seth Mokitimi Methodist Seminary affirms the regard your peers have for you. I’m just Mark, neither noted academically nor acclaimed in any way. Yet it is [precisely] because you are an academic and because you hold office in an academic institution that I feel compelled to write to you. I have read and reread the open letter you wrote last week to defend the slaughter of a cow during the opening ceremony of Seth Mokitimi Methodist Seminary and I ask you to consider the following two observations.

Firstly after espousing the virtues of “peace and harmony, diversity and unity” you insinuate that those who question either the slaughter of the cow or the prayers are characterised as “rebellious… pride, prejudice, conflict, xenophobia, bigotry and racism… casting aspersions on the cultural expressions of other peoples, and sinfully relating our differences in terms of superiority and inferiority… sinful and bigoted people” (paragraph 12). As the President of Seth Mokitimi Methodist Seminary you’ve effectively muzzled any genuine Biblical opposition your faculty or students might have. Who could possibly stick up their hand at the risk of been labelled such. Paul writing to the Thessalonians, and undoubtedly with the memory of Acts 17:10 – 11 near to his mind, exhorts them to “Prove all things; hold fast that which is good” (1 Th 5:21). While lack of discernment ravages our churches surely acuity needs to be fostered in our learning institutions?

Secondly, while you did address the issue of the slaughter of the cow, when one considers the timing of the slaughter (to commemorate the opening of Seth Mokitimi Methodist Seminary) and the method of the slaughter (“the throat-slitting of an animal”) it is clear that the act represented more than just a way to prepare food. It’s not a stretch to see that it was included into the itinerary as an act of worship. Because there is no evidence that the early church engaged in this form of ritual sacrifice (1 Cor. 10:18 – 20) and because we’re charged to “worship the Father in spirit and in truth” (Jn 4:23) the appropriateness of our worship is of great import. Could it be that not all cultural practises resonate well with Biblical revelation?

There is much to say but for brevities sake perhaps this is enough?

In the interests of truth (John 17:17) and towards the goal of unity in truth (2 John 1:1),



2 thoughts on “Open Letter to the Reverend Doctor Ross Olivier

  1. Hi Mark,

    Long time no chat! Just a couple of quick thoughts on this thought-provoking and courageous (in the light of your comments about your relative ‘qualifications’) post – for which I thank you.

    I appreciate the fact that you call Ross on what clearly came across to you as a strong repression of dialogue. I know Ross well, and I can assure you that he would never have meant to close down conversation, and he would have no problem with you challenging both his views and his practices in a spirit of mutual respect and learning (as you have done). I hope he gets to see your post, although I also suspect that he may well – as I do – be a little frustrated with the hullabaloo that this simple celebration has caused. Nevertheless, I am always grateful when followers of Christ are brave enough to challenge one another in order to ensure that we continue together to stay true to the ways of Christ.

    Secondly, I want to pick up on one comment you made about worship:
    You wrote:
    “Because there is no evidence that the early church engaged in this form of ritual sacrifice (1 Cor. 10:18 – 20) and because we’re charged to “worship the Father in spirit and in truth” (Jn 4:23) the appropriateness of our worship is of great import.”

    The truth is there is no evidence that the early did most of what we now consider commonplace in our worship services. Many folk in our churches are completely unaware of the extent to which what we now call worship bears little or no resemblance to the practice of the early church (which was based on the synagogue’s worship practices).

    It really would be impossible – and I believe also undesirable – to use the early church as a standard for what we do now in worship. In one sense worship can be described as our offering of ourselves to God. This means we can only bring who we are – with all that this entails: our culture, preferences, gender, worldview, experiences, learning, understanding, ignorance, blind spots, wounds, abilities and so much more. To try and fit 21st century believers into a 1st century worship mould is to move worship out of the freedom of intimacy with God and into a legalistic, ritualistic structure that cannot and must not be changed. Don’t get me wrong, I am all for tradition, but when past practices (even biblical ones) become idols, they hurt our worship, not help it.

    In the end, even as you quote, John 4, you indicate that worship is less about the ‘outward’ practice, and more about the ‘inward’ encounter with God (although I recognise, in one sense, that it is impossible to separate them). If this moment of prayer and awareness, of celebration and thanksgiving was an offering of the hearts of God’s people to God surely that is what God seeks? Even if it was ‘clothed’ in a traditional African practice?

    Just a thought…


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