Ghanaian Anglicans urged to stop praying for the dead

No such thing as purgatory, altar servers conference told. Focus instead on prayers for the living.

Stop praying for the dead, a Ghanaian church leader has urged Anglicans in West Africa, urging them to turn their attentions to the living.

In an 11 Aug 2018 address to the 15th Biennial Conference of the Guild of the Servants of the Sanctuary — a society of altar servers and lay eucharistic ministers within the Church of the Province of West Africa — meeting in Sunyani, the Rev. Prof. Kwasi Nsiah-Gyabaa, former president of the Nkoranza campus of the Anglican University College of Technology, urged the 300 delegates drawn from 11 dioceses not to waste their time in praying for souls in purgatory, but to pray for the conversion of those who could yet turn their lives over to Jesus Christ.

Extracts from his address printed in Modern Ghana, record Prof. Nsiah-Gyabaa criticizing non-Biblical customs that had arisen in the West African church. “When we go for burial services, we spend too much time praying for the dead – for God to forgive the dead. When the person was alive, he was a fornicator, he was a murderer, he was corrupt and all the ills that bring pains to society, he was part and parcel of it. He’s dead and you go spend time praying to God to forgive him”

“Why don’t we spend the time to …tell those who are alive and are in the church to change their behavior, mind and attitude so that they would be saved. So instead of wasting all the time praying for the dead, let us concentrate on the living and pray for the salvation of those who are there,” he said.

Churchmanship differs across Africa, in large part due to the differences found in western missionary societies. Areas evangelized by the CMS, such as Nigeria, Kenya and Uganda, have an evangelical ethos, while those evangelized by the SPG or UMCA developed along Anglo-Catholic lines. The Gold Coast, modern Ghana, was reached by the SPG and the CMS and has variations in churchmanship that replicate the divisions within church parties in the west on issues like prayers for the dead, the real presence, and purgatory.

Prof. Nsiah-Gyabba also addressed the need for Ghanaian Anglican worship to move beyond its formalized Anglo-Catholic roots to reach a new generation.

Liturgical forms needed to be changed, he argued, and catechetical instruction deepened. It was not enough to do what our forefathers did if we do it without understanding. Liturgy that had become rote was “ not attractive, they’re not interesting and that is why we are losing some of you (youth).”

“It also very bad about our church that when we go to church, during liturgy; what we say, what we do, the gestures, and the song that we sing… we don’t understand them….the church would not teach us why we sing a particular song at a particular time. The congregation is not aware of the meaning of these practices.”

He urged Ghanaian churches to permit varieties of baptism — from sprinkling of water to full immersion. “Some people want baptism by immersion or through immersion, and others want it by sprinkling, the recommendation to the church is that why can’t we combine both so that you allow the individual to make a choice,” he said.

He welcomed “healthy” reforms to liturgical practice, applauding the introduction of girl acolytes and female lay eucharistic ministers, and allowing communicants to receive the host in the hand or on the tongue, and permitting a single cup and also individual cups for wine.

Among them, he said, are the inclusion of girls to be part of the Servers, modification of procedure for communion service to ensure that church members no-more drink from only one cup but a separate cup for each person.

In his address, the host of the gathering, the Rt. Rev. Festus Yeboah-Asuamah, Bishop of Sunyani, did not respond to Prof. Nsiah-Gyabaa’s comments. Dr. Yeboah-Asuamah devoted his address to the need for faithfulness and perseverance for those called to serve at the altar.

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