Of Theologies, Songs and Mantras

Last  Sunday at our meeting, we found ourselves questioning another song that we Ghanaian Christians sing and take for granted every day, and also reflects a general trend which we believe is worrying. The song is recorded below, with its English translation alongside it. Please forgive my translation if it’s not too exact, but I think we all get the drift of this song.

Ye beyi Yesu aye (We will Praise Jesus)

Wo odo a odi ado yen (For the love he has for us)

W’ama ade pa akye yen biom (For he has made us wake up in health again)

Ye beyi n’aye daa (We will praise him forever).

 

Our beef was with that third passage which talked about Jesus waking us up in good health (or something to that effect). I know most people have not given much thought to that sentence in the song, but I believe it reflects the general malaise that has eaten into the Christian message and witness in our times, especially in the Ghanaian context. So please stick with me a while and you’ll get the point I’m driving at.

 

Thinking Globally

There are 7 billion citizens of this world. The Indians hold 1 billion of that, and the Chinese close to 1.5 billion. Statistically then, these 2 countries alone constitute 28% of the world’s population. Yet the majority of these people are either Hindu or Buddhist in one form or the other. In fact according to Wikipedia, 82% of Indians are Hindu, so that makes that 820 million Hindus in India alone. And these are people who may have not even heard about Jesus Christ, or may have but don’t believe in him. And yet, China’s economy is the fastest growing economy in the world, and we in Africa are importing their products by droves. India is coming along just nicely after China economically. I have not even begun to talk about the Buddhists/Hindus outside of Asia, much more the abundance of Muslims all over the world.

All of these huge masses of people have something in common – the live and breathe and have their being as Paul put it, but it’s not because they believe in Jesus Christ. It’s simply because God has allowed it to be so.

 

 

Marriage

The Indians, with all their Hinduism, have the lowest divorce rates in the world. Contrast that to America with all its “Christianity”, where according to the pollster George Bana, 50% of specifically Christian marriages (not American marriages in general) have led to divorce. Again, this figure is not general American marriages, but Christian American marriages. And yet we kid ourselves with the notion that “If Jesus is in our marriages, they will be successful”. Of course, nobody actually stops to think that the standards that Jesus sets for our marriages are far higher than those of the general public. Jesus himself is not the guarantee of a successful marriage – learning to live a life of love, respect, humility and self-sacrifice for one another in marriage is the guarantee, and Jesus gave no other standards.

 

Wealth

The wealthiest people of this world are not Christians. And I don’t mean people who have Christian names or believe in the existence of God (we seem to confuse a belief in God with a belief in Jesus), neither do I mean Jews. I mean people who believe in Jesus Christ as the son of God and the savior of the world and who are part of a community of saints, spending their time and lives with them. It is universally self-evident that if a Christian wants to be the most prosperous man in the world, he probably is in the wrong religion. Just go make your money and spend it, and forget about being a Christian. Alternatively start up a church, and find ways to justify collecting money from the members in the name of “God blessing a cheerful giver” and “doing God’s work”. Obviously not all of us Christians can be “pastors”, so this wealth is even segregated. Hmm, remind me if we are still running a priesthood of all believers.

 

Long Life

The oldest living human beings in the Guinness book of records are not in Christian dominated countries, but in Asia, specifically Japan. Yet most Japanese are either Buddhist or Shintoist. Again, both the Bible and science have shown us the keys to long life. When we are busy NOT living a healthy life, but rather damaging ourselves and expecting God to miraculously give us good health, we have none to blame but ourselves. And even when through no fault of ours we are struck down by disease and are not healed by God, we do not see how our sickness may be a means to an end, and either point fingers claiming “you don’t have faith”, “there is sin in your life” or some other judgmental mantra.

 

In Short

Afterall God gives everybody life, and takes as he pleases. The bible says God supplies rain to both the good and the wicked as well. Waking up to a good day has got nothing to do with believing in Jesus Christ. The 820 million Indian Hindus woke up this morning, and some of them have 1 million dollar weddings to attend this weekend, if my Indian friend Himanshu’s statements are anything to go by. Being wealthy has got nothing to do with believing in Jesus. In spite of our plenty Christianity, we are borrowing a paltry 3 billion from the Chinese with plenty political hoopla and I don’t need to remind you what they believe in.

 

Surprised By Hope, Ignited by His Kingdom

And so I wonder why we do not sing and shout about what makes us unique in this world. I wonder why we sing “God has been good”; when it should be “God is good”. Was there ever a time when God was not good, or are we only talking about when times were good for us? Has our theology become so warped that we uncritically accept any song labeled “Christian/gospel”? I wonder why our “Double Doubles” and confused gospels are all about how me and my family have woken up to good health, how God is going to “change my destiny” (wonder where that is in the bible?), how what God has said about my life he will fulfill (when He has said all He will say about his church already, and we are only part of that communal vision), how God is going to “butter my bread” and “sugar my koko”, giving me double houses and double cars? What about the days when we wake up with malaria and can’t go to church on Sunday? Or when because of persecution, our brother is killed for their faith in Jesus (as is happening in Asia & Middle East)? Can we still sing “W’ama ade pa akye yen biom” sincerely? Can we still sing “Your house na double double” when by no fault of ours the house we’ve sweated to build is burnt down in a fire? Or is it because we’ve believed Jesus Christ because of what we think we will get from him in this material world, and not his mission for us on this earth?

 

Because if that weren’t the case, our songs will be more about Jesus and his call to us as a people to be the expression of his nature – a nature of love. Our songs will express eternal truths about his coming to die to bring us cleansing and salvation. Our songs will galvanize us to build his kingdom on this earth, through love and devotion to one another, and through a dedication to see the destitute, hopeless and lost feel and see that the coming Kingdom of Jesus Christ “go be keke”. Our songs will reflect that joy is found in Christ and his community, even when the world is pressing us on every side. Our mantras will be about how through our faith in Christ we are able to galvanize our resources towards meeting our own needs, as well as those less fortunate around us; that we are the bearers of good news, bringing hope to both the rich and the poor, the lonely and the famous; that there is something unique about us as a people of Jesus, something that neither sword, nor persecution nor riches nor poverty can take away from us.

Let us leave the songs about daily bread to them that have not the hope of Jesus, and let our songs tell what kind of people we are that the rest of the world isn’t. If not, let’s stop kidding ourselves, become Japanese so we may live long, marry an Indian so we have blissful marriages and become American Wall Street brokers, so we can become wealthy.

In the end, we changed the words from “W’ama adepa akye yen” to “W’aba be wu agye yenkwa” (He has died to bring us salvation). So don’t be surprised if you hear me sing it differently then.

We have a kingdom to build, and we cannot waste time.

Vicit Angus Noster Eum Sequamur – Our Lamb has Conquered, Him Let us Follow 

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Oh, So Were We Not Raptured? Or Should We Have Been?

Apparently there was supposed to be rapture on the 21st May 2011, as predicted by Harold Camping of the Family Radio Network. So if you are reading this piece, two things must have happened. Possibly, your sins were too many to warrant you a passport to partake of the rapture, or the more obvious thing happened – the rapture predictions of Mr. Camping were simply what they were; a failed weather forecast.

However in my interactions with most Christians, the generality of Ghanaian Christians do believe that there will be a Rapture of some sorts indeed. Their only beef is the attempt by the venerable [sic] Mr. Camping to put a date to something that Christ did not know and said we could not know.  Well, I do not only question the predictive skills of Mr. Camping, I want to go beyond that and question the premise of biblical support for something called “The Rapture” in the first place. So let’s try and push the envelope of eschatology and see what we get.

I will admit before I go on that there is so much that needs to be answered that I cannot answer in this post alone, and some which I (and many other Christians) don’t even know the answer to, given the symbolic nature of how apocalyptic hopes are described in the NT and other non-biblical but related documents. I will focus solely on the concept of Rapture, and leave the rest to our own personal research.

The Jewish Hope of Yahweh’s Coming

Again, as I’ve been doing in my previous posts, we cannot fail to overlook the fact that Christianity is the junior brother of Judaism. Therefore any attempt to understand Christianity on its own without a reference to the root from which it originated will be an attempt to create a caricature of our own idea of Jesus and his purpose for his people.

The Jews have always had a hope of God coming to transform this earth and set it aright, where he himself dwells amongst man and as a result Jerusalem will be the light to the rest of the world. Because of their special ideas about God establishing his kingdom and ruling from Jerusalem, they always considered themselves the royal people, and there was no shortage of boasting about this status. Take a look at Isaiah 65 and see how “different” it is from Rev 21.

“Behold, I will create new heavens and a new earth. The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind. But be glad and rejoice forever in what I will create, for I will create Jerusalem to be a delight and its people a joy.” (Isaiah 65:17-18 NIV).

“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them’” (Rev 21:1-3 NIV).

From the above (and a host of other prophecies as well as a proper study of Judaism), their mindset of the earth was quite different from ours. The earth was not some damned place that we need to escape from and go to heaven – the earth is where the action is, because God’s intent is to dwell with men in a renewed heaven and earth. The Jewish mind understands that God is in charge of both the heaven and the earth and he created a good earth, but sin had blighted this earth. Therefore their hope and expectation was that God will come and renew this earth, and bring the wonders of that heaven in which he lives to bear fully on this earth, causing a fusion of the two. Unlike Greco-Roman paganism’s thoughts of the spirit leaving this corrupt world for the world of the gods (heaven), Jews believed that we will walk on a renewed earth in a renewed body (the resurrection body) and experience the joys of this earth with God himself. Unfortunately Greco-Roman paganism seems to have carried the day even in Christian teachings about heaven and earth. As Paul taught, our spirits only go to be with the Lord in heaven to wait for our other brethren and for the time when we’ll return to reign on this earth and God will clothe us with immortal bodies. The earth is indeed where the action is.

This hope of a new and renewed earth also went along not only with joy for them, but judgment for those they esteemed in their mind are “sinners” – Gentiles and those Israelites who were not “faithful” to the law as they interpreted it. This judgment was to be brought by the one whom God will give authority over the kingdom to – the one whom Daniel calls the Son of Man in Daniel 7:14 – the Messiah. Interestingly most Jews viewed it as a day of God vindicating Israel and judging its enemies, but the prophets Amos and Zephaniah were not so charitable to them in their claims of superiority.

“Woe to you who long for the day of the Lord! Why do you long for the day of the Lord? That day will be darkness, not light … Away with the noise of your songs! I will not listen to the music of your harps. But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream.” (Amos 5:18; 23-24 NIV).

“The great day of the Lord is near – near and coming quickly. Listen! The cry on the day of the Lord will be bitter, the shouting of the warrior there … I will bring distress on the people and they will walk like blind men, because they have sinned against the Lord” (Zeph. 1:14; 17)

In fact Isaiah 61 captures the spirit of what that day entails and what the Messiah will do – both on the positive – renewing the earth and bringing joy to “them that love his appearance” – and the negative – bringing “vengeance” to those that do not.

The Christian Hope of Jesus’ Coming

In a lot of ways there is very little difference between the Jewish hope and the early Christian hope of the return of Christ. To us Jesus is the Messiah, and therefore all the prophecy relating to the kingdom will be fulfilled in him. However, because this Messiah had already appeared amongst men and expounded specifically that his kingdom had begun; the early Christians did not only wait for the eschatological appearance of their king, but preached his current reign over all the earth.  Those of you who have read my previous post on “The Gospel of the Kingdom – Resurrection Perspectives” would be familiar with the point made by many contemporary NT scholars that Christ’s kingdom is both now and in the future. Therefore our responsibility on this earth as we wait for that future kingdom is to manifest the King and his kingdom’s character today on this earth.

The Origins of Rapture Theology

It will surprise you to note that the ideas around the Rapture event are very recent in history. Even a Wikipedia entry will educate us that there is very little mention of this idea of Jesus coming in two phases until the 17th century. Unfortunately this theology has been picked up and drummed up by a group of theologians called Dispensational Theologians. It’s wide spread began with John Nelson Darby, who was the founder of the Plymouth Brethren in England and went over to evangelize in America as well between 1859 and 1877. According to Ben Witherington III in “The Problem with Evangelical Theology”

“Darby showed up on the brink of the [American] Civil War, during the war, and after the war, right when many Americans were quite vulnerable to an escapist theology that promised they would not have to go through the great tribulation. The timing could not have been better for promulgating such a theology”.

This teaching was further spread by the popular evangelist D.L. Moody and his Moody Bible Institute and John Scoffield with his Scofield Bible. To promote this theology, the Dallas Theological Seminary was established in 1924, and there is no question why most of the popular Dispensationalists all went to, are associated with or claim influence from people who went there. In contemporary days, this teaching has led to popular “Left Behind” books and movies, picturing Christ coming to take the Christians away from this earth and leaving everyone else behind. From the preceding historical discourse, it’s not surprising that Mr. Camping is an American.

The Theology Backing It

This whole theology hangs on the somewhat misunderstood interpretation of Paul’s description of the coming of Christ in 1 Thess. 4:13-17 and 5:1-11. In particular, this theology has hang it’s boots on two phrases or words i) parousia – which means “coming” or more correctly “presence” and ii) haparzo – which means “caught up” and is the root word for rapture. As usual because of our penchant for creating theologies without recourse to context and history, we have presented Paul as saying in the above passages that there is coming a time when Christ will come and take us up to heaven, before he subsequently comes a second time to judge the world. Let us see if a little contextual background and further probing will not help clear up this confusion.

In the times of the Caesars – Julius Caesar, Augustus Caesar and his lineage – when the emperor visited any of his subject cities/states, this was announced beforehand by the sounding of trumpets (just like 1 Thess. 4:16 (KJV) For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God). Those who are the leaders of the city and all Roman citizens living in the city were mandated to form a welcoming party and meet the king outside the gates of the city (Just like Ps 24:7 (KJV) Lift up your heads, O ye gates; and be ye lift up, ye everlasting doors; and the King of glory shall come in).They then escort this king through the city gates into the city, singing his praises and declaring “peace and security” in the name of that emperor (Just like 1 Thess. 5:3 KJV –For when they shall say, Peace and safety; then sudden destruction cometh upon them, as travail upon a woman with child; and they shall not escape”).

Those with a keen eye will also notice that this sequence of events is very similar to the triumphal entry of Christ into Jerusalem on his colt. It will be noted also that the book of Psalms is full of such imagery related to the Messianic King. In fact, these practices of subjects welcoming their kings were very common in ancient times, and the Roman emperor was no exception. Of course, the emperors probably demanded even more courtesy, pomp and pageantry for the emperors actually declared themselves gods in every right.

Most people do not take into account the fact that at some point, Thessalonica was historically quite a respected city in Greco-Roman times. Paul’s ministry in Thessalonica was indeed a dangerous one, for already in Act 17:7, Paul had been accused of “defying Caesar’s decrees, saying that there is another king, one called Jesus”. Therefore there was no doubt that the Christians in Thessalonica were under a lot of persecution for their defiance of Caesar and declaration of Jesus as king. Therefore it is natural that having lost some of their members to persecution, they’d be worried if their dead brethren will be able to partake of the “parousia” of Christ and therefore wrote to Paul to find out the fate of those who’d died.

The Thessalonians may have been Greeks and didn’t know that the OT had the same concepts, but they definitely understood “parousia” of Jesus not in “rapture to heaven”, but welcoming king Jesus into the city – in this case onto this earth. Hear the New Testament writer Ben Witherington III:

“ Paul’s Thessalonian audience may have missed some of the allusions to the OT, but they would not have missed the language used here about a royal visit, indeed an imperial visit. They would remember the visit of Pompey and later Octavian and others in the days when Thessalonike could even be talked about by Pompey as the capital in exile.”

It is instructive to note that although v 17 says Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord” – it does not say that we will then go on to heaven. It only says that we will be with him. Are we just going to be hanging with him in the skies, or as a kingly visit denotes and as the context clearly shows, we will come down with him to show the rest of the world this King we’ve been making a big fuss about all along? This king whose kingdom we’ve been building on this earth through love and self-sacrifice for one another?

Conclusion

“The Ascension of Jesus and the Second Coming are nevertheless vital Christian doctrines, and I don’t deny that I believe some future event will result in the personal presence of Jesus within God’s new creation. This is taught throughout the New Testament outside the Gospels. But this event won’t in any way resemble the Left Behind account.” –  NT Wright, Eminent NT scholar in “Farewell to the Rapture”

I don’t want to go beyond 4 pages on my word processor, so I’m forced to cut short the discourse. However, is our gullibility in respect of “rapture” not a reflection of the fact that we haven’t understood what the Kingdom of God/Heaven – which appears more than 50 times in the Gospels – truly means? And if we haven’t understood it, then whose kingdom are we building – ours?

The Revolutionary Christ

My attention was drawn recently to a very profound truth which I’d ignored so often, but which for some reason made a lot of sense to me now. I’ve been studying Jesus Christ’s ministry in recent time in the context of the times in which he was on earth, and I can’t cease to be amazed. There is no doubt that Christ was a revolutionary, but in a way that borders on the “other” way, a way which most reasonable men in their comfort zones will not accept, or can only accept at some cost to them. But let’s press on to the issue at hand and it will become more apparent.

It is often mistakenly held that the key concept of Jesus’ ethic is the “Golden Rule”: “Do to others as you would have them do to you”. This is stated by Jesus, however, not as the sum of his own teaching but as the center of the law [i.e. – “All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments”]. Jesus’ own “fulfillment” of this thrust of the law, which thereby becomes through his own work a “new commandment” (Jn 13:34-35) is different, “Do as I have done to you”. It is striking how great the mass of writings on religious ethics … which still fails to note this very evident structural change.” (The Politics of Jesus – John Howard Yoder).

I have had conversations with many people, some who are not Christian. Out of the many things I have learnt, two of them are of immediate relevance to the above statement, and they are

  1. A lot of people choose the Jesus of dogma, and leave the Jesus of history.
  2. A second batch of people prefer Jesus the wise teacher, but not his claim to being divine.

In the light of Jn 13:34 and Mt 5:43-45( “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbour and hate your enemy’. But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father I heaven.”) – none of these stances are true to Christ, and we will examine why.

Choosing the Jesus of Dogma over the Jesus of History

Much of Protestant Christianity has made a strong emphasis on the metaphysical benefits that Jesus’s life and death brought to we who believe in him. They’ve emphasized the grace of God in bringing his Son to bring forgiveness of sins, redemption, justification, sanctification etc. As it stands today, Christians are claiming their “in-Christness” now more than ever, relishing who Christ has made them. However, this emphasis has in effect abandoned the fact that Jesus Christ lived in a certain historical, socio-cultural background. Whether out of ignorance or intentionally, we have de-emphasized the context within which he did what he did and said what he said for the three years of his ministry. In effect, if all Jesus Christ came to do for us was to die for our sins, he might as well have died when he was born – when he was an innocent baby and knew no sin. He still would have achieved the purpose, wouldn’t he? Or some would say that he had to fulfill some of the things written about him by the prophets, and so he stayed on for thirty three years to fulfill them and then die. This being the case then, everything that he said and did within those years were not important to his mission, only to provide a source of evidence of his claim to being the Messiah.

I don’t believe that is the case, however, this is the impression that much of Christendom seeks to portray. Because the moment that I confront most Christians with the evidence of the Gospels and Christ’s demands on us his followers, the impression I get is that those are not important, they are too utopian. They were meant to be personal guidelines by which we can choose to live our lives, but they are not important to our foundation as a group of people called the church. In effect, Christ has become too “personal” a saviour.

However, there is no doubt that Christ’s life was a thorn in the flesh to the establishment. He pointed out the hypocrisy of the Pharisees in creating a million and one laws that everyone was supposed to obey but for which they never lifted a finger to practice. They placed more emphasis on sacrifice, than they did on mercy. His demand? “Your righteousness must exceed that of the Pharisees”. But of course, that is too difficult to achieve. Again Christ denounced the power of the rulers of the earth to truly dispense justice, by forcing the government of the day to release a treasonous criminal Barabbas for an innocent man, showing how governments of the day are fallen for their pandering to the whims of the popular vote.

So to most of us, the only reason that Jesus Christ came was to transform us to be like him, and then being made like him, all we have to do then is now use that gift he has given us to pursue our own agenda – seeking miracles, financial success, successful marriages, political power etc. We’ve provided a blank cheque, and we expect Jesus to sign so we can write any amount we want. Because we have refused to accept the community forming actions and attributes of Christ as the norm in our corporate lives – which should make us a people free from the prejudices and trappings of tribe, social standing, class distinctions and personal resources to a self-sacrificing, always loving, non-discriminating society – we have ignored the fact that the reason Christ lives in us is so that we can now live a life of love for one another, without fear of tomorrow. And this alternative society is what Christ calls his body, the church and as Paul states in Eph 3:10, the manifold wisdom of God is not to be made know in “me”, but in “us”, the church. It is part of this wisdom, that Paul again speaks of in 1 Co 1:20-25.

Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling-block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles … for the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength.”

To the Greek Corinthian, Stocism taught him that man’s pursuit of their own happiness was their highest purpose. To the Jew, man’s obedience to the written down laws of God was man’s highest purpose. But Paul, following in the footsteps of Christ, shows us that the nature of God is given to us so that we can now turn our life and love towards each other, and not rather for our personal gain. It is this wisdom that was the stumbling-block, and is still the stumbling-block to most of Christianity today.

Choosing Jesus The Wise Teacher, But Not Divine Son of God

The other end of the scale relates mostly to those who don’t believe in the existence of God and/or of Christ being a divine person sent from God. When I have a deeper chat with such people however, they see a lot of wisdom in what Christ taught, especially his values on how we relate to each other. They also fall into the same error that the church has fallen into – that Christ’s most important teaching was to “Do to others as you would have them do to you”. However there is no way that without accepting Jesus Christ’s claim to being the Son of God, one could fully understand the message of Christ.

There are many reasons why Christ died and resurrected for us, but one that I’ve come to fully understand and whose dimensions affect this discourse is the fact that Christ gives us victory over death. By virtue of his victory, we are free from the fear of death. The end of this is to make us bold to take the actions that a world which is saturated in self-preservation cannot take – a decision to love no matter the cost. Christ tells us that we are supposed to be on earth to show how communities of love can exist amongst all the fallenness that surrounds us. That’s why he says that a city on a hill cannot be hidden, because we are that city, we are the light that cannot be hidden (Mt 5:14-16). A light does not have to do anything else but shine – it will draw men unto itself.

By we being true to ourselves as the church of Christ – the community within which we exhibit the traits of Christ – we automatically become a society that is counter-cultural. When we move from a people who are always pursuing our own agendas to be come a people who are watching over each other, we become different. We become a people living on a higher set of laws, who do not need a “constitution” or “bye-law” of their country, town or cities to tell them how to live with each other. We do not need homosexuality to be “criminalized” in the constitution for us not to tolerate it in our community. We do not need abortion to be “criminalized” to enforce that our members do not participate in it. We do not need to go fund-raising from the world, because what we have is enough to meet our essential needs. We do not need divorce to be “criminalized” before our Archbishops know that they have to love their wives with all their faults, just like Christ loved us even before we acknowledged him. We do not need to follow the model of leadership model of the world, where all our leaders fight for is how to please their superiors, not how to meet the needs of their brethren. In effect, nobody teaches us to know God, for we will all know him.

In becoming a counter-cultural society, we will definitely make enemies, most likely enemies with power, and their attempts to frustrate us is what Christ and the NT apostles calls our “suffering”. Without a hope that we have a better place to go when we are persecuted, we cannot be empowered to live like Christ expects us to. That’s why Christ encourages us not to fear for losing our lives, for we will gain it in the end. His resurrection is our hope of the same.

Let me give an example. Imagine a country in which slavery is the norm. However, the Christian communities in this country do not recognize amongst themselves this man-made class distinction. As a result, a slave has full rights of participation and activity in this alternate community. To Christ, the important thing is not gaining your freedom from slavery in the general society, but having those distinctions blurred when you come into the Christian community, granted all the full rights of membership. They do not need to fight for the laws in that country to be changed, because to them in their communities, their slave status makes no difference. In any case, Christ does not care about who you are in the general society whether slave, free, circumcised, woman or man, but rather what you have become in the Christian community. Does this sound familiar? Well, this was exactly the state of affairs in Corinth, and is the premise of Paul’s advice in 1 Cor 7:17-19.

Nevertheless, each one should retain the place in life that the Lord assigned to him and to which God has called him … Was a man already circumcised when he was called? He should not become uncircumcised …Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing. Keeping God’s command is what counts. Each one should remain in the situation in which he was in when God called him. Were you a slave when you were called? Don’t let it trouble you – although if you can gain your freedom, do so.”

This passage has been used before in the history of Protestant Christianity to support all sorts of abuses by the political elite in telling everyone else to “stay in their situation” – but that is another topic for another day. If early Christianity did not spend it’s effort fighting slavery, racial and gender discrimination publicly using political means, it’s not because they supported it. It was because what you are in the body of Christ is what counts. And once you begin to take your part in the body of Christ as a full citizen, you are denying the power that the society’s laws have over you. You are telling the society that even though you are a slave in your midst, yet when you come to Christ and his community, you’re treasured. And that is all that matters. If I can gain my freedom, I will. But that’s not what’s important. Something else (or rather Someone else) matters more, something for which you are ready to die.

By means of the cross, Christ and his church declare their victory over sin, the world and all it’s prejudices. “And disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross” (Col 2:15). Not by political intrigue, not by violent machination, but by the cross. The Corinthian church was ready to bear the cross of being “slave lovers” and by so doing, declare the victory of God over the politico-socioeconomic conditions of their time. This again, is wisdom that the world cannot understand.

Observations

Interestingly, even though the second issue is something which should be addressed more to the unbeliever or realist, I find that increasingly Christians themselves have lost this understanding. And therefore we continuously fight battles which Christ himself never fought. We continue to not only support but actually propagate religious intolerance and xenophobia, and use Christianity to set an agenda of binding our societies with our religious laws. We forget that when the law is applied, it has no room for forgiveness. It’s punishment will have to be exacted, even when the criminal shows remorse. So first and foremost, when we agitate for what we consider to be a sin to be criminalized, and we fall into it ourselves (And I tell you, we are not perfect. Some of us will by all means fall), two things happen.

  1. We are shown to be hypocrites who cannot obey our own laws.
  2. The sinner (in this case now a “criminal”), even if they repent of their sin as a result of the abundant mercy of Christ to always forgive, will still have to face the penalty of the legal system.

However if it’s only a sin amongst us and not a criminal offense, we have recourse to the hope of Christ’s mercy for such a person, and will only have to cast them out after continuous unrepentant behavior. We also don’t need to make a public fuss of it, but can help our fallen brother on the quiet.

As for the first, it’s a problem that 500 years of Protestant Christianity from Evangelical to Pentecostal and Charismatic has not addressed itself to adequately. The focus has been so much on “spiritualizing” and “personalizing” the faith – on “salvation”, “Holy Spirit” and more recently “in-Christ” –  that the community forming purposes for all these things that Christ has made us or given us have paled in comparison to what we personally will gain from him or how we can use Christ to achieve some other agenda.

With the advancements of technology, the 20th century has given birth to an enormous amount of research on the New Testament contexts of Jesus’s and the early apostle’s times and ministry, which should help us to correct these impressions. Unfortunately, this is also the age in which most Christians are acting with much abundant zeal and very little knowledge, with ears ready only to listen to what suits our agenda, and a penchant only for more deception. Are we going anywhere fast?

Refocusing the Spotlight

Recently there was quite a theological furore on my friend Kwame Antwi-Boasiako’s facebook wall, owning from a statement he made to the effect that the world is yet to see our Christianity in action. Some of us shared our thoughts on these, and the session was quite a useful dialogue aimed at further deepening our shared faith in Christ. Having descended from a month of reading the two classics in Robert Banks’ “Paul’s Idea of Community” and John Howard Yoder’s “The Politics of Jesus”, I’m left with no choice but to expand my point of view on that topic, at the pain of sounding repetitive.

Many preachers have labeled their ministry and preaching as “Christ centered” and have tried to bring to the fore the unique relationship that exists between Christ and us. It is a commendable effort, one which sets forth the finished work of Christ as the premise of everything that we are and will be. There’s talk of “I no longer live but Christ lives in me” and “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me”.

In fact, there can be no understating the importance of Christ’s work in bringing us to freedom. Galatians clearly states these in the following.

There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise” (Gal 3:28-29)

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do no let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” (Gal 5:1).

It is not for fun that Paul mentions these categories of people to explain the freedom that these Galatians (and for that matter all Christians) have now attained. This was basically because slavery, marginalization of women and Judaic pride was a real threat in their age. Let me give an example. According to the Jewish historian Josephus, men of Jesus’ time used to pray thanking God that he didn’t make them a woman. Why? Well, women were so marginalized in their culture, that even rabbis and teachers of the law were not allowed to teach women. In fact, women were not even allowed to sit amongst men when they were having a discussion, even if it was in the living rooms of their own houses. In this respect then, Jesus Christ was revolutionary, for he broke the above mentioned inhibitions by talking to the woman at the well, and secondly by allowing and encouraging Mary to sit with him and his disciples whiles her sister Martha was busy in the kitchen, unlike most women of the their time would have been permitted to do.

In the same way, Paul, just like Christ, didn’t find it necessary to condemn slavery and fight against it. This practice wasn’t just a personal but societal and national problem. His notion of freedom for these people was not centered in trying to change their status physically through the changing of the Israelite (or Gentile) laws, but by showing them that through Christ they had now come into a different kind of freedom which made they and their masters the same, and therefore were together with everyone else, heirs now of the promise of Abraham. They were therefore to take their stand in that freedom and the resultant community of people who believe in that freedom that Christ had given them, and to actively contribute to the building up of that community, whether slave, free, man or woman. However, in contravention of Christ’s ideals, Christianity’s subsequent support for slavery is a sore point in our history which deserves it’s own separate uncomfortable discourse.

Freedom? But For What Purpose?

What made Paul’s teaching on freedom so different from the Stoic philosophy of the Greeks (from the Platos, Aristotles etc) and the legalistic worldview of the Jews was the notion that this freedom was attainable in and through Christ, and was to be directed towards service to one another. The Stoics believed that man was free to know the difference between good and evil, and to use his own skills, talents and resources to achieve the greatest potential that they could achieve. In the course of achieving this, they can then change the course of history. Stoic philosophy therefore focused itself on the human ability to achieve, and therefore its main proponents were educated and middle to upper class citizens of the society, who had the resources and the seeming potential to achieve such greatness. The Jews on the other hand believed that God had written down a certain set of Laws that man must follow, and that man’s purpose was to know and follow those laws and then all will go well with them in life. Although Paul’s teaching was closer to the Stoics in the concept of freedom, the fundamental purpose of that freedom is to use it in service of one another, even to the point of death. This is summed up by Paul as follows:

You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather serve one another in love” (Gal 5:13).

To the Stoics, this was foolishness, for how can a man use his freedom to serve another man? That was not freedom, they said. Refuting the stoic mindset which some of the Corinthian Greeks still held was what influenced Paul’s writings in 1 Cor 1:

Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to the Gentiles” (1 Cor 1:20-23).

Looking at the Christian landscape today however, I’m of the opinion that we have now set ourselves squarely back into slavery, of both the Greek and the Jewish kind i.e. slavery to self and slavery to the institutions. Before you disagree with me, let me share my point of view then. Let me start from slavery to self, which was the bane of the Greek.

Slavery To Self

Five hundred years of Protestantism has ingrained in the Christian mind the notion that we as individuals are the center of God’s purpose. We preach forgiveness of sins as something personal that we’ve received from God, which we aren’t worthy of in our own rights (which is not wrong, just not properly focused). We continuously focus our teaching on how Christ came to solve our individual need for God. Our songs talk not about “us” or “we”, but “I”. We speak of Jesus as a “Personal Saviour”, something which is found nowhere in the NT, whether in the Gospels or the Epistles. Christ has come to give us freedom and to bring us into the family of God, but our pursuit of Christ has not been a corporate one, but an individual one. We are busy celebrating individual brilliance, making super stars out of our leaders (who inevitably let us down, and then we turn around and criticize them for not being “super starrish” enough i.e. forgetting they are human). We go to church, sing, dance, hear some “word”, pay the fee for the show and pack up our bags and go home, without knowing the next person sitting beside us on the pew. We are quick to spend our time talking about how God has blessed a brother or sister (most often than not with some material things), but there is very little concern for making a change in the lives of those who do not have any. To help us further pursue our focus on individualism, we only associate ourselves with those who are “upwardly mobile” so that they can help us achieve our own upward mobility. Just walk into your everyday church filled with the educated elite, and see how many poor and uneducated members exist amongst them and even more importantly how many of the richer ones amongst them actually have a meaningful relationship with such less privileged members. I’m talking about a relationship that goes beyond saying “Praise the Lord” when we meet at church.

What has fueled most of these misconceptions?

  1. The problem of Sola Fide. In Martin Luther and the Protestant Reformation’s haste to fight against the hegemony of Roman Catholicism, they posited all their arguments on “faith only”, to the detriment of everything else. Faith has been defined as something abstract, so much so that there’s very little emphasis on the practical expression of this faith. In addition, it’s been so personalized that it’s all that “you” as an individual believe, and everything else is relative to that. Worse still, we are focused on how to use faith to get what we want from God, not what he wants for himself. For us, the heroes of faith in Heb 11 who in spite of all their faith didn’t get obtain what God had promised but are waiting for the future fulfillment of their faith is not a good enough example. We’ve gotta have it now.
  2. Most of us have been thought to read the New Testament as if it was a love letter written to us individually. We have forgotten that with the exception of 1 & 2 Timothy, Titus and Philemon, most of the Epistles were addressed to a group of people, a church. We do not attempt to reconstruct what exactly was the problem that Paul, Peter and other Epistle writers were trying to address by writing each letter. We have translated all the “you” and “us” and “we” into “I”, and apply everything to ourselves individually.
  3. We are more interested in hearing the word, not in knowing Christ. There is a world of difference between knowing the word, and knowing Christ and if we don’t let it sink that “Christ is the word”, we’ll only be marking time. As John said in 1 Jn, it is not only that which they’ve heard but “which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched – this we proclaim concerning the Word of Life” (1 Jn 1:1). Christ can be known only through his cross, but unfortunately many of us prefer to be enemies of the cross (Phil 3:17-19), than learn to carry our own cross. And even our understanding of carrying our own cross seems to be about our own personal trials, when Christ’s focus is on what we suffer for the sake of each other and for him.
  4. We read back our own practices and prejudices into the NT. For example, because our men of God today found churches and sit on them for life, we don’t realize (and can’t seem to grasp how it is possible) that Paul founded churches and left them to be on their own. He only wrote to them when they told him of issues going on in their churches. Another example is the collection of offerings in church meetings. Most NT scholars now agree that this was a one time thing that was done for the distraught Jerusalem church and not a regular practice, but we are not yet ready to rock the financial boat of our pastors. Over the past century there has been a lot of research into the life and times of the early church which has been published and available, but there is very little attempt to find out what underpinned the things they did in the early church. In fact, Christians are the most confident in their practices. We just can’t see how it is possible that we could have got it wrong somewhere along the line, which unfortunately is just what the Pharisees felt when Jesus confronted them with the truth.
  5. We are interested in the Holy Spirit only for what he can do in our lives. However, it is clear from 1 Cor 12 that the Spirit is given for the benefit of the body, not for the individual. “Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good” (1 Cor 12:7) and that all these gifts must be used for the “strengthening of the church” (14:26). In fact not only the Holy Spirit is given for the common good, but all other gifts (including our riches) is to be used for the benefit of the body of brethren (Ro 12:8; 2 Cor 9:8;1 Pe 4:9-11:), not by force, but freely.
  6. There is also a very interesting assumption which bedevils our conception of Christ. We do not realize that the Bible as we know it was put together in the 5th century, and only began to be widely spread in the 15th century with the invention of the printing press by Gothenburg. When the authors of the NT were writing them, they didn’t think they were writing the Bible. They were just writing letters and books to each other, albeit under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Our interest in knowing the “word” therefore should be juxtaposed against the fact that Paul and Peter and the others of their time did not have a “Bible” as we do, but were more fruitful than we are now. Again, it’s not about knowing the word, it’s about knowing Christ.

And all of this is in spite of 58 “one another” verses in the NT which connote laying down our priorities for the pursuit of each other’s advancement. In this and many respects, what we teach and practice today is not very different from Greek humanism. To sum up this section, I’ll quote Howard Yoder

“The idea of Jesus as an individualist or a teacher of radical personalism could arise only in the (Protestant, post-Pietiest, rationalist) context that it did; that is, in a context which, if not intentionally anti-Semitic, was at least sweepingly a-Semitic, stranger to the Jewish Jesus.” (The Politics of Jesus).

Slavery To The Institution

The second form of slavery is slavery to the institution and to ritual, from which the Jew needs to be freed to fully participate in the freedom that Christ gives. We have banished the OT law, but replaced them with our own.

  1. A separation of clergy from laity, with an appeal to OT Levitical priesthood, in spite of Christ making us all a royal priesthood. Clearly a class system, from which only the clergy continues to benefit.
  2. Next is the focus on investing in buildings in the name of building a “temple” of God, when it’s more than evident from the NT that the people are the temple and that “The Most High does not dwell in houses made by men” (Ac 7:48). We are now slaves to that building, and we can’t see ourselves freely worshiping Christ without being in that building.
  3. Next is the enactment of laws surrounding marriages, including compulsary “marriage counseling”and “if you don’t ‘bless’ the marriage in a church, then it’s not a marriage”. Even the choice of whom to marry must be approved by the pastor. And yet, there’s no NT basis for such law. There’s even no NT basis for marriage being officiated by the church.
  4. Then there is the Sunday order of service, which is set in stone. You can’t intervene with your own innovation, unless you are the pastor. Then there’s the sermon, in which the pastor (and/or basically the same old set of people) give us some “word”. In fact, there is no room to ask a question in church after the speaker’s sermon. It’s a take-it-or-leave-it affair. When will they want to hear from you too?
  5. As for the music, you not only have to be a member of the choir but be the “Music Director” or the “worship leader” to be able to sing out a song that you feel like sharing with all of us. Interestingly there’s no mention of a choir in the NT and only a few mention of hymns and songs, and therefore the only way to defend it is using the OT.
  6. Then there’s the abundance of all-night services and “30 day fasting” to “Deal with Stubborn Situations”, when Isaiah 58 is so clear on the important things we should pursue.
  7. For day after day they seek me out, they seem eager to know my ways, as if they were a nation that does what is right … ‘Why have we fasted’ they say, ‘and you have not see it?’ … Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke … is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter? … Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.” (Is 58:2,6-8)

  8. To fulfill the need to look like we are doing something, we put together some clothes and some money and make donations to the needy, making sure we appear in the newspapers. Well, the corporate bodies and institutions also do the same. The last time I checked, it was called “Corporate Social Responsibility”, and interestingly even churches are adopting that title for their charity work. If that is the measure of our righteousness, then we haven’t as yet exceeded the Pharisees. When are the hopeless and destitute actually going to make it beyond our donations and start making it into our homes?

Like I said before, I only do this at the cost of being repetitive and annoying, but there’s no other way to say it. As the Americans say, “Pick your poison”. Are we going to be enslaved by the individualistic leanings of Greek humanism, or be proselytized by the Jewish appeal to obedience to tradition? Interesting as it stands today, we’ve managed to fuse the two together in our practice of what Christianity is about. But maybe there is a third way. In the Epistles of Paul, he addresses 3 kinds of people as exemplified by 1 Cor 10:32 “Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God”. Are we ready to stand as the church of God, where there is freedom from self as well as all these laws and restraints, where the spotlight is not on our freedom from the aforementioned, but our ability to lay down our freedom to be used in serving one another in love? The spotlight has always and should always be on Christ, not on us. He has a purpose, to bring together a people who are a display of who he really is to the world; the Lamb who is the King, the Servant who is the Lord, the one who loves his enemy, even to the point of death. Are we ready to seek Christ, who has given us only one commandment by which we are measured?

A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (Jn 13:34).

I end with a quote from “The Politics of Jesus”.

Vicit agnus noster, eum sequamurOur Lamb has conquered: him let us follow.

The Gospel – Is It About Salvation From Sin?

I’ve felt the urge to share my thoughts on the gospel that we preach for a while, but having spent the last few weeks reading T. Austin-Sparks “Prophetic Ministry” (which is freely available here), I came across a passage that reminded me of the need to put these thoughts down. There are few recognized books on prophecy, and Austin-Sparks’ is definitely a must read for those who are interested in what the prophetic gift is supposed to be all about. Suffice it to say that from Austin-Sparks’ perspective, our “prophets” of today have quite a ways to go to reach the purpose that God defined prophecy for. But I digress.

You do not find anything concerning Israel that suggests or indicates that they came out of Egypt, and were in the wilderness and later in the land, to declare as their gospel that God brought them out of the land of Egypt. That was not their message. Of course, it is recounted many times, but that was not their message, not what they were proclaiming. What was it that was always in their view? It was what they were brought out for. It was God’s vision in bringing them out. So many of us have settled down to preach just the ‘coming out’ side – salvation from sin, from the world. It goes just so far, but the Church does not get very far with that. It is good, it is right, of course; it is a part of the whole; but it is only a part. It is the full vision that is needed to go right through … They come to a standstill, in a realm of limited life and power and influence, because their vision is so small” (T. Austin-Sparks, Prophetic Ministry, pg 39-40).

The Mindset

This passage captures exactly the mindset of Israel after their salvation from Egypt to the time of Christ’s coming. The people left Egypt behind to reach where God had intended them to be and to build what God had intended to build – the land of Canaan. Although they recognized the wonderful and marvelous deeds of God in redeeming them from Egypt, God’s interaction with them was focused on making them a nation through whom his plan of redemption of mankind will be fulfilled. As a result, Jesus Christ came to meet a people who were very proud not of their salvation from the grips of Egypt, but of their heritage as children of the promises of God to Abraham. Indeed Christ had a lot of altercations with the people discussing this particular heritage they felt they’d acquired simply by being born Israelites and being circumcised. There’s very little reference by Christ himself (and in all the Gospels) to the Israelite salvation from Egypt. Fast forward to today, and compare the Israelite message focusing on God’s intended vision and purpose for them to our focus on Christ coming for salvation of mankind from sin, and you’ll see that there is something very deficient in our gospel.

In fact, I’ll encourage you to take a look at the three instances in the book of Acts where the speeches of people preaching the gospel are recordrd (the other is Stephen’s statements when he was about to be stoned which again follows the pattern, but we’ll skip that for now). Take a deeper look at Ac 2:14-39 (Peter’s gospel at Pentecost), Ac 10:34-43 (Peter, speaking to Cornelius and his household) and Ac 13:16-41 (Paul speaking at Pisidian Antioch). In the first two, sin and it’s forgiveness are mentioned somewhere at the end of the message. In the case of the third, there’s actually not even a mention of forgiveness of sins in over 25 verses of a gospel message. How intriguing! However, their focus was on how Christ was the fulfillment of all the promises that God had made to the people of Israel through their fathers Abraham, David and co. Look at what Paul calls the “good news”.

We tell you the good news: What God promised our fathers he has fulfilled for us, their children, by raising up Jesus.” (Ac 13:32).

Again, Paul states why exactly he was being persecuted by his fellow Jews in Ac 28:20 when he was speaking to the leaders of the Jewish community in Rome after being put under house arrest there.

For this reason, I have asked to see you and talk with you. It is because of the hope of Israel that I am bound with this chain.” (Ac 28:20)

Obviously from the above, their message was more about something that transcended forgiveness of sin, to something which God had laid down a long time ago, and which was now being fulfilled amongst them. And therefore, the gospel must be preached with these perspective in mind and with the appropriate emphasis, and then we can begin to see a true transformation of the lives of men in their relationship with God, Christ and his body.

Christ, The Center Of God’s Eternal Purpose

One of the questions which I’d never asked myself before until recently (and I bet many Christians also never have) is what would have happened if man had not eaten the forbidden fruit – if man had passed the test? In fact, if our God is an omniscient God and knows everything, why did he not foresee that man will fall to the devil? Had his omniscience somehow been outwitted by the devil? Or maybe he’d gone to sleep, like the gods of Baal in the days of Elijah.

In answering these questions, let us not forget that in the same garden of Eden where there was the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil, there was also the fruit of the tree of life. As we see later, when man failed the test, God cut off access to the tree of life. Interestingly, Christ has told us in Rev 2:7 that he will give overcomers the right to eat of the fruit of life in the paradise of God. Add to that the fact that Christ as part of the Godhead, existed before the creation of the world, and the facts stated in Eph 1:4 and we have some sort of picture forming up.

For he chose us in him (Christ) before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight.” (Eph 1:4)

It is safe to conclude then that God had intended our holiness, righteousness, salvation, divinity etc to come through Christ even before the foundation of the earth and the creation of man, whether sin came in or not. Christ was still the one to give us to eat of the fruit of life, and sin coming into the picture is only one of the possible paths that things could have gone to still reach that destination. We still had and have to go through Christ. This is why Paul says such wonderful things about who Christ is in Col 1:15-23, such as the fact that in him the fulness of God dwells. The Ephesian epistle describes God’s intended role for Christ as ff:

… to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ” (Eph 1:10).

This is what Paul calls the mystery that God had revealed to people like him to go out and call others into. It’s very clear from the NT that Paul was not a harbinger of “forgiveness of sins”, but rather of the glorious gospel of an eternal Christ.

Confronting the Israelite Mentality

Christ immediately came into confrontation with the Israelite mindset concerning their selection as the only sons of Abraham and therefore as the heirs of all the promises of God. God had already determined that all mankind, not just Israel, will be partakers of the nature of God (2 Pe 1:3-4) i.e. become an extension of the Godhead, and he spoke these through Abraham that many nations will be blessed through him. These promises of God superseded the giving of the Law, but the Israelites only held on to obedience to the Law as a means to be partakers of this promise. In the same way, they expected a descendant of David to come and save them from their enemies and establish an everlasting kingdom. They’d forgotten that God had always intended to be their king (1 Sa 8), and he himself through Christ, will be the fulfillment of that promise.

These and other issues were the mentalities that Christ faced in his ministry, and to these he commanded “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near”. The people had to repent from their mindset that they could somehow be considered worthy of sharing in that kingdom simply by means of being descendants of Abraham, though indeed it is a kingdom with a king – Jesus Christ. It is a kingdom which transcends both heaven and earth. It is a kingdom which belongs to God the father, whose king is Christ and whose nobles and heirs are sons (not just children) of God by virtue of adoption through Christ and maturity through suffering (Heb 2:10;5:8:12:7). This maturity was to be achieved through active engagement with and within the body of Christ – the church. As a matter of fact, Paul was not accused of preaching “forgiveness of sins” in Thessalonica when the people brought Jason with whom he stayed before the city officials. He was accused of preaching about a king called Christ (Ac 17:1-9).

Confronting the Contemporary Mentality

Like Austin-Sparks said above, it was not that Christ coming to die for our sins was a trivial and unimportant event. Au contraire, it is one of the important issues that has to be dealt with in the process that Christ is using to bring us back to the divine purpose. Therefore, a gospel that is centered around salvation from sin and from the world’s troubles tends to get the people into the pews, but they stay there and never move on into the real purpose of their being called.

It’s just like the Israelites on their way to the promised land. Whenever they lost sight of the ultimate intention of God to take them to Canaan and got sidetracked into focusing on their everyday troubles, they easily gravitated towards dissatisfaction with and lack of absolute faith in God. It is not therefore surprising that after having seen all the miraculous handiwork of God in the desert including the parting of the Red Sea, they still couldn’t realize that it wasn’t they who were taking themselves to the promised land, but God who was taking them there and that he was entirely capable of doing so in the face of any giants that they will meet there.

To those interested in Christian history, the focus of the gospel on redemption from sin can be attributed to the work of Christian leaders in the 1800s, from the years following the Great Awakening. These include Charles Finney, C. H. Spurgeon and most importantly, D. L. Moody. These men were deemed to be great preachers by virtue of their fervent preaching in hammering on sin, and driving people to Christ by means of guilt. For them the driving force was to “show the sinner their sins”, and then they would repent. There is probably more reference to the word “sinner” in each of their sermons than you will find in all the books of the NT put together, and it is their influence that has made evangelical Christianity today see the church gathering as the station to win souls in, not as a gathering predominantly of those who already believe and are supposed to be engaging one another in building up the body of Christ.

I’ll try to illustrate what the problem is using a recent occurrence with a cousin of mine who is a part of our church. He asked me how he would preach the word to a friend who he felt was living a bad life i.e. involved in drinking, smoking etc. I responded by reminding him that Cornelius was probably one of the most pious men of his time, but needed to become a part of Christ. Therefore his interaction with this friend should not focus on the particular “sin” which they were engaged in. He should rather present him with the wonderful purpose of God in calling us into his kingdom – that we may be co-heirs with Christ in that kingdom. As that person comes to understand Christ’s purpose and to be involved in a certain body of believers who meet somewhere close, he will begin to see the need and also through engagement with them, find the strength and help to overcome those sins without a hostile judgmental environment which will not even listen to him but assume that a Christian cannot be engaged in these sins.

People say that “Come and listen to the word of God and you’ll never be the same again”. I say that “Come and be part of the purpose of God, and you will never be the same again”. Transformation is best achieved in engagement with others, not with magically “hearing” the word of God.

Maybe it’s time we updated our gospel to the world. Christ is light years more than just about redemption from sin.

Falling in Love With The New Testament

In handling the subject of ministry in the New Testament it is essential to remember the order in which the books of the New Testament were written. If we assume, as the order in which the books of the New Testament are now presented would lead us to assume, that the Gospels were written first, and then Acts, and then the letters of Paul, beginning with Romans and ending with the Pastoral Epistles to Timothy to Titus and the Letter to Philemon, we shall never be able to understand the development of the institutions and the thought of the early church” – Richard Hanson, 20th century patristic scholar

Scholars agree that one of the reasons why we miss so much of the realities of the New Testament is because it is not presented and read in the right way. Now someone will wonder where I’m coming from and why I say this, but I speak from personal experience that changing my attitude towards the New Testament has changed my attitude towards Christ, his Church and Christianity in general. I’ll like to share some of these insights with us, the majority of which come from “The Untold Story of the New Testament Church” and “Pagan Christianity” both by Frank Viola. He has managed to put the highly academic and cryptic research of bible scholars and historians on the New Testament into books that are easily accessible to mere Christian mortals like us who want to know more. Also, some additional insight was gleaned from “The Chronological Bible” published by Thomas Nelson Publishers.

The Order of the New Testament Books

As the quote above from Richard Hanson states, most Christians do not know that the NT books are not arranged in their chronological order, i.e. according to the date and time in which they were written. We assume the Gospels were written first, followed by the letters of Paul in the order of Romans, 1&2 Corinthians, Galatians and so on, followed by Hebrews, James, 1 & 2 Peter, 1,2 & 3 John, Jude and Revelations. But alas, how mistaken we are. The New Testament, especially Paul’s epistles, were arranged in the order of length, with the book of Romans being the longest. This was most likely due to the fact that at the time the Bible was being put together, it wasn’t possible to know when exactly the letters were written. So they followed the precedent used in Greco-Roman literature – they ordered it according to length.

Though there are few variations which scholars do not fully agree on, the following is the most likely order of the Pauline Epistles.

Galatians → 1 Thessalonians → 2 Thessalonians → 1 Corinthians → 2 Corinthians → Romans → Colossians → Philemon → Ephesians → Philippians → 1 Timothy → Titus → 2 Timothy

Does that rock your world yet? Well, in addition, although the events of the Gospels (Mathew, Mark, Luke & John) happened before all the Epistles, most of them were written during the apostles’ lifetime, or after their death.

The NT is Mostly A Book of Letters, Not a Rule Book

There is a certain attitude with which we come to the Bible, an attitude which has been the cause of so much strife and confusion in the Christian landscape. We come with assumption that the Bible is made up of piece of statements, each without a relation with the other. Therefore we can easily just pick up a verse and craft a whole theory from it. This is what is called proof texting, and the harm that it has caused (and is still causing) to the body of Christ is unimaginable. This is with total disregard for the chronology, audience, context and culture of these times & people.

The New Testament has arguably suffered even more of such harm than any other part of the Bible. It is important that we begin to look at the letters that Paul wrote as letters to either churches or individuals. Romans, Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, Thessalonians were all written to churches. Therefore, it is important to read them not as a letter to an individual, but a letter to a group of people i.e. a local body of Christ gathered together. The practice in those days was that a letter from an apostle was read to the whole gathering, or passed on from house church to house church within the city, since it wasn’t easy to make copies of letters as we do today with scanners and photocopy machines. In hindsight then, it makes you think again about applying something like 2 Cor 5:21 to ourselves as individuals, when in fact Paul was referring to the body of Christ gathered in Corinth.

God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him WE might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor 5:21).

Christ is our head, and we who gather together at one place are the manifestation of him to the world i.e. we are his body. Therefore it is not logical for I alone to be the righteousness of God. We, his body, are God’s righteousness, because we together depict Christ. See what I mean?

Another example which has been mistranslated at least in the NIV is 2 Cor 3:18. Look out for the word “face” instead of “faces” in the NIV.

But we all with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord” (2 Cor 3:18, KJV or NKJV).

We as a people are beholding Christ with one face, not individual faces. The transformation from glory to glory is not only happening to us as individual, but happening to us as a community of people. This is the kind of transformation which Paul talked about in Ro 12 i.e. “Do not conform to the world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind”. This is the only way in which a body of Christians can be united in mind, because they together are beholding Christ as with one face.

God has destined before the foundation of the earth that his manifold wisdom be displayed not through us as individuals, but through his church, as contained in Eph 3:10. This therefore is the background with which Paul wrote his letters to the churches – that he may mold their individual minds into one mind that is focused on Christ – that they may focus on the supremacy and sufficiency of Christ and nothing else.

Begin to challenge yourself in your reading of the NT, especially the epistles to the churches, by reminding yourself of the fact that they were written to a body, not to individuals. It might help you not making the mistake of claiming promises meant for the body of Christ for yourself.

Secondly, when we write letters, we do so as a result of some previous interaction with the audience or by some happenings that we might have gotten wind of (or to pass on some information we have). And certainly Paul was no exception. All the letters addressed to churches were written as a result of a report about the church in question or some action of theirs. Paul had heard from several sources the conditions existing in the Corinthian church, and so wrote 1 & 2 Corinthians. Note that because of delivery difficulties, most often the letters were delivered by members of these churches when they came to visit Paul. Phoebe was the bearer of the letter to the Romans, and I’ll assume that she came with a report on how things were going in the Roman church. So was Epaphras (or Ephaphroditus) to the Colossian church. Therefore, it is important for us to strive to understand what the problem was (or what the whole intent of the letter was) when Paul was writing his letters, who were the recipients and what was the social, cultural and economic background of these people. In addition, it is imperative to find out if possible how long ago (or if ever) that Paul had been with them. Because Paul always left the churches he founded on their own, and only provided guidance as and when it was requested or when he had something important to teach them.

Try to Ignore Chapter and Verse Divisions when Reading the Epistles

One vital reform that is needed in our reading of the epistles, is to read them as letters, not as books with chapters and verses. A friend of mine told me that they don’t enjoy reading the Epistles because there seem not to be any story to them, unlike the Gospels. That’s because they were reading it as it is presented in most bibles today, not in the original form of it i.e. as a letter written to a church. But think about it. If you were writing a letter to people you knew personally and had spent months (if not years) with, would you divide it into chapters and verses? If not, what makes us think that Paul, Peter, John etc wrote letters in this form? The next logical question then is where did these come from, wreaking so much havoc on our appreciation of the Epistles?

Well, according to scholars, a certain Prof Stephen Langton of the University of Paris added chapters to all the books of the Bible in 1227. Then in 1551, a certain Robert Stepahanus, while riding on a horseback from Paris to Lyons, numbered the sentences in all the books of the New Testament. I still wonder what the criteria was for splitting the books into verses.

By doing so, these letters lost their nature as a letter which should be read fluidly with one chain of thought, and became textbooks, totally divided and easy to unhook from each other to make some vested point. In recent times I came across a very classical case of how chapters and verses have served to hide the intent of the writer in their letter. If the book of 1 Corinthians were to be read as one complete letter, then where we call chapter 12 today would have fused into chapter 13 perfectly (Ch 13 is the famous chapter about love. Yet Paul meant to say that the abundance of spiritual gifts could not exceed the necessity of displaying Christ’s love). Imagine the following without chapters & verses:

Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? But eagerly desire the greater gifts. And now I will show you the most excellent way. If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing” (1 Cor 12:30 to 13:2).

Having talked about tongues, healing and other spiritual gifts, he goes on to show them a better way, i.e. that having the tongues of men and angels is no substitute for showing love. Even the v 2 of Ch 13 makes it clear he was talking about spiritual gifts (“If I have the gift of prophecy…”). And that is why he extolled all the attributes of love, to show that it was more important than the abundance of “Holy Spiritism”. Without the chapter and verse divisions, its so easy to see what he meant, but unfortunately we don’t tend to come at the NT with this attitude. I still make this mistake a lot, and I’m only asking the grace of God to help me catch the spirit in which these letters were written.

Try To Get the Bigger Picture

Because of our proof texting attitude, we miss the bigger picture of the letters of the NT, and only read the NT with a comb to pick out the parts that suit our ears. Let me give you an example.

John the apostle had written a letter to one of the churches in Asia, most likely introducing some people who had a message of some sorts for the church. Unfortunately, a certain Diotrephes, who must have been an elder in the church, vested in himself the power to decide who to receive and whom not to receive. He even went to the extent of excommunicating other members of the church who tried to show hospitality to these brethren sent by John the apostle. And therefore John wrote to a member of the church this time (called Gaius, who may have also been an elder), encouraging him to be faithful and drawing his attention to what Diotrephes had done and warning them not to follow in his footsteps. This is the import of the book of 3 John. It is one of the greatest indictments of our dictatorial clergy institution, but unfortunately I’ve hardly ever heard it referred to. However, the only part of interest to most Christians is v 2, of which there is a now famous Ghanaian gospel song.

Dear friend, I pray that you may enjoy good health and that all may go well with you, even as your soul is getting along well” (3 John v 2).

You see what I mean by “get the bigger picture”? This letter was not written to wish blessings on Gaius, but rather to focus attention on something that was going wrong then (and is still going wrong with us today). Instead of focusing on the import of the letter, we focus on the greeting and assume the rest did not exist.

Be Christocentric

You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.” (Jn 5:39-40).

These are the words of Christ himself, and they are so apt to today’s situation. To truly appreciate the Bible, and especially the NT, we must come to it with the attitude that what the Old Testament sought to do, the New Testament has fulfilled in the form of Christ. The OT was about Christ, but the Pharisees and scribes read it, quoted it, twisted it and did everything else in between, but did not recognize him whom the Scriptures talked about when he was right there with them. And in a lot of ways we are not very different from the Pharisees. There are two things I’ve noticed about our preaching today.

One is that much of it is centered on the Old Testament. Ask yourself the proportion of preaching today which is from the New Testament (especially anywhere beyond the Gospels?). And yet, we say we are people of a new covenant. How then do we understand the liberation that Christ has brought us, if we are not interested in finding out how those who first received him lived out that freedom?

Secondly, even when preaching or reading the Old Testament, we must be focusing on how the Scripture turns our focus on Christ, and on his fulfillment of these OT Scripture. We must observe that the early Christians did not have the benefit of a New Testament, simply because it wasn’t yet written (or was in the process of being written). As a result, they only saw Christ through the Old Testament, and focused on how Christ is the fulfillment of the OT. Look at what Peter said in Acts 2, and you’ll see that he was only referencing the OT. Gal 3:24 tells us that the OT was a schoolmaster, holding us in check until the real fulfillment came. Therefore, we must always read it with the eye to see Christ in it. Wonder how? Let me give you a classic example.

The OT talks about a priesthood conceived of members of the tribe of Levi only. It’s high priest was appointed from descendants of the family of Aaron. Heb 7 & 8 does a treatise of this priesthood, showing us that Christ is now our high priest, even of the order of Melchizedek, and that we the church have become the priesthood of God, a la 1 Pe 2:9. As Heb 7:11-12 points out to us:

If perfection could have been attained through the Levitical priesthood (for on the basis of it the law was given to the people), why was there still need for another priest to come – one in the order of Melchizedek, not in the order of Aaron? For when there is a change of priesthood, there must also be a change of the law.” (Heb 7:11-12)

Here we notice then that the principle of a priesthood is a God established principle, however, it’s form has changed from the OT form to a better and more accessible form in the NT. Gone are the days when a certain tribe of people alone could be a part of it. Now, we are all called into that priesthood, and we must all be encouraged and allowed to exhibit that priesthood in the temple of God. The mention of “the temple of God” leads us to another OT comparison, but I think those familiar with my writings and more importantly the reality of Paul’s statements in 1 Cor 3:16 and 6:18 will spare me if I don’t go into those details.

Conclusion

Rediscovering the NT will help you to live a Christian life filled with purpose (not your own but God’s purpose), free from religious rules, laws and superstition, to be ready to suffer for the sake of those of who you walk the walk of Christ with, to see clearly what your place is in the body of Christ and to take an active part in building that body up and encouraging and challenging others to do so – knowing that your reward in the Christ’s kingdom is intricately tied to our participation in building it up. It will teach you to see that it’s about a people that God holds so special in his heart, who are his family, his bride and his temple amongst other amazing things.

I wish you’ll be able to fall in love with the NT again, and discover nothing else but Christ in them. Maybe then you’ll agree with Paul when he “resolved to know nothing else … except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” (1 Cor 2:2).

How Prophetic are our “Prophetic Messages” ?

There has been a general increase in the use of the word “prophetic” in the diction of the contemporary Ghanaian Christian, and the tentacles of prophecy are stretching from football predictions to 31st night watch services prophecies of “dominion” in the coming year. It seems your everyday Christian is ready to swallow hook, line and sinker any such “prophetic” message, without a whiff of suspicion or a finger lifted in questioning. However, to say the prophetic gift and working of the Holy Spirit in our times is highly misunderstood and wrongly applied is quite an understatement. And all the while, the actions of our so called “prophets” are justified by an appeal to the prophets of the Old Testament (OT), an appeal which when one takes a very critical scriptural look at, will keel over.

This is because though the principle is the same, there is a fundamental and monumental difference between the application of the principles of the Old Testament and New Testaments, and if you’d take the time to read my post on “New Wine, Old Wineskins”, you may find a lot of education on the differences. But I will limit my discussion to the topic of prophecy and it’s application to the contemporary church.

Having learnt from Paul’s attitude of stating who Christians are in Christ and what makes them different from the Jews & Gentiles, I’ll start off by making this distinction of the OT and NT with regards to prophecy as apparent as possible.

OT – God Calls a People

From the time of Abraham, God had been interested in not him alone, but his descendants that will come after him. And this fascination with Abraham’s “people”, is made very obvious in the exodus of the Israelites and his dealings with them afterwards. God has always been interested in a people and a nation – a distinct people who are set apart for his own purpose. As a result, the OT depicts an attempt by God to preserve the sanctity and establish his possession over the Israelite nation, and half the time that effort was frustrated by the same people.

This is what you are to say to the house of Jacob and what you are to tell the people of Israel: ‘You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’” (Ex 19:3-6) – [God speaking to Moses]

You are to be holy to me because I, the Lord, am holy, and I have set you apart from the nations to be my own” (Lev 20:26) – [God speaking to Moses]

From the rocky peaks I see them, from the heights I view them, I see a people who live apart and do not consider themselves one of the nations. (Nu 23:9)” [from Balaam’s First Oracle]

As a result of this special relationship with them, God provided prophets, who served two basic purposes – foretelling and forth-telling. The former concerns things that will happen in the future, the latter is an explanation/exposition of what is happening now. Except in very few cases, and this is the important part, their work was targeted at the nation Israel, and not at individuals. The notable individuals who received instructions from prophets were the kings or leaders of the Israeli people, who were simply the embodiment of the people themselves. After all, from all biblical examples whenever a king began following false gods, the people also followed suit (in some cases they actually forced the people to do so). Therefore, prophecy directed at a king is ultimately aimed at preserving the sanctity of the Israelite nation. This is the case for the work of Samuel towards Saul and David, Nathan towards David, Elijah towards Ahab etc.

It is abundantly evident from scriptures that the majority of the work done by these prophets was towards the nation and it’s tendency to rebel towards God, and not towards individuals, granted though the examples of Naaman etc. Just look at the book of Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and the rest, as well as the lives of Elijah and Elisha as documented by the books of 1 & 2 Kings. Add to this the fact that God actually grudgingly agreed to the Israelite nation having a king of their own because he wanted to be their God and King, and there is no need to stretch the point further.

Also worth noting are prophecies to other nations. Here again, these are not prophecies to individuals.

NT – Again, God Calls a People

Just as I stated that the principle was always the same, in the NT God again begins the process of setting apart “a people for himself”. That work began with Christ’s promise, which is not to build individual super disciples, but to build a church, an ekklesia, an assembly. That ekklesia is made up of a combination of Jews and Gentiles, not either alone. This is captured in Paul’s statement to the Corinthians.

“Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God” (1 Cor 10:32

Nothing could be a stronger statement of the nature of the church. In the dispensation of the NT, everyone could only become a part of Christ by submitting to membership of his body (e.g. Ac 5:14 should correctly be translated “added to the Lord” not “added to their number”). To God, there is no longer a Ghana, Nigeria, Israel or China. There are three nations: Jews, Gentiles (here referred to as Greeks because of the context of the letter) and the church of God. Again, this conglomeration of all sorts of people into one nation before God is reiterated in these passages below.

You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal 3:26-28)

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God …(1 Pe 2:9)

It is obvious from an examination of the OT and NT in the light of God’s desire for a people that the church of Christ has become the God’s Israel – God’s covenanted nation. God’s desire to extend the Godhead to encompass a people special and separate unto him is finally achieved in the NT – and it’s achieved through Christ and in Christ’s body. Interestingly, these are a people who according to Rev 13:8, have their names written in the book of life before the creation of the world. I’ll leave that for you to ponder on your own.

This setting apart of the church as God’s nation is the reason why it is quite futile for us Christians to be busying ourselves claiming our physical nations for God. God is not interested in America being a “Christian” nation, neither is he interested in Ghana being one. He has already determined who his nation is, and it encompasses all who through Christ have come into fellowship with him. This is a fundamental difference between Christianity and other religions like Islam which Christians in our ignorance try to fight.

NT Practice of Prophecy

There are various men & women mentioned in the book of Acts as being prophets. These range from the 5 prophets and teachers of the Antioch church recorded in Ac 13 (including Paul and Barnabas), Judas and Silas from the Jerusalem church (Ac 15:32), Agabus, the four daughters of Philip who prophesied (Ac 21). It is interesting to note that in all the instances where the prophetic gift was used, it was intended at directly building the members of the body of Christ together up in their knowledge, faith and perseverance in Christ – not in prophecies of a personal nature. Indeed, one might want to use the example of Agabus prophecy to Paul concerning what would befall him in Jerusalem as an example of personal prophecy, but this is a woefully inadequate one, given that the prophecy was in relation to suffering as a result of Paul’s ministry to and for the body of Christ, not to his personal life’s circumstances (i.e. business, marriage etc).

Paul’s overriding concern whenever he wrote to any of the churches was that they would be granted further knowledge and depth of insight into Christ. This is evident in almost all the epistles to the churches, where he always offers thanksgiving for their current display of faith and love, and goes on to pray for them to further grasp the “unsearchable riches” of Christ. This same principle applies when Paul talks about the gifts of the Holy Spirit in 1 Cor 12 and how to use these gifts in 1 Cor 14.

Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.” (1 Cor 12:7).

What then shall we say, brothers? When you come together, everyone has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. All of these must be done for the strengthening of the church” (1 Cor 14:26).

In commending prophecy over the speaking of tongues in the meetings of the brethren, Paul encourages the Corinthians to excel in gifts that build up the church (1 Cor 14:12).

Paul always had in mind the work of the Holy Spirit in the church corporately, not individually. And his belief reflected what Jesus said to his disciples concerning the Holy Spirit, that He was to lead us into all truth, which truth Jesus said was himself.

Therefore in keeping with the principle that the gifts of the Spirit are targeted at building up the body, it is so starkly obvious the lack of personal prophecies in the NT church. Interestingly there is a full book of prophecy called the Revelations which buttresses this lack of personal prophecy

Nonetheless, I believe this does not preclude personal prophecies – they should be seen as an exception rather than the norm. In addition because prophecy is primarily targeted at building the body of Christ, it should be an exception rather than the norm for this spiritual gift to be applied to the benefit of them that do not belong to the body of Christ.

The Modern Prophetic Movement

Having established the NT practice of prophecy, I’ll like to reiterate some of the points we have tried to establish as the principle which drives prophecy, whether OT or NT.

  1. Prophecy is primarily targeted at God’s nation, which in the OT was Israel, and in the NT is the church.

  2. Prophecy is meant to provide guidance to the church for the future, or to explain to and encourage the church in current happenings.

  3. Personal prophecy is an exception and not the norm. In fact, there is no example of personal prophecy in the NT church’s experience as recorded in the Bible.

  4. Again, because God’s nation in our dispensation is the church, prophecy targeted at nations e.g. that Ghana will win the World Youth Cup or who will win the next presidential elections should also be an exception rather than the norm. In fact unless under matters of extreme urgency, such prophets should be treated with a large dose of suspicion.

Coming from this background, it is saddening the contemporary Christian’s attitude to prophecy. Having already come into the church through an emasculated gospel which targets our personal needs rather than God’s need (the kind Paul calls “no gospel at all”), we then come to our “clergy” with the clarion call for prophetic messages. Interestingly all these messages are only about how “God is going to open doorways” for our businesses, marriages and personal pursuits, how He’ll make us a success and cripple (sorry, kill) our enemies.

Sometimes I really feel like crawling into a hole and hiding and denying Christianity when I hear all the adverts on radio and TV about “prophetic” services and sermons. From the whole TB Joshua saga concerning our current president and his predictions on football, to the most recent craze about 31st December watch night services being places to “expect prophetic messages to enter into the new year and grasp our destinies”, this whole yearning for the prophetic has become farcical. In fact, if we truly understood what prophecy was about, I believe some of the notable preachers of our times who have the title “Prophet” appended to their names would have removed them long ago. I honestly wish I could name some of them, but I might offend some sensibilities.

There is a phenomenon in Ghanaian Christianity today which I think most Christians are not realizing. Our preachers preach more from the OT than from the NT, and yet we claim that we are liberated from the law. Are we not rather being made slaves to the law? Is it not the case that it is very easy to use the OT to support every action that we take, from calling curses on our enemies to the practice of investing in magnificent church buildings and paying exorbitant monies to our pastors? Don’t we realise that there is now very little difference in principle and practice between a fetish priest and a modern day “prophet”?

Is the New Testament standard now too hard to live by?