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?

Rediscovering NT Christianity – New Wine in Old Wineskins

This article is available for download in pdf format here

Neither do men pour new wine into old wineskins. If they do, the skins will burst, the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved.” (Matt 9:17)

Last Sunday I was moved to share this in our meeting (oh by the way, I don’t “go to church” on Sundays. The church “meets” in our house on Sundays. I hope you get the difference. If not, keep reading). In our shared personal perusal of the New Testament, I have come to appreciate how the above applies so appropriately to us, and I’ll explain why. However, one thing I’ve learnt over the past few years is that religious people are also the people who are the most ignorant about the history of their religions, and are bound to repeat the same mistakes their predecessors made.

Look around in every major religion in the world. You will find three things which almost always runs through all of them. The first is sacred offerings i.e. sacrifices, second is sacred spaces aka temples and the third a sacred priesthood that offers these sacred sacrifices in the sacred spaces. Hinduism, Budhism, Judaism, Islam, Greco-Roman paganism, you name it. There is always a combination of all or some of these. Even Christianity has these as well, however, there are some things that sets Christianity apart from the others. We’ll start off by looking at sacred offerings.

Sacred Offering

We as Christians believe that there is no need for us to perform any sacrifices, be it of any animal, human or other form. We believe that Christ is the ultimate sacrifice which was offered once for all, and does not ever need to be repeated.

Unlike the other high priests, he does not need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sin, and then for the sins of the people. He sacrificed for their sins once for all when he offered himself” (Heb 7:27)

Therefore the only thing we need to do is to “approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” (Heb 4:16). However, this was not always the practice. In the hay days of the Roman Catholic church, Christians lived in the understanding that the bread and wine that was termed the “Holy Communion” represents the actual body and blood of Christ – a concept known as transubstantiation – and that every time that it was shared, Jesus was being re-offered again. I stand to be corrected, but I think this is still the mindset (if not the practice as well) of Catholicism and I dare say some of us Protestants as well. It is because of this need to “resacrifice” Christ, that we see alters in most Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches. Suffice it to say that historically it has been established that this whole mind frame came from the adoption of purely pagan practices, i.e. Roman, Gallic and Frankish religions of the time.

However, thanks be to God for the work of Martin Luther and the Reformation struggle, which seriously challenged this thinking and has set Reformed Christianity on the truthful path. Nonetheless, I wish they had gone further.

Sacred Priesthood

The Norm

Of course, to perform a sacrifice and to make it pleasing to whichever god you serve, it must be given by “respectable”, “holy” people, right? So, we come to the second pillar – the priesthood. In every religion, there is always the special set of people who have the sole preserve to present sacrifices and make interventions on behalf of the “ordinary” people to their god. It is the same in Christianity, but how profound the differences are!

In the Old Testament, beginning from Aaron, there was always appointed a high priest from the tribe of Levi, who were dedicated and set apart for the service of the temple. In the case of the high priest, not only did he have to be of the tribe of Levi, but he must of necessity originate from the family of Aaron (and by extension Moses, since they were brothers). Ordinary people were only allowed into the temple courts, and not the temple itself, the preserve of Levites. In addition, only the high priest was allowed to go into the section of the temple called the holy of holies once a year, where they performed a sacrifice for the sins of the whole Israel. This form of separation between the ordinary people and the “holy” is one that exists in most of the religions I’ve mentioned.

The Difference

However, in this respect there are 2 things which set Christianity apart from all others.

  1. Christ is our high priest. Unlike other religions including the Judaism, we need no human high priest.

The point of what we are saying is this: We do have such a high priest who sat down at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven and who serves in the sanctuary, the true tabernacle set up by the Lord, not by man” (Heb 8:1-2).

When Jesus Christ went to heaven, he went and offered his own blood in the tabernacle that was situated above (Heb 9:12). You will note that the tabernacle Moses made was based on very explicit instructions. That was because God was looking at the dimensions of his own tabernacle above, whiles giving the instructions to Moses to make a copy of (Heb 8:5). The above will be come even more important when we come to the third pillar.

However, at the completion of this exercise, he now sat down at the right hand of God, and received the power to send down the Holy Spirit to the church. This is exactly what Peter said about Christ when the Spirit was poured out on them.

If this is the case, then I’m tempted to ask where the concepts of General Overseers, Moderators and Presidents come from. Are we trying to replace the High Priesthood of Christ? Are we not just going back to the other religions of the day, especially to Judaism? Hmm.

  1. We Christians are now priests of the Most High God. And i mean ALL OF US. Unlike other religions including the Judaism, we need no separate priesthood.

But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi’, for you have only one Master, and you are all brothers. And do not call anyone on earth ‘father’, for you have one Father, and he is in heaven. Nor are you to be called ‘teacher’, for you have one Teacher, the Christ.”(Matt 23:8-9)

Ask any modern day preacher the meaning of this passage, and you will hear a million and one explanations. However, it is very clear from the context that Jesus was making this comment because of the pharisees and teachers of the law who now “sit in the chair of Moses” (v 1-2). By this statement of Christ, he has leveled us all onto one ground. There is none higher than the other, and our only Master, and Teacher is Christ, and our only Father is God.

In fact, this is the motivation for passages like 1 Pe 2:9, 1 Cor 14:26, Ro 15:14 etc.

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.”(1 Pe 2:9)

To him who loves us … and has mad us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father …” (Rev 1:5-6)

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)

I myself am convinced, my brothers, that you yourselves are full of goodness, complete in knowledge and competent to instruct one another” (Ro 15:14)

There is a problem in the Christianity today, and it’s called the clergy – which translated means “heritage” or “inheritance”. Interestingly, the rest of the church is called “laity”, translated “people”. Ironically, God has always described his “people” as his “heritage” or “possession”. Where did the division come in? You see, because of the concept of priesthood of all believers, it is imperative that we allow others to express what God has given them to give to the body in more ways than even 1 Cor 14:26 above here envisages. It is of the utmost importance that we don’t let our practice become a one-man show, as it pertains today.

Someone asked a question that for all their over 30 years of being a Christian, it never occurred to them to ask why it is that Christianity is the only place where people are not allowed to ask questions after such an “important” thing as the “sermon”. I know most of the reasons that will be given, but I tell you the answers never address the core of the problem. Infact, we are practicing the Levitical priesthood all over again, though we claim to be under a new law – New Testament law.

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).

In the NT, there are about 58 verses that talk about being priests to one another, just like the examples given above. I tell you, the priesthood of all believers has more mention than elders and pastors that we so revere today. I hope to do a little discussion of them as part of this series on Rediscovering NT Christianity. Although elders have an indispensable role to play in the growth of the church, they are only guides, not gods.

The usurping of the role of Christ as the High Priest of his church, and the continuous division between the clergy and the laity leading to a non-functional, apathetic priesthood are unfortunately still with us, a demon which still begs exorcising, and one which unfortunately the Reformation left untouched.

Sacred Space

The Norm

Having a holy sacrifice and a holy person to perform that sacrifice, what is left is the holy place to perform it. This brings us to the third and final pillar – sacred spaces.

As we’ve already mentioned before, Moses was given explicit instructions to build the Tabernacle of the Testimony, which he did. Therefore the tabernacle became the place for the offering of sacrifices to God, and where the Ark of the Covenant was, on top of which God was supposed to dwell (in the mercy seat between the Cherubim). This was then carried about everywhere the Israelites went during the Exodus.

When Israel settled down, David wanted to build the Lord a temple, and finally Solomon did build the temple. It is very important to note that unlike the tabernacle, though God gave his approval for the building of the temple, he gave no instructions as to how it should be built. And God did make manifest his presence to them through his Spirit descending in glory over the temple. However, God never meant this temple (or any subsequent ones) to be his abode, and therefore we find that the Spirit never stayed in the temple for long. This is what Stephen referred to when he reminded his accusers that “However, the Most High does not live in houses made by men” (Ac 7:48), quoting what the Lord himself said in Isaiah 66:1-2. Unfortunately, the Jews had taken the temporary interest of God in temples to mean that he could be camped in a thing of man’s making.

However, this is not entirely their fault, because every major religion before, in and after their time had temples. There is always an attempt to house a god in a certain man made location, be it in Mecca, the Temple of the Dome in Jerusalem, The Church of the Holy Sepulchre also in Jerusalem, Buddhist temple in China or Kweku Bonsam’s shrine in Ghana.

The Difference

Herein lies the difference when it comes to NT Christianity. God’s ultimate plan is revealed, and his disinterest in all man made abodes made clear, when we are told that God’s temple is not a building, its a people.

Jesus replied, ‘If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with Him‘” (John 14:23).

But if Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, yet your spirit is alive because of righteousness” (Ro 8:10).

Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple, and that God’s Spirit lives in you?” (1 Co 3:16)

Do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God” (1 Cor 6:19)

All these point out how different Christ’s ministry in the NT is from the OT. No longer do we need to make an appearance in a certain building before we consider ourselves in God’s presence. God is in us (note, I didn’t say we are in his presence). And whenever we meet together, he dwells in us. We are his temple.

It is no wonder then that archaeological evidence shows that no church buildings existed until 100 years after the death of the apostles. The earliest church buildings can be dated to mid AD 200, in the time of Emperor Constantine.

It is not because they were poor. In fact, the Christians of Achaia (i.e. Corinth) were quite the contrary, and were rather putting money together to help their brethren in Jerusalem.

It is not because they were in small numbers, because the language of Acts 21:20 says “thousands of Jews had believed” in Jerusalem.

It is not because they were persecuted, because the Roman empire was one of the most religiously tolerant empires, until the times of the Emperor Neros and Emperor Domitians who came way after Christianity was established. In fact, Gallio’s refusal to deal with religious arguments in Ac 18:12-16 is only representative of the attitude that the Roman leadership took to their subject colonies – freedom of worship.

And don’t misconstrue Ac 2:46 saying “they met in the temple courts” to mean they met in the temple. Don’t forget that it was only Levites that were allowed to directly worship in the temple. And worst of all, the Jews had just killed a man they considered a blasphemer – I don’t think they’d take kindly to his followers sharing the same temple with their Judaic worship. That would have to be over the dead bodies of the Pharisees and the priests of the temple. Just as it says, the temple courts were open spaces outside the Jerusalem temple where people could meet. Period.

Where Did It All Go Wrong?

Like I stated previously, the Reformation led by Martin Luther helped rid Christianity of the hegemony of man-made sacrifices, and we owe them a debt of gratitude. However, the concept of the clergy – which stands starkly against the priesthood of all believers, and the church building – a paradox when compared to the people being the temple of God – seem to be so ingrained in the modern Christian mindset that it’s difficult for us to admit that there is something wrong with them.

For some (mostly the laity) the status quo suits their lifestyles, and don’t want to be ruffled by getting too deeply into active participation in the body of Christ. After all, “that’s the pastor’s work, right”?

For others (especially the clergy), that is all they know to do, some having even attained PhDs in theology. Its the source of their daily bread. They dare not touch these historically, archaeologically and scripturally unfounded institutions, for they do so at great personal peril.

Even though it’s been established historically that early Christianity was the first religion to practice a system of equal priesthood and non-temple based worship, we have however abandoned that and gone for old testament based Judaic and Greco-Roman pagan practices. Would it not be right to say that we have put new wine in old wineskin?

My only personal pain is that Christianity is not judged by what it was meant to be, but what it is now (which is only natural). We live in a world where people have become increasingly cynical, if not hostile to the message of Christ, simply because of what they see us doing. Maybe we in Africa don’t see it much, but it’s so visible in the western world. However, I can already see signs of it creeping into the African society.

Are we willing to change the old wineskin for the new?

Rediscovering NT Christianity – A Purpose Driven God

This is the first in a series I’m writing on Rediscovering NT Christianity. This article is available for download here

Many of us have read the popular title by Rick Warren, “Purpose Drive Life”. Unfortunately I am yet to read it, but I’ll like to tweak his title to apply to this writing. I have heard many people say “God will reveal what he has purposed for me” or “What God has purposed for me will surely come to pass”. We seem to think that God is yet to reveal that purpose, and that some special time will come when we will be made aware of it. Well, I’m sorry to disappoint a lot of us, but God’s purpose for us has already been revealed. We are only meant to conform to that purpose, and I’ll explain why by touching on one of the facets of that purpose – the body of Christ.

Let us start off by asking ourselves these questions. If the God we believe is really an omniscient God, how come he didn’t know that Adam could fall to the temptation of the devil? Or did he? If he did, then if Adam had passed the test, what would God have done? Would there have been the need for Jesus Christ at all? Did Christ only exist for the purpose of saving us from our sins, or God had a purpose for Christ far greater than we can all imagine. These for me are about the most important questions that we as Christians must answer to be able to truly understand the purpose of man on this earth, and by extension the purpose of our faith.

God’s Mysteries Revealed

This is why the epistle of Ephesians is such an important one (and part of the reason why we should spend more of our time reading the NT than the OT). Like I mentioned in a previous post, its the only letter Paul wrote to a church which didn’t attempt to deal with any particular problem that the recipient church was facing. It is full of such theological weight that many of us read it without fully assimilating it’s implications for our faith. I encourage you to take the time to read that book again, alongside Colossians and Hebrews. It is the epistle that explores God’s purpose for our redemption, a purpose which existed before the foundation of the earth.

Paul always spoke of certain mysteries. Of these, he often said though it had been given directly to him by revelation, other apostles and prophets of his time had also received these same mysteries. These then became the vision that drove Paul’s ministry. However, he states clearly that these mysteries were totally hidden from the prophets of old, who wished they could look into them as well. These mysteries were hidden nowhere else but in God himself, and obviously it will only take God to reaveal them.

And he made known unto us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfillment, to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ” (Eph 1:9-10)

Surely you have heard about the administration of God’s grace that was given to me for you, that is, the mystery made known to me by revelation, as I have already written briefly. In reading this then, you will be able to understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to men in other generations as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to God’s holy apostles and prophets. This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus (Eph 3:2-5)

Although I am less than the least of all God’s people, this grace was given me; to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ and to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery, which for ages was kept hidden in God, who created all things. His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose which he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord (Eph 3:8-11)

Paul here mentions 3 mysteries hidden to the prophets of old.

  1. When the times have been fulfilled, everything will be brought under one head, Jesus Christ our Lord.

  2. The promises of Abraham are available to both Gentiles and Jews through a living body called the church, through Jesus Christ our Lord.

  3. The world, spiritual and physical is intended to see the many-sided wisdom of God through the same living body called the church. This ETERNAL PURPOSE was again achieved in Christ Jesus our Lord.

You can see the amazing plan of God. Christ and his church are everything. When God sought to achieve his purpose on this earth, he made that purpose happen through Christ, and that to make that purpose clearly visible to the earthly and heavenly places, he chose the church to display that purpose. From the three above, it is obvious that because everything is IN CHRIST, THROUGH CHRIST and UNDER CHRIST, the church is nothing without Christ. However, what is even more shocking to me is that God’s wisdom can only be displayed in the church.

Let me use this example to display the implications of these mysteries. We know scientifically that decisions are taken by the brain, and communicated to the rest of the body for action to take place. In the same way, God’s intention and design is that when Christ being the head thinks of something to do, his Church will act it out. This is what we mean when we say that Christ is the head of the church. We don’t only mean that he is the say “General Overseer” of the church, but that he is the source of direction for the rest of the body to act.

And this is exactly what the Ephesian epistle seeks to communicate to us – our relationship to Christ as his body (Colossians talks about the supremacy and headship of Christ over his body amongst other things). That we are in a very privileged and powerful position, being the body of Christ. Our role is to seek out what the head wills, and do it. However, no part of the body acts alone, but always in coordination with certain other parts. To grasp something, the arm must move toward the object, and the nerves and muscles exerted for the fingers to clasp the object. The biceps and triceps are then flexed to lift the object up, and the purpose is achieved. I hope the doctors will excuse my ignorance of human anatomy, but I believe this is basically what the human body does, and the church is no exception.

The Manifold Wisdom of God

But what exactly is the manifold wisdom of God? Hmm, that will take me a whole book to delve into, but I’ll summarise it in three ways, though they are actually more than three.

  1. God intends the Church to be the bride of Christ, spotless and holy as Christ himself. (Eph 5:27; Rev 19:7-9). Just as Abraham sent his servant to bring a wife to Isaac, so has God sent his Holy Spirit to bring the Church to Christ.

  2. God intended and has created a new family, in which he is the Father, Christ the eldest son, and the church his younger brothers. (Ro 8:29;Heb 2:10,19;5:8). We have a direct relationship with him, again possible only through Christ. That is why both Gentiles and Jews have to come under the church. Check out what Paul said “Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God” (1 Cor 10:32). In fact, the world even awaits our revelation as the sons of God, and until then will continue to groan in the pain that it does. (Ro 8:19-23).

  3. God has always intended to dwell within and among men. It’s the reason why we individually and corporately are his temple (1 Co 6:19;3:16). This conforms to the new Jerusalem, where the writer of Revelation writes “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 21:3). When you continue reading, there it is stated clearly that there no temple in that city: “I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple” (Rev 21:22). Can you guess why? Because the church which is part of Christ will be with Christ then. Christ will be joined with the church, which will in turn be joined with God. No temples needed. Hallelujah!

Purposed Before Creation

Liberating and empowering as this purpose is for us – a purpose which became Paul’s burning passion – it was a purpose that existed before man was created. The apostle calls it an eternal purpose, and that is why he says it was hidden. That is even more amazing to me. That means that even if Adam had not sinned, the church will still have come into being somehow, existing in, under and by Christ solely for the purpose of displaying God’s wisdom. Oh, and Paul cannot be accused of introducing teaching that Jesus did not teach. Christ himself said that his kingdom was prepared “since the creation of the world”. Let me show you some places where this “before/since creation” concept exists.

Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world‘” (Mt 25:34)

For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be adopted as his sons …” (Eph 1:4)

This purpose was given us in Christ before the beginning of time …” (1 Ti 1:9)

If Adam Hadn’t Sinned

So now, we come back to answer the million dollar question. What if Adam & Eve hadn’t sinned? How does Christ and the church fit into the picture? Do you remember that apart from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, there was also the tree of life in the garden? Well, what did Jesus Christ say about that same tree of life in Revelations 2?

He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God” (Rev 2:7)

Well, a tree of life can only give eternal life. And therefore when man had fallen to sin, God had to prevent access to that tree, so they don’t stick to their sinful nature for eternity. Therefore they would have been given eternal life from that tree. Now note who is making the promise here. Jesus Christ himself. He is the one who will give it to them – again salvation in, through and by Christ. They would then have become the founding members of the church.

Implications of God’s Purpose

We can see that God had already determined his purpose for our creation and inclusion into the body of Christ. His overriding concern is for Christ and his body, the church. And therefore, it is obvious then that God’s purpose is intensely a corporate one. God is not going to reveal a separate purpose for you, apart from a purpose that fits within his eternal plan, a purpose centered around the church. The church is the reason why Christ came. If this is so, then the following observations can be made.

  1. Salvation is not about us the individuals who are saved by Christ. I know that our gospel and everything else that we teach today is so individualistic, but trust me, you were not saved for your own salvation’s sake. You are saved to take an active part in building up that body alongside others to make manifest God’s wisdom.

  2. Because of the unfortunately individualistic twist which church scholars trace from the D.L. Moody line of preaching, most Christians see the church not as the end itself, but just a point for gathering Christians who have been saved. We see our main mission as saving the whole world, which has shown evidence historically of producing very weak Christians. We don’t realize that it is within the church that transformation really happens, and every avenue must be explored to make that transformation be visible to the world. That is how the world will see the wisdom of God. Christianity has always been about “calling out from among the Gentiles a people for himself” (Act 15:14). Its the same thing God told the Israelites when he saved them from Egypt – “You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles wings and brought you to myselfout of all nations, you will be my treasured possession” (Ex 19:4-5).

  3. It is because of the truth that God wants to dwell within his people that it’s painful to observe the mindset of Christians regarding the church building, as if God still dwells in buildings (this is exactly what Stephen tried to tell the Jews which incited their anger to kill him – “However, the Most High does not live in houses made by men.” (Acts 7:48) ). The 1st century Christians understood this so well through Paul’s ministry, that it has been established historically and archaeologically that they never built for themselves church buildings, but simply used their homes or any available meeting spaces (a natural consequence of this was that they met in small groups, allowing them to also pay more attention to individual maturity). It’s only when a Roman emperor (Constantine) decided to nationalize Christianity that he commandeered existing temples for the Christians and built new ones as well, that set us on this path of decline.

  4. Because everyone is to be actively involved in building up Christ’s body, simply because that is the eternal purpose of God, it’s again painful to observe the separation between clergy and laity. We have created an artificial split between those who may serve God, and those who may just watch the show. It is a natural consequence that once you put some people in charge and not just give them guidance roles, but tell them that they are supposed to do all the important work in the church, then everyone else will relax. If there is one thing we all agree with, growth comes from directly experiencing an activity. No matter how many lessons you give a student, if they do not have the opportunity to practice it (and I mean practice it in the most important organism to any Christian – the church), they will never be a well-rounded student. The same is true of the church. If we only sit on the pews everyday and only a handful of us do any spiritually related activity, we are not displaying the wisdom of God – that he lives in everyone and is capable of using everyone.

I’ll leave you to ponder the rest of the implications of adopting such a mindset towards God and his purpose for you. However, I hear people say very often that where there is no vision, my people perish. The problem with contemporary Christianity is not that we don’t have a vision. Au contraire, there is an abundance of vision. The only question is whether this vision is defined by ourselves, or its the eternal purpose that God had designed before the foundation of the world.

Understanding that the church is God’s central eternal purpose on this earth made me see why Christ said this:

I tell you the truth, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. Again I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three come together in my name, there I am with them”(Mat 18:19-20)

When a group of people gather under Christ’s headship (i.e. where he is the brain and they are the body) and are focused on his already predetermined purpose, they are walking in the mind of God. Therefore, whatever they as a group (not individuals) wish for concerning that purpose WILL BE DONE, because it already is in line with God’s vision. No wonder Paul said that “WE have the mind of God” (1 Cor 2:16), not “I have the mind of God”.

Our vision must not be individual, but corporate. It must not be from us, but from God. And finally, we must understand that God’s vision was predetermined before the foundation of the earth, and we can only conform to it, not dictate new terms to him. Or else we will heal the sick, raise the dead and do more than Mother Theresa did, but God will tell us he doesn’t know us because we pursued our own purpose.

** For an indepth discussion of the eternal purpose of God, refer to “From Eternity to Here” by Frank Viola, “So Beautiful” by Leonard Sweet, or “The Stewardship of the Mystery” by Theodore Austin-Sparks, which is available chapter by chapter at http://www.austin-sparks.net.

Praise In the Key of The New Testament

One of the defining marks of Christians is praise and worship, and I will not even begin to go into the importance of such an exercise to the faith. Suffice it to say that it is a tool not to be underestimated. It is in the same vein that I’ll like to look at our praise of God in the light of the two theological masterpieces – the epistles of Ephesians and Colossians. The question has never been whether we should praise God or not, its what we should be praising God about.

Before I go on, it is worth noting why I deem these epistles masterpieces, especially Ephesians. The Ephesian epistle is the only one that was not written to address any particular problem that was happening in any church, unlike most of the the Pauline epistles. In fact, some bible scholars argue that since the earlier manuscripts of Ephesians do not have the phrase “in Ephesus” (“To the saints in Ephesus” – Eph 1:1), it may be that it was a circular letter written to a host of churches. It was written during a time of imprisonment in Rome, when Paul was not going anywhere fast.

Paul had already written a gist of the revelations he propounds in here in the prior letter to the Colossians (Don’t fret. Even though most bibles place Ephesians before Colossians, bible scholars agree that Colossians and Philemon were written together and Ephesians followed them, all in AD 61. Maybe you need a chronogical bible, but I’m not sharing mine 😀 ). He only goes on to delve fully into these matters in Ephesians. As an author’s comments on Ephesians goes,

This letter is the crown of Paul’s ministry, ‘the Divinest composition of man’, and ‘the high water of Holy Writ’ … Ephesians is a matchless presentation of God’s eternal purpose and the unsearchable riches the Christians have inherited in Christ. (The Untold Story of the New Testament Church, Frank Viola).

I couldn’t agree with him more, because in my experience, it is the book that Christians need to rediscover – one that clearly states in no uncertain terms why the church exists, and why we are called to be a part of it. For me (and countless others I’ve met in the blogoshpere and beyond), it’s one of the books that reinforce why I should be proud to call myself a disciple of Christ in the face of so much despondency and despair at what Christianity has stood for over the centuries.

But I digress. Let us look at the cause for Paul’s praise in Eph 1:3-10. It’s quite a long one, but easy to break down and assimilate.

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will – to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given to us in the one he loves. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace the he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding. And he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure in Christ, to be put into effect when the times have reached their fulfilment – to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ.”

First off, he says we should praise God for blessing us with every spiritual bless “in Christ”. Now that is mind boggling – not that God is going to bless us, but he has already blessed us. But don’t forget he is very specific about the kind of blessings – spiritual blessings in the heavenly realms “in Christ”. The question is, what are these blessings? Well, if I know God very well, he “will not do anything without revealing it to his prophet”, so I believe it won’t take a rocket scientist to show us what these are – they are right next in line.

  1. We were chosen before creation: This is exciting! Even before Adam and Eve were brought into being, God had chosen us. This reason alone is good enough for us to give praise to God every second. Do you doubt that? Well, even Rev 13:8 says “All inhabitants of the earth will worship the beast – all whose names have not been written in the book of life belonging to the Lamb that was slain from the creation of the world”.

  2. We are predestined to be God’s sons: Have we even thought about what comes along with being a son of God, alongside Jesus Christ? Have we even considered being in the same family as God, with Jesus Christ as our elder brother? “For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the first among many brothers”(Ro 8:29). Do we even understand the fact that the world continues to be in the pain that it is – and that this pain will not go away – until the sons of God are revealed? “The creation awaits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed” (Ro 8:19).

  3. We have redemption through his blood: I cannot overstate the work that Christ did on the cross, turning us “from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God” (Ac 26:17). Most assuredly, the battle was won on the cross, but the war will be won in his coming kingdom (Rev 19-22).

  4. He made known to us the mystery: This is the part that fascinates, and enchants me. What is that mystery? That all things in heaven and on earth will be “brought under one head” or “summed up in Christ”. This mystery is so great that God had it hidden in no one than within he Himself. He had kept this mystery from the devil, and in the latter’s planning and scheming, he didn’t know that he was fulfilling that mystery. In expounding “summed up in Christ” further, Paul gives us this gem:

Although I am less than the least of all God’s people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles, the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery, which for ages was kept hidden in God, who created all things. His intent was that now through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made manifest to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose which he accomplished in Christ Jesus” (Eph 3:8-11)

I’ve been writing about purpose and process, but I tell you, this is the eternal purpose of God. That Christ, through his church, will display the manifold wisdom of God to the everything everywhere, spiritual or physical. You will notice that this purpose was “accomplished in Christ Jesus”. Well, there’s your “summed up”.

You see, most of us don’t realise that God is a God of purpose, and undoubtedly even as he is eternal, so are his purposes. In that ignorance, we always think of Adam’s sin and Christ coming to save us, as if God didn’t know that it would happen. The church for us is an after thought. To God, it’s his masterpiece and part of his purpose from eternity past. I urge you to be transformed by the renewing of your mind about this. But if his purpose considering the church and Christ was an eternal one as stated above, then we must always ask ourselves “What was God’s purpose in creating man”? We must start asking questions about “before creation”, not put our binoculars on “Adam to Christ”. Like Austin Sparks said and I paraphrase, most Christians are stuck at the bottom of a ravine between 2 hills, from which Christ came to redeem us, ignorant of the fact that we were meant to move to the other side of the hill, where God had always intended us to be. Frank Viola terms the two hills Gen 1 & 2 and Rev 21 & 22 – everything else is just an intermediary step. But again, I digress. We will have time to talk about the consequences of the eternal purpose of God later.

(I’d recommend “From Eternity to Here, Rediscovering the Ageless Purpose of God” by Frank Viola or “So Beautiful” by Leonard Sweet if you want to get a full discussion of God’s eternal purpose. Again, I won’t give you mine 😉 ).

However, I want us to be happy about the fact that we are part of that church, part of that eternal plan before Adam fell. Another reason to be ecstatic.

Might I remind you that all these reasons given by Paul for praising the glorious grace of God are extremely spiritual. They are absolutely connected with the heavenly. In fact, Paul had this in mind already when he wrote the previous letter to the Colossian church (thinking chronologically here, remember) about their attitude, reminding them to set their minds on things above.

Since then you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory” (Col 3:1-4)

Again, he reiterates how everything is summed up in Christ – how we died and our life is hidden in Christ, by virtue of which we can only appear in glory when Christ’s glory is manifested. He makes it ample clear that our glory is not on this earth. And again, it is not for naught that Paul gives the same reminder to the Corinthians.

If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men” (1 Cor 15:19).

So, what is my point? What has this got to do with our praise?

I hear too often, and my ears grow weary, of Christians only praising God for bread and butter. I’m heartbroken at how we excel at praising God with the clichéd, “I thank God for taking care of me and my family throughout the week …”. I’m astounded at the vim with which we everyday praise God for “Making us somebody amongst our earthly peers” and having saved us from “Families without hope of any success”. It’s like a canker. It’s in our “gospel” music, local or foreign. Its in the pulpit, and it’s in Christian literature. It’s everywhere.

The question I want to ask us Christians is this – when it comes to comfort, prosperity, family comforts and world fame, who are on top of the list? I’m not very familiar with the world’s rich list (I hope my ignorance is forgiven, because there are weightier matters than these), but remind me if Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, the Sultan of Brunei and the Queen of England are people you will consider true Christians. Even ordinary “by mouth” Christians. Hmm, I didn’t think so. Make no mistake, if you are aspiring to “Bill Gateship”, you are in the wrong organisation (i.e. the church).

Because it is a well known fact that the world’s most successful people are either self-professed or can be considered atheist. A few may have a belief in God, and fewer yet in Christ. Yet we are lost in trying to attain the world’s comforts by “going through God”. And, because we do not know what Christ has given us which makes us diametrically different from these people, we continue to “praise” God for the things that he gives to everyone, whether they believe in God or not. Even the Psalms say that it is God who gives rain to the wicked as well as to the righteous. So, when we are praising God, I find it very very disquieting that we have very little notion of some of these things that are causes for the praise of the New Testament writer’s praise. In fact, there are few occasions in the NT where the writer praises God for anything other than the hope that he has called us to, the eternal purpose which he predestined from the foundation of the earth, the salvation which he has given us, the body of Christ which is the church of which we are part, the bride of Christ to which we belong, the house/temple of God of which we are precious stones in, the royal priesthood and the holy nation of God to show forth God’s excellencies, etc. If we are people of a new covenant and not the old, then I challenge us to redefine our praise according to New Testament standards.

I’m not saying that don’t praise God for what he provides for you. Far from it. But like my dad said the other day, if you sow to earthly hope, you will reap earthly hope. Obviously I do not need to state the converse.

If we are truly sons of Abraham, “who was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God” (Heb 11:10), and is still waiting for that city that Christ his seed will bring (again another example of “bringing everything under” his headship or “summing up”), then our praise must change to reflect that glorious hope. Because it is indeed glorious and great.

Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven …” (Mt 5:12)

Religion – An Endangered Species?

“I just saw ‘Angels & Demons’ and this is my questions, if religion is flawed due to man’s imperfections then why do we still believe”?

This is in answer to the above question that a friend asked, and I’ve quoted them here verbatim.  You can download this article from here. Since Angels & Demons is a fictional story about events in the Vatican during the election of a new Pope, I will seek to make comments only in the light of Christianity. I cannot and will not hold brief for any other religion.

Let me start off by asking a question of my own to this one. When you say “why do we still believe?” the question I ask is “believe in what”? Are we talking about believing in Christianity as a religion, or believing in the church or believing in Christ? Answering this question well is critical to the whole discussion, and must not be trivialized. Therefore in that direction, I’ll digress a little bit by talking about the basis of the Christian’s faith – Jesus Christ.

When He was leaving his disciples he gave them a command to go to the ends of the world and “make disciples” (Mt 28:19). Note that he didn’t say “believers” but “disciples”. And what was the cardinal standard and evidence of this discipleship?

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 13:34-35).

Another thing which Jesus himself said will mark his disciples out is that they will always be in the minority. It has always been, and will always be the case, that the righteous who live by faith are always a remnant, and not part of the larger norm. Doesn’t that remind you of what Jesus Christ said about the narrow and wide gates (Mt 7:13-14)? Or that out of the 600,000 (counting men only) people who left Egypt to go to the Promised Land, only 2 out of that generation made it? And yet, were they not all saved by the blood of the lamb used to mark their doors during the passover night? Jesus said “many are called, but few are chosen”. Ah, guess what James said about the same calling – “Simon has described to us how God at first showed his concern by taking from the Gentiles a people for himself” (Ac 15:14), not “taking all the Gentiles”. Interestingly, it matches perfectly with what God told the Israelites when he set them free from Egypt – “Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession” (Ex 19:5)

A third characteristic that he gave of his disciples is that they will be a people of much suffering because of their faith. (Mt 10:24-25;Lk 9:23-24; Lk 14:25-27). This came to existence in the lives of the early disciples and they were never under any illusions about it (Ac 14:22), and neither should anyone who lives by faith. Abraham lived by faith, yet neither did he nor all the great men of faith who came after him receive the promise of an eternal city in the eternal kingdom in their lifetimes, a promise to all who are of the faith of Abraham (Heb 11:13-15). Were they living for a reward on this earth, or living like strangers on this earth, they looked forward to their inheritance – “a city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God” (Heb 11:10)?

I could go on and on about what Jesus himself said, but then you will get bored. So let me cut to the chase – we must always be mindful of the fact that religion which becomes institutionalized, highly formalized and increasingly hierarchical always exists for the purpose of self-perpetuation. As a result, such religion seeks to exert inordinate control even outside its own bounds and instead of serving as a conduit for expressing a certain faith, becomes the faith itself. It becomes more enthralled in outward symbolism and pretence, pride and hypocrisy. Like the Laodicean church of Rev 3:14-22, it becomes so naked that those who do not belong them even see this hypocrisy, yet they themselves will deny the existence of such a state. Ultimately, such religion moves away from its original purpose and becomes full of man-made rules and regulations. A classic symptom of such religion is that it begins to court the attention and support of the state and the world and abandons it’s simplistic focus on the original basis for its existence.

In this light, let’s look at a portion of Wikipedia’s definition of religion which I find interesting, and note my emphasis.

‘Religion’ is sometimes used interchangeably with ‘faith’ or ‘belief system’, but it is more socially defined than personal convictions, and it entails specific behaviours, respectively”

As stated above, although we may interchange faith with religion, we can see clearly that religion is more encumbered in the social and not in personal convictions, which rather defines faith. There will always be a conflict between faith and religion, and it is increasingly more difficult for faith to triumph over religion when religion has become a conduit for achieving man’s dreams, not God’s.

And that is why I welcome a movie like “Angels & Demons”. Unlike its precursor, which was purely sacrilegious because it distorts historical fact which all historians and archaeologist will not dispute (by saying Jesus had wives and children), this is one that makes you stop and ponder what we as Christians belong to and associate with all the time – the church. In this movie, a group called the Illuminati is deemed to have originated within the Roman Catholic church when the latter stood against Galileo’s observations that the earth was round. According to the same Wikipedia article on “Religion” under the section “Religion and science”,

The Roman Catholic Church, for example has in the past reserved to itself the right to decide which scientific theories were acceptable and which were unacceptable. In the 17th century, Galileo was tried and forced to recant the heliocentric theory based on the medieval church’s stance that the Greek Hellenistic system of astronomy was the correct one”

Here was a church that was basking in the glory of state support, and at the height of it’s power. As a result of Emperor Constantine’s explicit support, Christianity had become state religion and all men in the Roman Empire were required to convert (what happened to “called out”?). Instead of being a suffering church, they were busy ruling over worldly affairs and enjoying the best the world had to offer. They had replaced a priesthood of all believers (“you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood” – 1 Pe 2:10) with an unscriptural separation called the “clergy” and “laity”. They had appointed for themselves a capital on this earth (what happened to “our citizenship is in heaven” – Phil 3:20, and “You have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem … to the church of the firstborn whose names are written in heaven”?). They had been given their own country and city, the Vatican (Abraham must be having second thoughts – “why did I live like a stranger when I arrived on the promised land”). They were busy acquiring property for the clergy through active taxation of both business and their membership, yet the poor membership were left to their own means. They were not feeding the flock, they were feeding on it. They had become the faith. How different were and are they from the Pharisees of Jesus’ time? Oh, and don’t take this as a “Roman Catholic Church” bashing, because I believe majority of the church is guilty of this Laodicean self-deception. The RC church has only been at the forefront of the general march in the wrong direction, that’s all.

Granted that they were not even supposed to be ones deciding on what the scientific world should accept or not, simply because that has never been the mandate of the church of Christ in the first place. If they were not so obsessed at defending their worldly acquisitions and power, they would have been led by the Spirit of God to simply commission a study into the word of God to know what the Word which we Christians believe to be complete and final said about that. They would have noticed in the first place that there is nowhere in the Bible that states the the earth is flat. On the contrary, there is rather Biblical evidence that suggests that the earth is round.

He sits enthroned above the circle of the earth, and its people are like grasshoppers.” (Is 40:22).

And to digress a bit further into the topic of science and religion, as someone said, the fact that the Bible does not mention insects, does not mean that God didn’t create them. The fact that the Bible did not mention dinosaurs does not mean that from the Bible’s standpoint, they did not exist. In fact there is evidence to suggest that the Bible does talk of certain huge animals in Job 40 & 41 and the Psalms (Behemoth and Leviathan). In Job 40 the behemoth is described, and a few of those descriptions are captured below.

He moveth his tail like a cedar” (Job 40:17 KJV)

Behold, he drinketh up a river, and hasteth not: he trusteth that he can draw up Jordan into his mouth.” (Job 40:23 KJV)

I’m not too sure how many hippos and elephants have tails “like a cedar” or trust they can draw up the Jordan. But we might want to take a further look at these chapters and an even more critical appraisal of our Bibles that we keep under your pillows instead of in our hearts henceforth.

But I’m not here to be the apologetic, so I’ll leave my digression here. I believe that the most endangered species of people in this day and age are not those who don’t believe in God and think life is just a passing thing and science will explain all and solve all problems. No, those who need to be preserved are religious Christians, who claim a faith in God but actually only claim a faith in religion.

Because we who claim a faith in God have absolutely very little knowledge of Jesus Christ and what he really stands for, much to the joy of the devil. We are educated Christians with Bachelors, Masters and PhDs in “Rocket science”, and yet cannot discern the simple fact that it is about knowledge of God himself, something that if we will submit to His Spirit, the latter will reveal to us.


This is what the Lord says: Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom or the strong man boast of his strength or the rich man boast of his riches, but let him who boasts boast about this: that he understands and knows me …” (Jer 9:23-24).

I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better” (Eph 1:17)


Because if God does not give us this, then in spite of all our advanced education and knowledge, the prophecy of Isaiah will be very true of us.


For you this whole vision is nothing but words sealed in a scroll. And if you give the scroll to someone who can read, and say to him, “Read this, please”, he will answer, ‘I can’t; it is sealed.’ Or if you give the scroll to someone who cannot read and say, ‘Read this, please,’ he will answer, ‘I don’t know how to read” (Is 29:11-12).


It is good to have watched Angels & Demons, and I guarantee you personally that you should expect even more books and movies that question our “religion” in the future. The only question is whether we are ready for the onslaught that exposes our duplicity, or if we’ll do the soul searching ourselves before the Mighty Searcher himself arrives, whose eyes like blazing fire (Rev 1:14), already see through us.

Inheritance! What Inheritance?

This article is available in pdf format here

I don’t know how many of us actually have actually taken time to digest Galatians 3, but it is one of those chapters that made me go like “Wow!!!”. I believe it behoves us to go into the implications of the content of that chapter and how they affect the hope and faith we have, against that which God had predetermined from the foundation of the earth. We’ll start off by looking at a passage from that chapter.

The Gospel was First Preached to Abraham?

The Scriptures foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: ‘All nations will be blessed through you’” (Gal 3:8).

The first wow comes from realising that the gospel – the good news – did not originate from Jesus Christ on his earthly mission, but rather was in existence way before that, to the extent that it was preached to Abraham. Wasn’t the gospel about Jesus Christ? How did Abraham understand the gospel announced to him then, if there wasn’t as yet the one to bring it into fulfilment? The basis of our modern faith is Christ’s work on the cross that redeemed us from sin and brought us to the Father. But what was the basis of his faith? If “we who have faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith” (Gal 3:9), then how similar or different is ours?

The key to understanding this is found in the same Galatians 3, this time in v 16.

The promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. The Scripture does not say ‘and to seeds’, meaning many people, but ‘and to your seed’, meaning one person, who is Christ” (Gal 3:16).

It important to note that in most of the passages in the NT where the word “promises” are used, it does refer to the promises God made to Abraham. In fact, most of the passages containing this word are misapplied in contemporary Christianity to mean some prosperity that God has promised for those who have faith in him on this earth, without recourse to what God has already told our “father of faith”, Abraham.

But back to the point. These promises were spoken to Abraham when God called him out of his father’s house in Ur. God promised to give a certain land through which all nations will be blessed to Abraham and to his offspring. He was to “take possession of the land”.

He also said to him, “I am the Lord, who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to take possession of it” (Ge 15:7).

A Stranger in His Own Land. Promise Fulfilled? Not Yet.

But we find that Abraham lived in tents and as a stranger on the land even when he had finally arrived there. He never built a city, neither did Isaac nor Jacob. Even God acknowledged that fact.

The whole land of Canaan, where you are now an alien, I will give as an everlasting possession to you and your descendants after you; and I will be their God.” (Ge 17:8).

The Lord appeared to Abraham near the great trees of Mamre while he was sitting at the entrance to his tent in the heat of the day” (Ge 18:1)

To understand this stranger-in-your-own-land behaviour of Abraham, we have to ask why there is always the attachment of the offspring to the promises, and not just to Abraham, Isaac or Jacob alone. As Gal 3:16 says, it was because that offspring is not a plural one and no ordinary singular one as well. He is the Christ himself. Note that the Israeli nation, though they have inhabited the “promised land” for so many years, have had periods long of total exile from their own land. Indeed, they themselves continue to wait for a Messiah who will grant them total unconditional reign over that land and over the earth. And in that same wise, until that offspring has come, that land will never belong fully to Abraham (and to all who are heirs with him of that promise). It is this offspring who shall bring the promise to fulfilment.

The writer of Hebrews does a brilliant expose on this particular issue in 11:8-10, and it is one that every child of Abraham, everyone who lives by the faith of Abraham, must continuously imbibe.

By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as an inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign land; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to a city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God” (Heb 11:8-10).

The inheritance of a city is what Abraham looked forward to, and he looked forward to it by faith alone. It simply wasn’t one he could bring about. Only God in all his wisdom and power could. And obviously he never gained this promise, but he determined to live like a stranger on this earth until that promise was brought to fulfilment by He who had made it. And he was not the only one who lived by faith in the promises, however all those who shared in this faith with him had one thing in common – they were looking forward to a country of their own.

All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance. And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have the opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country – a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.” (Heb 11:13-16)

So we see that Abraham and these men of faith were waiting for a city that God Himself will build,a heavenly city. What city is this city? Where is it and what is it like? The only city in the Scriptures that match this criteria is the New Jerusalem, described in Rev 21. I’ll encourage us to take the time and read all of it, but verse 1&2 of it says:

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.” (Rev 21:11-2).

This was their inheritance, and everywhere that you see the word “inheritance” or “inherit” especially in the NT, you should have this picture in mind. This was their privilege and their honour – to be found in the city of God at the end of the age of men. Let us look at some examples.

As for you, go your way till the end. You will rest, and then at the end of the days you will rise to receive your allotted inheritance (Dan 12:13 – which was spoken to Daniel at the end of all the visions he received from God).

Now I commit you to God and to the word of his grace, which can build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified(Ac 20:32 – Paul’s farewell to the Ephesian elders)

who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession – to the praise of his glory” (Eph 1:14 – Paul talking about the Holy Spirit the Ephesian disciples had received by faith).

Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire” (Heb 12:28-29 – speaking of their future inheritance)

He who overcomes will inherit all this, and I will be his God and he will be my son” (Rev 21:7 – declaration of God to John in his vision about the heavenly Jerusalem)

Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the Kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world (Mt 25:34 – Jesus separating the sheep from the goat in his judgement on his throne of glory”

Note that inheriting this city is only an extension of the millennial reign, in which these same overcomers will rule with Christ over the whole world, physical and spiritual.

I saw thrones on which were seated those who had been given authority to judge … and reigned with Christ for a thousand years” (Rev 20:4)

Christ and the Inheritance

So then, did Christ teach about this inheritance of a kingdom, of an eternal city? Did Christ promise the reign in that kingdom (not just entry into it) to his disciples? What did Christ preach at all?

The stage was set for what Christ was to do on this earth even before he entered the world from Mary’s womb, when the angel appeared to her concerning the son she was about to give birth to.

He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob for ever; his kingdom will never end”.(Lk 1:32-33)

And so, Jesus carried the message of who he was and what he was bringing to us who believe in his message. Let’s take a look at what he preached at the very beginning of his three year ministry, right after being tempted by the devil in the wilderness.

From that time on Jesus began to preach, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near’” (Mt 4:17).

Jesus began by calling people to repentance. But you will observe that the call to repentance is not for repentance sake, but for a purpose – because of the kingdom. You see, the gospel has always been about the kingdom. It is not about Jesus’ death and resurrection, it is not about redemption from sin. It is not about healing and miraculous deed of Jesus, neither is is about healing us and providing us with daily bread. These wonderful themes aforementioned are the process through which the purpose is achieved – God’s ultimate plan of sharing the reign of the world physical and spiritual with His called out people (‘eklessia’ or the church) in a kingdom whose capital is the new Jerusalem – the one Abraham was looking forward to. The fact that the kingdom Abraham looked forward to is the same one Jesus has prepared for us can be seen in the light Mt 25:34 and other places, which states that the Kingdom was prepared for us “since the creation of this world” or “before the creation of the world” (Eph 1:4; 2 Ti 1:9). It is no wonder then that Jesus himself calls His gospel “the gospel of the kingdom”.

And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come” (Mt 24:14)

It will interest you to know that there are more than 50 references to the phrase “kingdom of God” or “kingdom of heaven” in Matthew alone, not speaking of the other Gospels. In fact, when Peter was beginning to wonder what exactly they were following Jesus for, he got a clear and straight answer reminding him not of gaining repentance from sin and eternal life, but an inheritance in that Kingdom. He didn’t tell Peter of the process, for Peter was already part of those who were following me. He was telling him of the purpose – the kingdom.

Peter answered him, ‘We have left everything to follow you! What then will there be for us?’ Jesus said to them, ‘I tell you the truth, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel’” (Mt 19:27-28)

You see, the Jews have always been a strong-headed people who prided in their position as children of Abraham, children of the promise. And Jesus’ message never changed that promise, or made a different promise to them. Have you wondered why there are a so many of the parables which talk about the kingdom of God (“the kingdom of God/heaven is like ….”)? The Parable of the Weeds, the Parable of the Net, Parable of the Mastard Seed, Parable of the Talents & Pounds, Parable of the Wedding Banquet, Parable of the Ten Virgins etc? And neither did the Jews misunderstand Jesus’s message in relation to the promise, for they had come to know and believe he was the Anointed One, the expected king who was going to bring about the kingdom of God.

While they were listening to this, he went on to tell them a parable, because he was near Jerusalem and the people thought that the kingdom of God was going to appear at once.” (Lk 19:11).

All this belief culminated in the Triumphal entry into Jerusalem described in the Gospels. In fact, the Jews of his day are the direct opposite of modern Christian – they had a good glimpse of the purpose (though not completely), but were completely thrown off tracks when Jesus expounded the process by which they may enjoy that purpose – repentance, faith and obedience to God through a renewed life offered by Jesus alone. On the contrary, we are caught up in different stages of this process, and I honestly cannot say that much for our appreciation of the purpose – the kingdom.

Implications of the Inheritance Life

If we are to be called true children of Abraham (Gal 3:7), then the examples in the life that our father Abraham lived should become cornerstones of our faith. And therefore it behoves us to look at certain characteristics of the life of our “father of faith”, that we may apply these to our own. Because I guarantee you that we cannot have it any easier than he had it and still be fit for the inheritance.

  1. Be ready to live like a stranger on this earth – As we have already established, Abraham lived as a stranger on this earth, this same earth that will be given back to him to rule over when Jesus returns. We as Christians cannot set our goals and priorities on what the worldly also desire. We must fully understand that although we are in this world, we are only waiting for our heavenly city and until Christ returns, we can only wait in faith and in His earthly representative’s power – the Holy Spirit. We should expect the world not to understand us for living like this, because they have not submitted their lives to the Holy Spirit that quickens us. If we endeavour to build our cities now, we will gain the world’s approval alright, but I believe I don’t need to state the obvious when it comes to God’s own.

  2. Be ready to suffer for your faith – Not because God hates you, but because as Frank Viola put it last week, God intentions grow the “human spirit but frustrates the soul and bids death to the flesh”. Between the time God called Abraham and blessed him, till the time he gave birth to Isaac was 25 years. It was such a long time that he was tempted to get the blessing through some other means – through Hagar. Of course that wasn’t God’s plan, but it shows us the importance of total reliance on God for the fulfilment of his own promises to us, something that our rebellious soul hates.

  3. Be ready to loose much for your faith – Related to the theme of suffering is loss. Here was Abraham, missing the company of family, friends and familiar settings. And these losses do not preclude the loss of the comfort of religious institutionalism. Just as Abraham was called out of his comfort zone, history has continuously shown that true spirituality does not breed well in the institutions of the day, which tend to exist for their own self-perpetuation.

    Also this loss could be also very personal. Take the case where Abraham was prepared to lose his son, knowing that God was capable of providing again through resurrection (Heb 11:17-19). Little did Abraham know that the real sacrifice was yet to come in the form of “the seed” – Christ.

  4. Become a friend of God – I’ve heard the popular song “I’m a friend of God”, and I’ve had cause to ask myself how I am a friend of God. We will all agree that friendship does not just form in the air. It is based on sharing a mutual concern or love or participation in something, and our friendship with God is definitely not about our interests, but His. If we are truly friends of God like Abraham was, we will be busy about building his kingdom, not ours. The one thing most important to God on this earth is the church which is to be the bride of Christ (if you doubt that, take some time to digest the book of Ephesians), and we better become active participants in building it, not warming its pews. Oh, and I don’t mean the church buildings, but his organic church, composed of them that that are gathered in his name.


If you study this gospel of the kingdom and it’s attendant Spirit produced lifestyle, it makes you understand the dearth of true spirituality in the church today. And it is not surprising, given the condemnation that Paul pronounced on those who preach any other gospel.

Conclusion

If you study this gospel of the kingdom and it’s attendant Spirit produced lifestyle, it makes you understand the dearth of true spirituality in the church today. And it is not surprising, given the condemnation that Paul pronounced on those who preach any other gospel.

I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel – which is really on gospel at all. Evidently, some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned! As we have already said, so now I say again: if anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let him be eternally condemned!” (Gal l:6-9)

Today, the gospel we hear keeps “motivating” us to build our cities on this earth. They keep telling us that what is good for the world is good for us as well. The pulpit has become the stage for teaching philosophy and management skills, all wrapped up with a semblance of Jesus Christ. Even though Paul reminds us to “set our heart on things above” (Col 3:1), we have woefully turned it upside down. As for those who keep to the reformist theology, they unfortunately only continue to harp on the processes as individual in their own right, and fail to see their connectedness to achieve that ultimate purpose.

Or is it because of this?

As for the prophets who lead my people astray, if one feeds them, they proclaim ‘peace’; if he does not, they prepare to wage war against him” (Mic 3:5).

The Forgotten Baptism

In Derek Prince’s “The Spirit Filled Believer’s Handbook”, he classifies types of baptism recorded in the New Testament into four main ones. After mentioning John’s baptism, Christian/Jesus’s baptism and baptism in the Holy Spirit all of which we know so well, he mentioned one other form – the baptism of suffering. Indeed, it seems quite clear that this baptism has taken a place of neglect in contemporary circles, and I’ll only seek to further throw some light on this topic.

Let us look at this baptism of suffering described by Jesus Christ. James and John, the sons of Zebedee had come to ask Jesus to set each one them on the left and right hand side of Christ’s throne in his glory. And this was Christ’s response to this request:

‘You don’t know what you are asking’, Jesus said. ‘Can you drink the cap I drink or be baptised with the baptism that I am baptised with? We can’, they answered. ‘Jesus said to them, ‘You will drink the cup I drink and be baptised with the baptism I am baptised with, but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant.’”(Mk 10:38-40)

Note that Jesus Christ fully agreed with them when they said they could drink of the cup and be baptised with his baptism. In fact, he said plainly that “they will”. And this agrees perfectly with his own statement in Mt 10:24.

A student is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. It is enough for the student to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master. If the head of the house has been called Beelzebub, how much more the members of his household!” (Mt 10:24-25)

The imperative of perseverance through suffering as a means by which God trains us up from being children of his to being his sons cannot be overstated. The purpose of grooming sons as heirs alongside the elder brother Jesus (Ro 8:29) is so important that God will take his children through every means to have that purpose established. As the late Theodore Austin-Sparks puts it, God always seeks to have his “men of stature”. This understanding of what I call the forgotten baptism was never lost on the disciples, and they continued to encourage and remind themselves in that direction.

Then they returned to Lystra, Iconium and Antioch, strengthening the disciples and encouraging them to remain true to the faith: ‘We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God,’ they said” (Ac 14:21b-22)

Note that they didn’t say “we will”, but “we must” go through many hardships. We will look at some of the traits of the lives of the early church and how their lives depicted their understanding of these teachings of Jesus Christ. This would help us get a picture of the kind and grade of suffering that they experienced, and whether we are not missing out on something in our contemporary days. Subsequent posts will delve into other traits, but we’ll look at three here.

Distinct Community Life

One of the traits that clearly marked out the NT church was its understanding of the fact that “they were in this world, but not of this world”. Paul admonished the Corinthian church to separate themselves from the unbelieving world.

Do not be yoked together with the unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? … For we are the temple of the living God. As God has said ‘I will live with them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people’. Therefore come out from them and be separate.” (2 Cor 6:14,16-17)

Of course this statement does not mean that we do not associate with the people of the world, because then “In that case, you would have to leave this world” (1 Cor 5:10). However separation from the world is required because among other things:

  1. we are the temple of the living God and God seeks to move and dwell amongst us as stated above. Obviously a God who doesn’t tolerate wickedness will not have any unbeliever soiling his temple.

  2. we are holy in Christ – “You were taught with regard to your former way of life … to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness” (Eph 4:20-22-24). Paul, the founder of the Ephesian church, reminded them that he taught them to put on what God had already prepared for them; His righteousness and holiness. Separation is not to achieve holiness, but rather because of holiness.

The evangelical theology of Reformists (i.e. most Protestant, Pentecostal and Charismatic Christianity) focuses on trying to change the world by applying the standards that the church lives by on worldly people, who by by nature have been“blinded by the god of this age” (2 Cor 4:4) and will never succumb to it. Unless men have began living the life that Christ alone gives – a life in the Spirit – they are totally incapable of pleasing God (Ro 8:6-8). We continuously underestimate the fallen nature of unregenerate man, and it can be well attested to that efforts in this direction only yield quantity and not quality Christianity.

Just as God called the Isrealites to be his people and made stringent efforts to set them apart from the surrounding nations, so is the church. Note what God said about Israel and Baalam’s concurrence of it when he uttered his oracle concerning them:

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 19:4-6)

I see people who live apart and do not consider themselves one of the nations” (Num 23:9)

Compare these to 2 Cor 6:14-17 already reproduced above and to the following:

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy” (1 Pe 2:9-10)

The similarity between the OT and the NT cannot be overemphasized in this respect. Given these foundations, our duty to the world is to “call a people from among the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith” (Ro 1:5). Note the use again of the phrase “a people”? The church is supposed to be an alternative society that under the unction of the Holy Spirit lives by the law of the Lord, the law of love (Jn 13:34-35;Gal 6:2). Our purpose is not to change the world by making everyone a Christian, our purpose is to call out from the world and disciple those who are willing to live the life of Christ (Gal 2:20-21) and to show to the world by our conformity to the will of God, the supremacy of Christ and what God’s intent for Christ and those that follow Christ is in his coming kingdom is.

His intent was that now through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose which he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Eph 3:10-11)

The church is a show-piece to the world of God’s wisdom, not the world’s wisdom. God’s wisdom is centered in Christ – not worldly power, riches or fame. If the church looks like the world, in what way is it a show-piece then? I’ve heard it said before that whiles the world is becoming churchier, the church is becoming worldlier. It is safe therefore to presume that we live in tragic times – yet God’s grace abounds nonetheless to them that will avail of it.

An Expectation of Trial and Suffering

… And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.” (Ro 5:2-4)

We sent Timothy, who is our brother and God’s fellow worker in spreading the gospel of Christ, to strengthen and encourage you in your faith, so that no one would be unsettled by these trials. You know quite well that we were destined for them.” (1 Thess 3:2-4)

So do not be ashamed to testify about our Lord, or ashamed of me his prisoner. But join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God.” (2 Ti 1:8)

Endure hardship with us like a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No one serving as a soldier gets involved in civilian affairs – he want to please his commanding officer.” (2 Ti 2:3-4)

Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” (Jas 1:2-3)

For it is commendable if a man bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because he is conscious of God. But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God.” (1 Pe 2:19-20)

These passages were written to a very diverse audience of Christians scattered throughout Rome (in Ro); Thessalonica (in 1 Th); Timothy in Ephesus (in 2 Ti); Phoenicia, Cyprus and Syrian Antioch (in Jas); Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bythnia (in 1 Pe). Yet there is a consistent reminder throughout all these – suffering is part of the package. Accept it and persevere in it, not with gloom, but with patience and even joy, knowing that it has a purpose.

I believe that it is no coincidence that this was so important to the theology of the first century church. Many try to argue it away by saying that the world then was very hostile to Christianity, warranting the encouragement to perseverance. I find that explanation not satisfactory. Any church that determines to be true to the purpose of God in being the agent of transforming men and women into the sons and daughters of God to reign in His kingdom will be faced with persecution as a group and as individuals alike. Until we resurrect the preaching of the gospel of the kingdom and it’s attendant life, we will continue to sit in peace with the world. We will never rock the world’s boat. If you want to know the effect of that gospel, take the case of Paul’s first visit to Thessalonica in Ac 17:1-9. When the angry Thessalonian people couldn’t get the escaped Paul and could only lay hands on Jason, they accused him of one particular thing – “ and Jason has welcomed them into his house. They are all defying Caesar’s decrees, saying that there is another king, one called Jesus” (Ac 17:7).

However, I find that another form of persecution of the true church is at hand in our times, albeit in a very subtle way. Wonder how? We live in a world where the phenomenon of humanism, the cardinal sin of man, has so infiltrated the ranks of Christianity and our foundations have proven to be very weak to respond to them. Today all sorts of pragmatism, self-help, motivational, how-to-experience-your-next-breakthrough teaching has entered and taken our pulpits which were already adrift by storm. These teachings have totally abandoned self-sacrifice as a result of love for Christ (Jn 13:34-35; 1 Jn 3:16) and replaced it with self-love. It has replaced humility as a result of Christ being our only glory (Phil 3:7-10) to self-pride. It has replaced the wisdom of God which is foolishness to the world (1 Co 1:20-25;2:1-2) with philosophy and management principles rehashed as the word of God. As a result, those who are truly searching for God are found in the minority, and have to endure the scorn or silent treatment of those walking the broader way. Ah, but Paul only had what Jesus said in mind when he reminded the Thessalonians that “You know quite well that we were destined for them”.

Self-Sacrifice in Meeting Physical Needs

The standard of discipleship was already defined by Christ before his death, and I believe there is no other measure that will suffice than Jn 13:34-35.

Jn 13:34-35 “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.”

Obviously, the love of Christ was not shown in words, but in action, even to the point of suffering and death on the cross. And the early church understood the depth of Christ’s love and the standard that he set for them. However this standard of love cannot be attained by our own fleshly effort, but again only if we live the life that Christ lives in us – walking according to the Spirit and dieing to the flesh and it’s desires (Eph 4:20-22). It is important to note that the love that Christ endeavours for us to show is not only in meeting physical needs, but also in spiritual ones. This section deals with the physical.

Focusing on meeting the physical needs of one another, one of the attitudes of the NT disciple was that everyone who was capable of working must find a job to sustain themselves and in addition, to also meet the needs of others less fortunate. Jesus said, “you will always have the poor among you … (Jn 12:8)”, and therefore it was imperative for the church to take an active attitude towards fighting poverty in the church. This attitude is reflected in Paul’s admonition to the Thessalonian and Ephesian disciples.

1 Thess 4:12 “Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business and to work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody.”

Eph 2:28 “He who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with his own hands that he may have something to share with those in need.”

Such an active stance required a lot of sacrifice on the part of members, and especially the leadership of the early church towards making sure capable members were somehow employed and not sustained by the funds put together by the church. It is a well recorded fact that a large majority of the disciples in these times were the poor in society, and this responsibility was quite a huge burden in the church, enough to cause confusion and the subsequent creation of the office of deacons in Ac 6. Exemplified by the Apostle Paul as a tent maker (Ac 20:3), the epistles are replete with much advice about how the leaders themselves worked with their own sweat to sustain themselves and those who were with them in ministry.

Ac 20:34-35 “You yourselves know that these hands of mine have supplied my own needs and the needs of my companions. In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive’”

2 Thess 3:7-10 “For you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example. We were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone’s food without paying for it. On the contrary, we worked night and day, labouring and toiling so that we would not be a burden to any of you. We did this not because we do not have the right to such help, but in order to make ourselves a model for you to follow. For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: ‘If a man will not work, he shall not eat’”

In stark contrast, we have a lot of unemployed men and women today in the church, and our leaders are only busy claiming their pound of flesh off their already poor congregants. Others are also busy courting the rich of this world to come to their churches so they can give big donations, which end up sustaining their lives of luxury. As Paul states above here, it is not that such people do not have a right to be supported by their members, but the fact is that that is all that their minds are on, and as capable men and women as they also are, they’d rather be a part of the problem rather than contribute to the solution.

Someone made an observation that when you are totally dependent on your congregation for your daily bread, amongst other things there are two things that can happen:

  • They become slaves to you as you continue to demand your sustenance for doing your God given duty (1 Cor 9:15-16) or

  • you become a slave to them by preaching what suits their carnal pleasures so they will continuously be pleased with you and give to sustain you (2 Ti 4:3; Phil 3:17-19).

Unfortunately, I’ve seen a lot this side of the universe that confirms this observation.

In addition, voluntary giving towards the needs of the brethren was highly encouraged and practised, as seen by the sale of property in Ac 2 to meet the needs of the poor amongst the disciples, and also in the commendation of the Philippians (Phil 4:14-16) for their record of giving and the encouragement of the Corinthian church to do the same (2 Cor 8 & 9). I believe that an insistence on the purpose and importance of work also fed into this ability to give voluntarily.

Conclusion of Part 1

The character traits of the early disciples and their lives showed a dynamic and vibrant community of people who lived God’s purpose, not theirs. If we are to be judged as overcomers in this race, can we make it without an acknowledgement of suffering and the part that it plays in moulding our characters? Are we not in danger of being called “illegitimate” (Heb 12:7-8)?