The Revolutionary Christ

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

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

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

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

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

Choosing the Jesus of Dogma over the Jesus of History

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Observations

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

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

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

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

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

In the World, But Not Of the World

Today, we will take a detour down history lane, to learn of how Protestant Christianity has fared over the last 500 years, since it burst unto the scene in the 16th century. You might wonder why you should be interested in this historical discourse, but I’ll encourage you to hold your horses. It seems that human beings never learn from their mistakes, so if we’ll do any better then it’s imperative that we also learn from our own history, rich as it is. Most people find history boring, but if we don’t learn from the past, we are bound to commit the same mistakes of our forefathers. I will plead with you to have patience and analyze most of the concepts raised carefully, as to help you see where I’m headed towards.

When the Ephesians were confronted with a preaching of Christ by Paul in Ac 19, the silversmiths’ reaction to it was quite interesting. They did not seek to challenge this new teaching that Paul was bringing and show how their worship of the Greek goddess Artemis (Romans call her Diana) was superior to the one whom Paul preached – Jesus Christ. No, their attack was based more on their loss of economic livelihood as a result of people abandoning their shrines which they the silversmiths used to make for them. Why is it interesting, you ask? We’ll get to that soon enough.

By way of background and not to bog you down with the details, the Protestant Reformation is deemed to have began in 1517 thereabouts, when the German Martin Luther posted his “Nintey-Five Thesis” on the doors of the “All Saints Church” in Wittenberg, Saxony, where he criticized a lot of the Roman Catholic church’s practices. Some of these included the fusion of the church and the state, clerical celibacy, devotion to saints and the authority of the Pope amongst numerous others. Others like Ulrich Zwingli and John Calvin both of Switzerland, joined the crusade. It must be said that a lot of Europeans joined this effort of rebellion from Germany, France, Scandinavia, England, Scotland, Netherlands and so on. However, most historians note Martin Luther, Ulrich Zwingli and John Calvin as the foremost leaders of the Protestant Reformation. This rebellion led to a lot of wars in Europe, until finally some compromise was reached which virtually was a victory for the Protestants. As a result a lot of European nations subsequently adopted the ideals of the Protestant Reformers (whom I’ll heretofore refer to as the “Reformers”).

But then, another group of people began to voice out discontent with the Reformers. They felt that the Reformers had not gone far enough in their reforms, to the extent that some of them accused the reformers of replacing the papacy with their own papacy. Paramount among the leadership of this counter accusers is Conrad Grebel, Menno Simmons and Felix Manz. It is the relationship between the reformers and these second group, mostly known as the Anabaptists, that is of interest to us today. The rallying cry of these Anabaptists was this reminder from Christ – “we are in this world, but not of this world”. Let us now look at the accusations of the stepchildren against the reformers, and whether history has vindicated them or not. We will do so with the help of a Christian classic by Leonard Verduin titled “The Reformers and their Stepchildren”. And before you accuse Verduin of bias, know that he himself is of the Reformed tradition, not of Anabaptism. His choice of the word “Stepchildren” to refer to the Anabaptists is quite appropriate in my opinion.

Separation of Church & State

In medieval times (as we see in the OT), societies were very mono-religious. Every country was bound together by only one religion, and this religion was essentially determined by whatever choice of religion that the ruler of the land preferred. Therefore, it was important in the days of Israel to ensure that the king served Jehovah God alone, so as to ensure that the whole nation also followed. There was very little room for serving a different god than the one the king of your land served, because there was the fear that this could lead to disunity and chaos in the land. This was why the prophets of old directed a lot of their attention at criticizing the kings of Israel. Remember the relationship between kings like Saul, David, Ahab, Hezekiah, Zedekiah and prophets like Samuel, Nathan, Elijah, Isaiah and Jeremiah? It is important make a brief note here that because we don’t understand this background, contemporary Christianity still views the ministries of these prophets only in the light of personal ministry towards these leaders, not in the fact that it was more to safeguard the nation from departing from God through their king.

However, when Christ came, he didn’t concern himself with trying to change the people at the top. Au contraire, he focused on anyone and everyone he met in the street, and sought to create an alternative society of people who existed in their current societies, but lived a different kind of life from everyone else around them. This however, was a threat to the comfort of the ruling elite, who felt that this must be stopped. As a result, we see all the persecution that first Christ, then his apostles and the church encountered as a result of they wanting to be in the world, but live differently from the rest of the world. In fact, the treatment meted out to them is worth many volumes, and we are all familiar with some of them one way or the other.

However, when the Roman Emperor Constantine finally decided to join the church (seeing that the Romans themselves were joining Christianity and living lives which were quite well commended by others), he did what every king of their time knew how to do – nationalize Christianity. To a large school of thought, this was the beginning of the end to simple, Christ centered Christianity, an assertion that I personally agree with. The church now had the powers of the state to coerce everyone to become Christians, and in effect the whole society was assumed (and forced) to be Christian. If you ever come across the term “Christendom”, this effect is what is being referred to. In addition, the attempt to align Christianity with political power is what is mostly termed “Constantinianism” or sacralism, All sorts of people with all sorts of leanings, with totally heathen mindsets and unrepentant lifestyles entered into Christianity, simply because they were under pain of death to do so. Those who believed this was wrong stood with their leader Donatus against it, but with the power of a whole Roman Emperor behind them, the Roman Catholic church persecuted and chased out any strains of Donatism remaining in the empire.

Fast forward to 1517 and the Protestant Reformation. The Reformers aligned themselves with certain political leaders to be able to either gain support against the Roman Catholic church or to even be considered a religion in their own right. In the end, Protestantism was again made the religion of certain geographical locations or even countries. These political powers are what is referred to as “magistrates”. Even though Luther, Zwingli and others had stood against the fusion of church and state, saying that the state had no right to determine the affairs of religion and church, they turned round having formed these alliances, to now say that they were a necessary part of the church and were even God-ordained. In effect, the church needed the “arm of flesh” to survive. Hear John Calvin:

As the magistrates have the duty of purging the Church of offences by bodily punishments and coercions, so do the ministers have the duty of assisting the magistrates by reducing the number of those who offend”

To the reformers, the only way for Christ to triumph was for Christianity to be the religion of everyone. John Calvin states here that if the Church sets upon itself the task of making itself open to the world :

Then he [Christ] will convert the hearts of Princes and their lieutenants, to the casting down of idolatries and the restoration of the true service and worship of God”

This the Anabaptists did not agree with and knew that even the leader of the Reformers Martin Luther himself did not agree with that in the beginning, but now had turned his back to it. From an Anabaptist:

In 1519 Martin Luther began to write against the frightful abominations of the Babylonian Harlot and to disclose her wickedness … but as soon as he joined himself to the secular rule, seeking protection there against the cross … then it went with him as with a man who in mending an old kettle only makes the hole bigger, and he raised up a people altogether callous in sin”.

Against this backdrop, people who refused to submit to this were labeled “heretics” and burnt (“under small fire” which took 2-3 hours before one died. Just imagine that!!). Property was seized and people were banished, repeating the same evils of the Roman Catholics.

Fast forward to today, and the stepchildren have been proven right. Now, we believe in freedom of religion and a separation between the State and Religion in our democracies, even the Ghanaian one. Though most Americans do not want to admit it, their First Amendment which guarantees this freedom came about because of the background of those who first drafted their constitution. They were mostly made up of descendants of Puritans and people with Anabaptist leanings, people who had suffered religious persecution in their European countries before migrating to the New World. They knew by experience what religious freedom was worth and did not want any sacralism of any shade in this new land. It must be noted that sacralism was the root of a lot of other issues raised by the stepchildren against the Reformers, and we’ll see why as we continue.

Leaving Church Discipline to the Church

Because Church and State were now one, there was very little room for discipline, and therefore very uncomplimentary Christianity. How? Well, the Reformers themselves knew that there was the need to insist on discipline in the church, but according to the New Testament, the most severe form of discipline that could be exacted is being sacked/excommunicated from the church. Here was the case however, that they had bound themselves to the state and made it compulsory for everyone to be a Christian, therefore the only other option left to discipline a person was to either banish them from that geographical jurisdiction or to kill them. And because this was such a drastic option, the Reformers were reluctant to do this (especially because there were very few committed Christians amongst them. Most church members were just there for being there sake). This lead to all sorts of vile and sinful lifestyles, and the stepchildren used to point out how hopeless the Christianity of the Reformers were. Interestingly, the Reformers did not hesitate to exact the aforementioned punishments on their critics, and many were persecuted, killed or banished for this. Such double standards.

And yet all the Anabaptists were asking for is that the Church be made up of people who voluntarily wanted to follow Jesus. That way, if they continuously (emphasis please) practiced some sinful behaviour and were not ready to repent, they could just be excluded from amongst them, just like the NT envisages. This was very effective amongst the Anabaptists. Just look at what even a Roman Catholic priest (who we can consider unbiased because they hated the Reformers anyway) wrote about the Anabaptists:

Among the existing heretical sects there is none that in appearance leads a more modest or pious life than do the Anabaptists. As to their outward life they are without reproach – no lying, deception, swearing, strife, harsh language, no intemperate eating or drinking, no outward personal display; but humility, patience, uprightness, neatness, honesty, temperance, straight-forwardness, in such a measure that one would suppose that they had the Holy Spirit of God.”

And yet, Martin Luther could see these defects in the churches of the Reformers, but was helpless to take any action and rather thinks that God will excuse and forgive them. Below he writes

When they look at us and see the offensive defects with which Satan distorts our churches they deny that we are a Church and they are unable to lift themselves over this … whatever remains of sin this verily offends those spiritual Donatists .. but it does not offend God, seeing that for the sake of faith in Christ He excuses it and forgives it”.

In fact, he know full well that the Reformed Churches were full of unbelievers, and yet didn’t support bringing any discipline in churches as captured below in a letter he wrote to a church in Zwickau:

Such reprimanding of specified persons is not in place except in the gathering of the Christians …, in a public preaching where Christians and non-Christians alike sit together, as in the case in our churches, there the rebuke is to be general”

Interestingly in another breath he planned on how to fix this problem. He wished to create a church within the general church, one made of people who truly want to follow Christ voluntarily. This is where the term “visible and invisible church” came from. He penned this in one of his writings in 1526:

They who seriously want to be Christians and want to confess the Gospel in word and deed, these ought to inscribe their names in a book and assemble in a house by themselves for purposes of prayer, the reading of Scripture, the administration of baptism, the reception the sacrament and to engage in other Christian activities … but I neither can nor may as yet set up such a congregation; for I do not as yet have the people for it. If however the time comes that I must do it, so that I cannot with a good conscience refrain from it then I am ready to do my part.”

It is needless to say that this never came to pass. For how will the State Church now permit a church within a church? Therefore the Anabaptists always accused Martin Luther of turning coat, reminding him of the times when he used to preach these things, yet has now turned around against his own words. Of course most Protestants today now believe in individual decision to be a Christian, but have forgotten or are blissfully unaware that they owe it to the Anabaptists who their forefathers persecuted for advocating such a state of affairs.

The Mindset about The Sacraments & The Priesthood

One of the accusations that was laid at the feet of the Roman Catholic church by the Reformers was their notion of sacrifice attached to the taking of the Lord’s Supper. There is a reason why Roman Catholicism calls their service “a celebration of the Mass” – it was centered on the taking of the Lord’s Supper as some sort of re-sacrificing of Christ. You’ll notice there’s very little emphasis on the word of God in their service.

Because of the pagan backgrounds of most of those who had come into Christianity by force and their familiarity with sacrifices, the Catholic church had placed the whole emphasis of the meeting into focusing on the performance of the ritual of sacrificing Christ and offering him to the congregation in the form of the blood and the body that is offered at such a mass. In fact, the word “hocus pocus” which magicians chant whiles performing their magic acts comes from the priests speaking the words “hoc est enim corpus meum” (“for this is my body”) in Latin. Worse still most of the service was always conducted in Latin, not in the native German, Swede, French etc, probably to maintain that aura of authority and “magic”. And instead of it being something that was shared, it became the right of the Priest to put it into the receiver’s mouth. All these things elevated priests to a certain unwarranted mystical status. Interestingly enough, because people didn’t really need to be true Christians to become members of the church, it also follows that people didn’t need to show any spiritual maturity to be made priests in the church, contrary to the provisions of the epistles of 1 Timothy and Titus. It is no wonder then that such priests were well versed in the rituals than they were in the word, and attaining to priesthood was more a political than a spiritual exercise.

The Anabaptist of course held no such view, and placed no emphasis on the ability of the sacraments to bring salvation to men. They rather held to a personal voluntary acceptance of Jesus, and a strong emphasis on the word of God. They followed the pattern of their dissenting “ancestors” the Waldensians as described below by someone sent to arrest Waldensians.

They know the apostles creed excellently in the vulgar tongue; they learn by heart the Gospels and the New Testament … and repeat them aloud to one another … I have seen some lay-folk so steeped in their doctrine that they could repeat by heart great portions of the Evangelists, such as Mathew and Luke .. so that they could repeat them without a halt and with hardly a word wrong here or there.”.

Interesting complement from one’s enemy, I’ll surmise. And in addition as specified above, they denounced the separation of the lay and the clergy, claiming that everyone was a priest and had every right to carry out all the functions of one. There were frequent occurrences of lay administration of the Lord’s Supper, lay preaching, lay marriages, lay burials etc. Because they believed in people hearing the word and believing, their focus was not on learning how to perform the sacraments, but how to preach the word to convince a non-believer. It is striking to note that the leading Reformer Ulrich Zwingli himself said the Anabaptists were so knowledgeable in the word that it was dangerous to meet them in any debate. This is very obvious because most of the Reformed and Catholic priests just weren’t men of the word. They were politically appointed men, men of the ritual and human tradition. Obviously the only other means to beat someone who wielded the sword of the word skillfully is to use some incongruous human argument, which the Reformers excelled in doing. Even an Anabaptist layman was likely to floor them.

The Reformers did not seem to take a clear stand on the sacrificial mindset attached to the Lord’s Supper, and actually seemed to gravitate more towards it. However, their main point of divergence with the Anabaptist even till this day, is the denial of the authority of a lay member of the church to perform any of the functions of the priest. And to be a priest, you had to be a Reformed priest, not an Anabaptist one. So in effect, they banned all preaching that didn’t originate from a Reformed church’s pulpit, at the pain of death. This unfortunately is one of the traditions left to Protestants by their forefathers which we can’t seem to get our heads around – that we are all priests and have equal rights to every activity that a priest has a right to. Just maybe, we’ll come around to opening our eyes on that sometime soon, as is a lot that the Anabaptists taught.

The Meetings

Because of this continuous fear that if all people do not conform to one practice of serving God then there will be confusion in the society, the Reformers were very wary of meetings held outside the church. In fact, laws were made about having any form of meetings related to religion, failing which one will be put to death. All sorts of ideas were formed about what these men do when they have their secret meetings, to the extent that the precursors to the Anabaptists, the Waldenses, were accused of witchcraft in the ff:

When the Waldenses wish to go to their conventicle they first rub an ointment on their palms .. as well as on their stick, an ointment supplied them by the devil. Then they straddle the stick and fly to whatever place they wish to go … they congregate about tables decked with wine and bread. Devils in the form of billy goats, or dogs … are present; … they worship these. They then present their buttocks to the sky in derision of God”.

All of this simply because they met in the forests and houses in darkness, which made it difficult for their pursuers to find them. But of course they had no other choice, for they met at the peril of their lives. When however a Catholic Priest visited one of their meetings and came back saying that he’d been preaching the wrong thing all along, he was made to publicly denounce what he said.

It is said that 19 men of Anabaptist leanings were ordered to appear at a Reformed church to hear preaching intended to “correct their error”. Of course, they didn’t show up. Their excuse? “God does not dwell in temples made by the hands of men”. Stephen the martyr would definitely stand with them for this response, for it’s the last thing he said which infuriated the Jews to stone him to death. When others were asked why they gather in “fields, forests or private homes”, they shot back “One of your own prophets, Martin Luther, wrote about that kind of meeting (in a booklet entitled Deutsche Messe), saying that men ought to gather behind closed doors to treat of the word and ordinances of God – but added ‘I am not courageous enough to make a beginning, lest it be looked upon as a faction-fomenting business.’”. Martin Luther’s own words were now being used to attack him. Instead of acknowledging that he’d gone back on his own word, Luther wrote in 1530 that such men should be condemned to the punishment of hanging:

Winckelpredigten [lay preachers] are in no case to be tolerated … These are the thieves and murderers of whom Christ spoke in John 7 … And a citizen is obliged, if and when such a Winckelshleiser comes to him, before he listens to him or lets him teach, to inform his civil magistrate as well as the pastor whose parishioner he is … Therefore let everyone ponder this, … if he wants to preach or teach let him exhibit the call or commission that drives him to it or else let him keep his mouth shut. If he refutes this then let magistrate consign the scamp into the hands of his proper master – whose name is Meister Hans [or the hangman]”

Today, Protestants do not forbid their followers meeting anywhere and in some measure encourage others to also share their faith with those not Christian. However, the mindset that a church is only legally gathered when its meeting in the church building is still very much alive in the Protestant mindset. Though most will deny this in theory, in practice it is very easy to prove. To this day, anyone who purports to be having any Christian meeting without the presence of a pastor and some formalized building is looked at with disdain.

Rebaptism

Perhaps the most definitive mark of Anabaptism is what their name stands for – people who believe in conscientious baptism, not child baptism. Why was this such a problem? The argument against infant baptism was not so much the act of baptizing a child as it is the act of forcing Christianity upon people, culminating in sacralism. Just like we mentioned the facts about the fusion of the Church and State, if every child were baptized, then everyone will by definition be a Christian, whether of their own choice or not. This would again “ensure” a homogenous society according to the medieval mindset, since everyone subscribed to that one religion. In fact, the Reformers actually believed at the onset that infant baptism was wrong, as described by Zwingli in the ff:

Nothing grieves me more than that at the present I have to baptize children., for I know it ought not to be done.

At another point, he said the ff:

I leave baptism untouched. I call it neither right nor wrong; if we were to baptize as Christ instituted it then we would not baptize any person until he has reached the years of discretion; for I find it no where written that infant baptism is to be practiced”

But then he gives us the dreaded end result if he tries to do it “as Christ instituted it”.

If I however were to terminate the practice then I fear that I would lose my prebend [daily bread]”

Why would this happen? Because it would mean then that people now would have the right to decide if and when they wanted to get baptized, which would mean creating a society of choice. This the Reformers and especially their magistrate supporters could not allow, coming from their mindset that “choice is bad”.

And so the Reformers did what they knew how to do best at the time – persecute the Anabaptists who didn’t practice infant baptism. In fact, Felix Manz, the earliest Anabaptist leader and martyr was tied up and dumped in a river, to “have his fill” of all the baptism that he wanted. Here is Luther’s rash about face, condemning the Anabaptists for rebaptising adult believers only:

How can baptism be more grievously reviled and disgraced than when we say that baptism given to an unbelieving man is not good and genuine baptism! … What more blasphemous and offensive doctrine could the devil himself invent and preach?”

Today however, most Protestants have accepted the stance of the Anabaptist as the right stance, with the exception of Lutheran and Orthodox Protestants (mostly Presbyterian). The latter now continue to justify this practice of “christening”, appending to it some other attachment called “confirmation” which has no New Testament basis or example. There are many attempts by these traditions to use the Scripture to justify their continuous hold on these traditions, an activity even their forefathers Martin Luther and Ulrich Zwingli could not defend using the New Testament, but only by appealing to sacralist arguments.

Caring For Each Other

We cannot conclude this short discourse of Protestant history without looking into the accusation thrown at the Reformers by the Anabaptists concerning the hording of wealth by the church and mostly the clergy, when the rest of the church folk were living squalid lives. This again was one of the things that the early Reformers had spoken against the Roman Catholic church of. Just like Mobutu of Zaire who had more money than his country, certain priests had amassed such obscene wealth it was amazing. A case in point is presented below:

when Pope John XXII died in 1334 he had amassed a fortune of 25,000,000 florins. For purposes of comparison we may observe that at about the same time, the ransom demanded by the ruffians who had abducted the King of France was set at 800,000 florins, a sum which his subjects had difficulty raising”

The Anabaptists however, believed in members of their congregations helping each other as and when the need arises and the ability is there. Felix Manz, epitomized this when he said – “A good Christian shares with his neighbour when the latter is in need”. This however was misconstrued as everybody being forced to submit all their property to the church. This charge can only be laid at the descendants of the Anabaptists called the Hutterites, but the vast majority of Anabaptists never practiced this. Their idea was simply giving to your brother as he had need and as you had capacity. Menno Simmons was charged by the Reformers with practicing this “community of goods”, to which he responded:

This charge is false and without truth”, he said. He went on by quoting Scripture, as follows: “If there be among you a poor man, one of your brethren, within your gates … thou shalt not harden thine heart or shut thy hand from thy poor brother.” Then he added … that although his people had an abnormally large number of indigent ones, thanks to the prosecutions and confiscations, ‘yet not one of the devout who have joined themselves to us, nor any of their orphaned children, have been left to beg their way … If this is not Christian practice then we might as well abandon the whole Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ..”

If this was our practice of Christianity today, wouldn’t poverty be a thing of the past wherever Christ is named? He then turns round and accuses the Reformers thus:

Shame on you … you who have been unable with your Gospel and sacraments to remove your needy ones from the streets, even though the Scriptures say plainly enough: ‘whosoever hath this world’s goods and seeth his brother in need and shutteth up his compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him?’”

Unfortunately, as in the days of Jesus and the Pharisees, the eyes of the Reformers were too blind to see their own hypocrisy being pointed out to them by the accused. They only heard what they wanted to hear, and after listening to such scripturally sound arguments, still went ahead to kill Menno Simmons.

“ … he was stretched; he prays God to give him grace to bear the torture. He is told to confess in plain language why he has left the pure teachings as taught by Martin Luther and others … And even though you say that this community of goods is meant for you and your people only, yet your heart and ambition are far different, in actuality to have the goods of all men in common.”

In fact, it is quite shocking the following contradiction recorded below by a committee of clergymen in Bavaria in 1528, when they said of the Anabaptists:

That they have their goods in common and bring them together, each member voluntarily, without constraining any to bring all or even a specified portion of it, this we do not consider an intolerable thing or worthy of punishment. Nor are we able to quote Scripture that militates against it. And yet it is to be feared that where such a small beginning is allowed to go on, permitted and tolerated, then it might with the passing of time increase and attain to greater and more inclusive evil. Therefore our opinion is that also such a confessedly trivial and not very culpable plan should be met and obviated with suitable counter-measures, in view of what is likely to develop out of it”

Since when did being charitable to your brother become something dangerous in Christianity? Note again, the lack of scriptural arguments to back their opposition to this practice of the Anabaptists.

Today, this is arguably the point at which the Protestant (and in fact most of Christianity) is failing the most. We are busily enriching the clergy in the name of “doing God’s work”, and the members are left to beg in society. Today the church is everybody for himself, God for us all. We have not so learned Christ, neither have we learnt from history.

Ending This Discourse

It is obvious from above how easily a people who trample over each other in their claim to be following after Christ can be so blinded to him but rather be pursuing some other agenda. It is even more interesting to observe that the arguments raised by the Anabaptists were countered not with New Testament evidence, but either some heathen practices or Old Testament based sacralism. Therefore there is no difference between the Reformers attitude to the Anabaptists and that of the Ephesian silversmiths to Paul. This attitude wasn’t in defense of Christ and his will, but rather about their own will and benefit.

You will note especially that the Reformers started off well with the vision to change Christianity for the better. But all these problems that they themselves fell into was motivated by one thing – not relying on God to achieve his purpose with us. We are a people who are set apart. Any time we kowtow to the world’s demands or try to align ourselves with the world to be able to achieve God’s purpose, we’ll bankrupt our faith. And when it gets to that stage, our blindness tends to be very monumental. We’ll find every reason other than a scriptural one to justify our actions. If the reformers had stuck to scripture, they’ll have definitely suffered a lot of persecution, torture and death, but they’d have left us their children with a purer faith, one that is worth contending for.

As it stands today, many in the Western world have lost faith in Christianity, not because they don’t like Christ, but because they don’t like Christianity, as Ghandi put it. One of the things that stoked this fire of disbelief in Christianity in the last century can again be traced to the sacralist mindset of always being influenced by or seeking to gain the hand of the government in its affairs. The whole world is still reeling from the shock of Adolf Hitler and how the Lutheran and Reformed churches of Germany stood by (and in a lot of cases gave support – to the extent of banning Jewish pastors) whiles 1 million Jews (some even their church members) were tortured and exterminated during World War II. The likes of Dietrich Bonhoeffer couldn’t fathom how Christ who wouldn’t countenance Peter drawing a sword to strike someone support such a thing, tried with others to organize some resistance but got himself executed in a German concentration camp.

As Africans get more educated, I can already see a lot of people who are seeing through our hypocrisy and denying Christianity. In fact, a lot of young adults today only attend church because there’s not much to do on a Sunday, or because they’re parents drag them to go to church on Sunday. They only attend church “to fulfill all righteousness”. And I can guarantee you that the next generation of Africans will see less faithful adherents to religious Christianity, much like we see in the Western world.

As for the Anabaptists, I salute them. They are testimony to the fact that a pearl can only be created through suffering. Oh, and I’m not talking about suffering because you have malaria. That’s not suffering, because both Christians and non-Christians alike are all targets of the mosquito. I’m talking about suffering because we believe in doing the will of Christ. There’s a lot to learn more from them.

My Church

Some people have asked me about the church I attend. They wonder how I can be so critical of the church, and yet claim to be a Christian. Therefore, the logical question to ask then is what church am I in, and how are we “practicing what I/we preach”? Like we used to do in primary school, instead of writing a “Myself”, I’ve decided to write a “My church”. In that direction, I’ll first talk about the ABCs of measuring a contemporary Christian ministry, and then we’ll pick it up from there.

Attendance

My church is made up of about 10 people, so judging by mega church standards, we’d not be considered a church. However, being small allows us to be more focused on each other than most other churches will allow. It has enabled us to build relationships of open questioning, encouragement, criticism and in some circumstances, severe heartbreak. As someone said, “Everybody is fine until you get to know them”. One of the important lessons that such relationships force you to develop is trust. You have to begin to learn to trust your brother, even though he is very capable of hurting that trust that you have reposed in them. Being small can be very intensive, and if you are not ready to lay down your pride, your social and tribal prejudices and your own self interest, then I’ll suggest that such close relationships are not good for you. Unfortunately, that is exactly what Christ meant by “carrying our cross” and “laying down our lives” for each other.

The membership is quite varied, from a management consultant (my dad) to a software developer (me) to final year university student (my sis) to trotro & taxi drivers, to masons and the unemployed. Interestingly you will hear Ewe, Akan, Krobo and English being spoken freely with attempts to explain to each other what we are saying when we ever do get into our local languages. But we tend to stick with English & Twi.

We believe that God will through our lives and our interaction with people we meet, draw others who are willing to walk with us the walk of discovering Christ together, and we keep encouraging ourselves in this direction. However, we are mindful of the fact that we are not doing it FOR Christ, we are doing it WITH him. When we grow beyond our current number, I believe we’ll have to define some limit in which case another meeting will be started in a different location, probably the house of a member which will be suitable enough. The idea is to keep our gatherings small and people focused, and we believe this can be done.

Buildings

Our church meets in my dad’s house. It has quite a big lot with plenty trees, and a lot of shade. Therefore we meet under one of the bigger trees, and in the case of rain or bad weather, we meet in our living room. I guess by the standard of a mega church, we do not exist if we do not have a church building of our own like the million and one that surround us. Well, my only answer to that is that it enables us to focus our little financial resources on the needs of the members of the church, and not on the hustles of buying land, getting a loan (or squeezing out the last drop of money from the church members) to build the church and dealing with the maintenance costs of running such a building, in the name of building a “temple” for the living God. The NT is abundantly clear that the people are the temple, and the money we have is better spent on them.

Cash

Obviously, we find ourselves in a community where there is a lot of unemployment (which is not surprising in a nation of endemic unemployment), and therefore our financial affairs are nothing to write home about by mega church standards. Although we have a bowl in which people may put in donations from what they have, very few of us do so, basically because very few of us can actually afford to do so without starving for the rest of the week. And actually no one is under compulsion to do so. When a member is in need of something, they let us know and we begin to plan together how we may be able to meet that need. Most times, those working amongst us have to actually dedicate some of their monthly salary to meeting some of these needs, and we try as much as possible to look for solutions to problems that involve getting these people a job so they can sustain themselves. However, demand is more than supply, so we have to be wise about what we spend our monies on (and in effect, it also affects how we as individuals also spend our own monies because we are to be people who work to sustain ourselves and others who are incapable of doing so at any given point in time. See Eph 4:28; 2 Th 3:6-10 for a better understanding of this.) In the same direction, those who receive such help have a responsibility enforced by the other members to make sure that they use it wisely. The end is always that they too should be a source of funding to meet someone else’s need in the future.

In the face of this, it is obvious then that nobody is a “paid” minister, although we are all actively engaged in what most people consider “full time ministry”. For us the principle of a priesthood of all believers is not mere talk, it’s a reality. Oh, and we do not have a headquarters on this earth, and neither are we ever going to have one. So we are free to focus on ourselves and in the future on the needs of other sister churches that may develop as we grow bigger, without feeling the breathing on our back that we have some higher human authority to appease.

The Meeting

Ours is not a service, nor a performance. It’s a meeting (because the “ecclesia” – the assembly, has met), and we strive to make it quite an open one. The chairs are arranged in a semi-circular shape, with a whiteboard if you want to write something (like teach a song). There’s no choir (not that we ever intend to have a standing one), so everybody brings up a song they want us to sing. As the Ewes say “If your corn flour is not in the bowl, then you don’t participate in eating the akple”, so our singing is only as good as we contribute to making it, and it can go in any direction that the Holy Spirit so leads us. There are some amongst us who do not have that good a musical voice or ear, and sometimes introduce a song out of beat or tune. But we correct the tune or beat and along we go. Whether your voice is the sweetest soprano or the croakiest tenor, no one stops you from singing. That is the beauty of being a part of Christ. Whoever you are, you are accepted.

And we also have people writing their own songs and teaching them to us, or teaching some songs that they feel are helpful to our meeting. We do have one person accompanying the singing with the guitar, but they are not the choir master or anything like that, so that no one is stifled from bringing in their song.

We have an open time of sharing, in which testimonies, songs, hymns, teaching, exhortation etc is allowed just like in 1 Cor 14:26. This is basically the center of our gathering. There is not going to be a sermon, so the focus is on allowing and encouraging everyone to share what they have to contribute to the brethren. And trust me, the stuff we talk about may be directly from scripture, or from someone’s experience of life as they went through the week, to discussions on how to help a brother fix his taxi to go back to work, to some business ventures that some of us want to engage in to bring employment to others, to querying and if applicable rebuking a brother for some behaviour someone has noticed over time and so on. So far as it helps bring build each other up in our spiritual and physical lives as we live together for Christ, it is encouraged. Your contribution can be disrupted with a question, correction or additional perspective, and yet there is absolute order. Like I said, there’s no sermon, neither is there an abundance of announcements, so we have all the time to spend engaging each other in these.

We typically pray together over certain topics that we ourselves feel are important to pray together for, and we also chip in our individual needs if you feel like you need help. We end up having a meal, and then taking the Lord’s supper as it should be taken – like supper. Not in some sombre religious attitude, but in one of even further engagement and discussion with one another. In fact, I wonder why I didn’t realize all this while that it was “supper” we were supposed to be taking. When taking lunch or supper with your friends, you don’t keep mute – you have a conversation, right? It’s interesting why to most evangelicals, the Lord’s supper is some supernatural event which cannot be taken in an informal, non-religious manner. Oh, and anyone is chosen on the spur of the moment to share the bread and wine, so it’s not some particular person’s duty to do so – the idea is to put more of the priesthood of all believers into practice.

Name

I guess the final point that most people reading this will have a bated breath waiting for me to talk about is the name of our church. Well, I’m sorry to disappoint you, but there’s no name. Or better still, it’s such a long one that I prefer not to talk of it. The reason you ask for a name is because you see churches with names all around, but let me draw an analogy, and you’ll understand where I’m coming from.

I threw this challenge the last time that we in Africa can easily understand the idea of extended families, because we still practice it. In fact, I drew and will draw again similarities between these two for us to understand the perspective from which to approach it. When you have an extended family meeting, what do you call yourselves? Probably by your surname i.e. maybe the surname of your great-grandfather, in my case the Morny family meeting. In the same way, we are named after our ancestor, God. Our family head is Jesus Christ, a position which he will not share with anyone else. And it is by his permission that we belong to this family. Therefore, we could possibly also be named after the one who has given us to belong to this family – Christ. The only other thing is that maybe some of our family members meet in Ashongman, whiles others meet in Godenu, and others still in Agbogba. So we say then that we are the “ecclesia” (assembly) or family of God/Christ which meets regularly in Mr Morny’s house in Agbogba. Does that make sense to you? Do you see why Paul addressed his letters to the “ecclesia” of Christ in Colosse, Corinth, etc?

Paul didn’t build bureaucratic organizations with high hierarchies interested in dominating the world. Paul went to homes, and picked people from disparate families to form a totally different family that loved each other with the same love that Christ loved them. So try thinking from this perspective. In the meantime, if you are interested in carrying your cross for the sake of a brother (and by extension, Christ) you are always welcome to my church. I’ll encourage you to ask as many questions as you can of my description so far.

We are not perfect, but our focus is on showing Christ to the world through our lives lived together – to display the manifold wisdom of God through Christ’s body, his church. It’s a most challenging, exciting, difficult, maturing and fun road, with very little religiousness and yet very deep characters being formed. You are welcome to join us.

An NT Perspective on Christian Leadership

Many Christians have complained about the attitudes and behaviour of Christian leaders today. We complain that our “pastors” are taking too much money, abusing their powers and falling to seemingly every sin under the sun that even the ordinary Christian in the church is able to guard against. Today it is very difficult for us to find role model christian leaders in the nation called Ghana, and the few that people try to point out to me are in my opinion no where near the examplary leadership that was exhibited by the New Testament church and its leaders. Today, Christian leaders are breaking our ears with conferences, seminars and talks about leadership, but they themselves do not see the principles that underpin Christian leadership. I believe that people are looking in the wrong direction for solutions to the problems of failed Christian leadership, and I’ll explain my reasons below.

The problems of failed christian leadership stem from a severe misunderstanding of what kind of people we are as Christians. You see, the church is the earthly manifestation of Christ. Christ is the head, and we the church are his body. Therefore we exist to display who Christ is. Without Christ, the church is not complete. Without, the church, Christ cannot be displayed to the world, simply because a head cannot exist without a body. Therefore, most of us who think that the church is “a voluntary association for the saved” are seriously mistaken. According to Ephesians, the church displays the manifold wisdom of God (Eph 3:10). Therefore, if the world cannot see Christ displayed through his church, they are somewhat justified in not accepting to believe in Christ (despite all our mega evangelism efforts). Secondly, the church is an organism, not an institution. That is why Christ calls his church “a body”, not a machine. It is not a business organisation run by the principles of profit and loss and maximising returns with minimal loss to the enterprise. Au contraire, it is anything but. It is a body made up of different parts, with each one is no more important than the other. It behoves us then to come at the problem from a different perspective.

In recent times one of the things we have had opportunity to discuss in our free and open participatory meetings was Matt 20:20-28. It tells a story of the two sons of Zebedee (i.e. James & John) and their mother coming to Jesus and the mother pleading that her sons be set on both sides of Jesus Christ in his kingdom. I can imagine an old woman making a passionate appeal to Jesus Christ, doing what every mother will do – seeking the best interests of her children. I do not know if they put the idea in her head to plead on their behalf, or if she saw into the future of Jesus and wanted to secure good positions for her children. Suffice it to say that Jesus was not moved by this attempt at arm-twisting, and tells them that it is not up to him to decide who sits besides him in the kingdom, but the Father. It is important to note that Jesus does not preclude the possibility of anyone sitting on his left and right, he only says that the decision is not up to him, but to his Father. This presupposes that the positions will one day in the future be filled.

As you would expect, the other disciples became angry when they heard that the two had tried to acquire for themselves these positions using their mother. This is because these were positions of authority, where the two of them will be elevated over the rest. It is in this light that Christ makes the cardinal statement that will drive this whole discourse.

Jesus called them together and said, ‘You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercised authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave – just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matt 20:25-28).

Christ in this statement established one of the cardinal differences between Christianity, Judaism, Greco-Roman paganism and a host of other religions – the principle that we are a priesthood of all believers, not a priesthood of some. Therefore no one of us has the right to lord it over the other one. However, to most human institutions (or churches run on human institutions), this notion is very difficult to swallow, and any group of people who have attempted to uphold this principle have been met with very severe opposition (including the shedding of blood) from those who do not understand that the church is an organism, not an organisation. In this direction, I’ll doff my hat to the Anabaptsts, who for this stance suffered a great deal of persecution from the institutional church surrounding them. This however does not mean that there is a total lack of leadership, but that leadership springs from the community of people gathered together as a church. Let me use the NT to explain.

When the church started off, the apostles took up all the responsibility of work in the church. From receiving donations, to distributing the food and other collections that were put together, to ministry of the word to prayer to everything else in between. However, when they realized that some people among them, specifically the widows of the Grecian Jews were being discriminated against, they saw a need to appoint a certain group of people who would take some of the responsibility from them (Ac 6). To solve the problem, they took the first step that began to establish the principles of Christian leadership.

Leadership Must Come from Amongst and Be Selected/Acknowledged by the Led

Instead of they choosing for them who will take up these responsibilities of leadership amongst them, the apostles told them to choose from amongst themselves men who matched the criteria they gave, and they will lay hands on them and hand over the responsibility of “waiting on tables” to them. This is starkly different from today’s way of selecting leaders in the church. The church has no say in determining who leads them. In fact, in one Pentecostal church that I used to attend, the church only receives a circular from the headquarters detailing who has been appointed to preside over what assembly. And this person most of the time is a member of that congregation at all, meaning few if any of the members actually know them. This is in spite of the fact that when working with human beings, it is not rocket science that people work more effectively with those whom they are familiar with and have come to know personally than some shining star pastor from somewhere. In fact, by allowing the people to choose whom they want, they put the power in the hands of the people and it gives them people the power to complain and withdraw this person at any point that he fails to meet these qualifications. However, if the person is appointed by “the apostles”, then the members feel their hands are tied. It is even more instructive to note that all the people chosen were Grecian Jews. They were even closer to the problem and therefore will do the work better than any outsiders. To draw a parallel with Ghana’s political system, it is not surprising that Ghanaians are asking that the political District and Municipal Chief Executives are elected and not appointed, but contemporary Christianity has yet to learn from this.

This is the same principle that Barnabas, after 13 years of having worked in the Jerusalem church (right from the start) and learning these principles and 5 years in the Antioch church, alongside Paul who also did about 3 years in Jerusalem and 5 years with Barnabas in the Antioch church, did the same things when they went about planting churches. After being commissioned in Ac 13, they travel to the Galatian towns of Iconium, Lystra and Derbe spending according to bible scholars and church historians 3-5 months in each town, as depicted in Ac 14. I will point out at this stage that they moved away from each church without appointing elders and to the next one to continue the work, leaving each previous one to grow up together in fellowship, and for the natural leaders amongst them to emerge. This also gives the members a chance to get to know each other better, and to make it easier for them to see which of them is naturally suited to leadership amongst them. They then came back and seeing these leaders from amongst them, appointed these as elders (v 23). Their work of choosing leaders and laying hands on them was in accordance with what they had already experienced in Jerusalem. These are what Paul refers to as holding onto their traditions, which as we can see from here have sound biblical, human relations and community building backgrounds. Appointing leaders this way creates more confidence in the leaders, and gives power to the members to check the leadership.

In my opinion, what should not be compromised in this exercises is the criteria for leadership. In fact, Paul expanded it further in the letters to junior apostles Timothy and Titus in what is popularly called the Pastoral Letters (see 1 Th 1:1,6 – the two were not pastors but apostles. The term is an 18th century creation which needs reformation).

There Must be Multiple Leadership with Equal Status

It is very evident throughout the New Testament that there was multiplicity of leadership. Nowhere in the NT is there a reference to elder on it’s own, but rather a reference to “elders” of a church. The only such reference was when Paul, Peter and John were addressing their audience in their letters, and even then we already knew that they were among the elders in the Antioch (Ac 13) and Jerusalem churches respectively (Ac 15). Nowhere in the NT is there a reference to one elder who is appointed above other elders. Protestant Christianity has the position of “Head Pastor” or “Presiding Elder”, who is head over a group of elders. There is absolutely no evidence for this in the NT. The reason is simple; otherwise the devil only needs to deceive the “Head Pastor”, and being vested with authority over the others, he will have his way with the rest of the church (which is exactly what happened when Emperor Constantine deceived the “Bishop” of Rome to force the other churches to be subservient to the Roman church). Most people claim that these “Head Pastors” are only ceremonial, and that in every institution we need a leader. You see, maybe the current “Head Pastor” will be a good one and not get it into his head that he’s the boss of all he surveys. But the next one may, and it is better to avoid that situation than to create the room for it. In addition to this, I don’t know how many of those who make such an argument have done an indepth analysis of 1 Sa 8, when Israel asked for a King. God was Israel’s king, and has never been willing to give away that kingship. We can all obviously see what happened to the Israel nation when the decided to be like every nation surrounding them, with a king to lead them. David was probably alright, but what about those that came after him? Today, Christ is the head of his church, and he will forever be that head. He will not give that authority to anyone, whether it be ceremonial or actual.

Oh, and the word Pastor is no different from Elder, as is the classical argument. The word Pastor comes from the Greek word “peomen” which means “shepherd” and interestingly occurs only once in all of NT. Isn’t it interesting how much weight we give to that function with such little occurence in the NT. Now look at what Paul said to the Ephesian elders, and you’ll see what I mean.

“Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood” (Ac 20:28).

In fact Pastor, Elder, Overseer and Bishop refer to the same function – guiding the church (note that I use the word “guiding”. I’ll explain why in the next section).

To prevent people from exercising arbitrary power, the apostles always appointed more than one elder in a church, and asked them to work together with each other and to check each other. No one had more authority over the other, but unfortunately there was an attempt to change this even before the last apostle, John the Elder of Revelations fame died. This attempt was personified in Diotrephes showing signs of wanting to be head over everyone.

I wrote to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to be first, will have nothing to do with us.” (3 John 9)

Well, the rest as they say, is history. The rise of the Roman Catholic church and its abusive power did not only succeed because of monetary and worldly persuasions offered by Emperor Constantine and subsequent ones, but began with the decision to go against the safeguards established by the apostles in ensuring multiplicity of leadership. I guess people are always struggling to sit on the left or right of Jesus Christ before the Father decides.

Leadership Is Meant to Guide, Not Rule and Dominate

Because Christianity is a community of people who are a royal priesthood, it is of the utmost importance that each individual member be allowed and actively encouraged to be a priest to one another. Unlike the Levitical priesthood where we had a separation between those who were priests and those who were not, in Christ we are all priests to one another. Our rewards that Christ will give will be based on our contribution to building each other up, whether spiritually or physically. Our membership is defined by function, not by authority. Therefore leaders in Christianity should see themselves as guiding the process that allows everyone to be active, not taking over all the activity. If you are a teacher, it is your function, not your title. As my brother Kwame Pipim pointed out the other day, never in the NT do we see “Apostle Paul”, but rather “Paul the apostle”. The respect that the church has for Paul’s opinion is in the fact that his work is evident to them, not in the fact that he carries a title. Therefore leadership is to see itself as playing a role that allows the body to naturally grow itself. The hand does not take up the work of the legs, neither does the kidney take up the work of the lungs. Every part of the body has work to do, and no matter how little it is, it must NEVER be trivialized. Therefore if you feel that you are the leg and without you the body cannot move, then the lowly members who are just small intestines in the body can also give up their work, and you can imagine what will happen. Christian leadership should be redefined in the context of a body, not an institution. This is why some of us cannot feel comfortable again in a church in which we daily go to sit in a pew and listen to the pastor preach without the opportunity to ask a question, share an insight on that topic, disagree with him totally or share something different. Let me use Paul’s work as an example to explain what I mean by function not title.

An apostle is a person who founds churches, or strengthens existing ones. They do not stay in one church and run it, but rather focus on building the foundation blocks that will enable the church to float on it’s own. Once the foundation is established, their work is sealed by appointing elders amongst the congregation. They then move on to look for other places where they may found a new church, or go back to some of the previously existing ones (founded by them or not) to strengthen them and share some insight in what God is doing in the places that they have been. To all intents and purposes, their work is the most difficult in advancing the kingdom of God, due to the travelling nature of it. This therefore requires men who have really been groomed within the context of existing churches and most probably have also learnt from a previous apostle (this is what Timothy, Titus, Epaphras etc were doing around Paul).

The elders then take over the day to day running of the church, making sure that they “shepherd” the church in the right direction so that every person is growing in their individual and collective knowledge of Christ, and that the church is looking more and more like Christ each day. Whenever something is going wrong in the church which they feel they need external help, they may call on the help of the founding apostle or any other apostle who is available, simply because of their depth of experience. All the letters that Paul wrote to the Churches (except Ephesians) were based on reports that members or messengers from these churches had made to him. Paul wrote Galatians from Thessalonica, between 1 to 2 years after founding the Galatian churches and leaving them alone. 1 & 2 Thessalonians was written from Corinth, whiles he was there working. Corinthians was written from Ephesus and so on.

The churches however, have the right to refuse the guidance of the apostle, and this was exactly the fear of Paul when he wrote 1 Cor. In 2 Cor he stated that he was afraid they might not heed his advice to them in 1 Cor, and he might then have lost his apostolic guidance over them. But thank God they did listen to him. Again, if you look at all the Epistles, there is very little use of commanding language. Mostly Paul “appeals”, “pleads”, “beseeches”, “prays” and “encourages”. Look at the language and attitude of the founder of these churches.

Compare this to today. A person founds a church, and forever he is the “General Overseer” of it. They dominate the church for life, and nobody else has the right to ever bring in an opinion which is different from theirs. Other churches founded directly or indirectly by (or even associating with) this person become a franchise, making sure that some percentage of monies collected are paid to the “parent” church. The “parent” church decides who becomes a leader in the nucleus churches, and the cycle of enforcing “authority” and lording it over them only continues. What is the difference then between this system and the system of a king ruling over their kingdom, as the “Gentiles have it”? Or a corporate organisation like Microsoft, IBM and GMC? Wasn’t this form of “lording it over” recently exemplified by a church splinter recently when a Ghanaian “subsidiary” refused to obey the orders of a Nigerian one.

Leadership Is a Calling to Suffer for The Flock

I cannot conclude without talking about the most popular cause of failure in Christian leadership – a refusal of leadership to lay down its life for the flock, but rather to milk the flock. It is the failure for which we are must un-Christlike to the world, but we Christians seem to be either oblivious to this or do not see the solution to it. Today anybody who attempts to found a church is automatically labeled by the world as attempting to secure their source of daily bread, and Christians seem hopeless to change this perception.

It is well and truly established by church historians that the leadership of primitive Christianity was not dependent on the flock for its needs. In fact Paul the apostle, who was entitled to help from the church by virtue of the fact that he moves from location to location and therefore will find it difficult to hold down a job to sustain himself, refused to take donations from the church. He was rather a tentmaker, alongside Priscilla and Acquilla, and worked for his own upkeep. In fact, he worked to sustain himself as well as the people on which he went on his journeys with. And he encouraged the Thessalonian church that every one in the church is to do the same, that no one, not even he an apostle, would be a burden to the church unless absolutely necessary.

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 a right to such help, but in order to make ourselves a model for you to follow.” (2 Thess 3:8-9)

If there is one thing that Christ thought, it is that we must be willing to lose our lives to gain it. We must be willing to be servants to be crowned kings in his kingdom. A shepherd not only takes care of the sheep, but makes sure they have food to eat. By Christ’s own admission, a good shepherd lays down his life for his sheep. But today’s leader is not interested in laying down their lives for their sheep. They will hurriedly quote to you 1 Tim 5:17

The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honour” (1 Tim 5:17)

They claim that the use of the word honour denotes some form of payment for their services.

But the same NT says

Be devoted to one another. Honour one another above each other” (Ro 12:10).

So, going by that analogy, we are all supposed to pay each other for the services we render to each other, aren’t we? The question I ask myself is that if we are all priests, and we put resources together, why don’t we share it amongst ourselves, instead of giving it to some of us only? That’s not fair, is it? Isn’t this passage rather referring to respecting those who guide us well? Why is Paul’s example not good enough for us today? Or do we have different motives than Paul had? Do we have different motives than Christ had?

The principle of NT leadership is a leadership of sacrifice. Christ fed his sheep, and not the other way round. If we were more interested in putting our monies together to benefit the poor in our churches, we will see truer leadership in our churches than we do today. And the world will see Christ more in his church than they do today. They will see the church as a brotherhood of people who care for each other and are willing to financially support the poor amongst them. And this was possible in the NT church because they were not under any obligation to put their monies together to be given to a so called “headquarters”, simply because they did not have an earthly one. Each church was independent and took decisions on their own about what they wanted to do with their resources. If they felt a sister church was in need, they could also put some money together for them, and only did it because of brotherly love between churches, not because somebody commanded them to.

Conclusion

From the aforegoing, any wonder our leaders feel like “lording it over us” like the Gentiles do? When we ignore the safeguards that have been put in place by the apostles based on the guidance of the Holy Spirit and on the principles of Christ’s unique relationship with his church and we create our own empires, we cannot expect the same results. Freshwater fish will not survive in saltwater.

There are so many other areas which I could point to why Christian leadership since the departure of the apostles has fallen short of standard. But the abiding principle is that the church is a different ball game altogether. It cannot be run on the principles of corporate business management, of one man shows and megalomania. The worldly measures of ABCs i.e. Attendance, Buildings and Cash do not work here. The only thing the Christ promised to build was his church, and his church is not a building, neither is it a machine or a business conglomerate. It is an organism, a body, made up of different parts with different responsibilities but equal rights and importance. It is a community of people who are living the life of Christ, who are depicting who Christ is. If leadership is not committed to building that kind of body, perhaps they were better not building it at all.

As I said to my friend Alfred the other day, it is better to come to Christ with a small piece of gold which will be put in the fire and not burn, than to bring a pile of wood 20 stories high, which when tested in the fire will result in the obvious.

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?

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.