Unmasking Ghanaian Christianity II – “Touch Not My Anointed”

Unmasking Ghanaian Christianity II – “Touch Not My Anointed”

One of the typically abused texts that Ghanaian Christians are quick to quote when their favourite pastor/prophet/bishop etc is under criticism is Ps 105:15

Do not touch my anointed ones, do my prophets no harm” (Ps 105:15).

But are we sure we understand this verse?

What Ghanaian Christianity Means By This Phrase

This has become a blanket statement to prevent any form of questioning of the teaching or practice of church leaders. It’s usage is particularly very dominant in certain circles of Christianity, who limit all their experience and knowledge of Christianity through the lens of their beloved preachers. Any criticism of such preachers therefore elicits not a welcome ear to listen and think through the accusation/critique, but a knee jerk reaction to defend such beloved preachers/prophets, even to possibly naming the critique as a “heretic” or “unspiritual person”. And this is further worsened by such preachers also intentionally exploiting the above verse as a means to defend themselves, leading their followers to assume that that is the proper way to understand this verse.

What The Phrase Means in Context

This is probably the easiest abuse of the bible to detect, yet the dominance of this abuse simply amazes me. This is because one can see what the author of the Psalm is talking about by simply reading the whole Psalm 105 from beginning. The Psalm begins by calling Israel to give thanks to God for what he has done for them.

“Give praise to the Lord, proclaim his name, make known among the nations what he has done” (v 1)

The author then proceeds to state the exact things that Yahweh has actually done for them.

“Remember the wonders he has done, his miracles, and the judgments he pronounced, you his servants, the descendants of Abraham, his chosen ones, the children of Jacob … He remembers his covenant forever, the promise he made, for a thousand generations, the covenant he made with Abraham, ‘To you I will give the land of Canaan as the portion you will inherit’ … When they were but few in number, few indeed, and strangers in it … He allowed no one to oppress them; for their sake he rebuked kings; ‘Do not touch my anointed ones, do my prophets no harm’ ”(v5-15).

It is obvious from the above (paying attention to the portions I’ve boldened) that the Psalmist is talking about how Yahweh protected HIS CHOSEN PEOPLE from harm whiles they travelled from Egypt to Canaan, so that they may obtain God’s promise of ENTERING THE LAND OF CANAAN. In the process, God actually defeats both Og, king of Bashan and Sihon, king of the Amorites just to get his way. These are the “kings” he rebuked (as well as Pharaoh of course). The theme of Yahweh defeating Og king of Bashan and Sihon king of the Amorites is repeated in many Psalms (Ps 139;135;68) as well as the rest of the Old Testament, and is told to remind the people of ancient Israel how God had led them to “the land”. Even before the reading of the Ten Commandments to the people in Deuteronomy, it is preceded with reminding the people of God how he took them from Egypt, defeated Sihon king of the Amorites, Og king of Bashan before bringing them to conquer Canaan (Deut 2,3).

Therefore the reference to “anointed one” and “prophets” here is but a reference to the nation Israel.

So What?

Obviously the above cannot be used to defend only certain preachers, simply because it doesn’t even refer to them. But as usual, many Christians like to mine the Old Testament to justify what they are bent on doing without first understanding the Old Testament on it’s own terms as a document that records the history and stories of God’s relationship with his chosen people. And when the OT is read only for its “mining” or allegorical value, these are the kind of results we get (an example is the “seven to one” misinterpretation that occurred recently from one of the leading Ghanaian preachers). So having done the correct thing above, let us then indulge the “miners” of the OT and apply the text properly.

If the church is Israel expanded, then this passage is specifically talking about us all as God’s anointed and God’s prophets. None of us is more anointed than the other. The only anointed one is Jesus Christ (which is what Christ means i.e. the anointed one), and we are all anointed because we are a part of his body. In the same way the passage is talking about the nation Israel, let’s be minded to speak of the church as God’s anointed and prophets, and let’s stop giving our favourite preachers/prophets/bishops the free pass to move from being people who are tasked with preparing us for works of service to people who are performing a show for us which we have to accept whether we like it or yes because “they are the anointed” and we are the mere mortals.

If we truly are serious about doing this, we can start the process by simply refusing to refer to such men as “anointed”. How hard can that be? Will a few sacred cows be lost by doing so?

(This article is also published on the SimplyChrist website)

Understanding the NT From the OT Part 4 – Of Bob Marley and Jesus’ Resurrection

Bob Marley & The Wailers at the BBC in London
Bob Marley & The Wailers at the BBC in London

This will be my last on the series “Understanding the NT from the OT” and I hope you’ve enjoyed and wrestled with the issues I’ve shared. This post is dedicated to Ghana Posts, who failed to deliver my hard copy version of “The Resurrection of the Son of God”, forcing me to buy a Kindle version. I hope they can “resurrect” my package, wherever it has ended up.


My friends on Facebook who are a bit more attentive will know by now that I’m a fan of Bob Marley’s music, and one of his songs which fascinates me is “Get Up, Stand Up” which he did with The Wailers. Bob Marley starts the first and second verses off this way.

Preacher man don’t tell me, Heaven is under the earth, I know you don’t know, what life is really worth …”

Most people think, great god will come from the skies, take away everything, and make everybody feel high …”

Peter Tosh takes the baton over in the last one, and says

We sick and tired of your ism-skism game, dyin’ n’ goin’ to heaven in-a-Jesus name Lord, We know when we understand, almighty god is a living man …”

Now you don’t need to be a rocket scientist to figure out that these guys are being critical of dominant Christianity and our pie-in-the-sky mentality regarding not caring about what goes on down here, in the hope of something nice and wonderful laid out for us in heaven. But what if Christianity had something to say regarding what goes on on this earth – regarding the injustice, wickedness, hatred, hypocrisy and war that rages on this earth till this day? Maybe we can answer some (if not all) of brother Marley’s vexations if we pay a bit more attention to the history and beliefs that attended the resurrection of Jesus the Messiah, as well as the early Christians interpretation of what Jesus resurrection actually meant. I’ll do this with the help of “The Resurrection of the Son of God” by NT Wright, one of the best books recommended by Christian apologists on the resurrection of Jesus. You can also view a summary of Christian apologist William Lane Craig defending Jesus’s bodily resurrection here, which makes the same points as this book.

The Greco-Roman Influence

The Old (and New) Testament being a document focused on the lives of the people of Israel before, during and after the Babylonian exile, doesn’t give too much detail about what else was going on around the world at the time. But there is no doubt that whatever else was going on around them always had an impact, and so we ignore this impact to our own detriment.

The Greek king, Alexander the Great had done a great job of conquering a very large part of the earth, stretching from modern day Europe to modern day southern Asia into one large Greek empire. However almost immediately after his death, war between his generals meant the generals split the empire into 3 parts – the Ptolemaic, the Seleucid and the Pergamon empires. So, the returnees and inhabitants of Judah found themselves under the rule of the Seleucids, and that alone lead to some significant developments. Later this kingdom was defeated by Rome, so again Judah had new masters, and therefore new cultural influences. Just as today the British empire has bequeathed us Africans with certain legacies (e.g. our obsession to still require a white wedding in addition to our own African ceremonies for example), so did Greek and Roman culture have an influence on the world at the time, and certainly beliefs about life after death were not left out.

Life After Death – The Greco-Roman Perspective

To the everyday Greek person, the venerated Greek writer Homer’s books were their equivalent of the Old Testament. Writer of books like Illiad and Odyssey, which includes stories about the Tojan war and Achilles etc, his writing was the standard reading for all Greek people (and overtime others who were conquered by the Greeks).

So the Greeks believed (from Homer) that every dead person went to Hades, which was ruled by the god of that same name and his wife Persephone. In Hades everyone lived a miserable life – there really wasn’t much to look up to. Some few people seemed to have received a greater punishment than others, but Hades was truly a sad and gloomy place where every dead person finally lives after death. Apparently one needs to cross a river to get to Hades, so when burying people sometimes coins or some other “essentials” were placed in the coffin for them to pay the fare. All of this meant that to the Greek then, one must gain all the glory that one can on this earth, because there’s nothing to look up to after this life one had. This sounds a lot like some modern worldviews we know of.

Along came Plato, who developed a very respectable reputation as a philosopher (and Greeks LOVED philosophy). He challenged Homer’s view that there was nothing good to look forward to after death, by redefining what Hades was like. Hades was split between Isle of the Blessed – where good people who had done their duty to the kingdom well lived a blissful life – and Tartarus – an abyss where all the evil people will receive their punishment. Plato wanted to create a sort of reason why people should live a good life instead of just pursuing personal glory (and riches) alone. Plato and the philosophers who came after him also introduced the idea of human souls already existing before time, and being sent into a temporary body to prove itself worthy so that it may receive the blessing of being counted amongst those who would be in the Isle of the Blessed. To Platonism then, in contrast to Homer, life on earth wasn’t all that there was. It was just a temporary thing along with the body in which you lived, and that the real thing was to be judged to have lived in the body one was given well so that after death one may be rewarded – even possibly to be declared a “god” to join the father of the gods, Zeus (or Jupiter, as the Romans called him). The writings of Plato (and other philosophers after him) became the “New Testament” to the Greek people. The Romans were also influenced by these thoughts from their former conquerors, and so held to much the same beliefs with some slight modifications here and there. It is interesting to note the similarities between this new understanding and some strands of Christianity.

The possibility mentioned above of some people being made “gods” was the basis for the practice of “apotheosis” – where some of the dead Roman kings were declared gods, and therefore their successors to be “sons of god”. It is obvious why Jesus’s claim to be “son of God” ruffled both Jews (he cannot be son of God if he was killed by their number one enemy – Rome) and Gentiles (Act 7:7 – “… and they act contrary to the decrees of Caesar, saying there is another king, Jesus”) .

You will note one clear thing – none of them say anything about coming back to this earth. The Greco-Roman world didn’t accept the notion of dead people coming back to life to live normally on this earth as possible. The dead may visit you in a vision or dream. They may even appear as ghosts, or spirits or angels of a sorts to give a message. They had a word for it “anastasis” aka resurrection, but they didn’t believe it possible. To them, death was the end, and any life thereafter was life lived in either the Isle of the Blessed or Tartarus. Period.

Life After “Life After Death” – The Jewish Perspective

The Jews however had a very different idea of death, which they were the only ones who held to in their world – that YHWH will forgive the sins of his people Israel (Dan 9, Isaiah 40:1-11; Jer 31:31-34;Ezek 36:22-32), judge the world and resurrect the righteous dead to receive their rewards, and the unrighteous dead to be condemned. In that judgment, YHWH will also restore the fortunes of Israel, renew his covenant with them “by the Spirit”, and cleanse and transform this world, bring his heaven down to this earth – typically described with the words “new creation” or “new heaven and new earth”. The most explicit biblical support for the ideas of resurrection of the dead come from Daniel 12:2-3 and Isaiah 26:19.

Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt. Those who are wise will shine like the brightness of the heavens and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars for ever and ever”(Dan 12:2-3).

But your dead will live, Lord; their bodies will rise – let those who dwell in the dust wake up and shout for joy – your dew is like the dew of the morning; the earth will give birth to her dead.”(Is 26:19).

Although these passages are specific about the resurrection event itself, they cannot be divorced from the issues that are being discussed in the chapters as a whole – YHWH’s restoration of the fortunes of his special nation, Israel. Resurrection went with other judgment activities of YHWH, vindicating Israel’s claim to be his special people.

This belief in resurrection (life after “life after death”) lead to some interesting practices being adopted by Jews regarding burials. David Daube in his book “The New Testament and Rabbinic Judaism”, catalogs how Pharisees introduced new laws regarding executing people accused of capital offenses.

Stoning was moderated; burning was to be done by forcing liquid down the throat; strangling was by a particular method; all was in aid of leaving the bone structure intact. The body was important … Cremation was avoided for the same reason.” (Resurrection of the Son of God, NT Wright referring to David Daube’s work.)

However, there were those who challenged this belief in bodily “life after life after death”, and this school of thought is reflected by the Sadducees. They claimed that the Torah (the books of Moses) had nothing to say on the subject, and since that was more authoritative than the prophets, they didn’t believe in it. This was the basis for the challenge of the Sadducees to Jesus in Mk 12:18-27 that in the resurrection, who will be the husband of a woman who had been forced to marry all seven brothers after each of them died. They wanted to trap Jesus and make the resurrection an absurd belief. Jesus skillfully saw through the trap, and his answer reinforced the belief in resurrection, much to their annoyance.

One question that arose then was what happens between when one is dead and when YHWH returns to restore Israel’s fortunes? Was there life after death? Some Jews said the dead were just dead. Others said the spirits of the dead were with other righteous dead – this is typically explained with the phrase “gathered to his people” (Gen 49:29 of Jacob’s death), “slept with his ancestors” (1 Ki 2:10 of David) etc. Because it was believed that YHWH’s love extended even after death to those he loved, it was surmised then that the righteous dead were with him in his realm – heaven. This is where early Christianity obtains it’s belief that when we die, we go to heaven as expatiated by the former Pharisee, Paul the apostle – “My desire is to depart and be with Christ” (Phil 1:23).

And So?

It is obvious then that all Jews were awaiting a redemptive work of YHWH which will bring ALL the righteous back to life. Aka the righteous dead will come back to life. Not one and not some, but all the righteous.

This is in sure contradiction to the conviction that the Greco-Roman world around them only looked forward to life after death, and returning back into this earth in a full bodily form was NOT expected. Aka, the dead stayed dead. If there is a life after death, it is in the land of the dead, not the living.

Therefore Jesus defeating death by resurrecting was a huge spanner in the works for both Jew and Gentile. To his disciples, his resurrection vindicated him in all that he had said and done. After all many Messiahs had come before him and had all died at the hands of the enemy. A Messiah who dies at the hands of his enemies would not have been accepted even by his own disciples (no wonder they scattered after his death), but having resurrected meant that YHWH had vindicated this one to be the true Messiah. It is the resurrection of Jesus that confirmed him to truly be the son of God, and the saviour of the world. If Jesus had stayed dead in the tomb, THERE WILL BE NO CHRISTIANITY, his death will have no salvation effect. This point cannot be overstated – the center of the gospel is the resurrection of the son of God, which then makes sense of his death on the cross.

Paying much more attention now, I’m beginning to see how much Paul places an emphasis on Jesus’ resurrection.

But God raised him from the deadWe tell you the good news: What God promised our ancestors he has fulfilled for us, their children, by raising up Jesus” (Ac 13:30-33)

In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead.” (Acts 17: 30-31)

Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God— the gospel he promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures regarding his Son, who as to his earthly life was a descendant of David, and who through the Spirit of holiness was appointed the Son of God in power by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord.”(Rom 1:1-4)

If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Rom 10:9)

And if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain” (1 Cor 15:14).

There are so many more places where Paul emphasizes the monumental importance of the resurrection of Jesus, I can’t quote them all here. Suffice it to say that what apotheosis couldn’t do for the Roman emperor, YHWH had done for Jesus. That is why the early Christians called him Lord – he has been “appointed the Son of God in power by his resurrection from the dead” (Rom 1:4). Not only had his resurrection shown him to be the true son of God, but it made his death meaningful as a means of defeating the last great enemy of God’s purposes – death and its sting, sin (1 Cor 15:54).

The hope of our resurrection with Christ then becomes a central piece of all the writers of the NT, and when Paul and Peter speaks of our inheritance, they are referring to it.

What About Bob Marley?

The one thing that the resurrection of Jesus the Messiah meant for the life of those who believed in it was that YHWH had launched his project of new creation now. It’s fullness will indeed be revealed when he returns to consummate the work, but it already began through Jesus own activity of resurrection. Those who believed in the resurrection then were not just a people who had received and lived a newness of life, they also became people who are participating with God in his work of new creation. Therefore they become a people who are not only satisfied with themselves – they become workers of good, seekers of justice and self-sacrificial lambs even to the death. Death becomes to them indeed an enemy, but an enemy that has been defeated already by Jesus the Messiah, and therefore something they are not afraid of in pursuit of good deeds and justice. In the same way that the hope of resurrection helped the sons of Maccabee stand against their enemies and be willing to die for the cause of God’s redemption of Israel (read 2 Maccabees), resurrection was a hope for early Christians to not be afraid to work for justice and pursue good works which God had prepared beforehand for us (Eph 2:10) even at the pain of death – because Jesus the Messiah had been resurrected, and therefore they will too.

The above seems to be quite different from the “gospel” that our brother Bob Marley (and many others who are critical of Christianity) have heard. To them, Christianity has painted the picture of “docile” men who do not care about what happens on this earth, because “this world is not their home” as Jimmy Reeves put it. Over the course of history, Christianity has focused more on life after death, to the neglect of life after “life after death”. Matters are made worse by the dispensationalists, who day in day out are busy frightening us of being left behind in the rapture so they go to a better place and leave this world to rot, not knowing how close to Platonism they are. This has benefited the political elite of today and times past (just as it benefited the Sadduccees, the political elite of their time who also didn’t believe in resurrection) as Christians have left the work of doing good and seeking justice to governments. We have forgotten that the church is a place where new creation is displayed, where Jesus is good news to the poor, the hopeless and the downtrodden (Lk 4:16-19) so that the governments may see that indeed there is a new King, and that king is capable of doing human leadership and government much better than the fallen systems of this world can. If we were busy pursing this task of new creation, then when we speak of a coming judgment, it will really put some trepidation in the hearts of the political elite. But as it stands, resurrection doesn’t seem central to us, therefore Jesus is only seen as some private belief by some group of people to enable them navigate this world so they can go to heaven, whiles the politicians can go about raping and sacking this “wretched” earth which God already plans for destruction anyways.

So can we blame Peter Tosh for being “sick and tired of your ism-skism game, dyin’ n’ goin’ to heaven in-a-Jesus name Lord”? Not really in my view, because that has been the Christian message for some centuries now, a message which Christian minds are only now willing to challenge.

The truth though is that no major world religion believes that the dead will come back to live on this earth again except Judaism and its younger brother, Christianity. The best they all do is talk about life after death. That means resurrection of the righteous is our birthright – its the one thing that makes Christianity stand or fall because it’s what makes Jesus life AND death sensible. Let’s not sell our birthright for a mere life after death. There is life after life after death. Jesus the Messiah has indeed shown the way.

Vicit Agnus Noster, Eum Sequamor – Our lamb has conquered, him let us follow.

Why Ghanaian Christianity Will Die A Slow Death … Like is Happening in the West

Iconic Frauenkirche Church of Munich
Iconic Frauenkirche Church of Munich

I know that this is a provocative headline, and I have no qualms in putting it this way. I’m forced to pause my next post in the series “Understanding the NT from the OT” because certain recent events seem to have conspired to put this post on a higher priority.

I have at least traveled to or lived in 4 European countries for various short times. And in all that time, I’ve always noticed something that saddened me – the blatant disregard (and sometimes downright ignorance) of Christianity. I remember climbing up a small hill to go into the magnificent Lincoln Cathedral opposite the Lincoln Castle, one of the most majestic medieval church buildings in the UK (and for about 2 centuries, the world’s tallest building in the world). I remember a trip with my friend Gerhard to the Frauenkirche Cathedral, one of the landmarks of the city of Munich (in fact a lot of gifts from Munich feature a picture of that church with it’s 2 beautiful domes, and by law no building within the area can be taller than Frauenkirche’s domes). Whenever I visit these places, I’m struck by the beauty and meticulousness of the work, but I’m also saddened by what they have become today – tourist attractions during the weekdays, and attended by only a few old men and women on Sundays who were probably born into the church and have no other place to meet their old friends. Today Christians in Europe are in the minority, and a small one at that. In the US, the same is happening, though the rate of decline is slower. The interesting thing though is that survey after survey has shown that the majority of people still believe in God, they just don’t believe in the church as an agent of his anymore.

Therefore the people who brought us Christianity are now in need of evangelism. I know that our leading men of God do travel and therefore know of the receding numbers of Christians in these places, but I wonder how many of them have done any analysis of the problem and strategized on how they and their church may act to prevent this inevitable decline that will come. Because if we sit here thinking that we are fine, I can confidently tell you that we are heading in the same direction in Africa and Ghana in particular (you can call that statement whatever you want, and quote me anywhere as well).

This state of affairs in the West has now lead to a resurgence of interest in a particular kind of Christianity which has been in the minority for a very long time in the hopes of learning lessons from them on how to live faithfully as a witness to a world that no longer believes in the church. I’m currently on the last chapter of “The Naked Anabaptist – The Bare Essentials of a Radical Faith” by Stewart Murray. Last week, New Testament scholar Scott McKnight posted on Anabaptism here (he self identifies as one, though he’s not in any of their congregations). Other evangelical and emergent church thought leaders have identified with or stated that there are huge lessons to learn from Anabaptism to navigate this difficult time for Western Christianity (Brian McLaren, Frank Viola, Greg Boyd, David Fitch, Alan Hirsch, Howard A. Snyder, Shane Clairborne, etc. etc.).

The question therefore is who were/are the Anabaptists, and what lessons could the church in the West have learnt from them to prevent this drastic decline, or the Ghanaian church learn from them so we don’t have only 20% Christian population in Ghana in the next 50 years, mostly populated by old men and women from our generation?

 

A Short Historical Survey

Before the 16th century in Europe, everyone was or assumed to be 1) A Christian 2) Could only attend the Roman Catholic church. However, in 1517 the German priest and academic, Martin Luther, posted a document on a church door in Wittenburg (called the 95 Theses) , criticizing some of the practices of the Roman Catholic, and thence began the struggle for the soul of the church in what is now called the Protestant Reformation (or simply the Reformation). This struggle spread all across Europe due to the recent invention of the printing press and the ability to quickly circulate subversive printed material easily (including copies of the Bible, previously only available to priests). In Switzerland, John Calvin and Ulrich Zwingli picked up the fire of rebellion and spread it, and when the dust finally settled Europe had been split between Roman Catholic cities or countries, and Protestant cities or countries.

However, some of the followers of the Protestants, began initially criticizing Ulrich Zwingli for certain beliefs that they felt that the reformation should have also placed on high priority. This new protest spread again back to Martin Luther’s Germany, and the group of people in this protest are those referred to as the Anabaptists. Their fellow Christians in the Catholic and Protestant camps however couldn’t understand them, and so feared their impact that Martin Luther, John Calvin and Ulrich Zwignli themselves are on record for ordering the execution of these Anabaptist “heretics”. As Stewart Murray records, the Catholics did so by burning at the stake, and the Protestants did so by drowning or decaptitation. Fearing for their lives, most Anabaptists fled from mainline Europe into the US, and those who remained went underground and lived their Christian lives in the quiet, for the last 500 years.

What were they protesting about that the Protestant church didn’t want to listen to (and mostly haven’t listened to since then)? And how is that related to the decline in Western Christianity, or ours? Well, it will surprise you that these are not any far fetched accusations, but it’s implementation and prioritization is where the meat is. Here are some of them

 

Jesus Is Not Only To Be Worshiped, But Also To Be Followed

One of the cardinal characteristics of Anabaptism was an insistence on discipleship. To them being a Christian meant one was turning away from the world and it’s standards, and living by following Jesus. Not only was Jesus the saviour, he must be followed as an example, teacher and friend. The Anabaptists accused their contemporaries of reducing Jesus to just some remote Lord which people go to worship on a Sunday morning, but who has no impact on the rest of the 6 days of the week left. As a result, they placed a very high premium on how they can follow Jesus in every situation, and the Gospels (Mathew, Mark, Luke, John) was their beloved yardstick, as opposed to the Protestants who loved to quote and debate Paul’s epistles (with much misunderstanding, as today’s knowledge is showing).

In fact this insistence of theirs on whole life transformation by following Jesus, not just worshiping him was evident even to their enemies. Hear Franz Agricola, a 16th century Roman Catholic priest express his befuddlement:

As concerns their outward public life they are irreproachable. No lying, deception, swearing, strife, harsh language, no intemperate eating and drinking, no outward personal display is found among them, but humility, patience, uprightness, neatness, honesty, temperance, straightforwardness in such measure that one would suppose that they had the Holy Spirit of God”

Of course they had the Holy Spirit in them, he just couldn’t believe it of such “heretics”.

The Church Was Where the Action Was

The Anabaptists believed that the church must be a community of disciples, a place of friendship, a place of accountability and a place where everyone was allowed to speak what the Spirit of God had put on their hearts, as per 1 Cor 14:26. To them church wasn’t just a place for people to come and watch the showmen (musicians and preachers) perform a show and go home to live their lives as they pleased. Church was the place where they ate together, encouraged one another, struggled together, helped one another, learned from each other, queried those that needed to be queried and corrected. It was the place to display a foretaste of the kingdom of God to the rest of the world around them.

The bible was primarily supposed to be read, shared and interpreted by the church together, preventing one person’s personal interpretation from dominating the community. Leadership was not hierarchical, leadership was multiple and accountable to each other, not just to one “founder/head pastor/general overseer”. Teaching in the church was to be multi-voiced, so that others could also share their thoughts on the subject, ask questions or bring in something totally different, allowing the Holy Spirit the opportunity to interject whenever he so desired.

Because of this high level of commitment that was required of each disciple, one had to declare their intent to be submissive to these requirements through the action of baptism (and not the saying of a “sinner’s prayer”). This is where the Anabaptists gained their names from (the word means “re-baptize”). Both the Roman Catholics and the Protestants baptized babies because everyone was assumed to be a Christian. But Anabaptists insisted that being Christian was a conscious choice one had to make because of the commitments involved, and decried any attempt to force people to be Christians by birth through the practice of pedo-baptism (“child baptism”). We have the Anabaptists to thank today for sowing the early seeds that led to our modern insistence on freedom of religion and association at a time when such freedom was frowned upon at the pain of death.

In contrast, the Protestant/Roman Catholic churches seemed the Anabaptists to be just a voluntary association of the saved. People were born into the church, and there was very little insistence on discipleship – on following Jesus and not just worshiping him. Church activities were dominated by the “clergy”, and all that the rest of the church did was just to follow their lead. There was very little concern for the needs of members, and therefore comparatively poverty abounded much more in those churches as compared to the harassed and persecuted Anabaptist churches. To the annoyance of his accusers, when Menno Simons, one of the Anabaptist leaders was arrested and accused of insisting that all Christians must forcibly share their goods (based on Acts 2), he corrected them by saying that it was supposed to be voluntary, and that though they (the Anabaptists) have been able to do this to reduce poverty amongst them, the same could not be said of the churches of his richer accusers who had much more access to money.

 

The Church’s Constant Desire for Wealth, Status and Power is a Snare

The Anabaptists decried any attempt to use the church in support of the state’s agenda, and refused to be just another department of the state’s governmental arms. To them, the church was called to be a witness of the fallenness of human governments, and so they totally rejected any loyalty to any political leader. Theirs was supposed to be a counter-cultural community of people who were good news to the poor, the powerless and the persecuted (as per Jesus in Luke 4:16-21), and who were willing to die in defense of the lives and well-being of others. They refused to focus their energies on being the dispensers and enforcers of moral platitudes to the rest of the world, but rather focused on their communities being the light, showing the alternative way of being human beings in any society.

Again the same could not be said of their Protestant/Roman Catholic brethren, who are on record all throughout history of compromising the witness of Jesus by aligning themselves with one political institution or the other, even against their own fellow Christians at home or abroad. One of the means by which they did this was by finding support for their activities from their flawed interpretation and application of the Old Testament, which is where they could find examples from the kings of Israel and the prophets who prophesied to them. They tended to forget that the Church was now the expanded Israel, and that it’s king was already declared (Jesus Christ) and that prophecy must be targeted at improving and correcting the church, not the world.

As for the desire for wealth and the display of it – culminating in the accumulation of wealth by the church institutions and the use of such wealth in such beautiful buildings as the Lincoln Cathedral that I mentioned above, it is evident for all to see. It is on record that in centuries before the Reformation, when a certain king of France was abducted and ransom was demanded, the treasury of France (a whole country) was so broke at the time they had to fall on the mercies of the Roman Catholic church to be able to pay the ransom. Now that is what I call wealth – and yet the poverty in medieval Europe was phenomenal.

Spirituality and Economics are Inter-connected

I’ve said enough about wealth already in the context of the church as an organisation. In the individual context as well, the Anabaptists insisted that a person’s attitude to personal wealth reflected on a person’s attitude to Jesus. To them, Christians needed to place a high priority on helping others, not accumulating wealth. They placed high premium on the sermon on the mount in this regards, so they might help bring relief to others.

Their accusers on the other hand encouraged the hording of wealth, mostly because the church institutions (not the church members) would then be able to benefit from it through “tithe” and all sorts of cajoling on “giving” to extract money to run it’s agenda of further display of wealth. To soothe their consciences, passages like the sermon on the mount were either spiritualized, or placed on a pedestal for when Jesus returns.

 

Conclusion

There are more accusations I could give than these, but I’m running out of space already. Suffice it to say that the Protestant/Roman Catholic brothers in the 16th century persisted in the activities of which the Radical Reformation (Anabaptists) protested about in Europe, and we see the end results today. Economic and intellectual empowerment meant that people began to ask serious questions of the church in Europe, and it didn’t seem to have the answers to these questions. Most people saw through the hypocrisy and a departure began which still continues today.

Anabaptism was itself not perfect (after all, they are also human beings), but throughout history it has been very difficult to accuse them of not desiring to pursue Jesus authentically, with their life, their wealth and ultimately their blood. Even if you disagree with their methods, their conviction was palpable.

I shook my head when the head of the Presbyterian church in Ghana (a historically Protestant church) was lamenting the abundance of Christianity but persistence of corruption. Maybe he needs to learn from the mistakes of his own tradition, as pointed out by the Anabaptists.

Because a time will come when many will see through the hypocrisy, and that will be our death knell. As a neo-Anabaptist, I implore the church to learn from history because as the famous Spanish philosopher George Santayana said

“Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” – Jorge Agustín Nicolás Ruiz de Santayana y Borrás, known as George Santayana

Of Faith, Death and Komla Dumor

I’m sure by now that the news of the death of Komla Dumor has reached far and wide across the length and breadth of Ghana. The grief at such a young promising journalist’s demise has been palpable, and the eulogies have already been flowing thick and fast from the 4 corners of the earth. I myself find it hard to take, for having achieved what he did in Ghana and was achieving at the BBC, I looked forward to even greater heights of achievement from him. But alas, death has it’s own plans, and we will mourn his departure.

But I do not write this not to eulogize him, for many who are better qualified to do so already have. I write this reluctantly, knowing that I had a long list of other things I had been planning to write on, but certain reactions from some Christians to Komla’s death have foisted this need on me. The matter is made worse by the fact that this is not the first time I’m noticing this behaviour.

The Faith Framework

Over the past few 5 decades or more, a certain wind of teaching has become ingrained in the mindset of Christians, which never quite existed in the mainstream of Christian history before the last 100 years. That wind of teaching has taught us certain ideas about faith, and how a Christian’s “success” in life is determined by how strong their faith is. As a result, the one who has the right kind of faith would never see suffering come their way, or will simply ride roughshod over it.

This teaching says that what one needs is to look through the bible like a treasure hunter in search of what it calls “the promises of God” and claim them for oneself. Inevitably enough, these promises always seem to center on health, wealth and prosperity. The key to receiving these “promises” is the measure of your faith. If your faith is “strong” or “high” enough, then you will indeed receive it. And if at the end of the day one doesn’t receive such “promises”, then there could only be 3 conclusions – first, most likely you have not exercised enough faith; second, that there is some secret sin in your life preventing you from receiving such a promise; third, that the devil or his agent(s) are working against you. This kind of faith leaves no room for questions, nor for tension. It claims to know all the answers and reduces everything into a person’s individual ability to make it work for them.

This framework of faith has become the defacto means by which a lot of Ghanaian Christians, especially those of the Charismatic fold, interpret everything that happens in this world. To such Christians then, it is very easy to associate someone like Komla Dumor’s meteoric rise to fame only in the scheme of God having prospered him. Such Christianity therefore always measures people by their earthly achievements, but fail miserably at the most important measure of both the OT and the NT – character development.

In their pursuit of such achievements, they ride roughshod over people (mostly poorer people), and take very little notice as to how they treat their fellow human, despite all that both Jesus and Paul says about how we treat others. Trust me, I know this failing, because I know many people who live by this framework, from family to friends, whose behaviour as Christians I sometimes shake my head woefully about.

Death

And therefore the death of a “prospered” or “blessed” person like Komla is very, very hard for such a faith framework to swallow, since it leaves very little room for God to do what he desires to do, or for the fact that we human beings are not in control of this world. Having associated Komla’s rise to fame with “God’s promises of blessings and prosperity”, they then have to answer the question of why such a person will suffer cardiac arrest at age 41 and die. The only answer that this faith framework can produce is exactly what Mr Duncan Williams can produce – “this is not of God”, i.e. answer number 3.

The question one asks then is that in 2000 years of Christianity, has it always been the case that the Christians who warm the church pews regularly every Sunday, read the bible (or their pastor’s devotional) and pray 5 times a day, give their tithe faithfully (mostly without asking for an account of it’s usage) and holds hands and sings kumbaya with their fellow Christians lives to a ripe old age of 41 (sorry, 90) and has all the material blessings in the world?

Wow, what has Bill Gates been smoking all this while that’s keeping him alive and on top of the world’s rich list, when he’s not demonstrated any Christian belief? Or has he received some charms and amulets from the devil? What about the other billionaires in the Forbes rich list, who don’t even care a hoot about a church building, much less the message that emanates from it. Why are they still alive? They must be dead by now. This framework of faith expects it, even demands it if I dare say.

What about Keith Green, that wonderful Christian musician who sang the great song “There is a Redeemer” we used to sing a lot more when we were young in church, yet died at 29? What about Murray M’Cheyne, who also died at 29 himself, and yet did such wonderful missionary work in Palestine for the Church of Scotland? Did they not have faith? Were they not serving God? Were they smoking the wrong stuff (not Bill Gates’ stuff I guess)? I could go on citing examples of great Christians who died seemingly unfulfilled, but I guess the point is obvious.

And Yet, There is Hope

And yet in recent times I’ve been reading up on the Psalms and the background behind them, and I can only admire more the faith of both Judaism and early Christianity each day (hopefully I’ll write more on this background in the coming weeks). For the Psalms reflect the constant tension, ranging from disappointment in God for his seeming disappearance from the scene to praise of him for his wondrous deeds. But the one thing that Israelites always kept to, again captured in the Psalms, was that YHWH was a faithful god, and will bring his promise of redeeming the world through the nation Israel to pass, even when a large number of them had died in the exile to Babylon and all hope seemed to be lost.

And this belief is what lead to the hope in the resurrection of the dead. I intend to write much more extensively on the hope of resurrection in the coming weeks (I just received another 800 page book on it, so I have no choice), but I’ll give a small bit of it here by saying that their means of dealing with death and with the injustice of the world was the theology of resurrection. It is the background to what Paul says in 1 Thess 4.

Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope” (1 Thess 4:13)

Why does Paul says the rest of mankind has no hope? It is because the Jewish/early Christian ideas about resurrection of the dead was unique to them. Neither Stoicism nor Epicureanism which were the dominant worldviews of Paul’s time had a good answer for the righteous dying, nor in fact did Judaism/Christianity. But the one thing that Judaism/Christianity had was hope – hope that God will remake the world and bring heaven and earth together, and will resurrect the righteous to joyous living in that new world, and the unfaithful to judgement. And that is the right framework within which faith must work. Not in faith that says “I can control the world by my level of belief”, but one that says “I will be faithful to God in pursing his kingdom and his righteousness, and he will provide, in this life or the next”. (Mt 6:33)

Conclusion

Death is painful. Death is cruel. Death is an enemy and not a friend. And yet death is a tool, both in the hands of the creator God, and at the disposal of the devil. Let us be busy in being faithful about the work of the master, that we might participate in the resurrection of the righteous. When death will come, how it will come and through whom it will come is secondary.

The question is whether we are busy about his kingdom, or busy about ours?

Komla Dumor, rest in the father’s bossom, until we meet on that day. I wonder if we’ll need news in that new world, but you’ve certainly given us your best in this one.

The Resurrection of the Jesus the Messiah, and the Task of the Church

Christmas is upon us, and so it seems a bit weird that I’m writing a post about the resurrection of Jesus (maybe I’m in Easter mood 🙂 ), but when you are hit with a great ‘aha’ moment, you either “write it or lose it”. So here I am, writing it. Maybe you’ll see my point, and how that is even related to Christmas.

So here I was, reading a recent blog post by NT scholar Scott McKnight on his Jesus creed blog. He’d been reviewing a certain Mike Birds’s “Evangelical Theology” book, and reiterated something that Mike said in the book – that the resurrection of Jesus is the most neglected chapter in evangelical theology. He referred to the sermons that Peter and Paul gave in Acts 2, Acts 13 and Acts 17 to buttress his point. Now those of you who are familiar with my posts will notice I’ve made a big deal of these passages because these are the first recorded evidence of how the apostles presented what we call “the gospel”. And yet, it seems as human as I am, I had missed something striking in the passage, something which upon further attention, I wonder how I’d missed it.

I know that the dominant mindset regarding the resurrection of Jesus Christ is that it signifies that we will also resurrect in the last day and also go to heaven. But I want to challenge you that the resurrection of Jesus means miles and miles more than that. So just think and read with me as I go along.

 

Acts 2

When Peter was first called upon to defend what had happened on the day of Pentecost, he describes what the prophets had said about the pouring out of the spirit (v 14-21). He then proceeds to talk about the life, activities and miraculous deeds of Jesus, and his death at the hands of the Jews. (v 22-23). But from 24 all the way to 36, he hones in on Jesus’s resurrection, quoting David and saying that Jesus’s resurrection vindicates him as the Messiah that they were waiting for. In effect, the fact that Jesus resurrected from the dead was the good news. Now, maybe you may not see what I’m talking about, but Acts 13 makes it even more explicit.

 

Acts 13

From verse 13 we encounter Paul in a synagogue, invited to speak to the gathering (I guess his credentials as a Pharisee had something to do with that, but that’s just my personal hunch). He accepts the invitation, and begins by recounting the history of the nation Israel, (v 16-22). He then states that the expected descendant of David is Jesus, describes his life, and the events leading to his death (v 23-29). The he hones in on the man’s resurrection from v 30 to 38, and makes a startling statement in v 32 – “We tell you THE GOOD NEWS: What God promised our ancestors he has fulfilled for us, their children, BY RAISING UP JESUS”. As we all may be aware, the word “gospel” means exactly that – “good news”. And Paul here states exactly what it is – the fact that this Jesus is the resurrected Messiah from the dead.

 

Acts 17

Again, we encounter Paul at the Agora in Athens, and he is trying to put forward his best argument for Jesus amongst the other Gods that the Greek worshiped. It is interesting that he finds himself amongst Epicurean and Stoic philosophers, for those were the worldviews that dominated their lives at the time. From Acts 17:22, Paul tries to make a case for the God of Israel being the one and only God who created heaven, earth and everything within it. He states that this God of Israel intends to judge the earth with justice by a certain man, and the proof of his appointment by God was not by any other means else than by the fact that he is resurrected. “He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead v 31”. With the mention of resurrection, you can see the reaction of the people captured in v 32. Some sneered, but some said they wanted to hear more. It seems then, that Jesus resurrection is truly the real encapsulation of the message of the apostles.

 

What’s With Resurrection?

To The Jew

To the 1st century Jew, who was used to many people calling themselves Messiahs, ranging from Judas Maccabeus (probably the most successful one because of his success in fighting the Syrians, for which the Jews now have the festival Hanukkah today) to Menaheim, to John of Gischala to Simon bar Kochba, none of them had ever died and resurrected. To the Jewish mind, the ultimate enemy was not sin, but rather death. This is also why Jesus Christ talks a lot in the gospels about “life” i.e. he being the giver of life; the way, the truth and the life and many more such statements.

The Jewish hope was that in the age to come, all righteous Jews will be resurrected to obtain their promised inheritance – the kingdom of God. Therefore for someone to claim to be the Messiah, do all the wonderful signs he did as prophesied by the prophets, and to conquer death, the last enemy (even in Revelations 20, death and Hades are the last enemies to be defeated ), this person was truly the Messiah. No wonder then that announcement of the resurrected Messiah was “the gospel”, heralding the beginning of the kingdom of God. It is also not surprising what Paul says in 1 Cor 15:1-8, where instead of simply stating Jesus’s resurrection as he stated the other events of his life, he adds 3 additional verses of evidence to shore up confidence in the resurrection of Jesus.

 

 

To the Gentile

The Gentile world (and the Jewish as well) was ruled by Romans at the time, whose emperors did not fail to announce themselves not only as the kings of the world, but as gods and “sons of gods”.

In fact, Emperor Augustus official title was “Emperor Caesar Augustus, son of God”. After his death, his successor had him officially declared a god, and thence the emperors that followed began demanding worship, not just as king, but as gods. And yet, not one of them, from Augustus to Tiberius to Vespasian to Domitian ever died and resurrected. Not one.

Therefore a King who had died and resurrected, was definitely worth pondering about. For neither Stoicism (which was and is a closer worldview to Christianity) nor Epicureanism (which is much closer to today’s postmodern worldview) were prepared with an answer to a king that had overcome death. This was definitely important, and required either that one accepts Paul’s message and ask for further clarification as some did, or reject it as incredulous as others did. There’s no middle line.

It is also not surprising for the early disciples to use the same word “euangelion” (the greek word for gospel aka good news) and the title “son of God” that the Gentiles used in announcing their king. In fact, there’s also very high suspicion that the disciples were very intentional about their use of the following statement

“Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved” – Peter in Acts 4:12

There is no other name under heaven by which men can be saved than that of Caesar” – Augustus Caesar – 27 BC to 14 AD

 

And so what?

After Paul’s long diatribe on the resurrection in 1 Cor 15, he makes a significant statement at the end of the chapter.

Therefore my brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labour in the Lord is not in vain” (1 Cor 15:58)

Now what labour is this old man Paul talking about again? I thought resurrection meant we were all getting pimped up to go to heaven, not so? Well, of course that’s true, but that’s only half the story so let’s look at the other half.

 

The Coming of the Messiah not only Means Hope, But also Work for the Church

One of the cardinal hopes of Judaism, especially of 1st century Judaism was that Israel may be the light of the world. As God had promised to Abraham, he will bless them, that through them all nations will be bless (Gen 12:1-3) This expectation is especially captured in Isaiah 60:3, about the glory of Zion

Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn”(Isaiah 60:3).

And this they prayed for and sang about in their Psalms, displayed in a psalm like Ps 67

May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face shine on us – so that your ways may be known on earth, your salvation among all nations” (Ps 67:1-2).

The confusing bit is that the task of the nation Israel is almost always expected to be the task also of the Messiah, again captured by Isaiah about the “servant of God”.

I will keep you and will make you to be a covenant for the people, and a light for the Gentiles” (Isaiah 42:6)

It is too small a thing for you to be my servant … I will also make you a light for the Gentiles …”(Isaiah 49:6)

Other tasks of the servant/king/Messiah are documented in the Psalms and Prophets but Ps 72:17 links it directly to the promise to Abraham. That Psalm is probably the most comprehensive statement of the job description of the Messiah in all the Psalms.

Since Jesus explicitly said that the nation Israel had failed to be that light (Mt 5:13-16), he was now constituting a new people who shall share his task (Jn 15, he is the vine, and we are his branches, and other such passages) called his church, just like the Zion was supposed to share the task of their expected servant.

 

This then is the driving force behind Paul’s ministry. He preached a gospel of the resurrected Messiah, and he strengthened the people so converted to be the carriers out of the task of that Messiah, not as individuals, but acting as a nation would – together. This is what then he says in Eph 3:10-11.

His [God’s] intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made know to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to the eternal purpose that he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord”

I posit that this is Pauls equivalent of saying “you (the church) shall be the light onto the nations”

Ok, We’ve Had Enough

Well, I’ve had enough too, because that’s basically the end of my amazement. Of course, I had always complained in previous posts that centering the message of Jesus around forgiveness of sins so we could hold hands and sing kumbaya in heaven was only the quarter of it, but the fact that the kingship of Jesus Christ validated by his resurrection is what was the pivot of the “good news”of our beloved early disciples did shake me myself.

I had read the 800 page “Jesus and the Victory of God” in which NT Wright made the parallel between the task of the Messiah and the task of his people, but I still hadn’t made the connection between resurrection and the gospel, and why that was the basis of their confidence. Because if strengthened and emboldened by the resurrection of their messiah the task of the Messiah becomes the task of the church, then faithful Christians are those who, working with others in the guidance of the Holy Spirit, pursue the Messiah’s task, not their personal agendas.

And this also is why Paul wrote his epistles. Not as love letters to be read by “me, myself and I”, but as guiding principles that a people who everywhere together represent the Messiah, shall think and act together that they truly shall together, be the light to the world. The task of shining a light, the task of justice, the task of relief to the poor, the task of self-sacrifice, the task of relieving the oppressed and the many other tasks described in places like Ps 72, Isaiah 61 etc is not mine, neither is it yours. It is ours, and we the church must be busy about that task. If not, we have acted like Israel – we want the blessings, that we may spend them all on ourselves and not extend it to the Gentiles. But the worst part is if we choose to devolve it to individual activity. For then, the task is totally not achievable.

But when we’ve truly been busy at the task, then we can sing joy to the world, because we have indeed brought joy through our king. For his coming is indeed “good news”.

Interpreting the Bible – Lessons I Have Learnt

Many people sometimes wonder how I come to certain conclusions in my articles about Christianity, because I seem to be interpreting the bible in different ways to arrive at different positions than most have always had. So I decided to write this down as a bit of an explanation of what I’ve learnt in my short life reading the bible and being a Christian, and how that has influenced what I’ve written, taught and lived over the years, and what I’ll be writing, teaching and living going forward. If there’s one thing I know though, applying these lessons to the way you look at the word of God will change your life, as it has mine (and will make you less susceptible to all the numerous deceptions blowing to and fro every day). So I’ll start with some that I’ve mentioned already elsewhere, and move to some more difficult terrain.

 

Lesson 1: Chapters and Verses

The chapters and verses in the bible are not “inspired”. They are man-made, an effort began by a certain Prof. Stephen Langton of the University of Paris in 1227. God didn’t put the chapters and verses there. Therefore it is possible that these demarcations may prevent you from seeing the full picture that the divine inspirer of Scripture himself intended that the authors of the books of the bible communicate. As a result, the mantra has been “never read a bible verse on its own”. This I think is the number 1 sin of most Christians with regards to the bible, and we seriously need to repent from this attitude. We need to ensure we read whole chapters to get the full meaning of what is being said, not pick individual verses and twist them to our delight. Examples of such abused passages are Jer 29:11; Ps 105:15; 3 John 1:2;

 

Lesson 2: Audience and Context

The second lesson I learnt was that it was important to know who the audience of a book is, and what motivated the writing of the book. This is of huge importance when we look at the New Testament, especially the Epistles (of Paul, of Peter etc.). In the first century when Paul wrote his letters, they were meant to be delivered to churches, not to individuals (except letters like Philemon, 1 & 2 Timothy, Titus etc). These letters were read and deliberated upon when everyone was gathered at a meeting, and the Apostles knowing this was the practice always addressed themselves to the church, not to a person. Unfortunately, our individualistic culture today has inadvertently worked to erase this corporate nature of the epistles, and we read it with a “letter to me” mindset every day (as someone said, they are not God’s “love letters” written to us). And for English speaking readers the matter is further aggravated because we don’t have a different word for the plural “you” and the singular “you”. And therefore every occurrence of “you” is taken to be “me”, not “us”. A clear example is Col 1:27, where the phrase “Christ in you” should be read in our minds as “Christ in us”, not “Christ in me”.

 

Lesson 3: It’s contains Stories about Israel and God

Lesson 2 becomes increasingly important when we begin to see what the Bible is truly about – how God intends to save the world through a people called Israel. God’s intent has always been that Israel will be blessed, and the nations of the world will be blessed through them, that Israel will be the light that shines for the nations of the world to see (these are mostly what the NT calls “promises”). Jesus coming and his work sought to show that Israel had failed in that task, and that he was now creating a new people in whom those promises of God will be fulfilled i.e. the church of God. This is what Paul says is the mystery of Christ in Eph 3:10-11  – “His [Gods’] intent was that now, THROUGH THE CHURCH, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to the eternal purpose that he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord” (my emphasis). Therefore the Apostle’s ministry was centered on how “the church” as a people will stand out, not necessarily how “I” as an individual will. It is the same as God desired that Israel as a nation will stand out, not necessarily how a particular prophet or citizen of Israel e.g. “David” as a person will. If we don’t get that the bible is about Israel’s destiny (and therefore the church’s destiny), the current winds of individualism, consumerism, selfishness etc. will drown us, because we’ll only look at the bible as some motivational tool for “quick verses” to pursue our personal ambitions, instead of seeking to understand the story of Israel, and how the church together can achieve it.

 

Lesson 4: Worldview is Critical to Understanding the Bible

There is a phrase I grew up with in my life and always believed till now, but which I now find inadequate – “Scripture must interpret scripture”. One of the hardest and rudest awakenings that I had to humbly accept at some point was that without an understanding of the worldview of the people of Israel at the time of the writing of the bible, I will definitely get some things wrong, no matter how much I apply the principles above, no matter how much I want scripture to interpret scripture. For me it was ok if I didn’t pay attention to the right principles of exegesis (interpretation of the word), and got it wrong. But this thing called worldview was totally new to me. Let me give you an example of what I mean.

When my old car used to give me a lot of trouble, I would take it to the mechanics, and when they told me I needed to buy a spare part, they always preferred to buy a second hand one (what we call “home used” parts) instead of brand new ones. I never understood this, until I realized later that they recommended this because our spare parts importers were more interested in profits than in solving customer’s problems, so they imported inferior and cheap replacement parts, and sold it at exorbitant prices. Therefore the mechanics had lost faith in the supposedly “brand new” parts, and preferred parts from chopped down cars which were brought from Europe and US.

Now imagine that I’d kept good records of all my repair activities, and I was dead and gone and my grandchild came upon these records. They’d realize that their grandfather always had receipts for “second hand” parts, and they’ll probably come to the conclusion that their grandfather was a miser who preferred to buy “home used” instead of brand new, when in his day brand new parts always worked the best.

This is the problem that ignorance of my worldview and that of the mechanics in my time has brought to my grandson. The reasons behind my actions, he doesn’t understand. He only analyzes what he sees on paper, what he sees in text.

This is the same challenge we are confronted with today. Its 2000 years since Jesus Christ, and all we have as records of him is the bible. And yet we are very confident and cocksure that with the text alone (aka Sola Scriptura), we can understand the people of Israel, Jesus and the 1st Century Christians very well so that we become experts at interpreting the bible. But we forget that a lot of water has passed under the bridge, and we are better off acknowledging our deficiency and beginning a search into their worldview to understand them, before we even attempt to interpret what we see on paper.

And so my world has been rocked to the core by my personal studies in New Testament history and historians, who have moved me off my lazy bum and who are challenging me to acknowledge my ignorance, to sit up and open up to learn more. Until yours is rocked in this way, I’m sure you will be very satisfied with what you know, probably to your own peril.

Let’s go on to 2 more seemingly disturbing facts about the bible and its interpretation.

Lesson 5: The Bible Itself Has Changed

Knowing that we always defend the word of God as “same yesterday, today and forever”, I’ll advise you not to freak out just yet with my above lesson, but read along with me. The Bible has indeed changed over the centuries, and for good reason. Let me explain how it has changed.

The versions of the Bible we have are always written from translations of handwritten copies (or manuscripts) that we have obtained over the centuries. Because the manuscripts were handwritten (because the printing press was invented in the 16th century), the copiers make mistakes, or sometimes intentionally or unintentionally add content that they feel should have been added to the manuscript at their discretion. Therefore, to get the best translation, it is important to use the oldest manuscript, since it will have less errors and “insertions” than the latter ones. And so here is Prof. Ben Witherington III, Professor of New Testament Interpretation, on the subject.

“Despite what fundamentalist will have us believe that the King James Version of the bible dropped from the sky onto us in 1611, it [the Bible] was not written in English, but in Hebrew, Greek and Aramaic. It was not written in Western tones, nor in user friendly language for Western peoples. It was a Middle Eastern product … [but] the good news is this. We are closer today to the original text of the NT than at any time in the previous 18 and half centuries. Why? Because today we have over 5000 manuscripts of the Greek NT, just a 100yrs ago, there were only 300 to 400 known copies of the manuscript. “

 Now I know some people who religiously defend the KJV as the only usable, “correct” bible interpretation. All I can say to them is that relying on a bible translated from only 400 manuscripts which are 10th century copies of copies of copies, rather than one based on 5000 manuscripts ranging from as eaerly as 2nd, 3rd and other earlier centuries is pure and unadulterated folly. So, if you are truly serious about a clearer, truer interpretation of the bible, take my advice and find a more recent one. I know some people’s churches even go ahead to print their own version of the KJV and put their names on it, but I’m sorry, that ship sailed a long time ago, and you better get with the times.

 

Lesson 6: The Bible Alone is not Enough

Now I’m definitely going to be hanged for heresy for saying this, but again let’s wait till I unveil my argument before you stone me like the Jews stoned Stephen.

Since the Reformation, we Protestant Christians (non-Roman-Catholics) have always sworn by the statement that “The Bible is all we need to know the Truth” and that any Tom, Dick and Harry should be able to pick it up and by the “the Holy Spirit’s guidance”, be able to understand it. This doctrine is typically referred to as “Sola Scriptura”. And yet, it seems this insistence on “bible alone” has rather led to more divisions in the Protestant church than any other branch of Christianity, and there’s no end to this canker. Interestingly, those who led the separation from the Roman Catholic Church themselves came to the conclusion even before their death that this was an untenable position, yet we their ancestors still hold to our tunnel vision on this subject. Hear Christian Smith concerning the foremost leader of the Reformation, Martin Luther.

“Martin Luther himself assumed that the Bible clearly demonstrated the theological beliefs he championed. However, as the Reformation began to spin out of control (in his viewpoint), he backed away from the perspicuity of only one “correct” view and said ‘I learn now that it is enough to throw many passages together helter-skelter, whether they fit or not. If this be the way, then I can easily prove from Scripture that beer is better than wine”. (Christian Smith, The Bible Made Impossible).”

One of the easiest trick questions I’ve tried to use to draw people’s attention to this problem is 1 Cor 14:34 – “ Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says”. I typically ask the question “where in the law does it say so”, and I’m yet to receive a satisfactory answer to that question. This is because this is not specified anywhere in the Torah (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy), which is what most Christians know as “the law”. However, scholars like John Zens will point out clearly to you that this is contained in the Talmud, or the oral traditions of the Jewish people which they also held in quite high esteem alongside the Torah.

Now, in what way is “Sola Scriptura” able to answer this question, without invalidating itself? Should we not be opening our minds to the fact that this “bible alone” mantra is a dead one (and has been dead for 500 years since the originators themselves gave up on it?). Are we not limiting ourselves in the ways in which the Holy Spirit can use us in pursuit of the kingdom of God?

 

Lesson 7: The Gospel is not as Simple as the 4 Spiritual Laws

I have spoken at length on this subject, so I’ll leave this for another day.

 

Conclusion

There’s much more lessons I’ve learnt that I’d like to share, but we don’t have all the time. Suffice it to say that these leave me feeling quite worried for those who choose to live their Christian lives by feeding on daily devotionals (Daily Manna, Daily Bread, Rhapsody of Realities and such. Seriously?). I feel quite worried for those whose Christianity revolve around TV evangelists (who are so many I won’t bother naming). I feel extremely harangued by those who only listen to and live by what their pastors have taught them. I also worry for the Christian apologist and evangelists who continue not to see the monumental impact of worldview analysis of the life and times of Jesus to the message we preach about him, continuing in the old mold of “come and receive Jesus for forgiveness of sins so you can go to heaven”. It’s so 1611.

Today we have much clearer knowledge of the Bible, of Jesus and of the early Christianity, but we are more satisfied with the quick fix that will give us prosperity, wealth, and emotional satisfaction. Contemplative, questioning and thinking Christian are a rare species, and yet we think we are “free” and the rest of the world is “enslaved”.

If we are going to grow in Christ (and be faithful to him and his purpose for the church), we have to go beyond these comfort zones. My worry is that the literate Christians amongst us who can show the way are sitting in comfort drinking the Kool-Aid, how much more the illiterate amongst us, whom we have a huge responsibility to guide into the truth from the many false sharks around us.

 I can’t end without a quick note from Ben Witherington on this subject

“I once had a student approach me in frustration. He came from the more Pentecostal end of the spectrum and he was one of those people who actually considered too much learning about and of the Bible and its contexts as possibly getting in the way of being a good preacher.  He said to me “I don’t know why I need to learn all this stuff, I can just get up into the pulpit and the Spirit will give me utterance.” 

My response was “yes you can do that, but it’s a shame you are not giving the Holy Spirit more to work with. Don’t use the Holy Spirit as a labor saving device.” (Ben Witherington, “The Problem with Preaching- Pt 3“)

 

 

 

 

 

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.

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.

The Importance of Purpose & Process

I talked with a friend about the Gospel of the Kingdom the other day, explaining what it was and how our preaching of the gospel had deviated from what the apostles preached. However one argument of hers was that people should not come to God with the idea that he will reward them with co-heirship in the kingdom, but should just serve him because he is God who created us and who has forgiven our sins and therefore demands our service. I disagreed though and attempted to articulate the importance of Purpose and Process in everything that God does (though I’d never fully though of this separation before this discussion). Finally we came to a consensus that the gospel of today was fundamentally flawed and that Christians needed to take a second look at what we preach to avoid what I call a “heavenly disappointment”.

I’m currently reading the book of Exodus, and I find it interesting the exact measurements that God gives for the building of the Tabernacle, the Ark of the Testimony etc. all the way down to the way the priests should be dressed. I’m a New Testament Christian and definitely do not live according to the Law. But from Heb 8:1-2; 9:24, God was really mirroring the tabernacle above. He knew what he was seeing above and his purpose was to replicate that here on earth, though in a less perfect way.

Heb 8:1-2 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 9:24 For Christ did not enter a man made sanctuary that was only a copy of the true one; he entered heaven itself, now to appear for us in God’s presence.

And if we believe in an unchanging God then we’ll understand that He is very purposeful about whatever He wants. And to conform to that purpose God always gives the process to attain it. But when a people begin to revere the process more than the purpose, we get legalistic righteousness – this is on the Pharisaic side of things. On the other hand when people totally ignore the process, then I wonder if they even know what the purpose is in the first place – and I believe modern Christianity is on this side. No wonder we’ll end up with disappointment when our work is tested against the purpose for it.

Much of Christianity today has become of two extremes; either of institutionalisation or emotional sentimentality. The former demands a by rote obedience to certain principles, a lot of them man-made and unscriptural. The latter an unrestrained display of ignorance all in the name of “Holy Spirit” guidance. Although principles and emotions definitely have their place in a Christian life, the important thing is whether that is what God really wants us to be doing.

To understand my argument with this friend, lets look at who Jesus is. I think that this is the most important characteristic of Jesus Christ – he is a King, a Priest, and a Prophet. Some other terms that could apply is “righteous ruler” or “royal priest” (1 Pe 2:9). Note Heb 6:20.

Heb 6:20 … He has become a high priest for ever, in the order of Melchizedek.

Ge 14:18 Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. He was priest of God Most High.

Lk 1:33 And he will reign over the house of Jacob for ever; his kingdom will never end.

Next who are Christians destined to be?

Ro 8:17 Now if we are children, the we are heirs – heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.

Lk 22:29-30 And I confer on you a kingdom, just as my Father conferred one on me, so that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom and sit on thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.

Eph 1:4-5 For he chose us in him before creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will.

By Romans 8: 29, Christ is our senior brother and a pattern that we are to conform to. If He is king, priest and prophet, what will you his disciple be?

For His promises on our kingdom kingship, check out Mt 19:27-28 and 2 Pe 1:10-11 as well.

The destiny of Christians is to be the people of God, sharing in the nature of Christ – as kings and priests. Simple. That is the purpose of Christianity. The process is what we call discipleship (a transformation process beginning with the new birth). From hearing the gospel of the Kingdom and submitting to it’s message for salvation, to baptism by water and Holy Spirit to bearing fruit in service to God till the end of our physical life or till Christ comes for His church. Therefore in all the examples that the New Testament gives about how the apostles preached (eg. Ac 2:14-40 and Ac 13:13-48  )  the fact was always mentioned that Christ was coming to rule over the world as promised to David and reiterated by the prophets. In fact it forms the central part of these messages, with the call to repentance and faith as describing the first step of the process. And if whoever is preaching really knows what he’s doing, he will go on after people have repented and believed to teach the foundation messages (Heb 6:1-2).

The Gospel is the entry point into the purpose of God. And I believe in all sincerity that every unbeliever must know right from the start what they are getting themselves into, the rewards of it and the righteous requirements (Ro 8:4) that need to be fulfilled for that reward. Then the preaching of the gospel becomes purposeful. This is not about motivating people to become Christians because of a certain promise of a kingdom, as my friend had a problem with. God’s covenants with people of the bible have always been purposeful and motivating. When God called Abraham, the first statements out of God’s mouth after he told him to leave his father’s land were promises to make him into a great nation. He didn’t just tell him to leave his father’s house because “I’m God” or because “I have forgiven your sins”. Even Abraham with these promises, faltered along the way by going for Hagar to get a child. Even he with the greatest motivation to serve God in the world failed along the line to be faithful to God. That is why when God calls you, he gives you hope. And this hope has been the foundation of the Israeli nation over all these generations. If we are children of a better covenant, will God not do the same?

Col 1:4-5 Because we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all the saints – the faith and love that spring from hope that is stored up for you in heaven and that you have already heard about in the word of truth, the gospel.

Col 1:12 Giving thanks to the father who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light.

This is the hope on which the Colossian’s faith and love was based. This is my analogy between hope, faith and love. Hope keeps where we are going in mind. Faith is the walking stick with which we take each step towards that place of hope. Love is the test of whether we really are on track to achieve that hope. When the disciples in Antioch were despairing because of their persecutions, what did the Apostle Paul say to them? How did he encourage them to go on?

Ac 14:22 Strengthening the disciples and encouraging them to remain true to the faith “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God”.

He reminded them of the hope of a kingdom, stressing that there is no easy way to get there. If there was no real hope in being a disciple of Christ, then what is the whole point of it?

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

Certainly the preaching of the gospel today is an explicit example of not following the process – examples of preaching the gospel in the Bible – because most of us don’t even know the purpose of our Christianity. This confusion of purpose is the same reason that most of us don’t understand why God called us into a world visible unified church and why a denominational stance is against the will of God and is simple disobedience. And so we think however we do it does not matter.

Let me give this scenario to put a point across. While in Kumasi, I noticed that so many Methodist churches were named after John Wesley, and this was the case even on most of the Methodist churches I saw on my 5 hour journey back to Accra. My stance against denominationalism aside, I’m here just considering the purpose of the church – the body of Christ. We are called into a family where God is the Father, and Jesus Christ the first born brother. As we have established already, conforming to Christ is the purpose of a true Christian. He (Christ) alone is our purpose and every respect and honour is to be given to Him.

Ro 8:29 For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.

Eph 3:14-15 For this reason I kneel before the father, from whom his whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name.

Heb 2:17 For this reason he had to be made like his brothers in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people.

In every endeavour the purpose must always supersede the process. But as human as we are we have classically focused on the processes – what they are and how they are brought about. And this is truly a testament to how carnal we’ve become as Christians of today when Paul recognised the same tendency in the Corinthian church, rebuking them for aligning themselves with people who are only part of the process or who are a means to bring about this purpose.

1 Co 3:1-4 Brothers, I could not address you as spiritual but as worldly – mere infants in Christ. I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed you are still not ready. You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarrelling among you are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere men? For when one says, “I follow Paul”, and another “I follow Apollos” are you not mere men?

So I ask the Methodists (and not just them but Christianity in general). Why have they paid more attention and respect to the process or means rather than the purpose? Why have they revered John Wesley more than the word of God? If you don’t believe me speak to a Methodist and he will tell you how proud they are to be followers of the Wesleyan tradition – whatever that is. (Oh by the way, another example is the International Central Gospel Church branches I’ve seen nationwide, who put the picture of their “founder” on all their signboards. I could give a million and one of these.)

John Wesley came to achieve a set purpose for a set time. The word of God is revealed in portions and continues to be additional to what has previously been revealed. Do they mean to tell me that since his time centuries ago, God hasn’t given any other direction/revelation concerning the Christian life that they may live by them as well?

If there is one thing I’ve come to believe, it’s enshrined in 2 Ti 4:2: The word of God is complete.

2 Ti 4:2 Preach the word, be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage – with great patience and careful instruction.

(By the way I have a lot to say about “correct, rebuke and encourage” and I’ll do that by God’s grace in my next post.)

  1. We cannot preach it better than it was preached and written down for us in the Bible. It behoves us to ask for the Spirit’s leading to know the purpose of every word written the way it is so we can preach it the way it is.

  2. We must teach it with the 2 ingredients above – great patience and careful instruction. There shall be no haste about it’s preaching or it’s desired effect will not be realised. It is very easy for us to think that we can preach or teach the word of God anyhow and still get the same results. But the end result of such haste and disregard is recorded in the next verse.

2 Ti 4:3 For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.

I hope none of us become either one of the “great number of teachers” or those who are eager to listen to “what their itching ears want to hear”.