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THE GOSPEL OF OUR SALVATION: What and How is it?

  1. Preamble: A Man From The Church:

Being Presidential Address presented by Bishop Cyril C. Okorocha, PhD, Bishop of Owerri at the 1st Session of the 19th Synod held at H.T.C. Obazu-Mbieri between Thursday, October 4th and Sunday October 7th, 2012

I met a very interesting gentleman after a very full and moving Eucharistic Service in one of those village churches where the people don’t seem to know that Adam is no longer physically here. It was mid-August. The service was in perfect order according to Ekpere na Abu and Usoro OririNso Ndi CMS mgbe gboo, ma obu 1662 Order of the Holy Eucharist, Original Edition. The Priest was in Black Cassock which was worn with age, as was his surplice which I imagined was white puplin, once upon a time! His Choir was attired similarly. I think it was the Thanksgiving Service for the new Eze of their new Autonomous Community: Alias “UmuEgo Ancient Kingdom, the New Israel of Africa”. That was perhaps why the Choir Master insisted on having the congratulatory song “O come let us adore Him… several times over as the Special Number, for the Eze’s Thanksgiving in spite of the loud and noisy protests from the women who were still in the middle of their August Meeting!  But it was the Eze’s favourite hymn! The Vicar took no notice of them. Even though he knew it was 25th August, and he had deliberately set aside the Lectionary and the Liturgy! The Eze, in addition to reading the lesson, had brought a “fatted” cow – live native ‘Igbo Cow’ to the altar: something they had never seen before in that community. Besides, the Eze’s Cabinet, including those who had opposed his “election” on the grounds that he was a well known and notorious international fraudster and “High Class Ritualist”! Rumour had it that he had been in prison in both America and Germany, and that he was a Mason in London and an Ogboni member in Lagos! The oha Dibia, Ichie and all the titled men were there in full regalia along with their wives who came. To crown it all, the Governor was there with his four wives and was ready to donate in style to complete their Pro-Cathedral in preparation for their new Diocese.

The Governor would be knighted soon and then money would speak! Let the Choir sing whatever they liked so long as the money came in! And since nobody would be called upon to give account, how else do we expect the Almighty to bless us?  Hummer Jeeps, all sorts of exotic vehicles had wadded their way through the mud and murk into this remote village. The atmosphere was eerie. Even though everyone had been promised the feast of a life time if they summoned the courage to wade their way to the Palace, fear and suspicion were writ large on every face! “Money will speak” at the reception in the Eze’s Palace and the Vicar might even get a donation of a brand new jeep. “Once there is money, there must be a way”!  “Those 419 boys are very generous”, shouted the Choir Master to the Vicar, trying to encourage him to attend the reception in the Palace! (And very dangerous too,” whispered a man from the Church)

In the midst of that mixed excitement, a middle aged man, the man fom the Church,  who looked rather confused walked up to me and asked:

‘When is God ever going to hear our prayer and step in for our salvation as people and a nation’?

I was taken aback. He was a villager, but not part of it. His accent was clear and sophisticated even though he spoke the local language. I asked him if he was in the service and followed the prayers. There were prayers for “all sorts and conditions of men”, including the nation Football Team as well as for the Eze and his cabinet and business associates and for all who travel to do “business that brings big money: ka ha n’eje, n’abatakwa!”

“Was that a Service, my dear stranger? Did you notice the mixed multitude and the “prayers”? All we are after is money. That is the new ‘god’. But the salvation we need is something money cannot buy. Please Sir, you educated people should  please help us .Is there hope for this Nation?  We are in real trouble, here in the village, there in the city, both in Church and Stat,; something has gone very very wrong”

What prayer have we not prayed? There are churches all over the place and “Prayer Houses” everywhere? When will our salvation come? When we had the military rulers, we had endless sessions of prayer and fasting. Then suddenly there was another coup and we welcomed it with great jubilation. But no sooner that General settled down than we began to cry for his ousting! We went on like that, General after General until we began to cry for an end to the military rules. “We want a civilian government, no matter who laeds it! That will be better than these men in khaki”

Then came Moshood Abiola. In our desperation, we had thrown caution to the winds and paid no heed to antecedents and the baggage the new Messiah was bringing with him! But He had money. How did he make that money? That was not our question. All we wanted was regime change which would ask no ethical questions. What followed is now part of our messy history, our tradition of the madman’s dance: “two steps forward, three steps backward…”

Perhaps if we had stopped and asked if change always meant better, we might have stumbled at the Prayer of St. Francis of Assissi for a clear sense of purpose and serenity in the flux of change:

Lord give me courage to change

Those things that need to change

And grace and serenity to accept those

Things that need not change

And wisdom to know the difference. Amen.

Perhaps, if we knew the meaning and message of this prayer or studied Ps. 73, for instance, we would be deceived less often and spared much of the moral and economic agonies we suffered at the hands of our innumerable political and religious charlatans and “powerful prayer” hawkers that prey on us on a daily basis.

The man from the Church turned away, picked up his bicycle, and proceeded home. He did not go for the reception. I sensed that he was a prophet and decided to follow his example.

1.1       Is There Hope For This Nation?

But that encounter set me reflecting on our national situation, both in Church and State. Each successive leadership, both in Church and State, tends to be many times worse than the previous one albeit in a different way. No one seems to stop to ask: What is the root cause of all this and therefore what is the solution we need? Whether it is open secession or military dictatorship, or New Church Movements or new leadership in the old church, or Mitasine or Boko-Haram: when will our leadership stop playing the ostrich? The naïve escapism that pretends not to see the problem so as to have a hold on the seat of poer and therefore of maximum self enrichment!  Will honesty, selflessness and integrity ever become part of our leadership vision? Can we ever believe that to lead is to serve? Can those we lead overcome to love and trust their leaders and so that hypocrisy and sycophancy may cease and a sense of honour and integrity return to the fellowership? Or has the love of money indeed eaten so deep into our psyche that we have become so warped and corrupt that we can no longer face positive reality? Or are we as a people, because of the greed within us and the distrust leadership we tolerate, saying that we are past redemption? God forbid! Then do we go on and on “Two steps forwards, three steps backwards…” Both in Church and State, so goes the chase after the wind: the madman’s dance and the perpetration of meaninglessness and shameless hypocrisy? May God have mercy on us!

2.         The Salvation We Seek and the Gospel we Preach:

Trouble with Nigeria is that we have always defined our salvation, the summum bonum of life, in purely material terms. In this regard however, our best efforts have resulted in frustration at best and dismal failure at worst. The litany of coups and counter coups, of failed elections and censuses and the horror of “missing funds” from the public coffers, bear out this judgement. The truth we fail to embrace is that: Trouble with Nigeria is not just bad leadership but both bad leadership and bad followership. This includes the glaring absence of the fear of God, a sense of accountability, our hatred of any call for transparency. In short, the heart of Nigeria’s trouble is a problem of the heart.  We are simply afraid of truth and openness. We fail to accept our self imposed tragedy and would prefer to say that it is not theirs rather than face it with a view to getting rid of it so as to walk straight.

We fail to realise that:

Righteousness exalt a nation

But sin is a reproach to any people

And sin is what we have brought on ourselves

By our own bad choices, not what we have inherited as a nation!

Nigeria’s problem is more than economic and the reason for Africa’s backwardness is deeper than mere fiscal poverty or the barbarisms of Western or Arab imperialism. The maxim we give little or no attention to in our haste to build a great, but utterly frivolous Africa is that:

The happiness of a nation is like an iroko tree,

Industry, Commerce and Economic Development

Are like its branches, leaves and flowers,

But righteousness is its taproot

Which is buttressed by justice, transparency,

fairplay and accountability

Destroy the tap root,

And the tree soon withers

And eventually dies,

Beginning with its flowers,

Then its leaves, and finally

The branches and trunk –

Which becomes firewood for us!

Perhaps to think of the summum bonum or salvation of a nation, we need to think beyond economic considerations to deeper issues of character, conscience and moral rectitude and accountability. When a nouveau riche millionaire – a mere lad suddenly becomes overtaken with wealth; a dim-wit, who was a cultist as a student suddenly becomes a multi-billionaire in hard currency and at the blink of an eye, emerges as the winner of the disputed elections, how does the Church respond? Or is she also implicated? When this Charlatan comes to our Church for his Thanksgiving what do we do? What legacy is the Church leadership leaving for the next generation (See Okorocha 2012). Perhaps the man with the bicycle is right. Is it possible that what we have is no longer Church of Jesus of Nazareth, the Saviour of the World, but the final refuge for fugitives from a Holy God?

The industrial revolution in Europe which is the source of Modern Western Civilization has its roots in the Protestant Reformation of the 16th Century AD, an evangelical Gospel, which liberated humanity from the stranglehold of oppressive religion. That total liberation or salvation was epitomised and demonstrated in John Calvin’s Geneva.

That liberation had a lasting impact on society because it touched the human psyche at its springboard – the conscience and the spirit. It was through the Reformation and the message of individual accountability to an all seeing God, that humanity suddenly woke up to the truth of the Gospel message that each one is accountable to their Maker, “and that without partiality … as God is no respecter of persons”. .. and a consuming fire!

Positive individualism and accountability to God have ever since been the inseparable foundations of Western Civilization and the spread of the Christian message of sin, guilt, forgiveness and divine judgment as well as the need for conversion which includes not just change of religious or ideological affiliation, but a change of heart which is evidenced in a new attitude in all areas of life. In short in-depth conversion of the individual which result in the social change or transformation we see is not just a political rhetoric for propaganda purposes, or a mere manifesto to spin doctor a failed, inept and tottering political leadership into a second or third term so that the sycophants will continue to feed themselves, and their relatives, fat on the common cake. No. it is an in-depth surgery that fills leadership and followership, both in Church and State, with a deep sense of pain and repentance that leads to a determination to change positively!

Our Lord Jesus described this as being born again of the Holy Spirit. It is like a wind blowing over a tray of chaff. It compels those who have swallowed public fund and cheated widows and the whole system to “vomit out what they had swallowed”. This is the best way to lead by example and deter future thieves. Paul calls it a “new creation”. It is in-depth private and public repentance that leads to RESTITUTION. This is the root of genuine Transformation – not just an agenda, but an experience.

Protestant work ethic, and the belief that the world belongs to God, and that it is obligatory on those who love God to embark on curious but pious adventures in this world, were born out of this liberation of the individual and his being placed in the circle of direct accountability to God that gave legitimacy to exploratory adventures in all areas of life – art, science, medicine, the earth/Geography as well as space. Yes, that the world belongs to God and that it is obligatory on those who love God to make positive exploratory intents in God’s world are biblical thoughts. (Ps. 111:2). But then, when adventurous curiosity is overtaken by arrogance, both racial, cultural  and personal,  and divested of piety and genuine fear of God,  that curiosity could degenerate into Darwin’s anthropocentricism and godless evolutionary theories on the one hand or Michael Angelle’s Hedonistic sensuousness – especially in the visual arts– on the other. (See also “Rev. Sister” Wendy Craig’s “Sacred Pornography” and compare her frivolity with the anguish expressed by Rookmarker in his Modern Art and the Death of Culture which laments the Death of Christian Europe!

Furthermore, God is not allowed to be at the ground level, and accountability to Him as Creator and Ultimate Judge, not allowed to be paramount, even our noble pursuit of wealth could degenerate into destructive materialism or insatiable acquisition complex which Max  Webber blames for the rise of selfish capitalism and the get-rich-quick syndrome as in today’s Nigeria (!). To be continued.

 

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