1. Preamble: A Man From The Church:
Contd. From last week
Webber blames for the rise of selfish capitalism and the get-rich-quick syndrome as in today’s Nigeria (!).
So the Salvation we seek and the Gospel we proclaim, must remain positive and creative. It must keep its moorings in accountability to God.
The human order must be viewed with caution because:
“The heart of man is deceitful above all things,
And beyond cure!
Who can understand it?!” (Jer. 17:9)
Shakespeare followed by asserting that
There is no art of reading
The minds construction in face (MacBeth)
Elsewhere, the same Shakespeare had described man at his best as no more than the “paragon of animals” and at worst, the “quintessence of dust”
This perhaps explains why Jeremiah insists that whatever emanates from humankind must be viewed with suspicion as it is born out of selfishness. Apostle Paul found this out: His best efforts were self defeatist especially in dealing with sin and the sin factor.
The good I would like to do,
I fail to do it
The evil I hate often overtakes me…
O wretched man that I am,
Who shall deliver me from the body
Of this death…!???
He would have remained in that state of absolute despair, but for the CROSS: After Paul had encountered The Cross of Jesus Christ of Nazareth and the whole Christ Event with all its ramifications and benefits. He concluded:
Thanks be to God who gives
Us the victory
Through Jesus Christ our Lord…! Amen.
After a similar experience – the experience of self-discovery, that leads to repentance, restitution and revival, the experience of knowing that even the law, or the tenets of organised religion, in all its loftiness, teaches man nothing but his inability to keep it, – Isaiah burst out into a song of triumph, to which he invited all creation to join in:
Rejoice o heavens
The Lord has done it again…
Shout aloud, O earth beneath.
Burst into song you mountains
You forests and all you trees,
For the Lord has redeemed Jacob (the selfish egocentric, crafty
He displays His glory in Israel (the child of Grace- Prince with God)
What was it that God had done for crafty and scheming Jacob?
First, he displayed his sovereign choice
Based on grace (God’s unmerited favour) –
Simply because God has chosen to love you!
You don’t deserve or merit it! (Deut 26:7ff).
Brethren, how much grace has God lavished on Nigeria? Look at the stupendous repository of human and material resources he has lavished on us in spite of our selfishness and greed. See how much he has spared us the horror of major natural disaster – such as earthquakes, tornados, droughts and major flooding, especially in Ala Igbo? Who is more blessed that you? And yet ingratitude we return to this loving God!? Our refusal to love and to care; to show goodwill and be transparent – to honour God with our bodies…
Yet, this God helped Jacob to recognise the futility of his best efforts at self salvation and self redemptions… Such exercise as donations, ‘saraka’- giving to the poor, building Churches were, properly viewed, from God’s perspective, efforts at hiding from God and from himself! Whatever you do, like the Ethiopian you are, you cannot change your colour nor can you, as a leopard remove your spots! The hymn writer after a personal encounter with Jesus, point it thus:
‘What can wash away my stain,
Nothing but the blood of Jesus…
What can make me whole again
Nothing but the blood of Jesus…
O precious is the flow…
No other fount I know,
Nothing but the blood of Jesus.
The Saviour God did not run Jacob down and leave him there to rot in his own stupor. This God stopped to pick him up, wash and cleanse him and give him a new name! (Hallelujah – what a Saviour). Can you begin to picture yourself or friends or situation here? From Jacob the surplanter and schemer (just as his grand father was changed from Abram – Amadi, the free man or noble man, to Abraham – Amadioha, the man of the people. We are saved to serve: To say no to selfishness and learn selflessness. Not just a noble, or possibly wealthy man, but a man for others: A man divested of all selfishness and ushered into a new reality of living for others, which is the highest expression of true spirituality. Here Jacob – the selfish surplanter or usurper, after the encounter with the God of superlative grace and investiture with the undeserved rights and privileges of a new pedigree – is no longer Jacob (ike-keta-orie – self made man, own saviour), but Israel (God’s own Prince – Nwachinemere – The apple of God’s eye – not by personal achievement, but simply by the choice of divine election which leads to a character transformation). Does that describe your experience – and could that be you by the end of the Synod? Then ask God to do something new in your life, so that you can sing with me:
Things are different now,
Something happened to me…
When I gave my life to Jesus …
Things I loved before have passed away,
Those I love far more have come to stay…
Third, there is a new consciousness:
a) That he Jacob, is not only just a new pedigree, he belongs to a new order – a new creation: his whole class classification or identity has been changed, transformed and upgraded to the highest and utmost level. His whole value system has been transformed. There is a new creation; He has been delivered from the domain of darkness (of deceit, intrigue, and mistrust) and ushered into the Kingdom of the Son of God’s love – where there is no darkness at all! He is no longer whatever he had inherited by the accident of the clan or ancestry into which he has been born. He is now what he has become as a result of the choice he has made. (So choose … Josh. 24:15ff)
b) That while in and because he has been ushered into and kept free in this kingdom, all the privileges and appurtenances of divine sonship belong to him: His status changed – from page to prince; his assessment from pauper to aristocrat; His status from knave to king; His vestments, from rags to royalty… (Col. 1:11; I Pet. 2:9ff; Rom.8:9,14-16). His promotion, or Church status from the masses to the upper class – far above all principalities and powers: Seated in heavenly places in Christ Jesus. Hallelujah.
c) That because of this new status, all his past has been forgiven and forgotten –
I will forgive your iniquity and I will remember your sins no more (Jer. 34:31)
It is finished – all the burdens of his heart rolled away:
once and for all and all at once. (John 19:30; Heb. 10:10, 14).
He is assured of a permanent ‘never to-be-over-sighted’ position in God’s daily manifest written on the palm of his hands: “I will not forget you my dearest Israel… Return to me for I have redeemed you: I have personally paid the full price for your new status. This is what I have done:
I have swept away your offences like a cloud…
Your sins like the morning cloud!!
With such experience, Isaiah could not but burst into a celebration in a song to which he invited all creation to join in. This elsewhere I have described as the life transforming Numinotic Encounter which immediately transports its subject into another realm. Those who have experienced this powerful life transforming encounter can only describe it as awesome! C.S. Lewis said he was Surprised by Joy. No one can have this experience and remain the same. John Newton, the slave dealer and callous brute was immediately transformed, transported and inspired with a new song:
Amazing Grace … How Sweet The Sound
That Saved a wretch like me…
I was once lost,
But now I’m found,
Was blind, but now I see …
He recognised his old selfish, callous, money minded self – one to whom money was more important than the dignity of his fellow humans. He repented in dust and ashes, abhorred the old greedy self and reached out for God’s mercy and grace. Hence this new song. But contrast, the attitude and character of his unrepentant African contemporary – Jaja (of Opobo)! Charles Wesley had many more ecstatic – but well thought out-expressions of his joy of knowing sins forgiven and the assurance of full salvation in Christ. For example:
· And can it be that I should gain…
And interest in the Saviour’s love…
· Amazing love, how can it be…
That Thou my God, should die for me.
· No condemnation now I dread
Jesus and all in Him is mine…
· Alive in Him, my living Head…
And clothed in righteousness Divine…!
So for the experience of the Gospel of Salvation to have a lasting effect both for the individual and society, it must include a genuine and life-transforming encounter with the Holy One. it is a never-to-be forgotten experience and the normative point of reference in the life of true pilgrims on their way to heaven! This is how Peter puts it: We can never forget our experience and that is why we speak with such authority and are willing to endure all things:
…We were eyewitnesses of his majesty…
We ourselves heard (God’s) voice
That came down from heaven
When we were with him on the sacred mountain.
II Pet. I:16-18
2.1. The Difference is Clear:
Whenever the search for salvation both on the personal or collective level is underscored by and borne out of this life transforming encounter with the Saviour God on the part of the “Evangelist”, as was the case with the 16th Century Protestant Reformers in Europe and the Evangelical Revivalists, such as George Whitefield and John and Charles Wesley, of 18th Century England, the outcome had always been in-depth and lasting social transformation. Nevertheless, as we have always pointed out, this transformation, where it is desired to be real, cannot be achieved by mere political gimmick or by some psychological manipulation of a gullible and desperate people. It cannot be achieved by some mechanical or humanistic tour de force. Social transformation that means in-depth and life-transforming change is a spiritual experience as corroborated by the illustrations already drawn from the Bible and world history.
Elsewhere, we have pointed out that mission and evangelism, or the mission of the Church to effect the salvation of humankind through the Gospel of Jesus Christ, is much more than the mobilization of funds and the application of modern technology, important as these are, the mission of the Church or evangelisation is a spiritual venture through prayer, self-denial, pure self-giving. It is through prayer that humans, move the ‘Hand that moves the world, to bring salvation down’. So the mission of the Church is a movement of the power of God from where it is to where it is not yet! We have also said repeatedly, and seen from field experience, that the power that set the process of personal conversion, and therefore social transformation, in motion in any given locale requires constant renewal in order that transformation and conversion may affect, as well as remain in, every aspect of personal and communal life at every given time in the history of a people. This is a major burden of this essay.
Why is it that there is so much numerical growth in the churches of the Two-Thirds World, and Africa in particular; why is it that Africa and Two-Thirds World peoples are so intensely religious and, indeed, extremely and positively, responsive to new religious forms and religious change agents, and yet this very obvious religious effervescence seems more mercenary than genuine in that its transforming impact on society is so negligible? Nigeria for example, is one of the most populous African nations and known to be one of the most religious and most ‘Church-going’ nations of the world, and yet Nigeria is often rated to be one of the most corrupt nations of the world, second only to Bangladesh, which may be “excused” because of her extreme poverty! All indications and honest observations show that the charge that African Christianity is several miles wide and only a few inches deep seems to be an unprejudiced assessment of the situation, at least in Nigeria! This is in spite of the patranising blame shifting of the patronising romanticists and arm chair missiologists visiting from Europe and North America.