PRE-CHRISTMAS CLERGY RETREAT FOR THE DIOCESE OF ETSAKO HELD BETWEEN DECEMBER 12-14, 2011 AT EKPOMA
THEME: VIGOROUSLY CONTENDING FOR THE FAITH
TEXT: JUDE 3
TALK I: CONTENDING FALSE TEACHING IN THE EARLY CHURCH AND THE IMPLICATION TO TODAY CHRISTIAN THAT HAS RESULTED INTO CHURCH DECAY
Contending for the faith is not merely restating the basic tenets of Christian doctrine or even arguing them. In this contending battle, apologies is only important to the extent that it removes the obstacles that block our view and free us to clearly see the true goal of our task, what the church itself really exists for. Matt.16:18 “And I also say to you that you are Peer, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.” Indicates the Lord’s purpose for creating the church. It is to enable Christians engage in conflict against the forces of His (GOD) enemy. This warfare against Satan is therefore the real contention for the faith. Unfortunately, many Christians do not see it because they have been distracted to other matters.
The conflict between God and Satan is the true mother of all wars. It started in ancient times, before man came to the scene. Lucifer was originally the leader of the angels of God. As chief messenger, he was close to the throne of God. However, rather than delighting in his lofty position, he chose to focus on what he lacked. The only lack was the throne of God itself, yet he coveted it. It was not long before this state of mind bore actual fruit in his great rebellion. He led a large number of angelic forces in an attempt to overthrow God at the coup d’état. It is significant to note that here, God Himself never directly participated in the ensuring warfare. It was obviously beneath His dignity to fight against a mere creature. The loyal angels, mobilized and led by Michael, fought that war to great success. They pushed Lucifer out of heaven and into the vicinity of planet earth (Isa 14:1-14). Though he failed to gain the throne, nonetheless, Satan never declares ceasefire. To this day, he remains in contention over the authority of God to rule over His universe. The only thing that has changed over time, seems to be his strategy. But his goal remains as always, the undermining of divine authority. He now makes man, including Christians, dissatisfied with their status in God. He pushes them to keep seeking more of present pleasure even at the expense of future glory. Heaven must come to us now, there is no need to wait for anything in the future. The consequence in man is a state of permanent insatiability and materialism.
When Satan deceived angels into rebellion against God, he had learnt that mere creatures, not even God were enough to defeat him. This was to show Satan that God was so much above him that His creatures were enough to put him in his place of everlasting defeat. (Isa.14:15) “But you are brought down to shoel to the depths of the pit.”
THE SEED OF THE WOMEN AND THE CONTENTION
This fact of the sufficiency of mere creatures over Satan’s greatest might forms the basis of the promise of the enmity between the seed of the women and the devil. He was to crush the head of the serpent, though in the process, he would sustain injuries to his heels. (Gen3:15) “And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her Seed; He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel.” The Lord Jesus Christ was obviously the promised seed of the woman. His involvement in the conflict is a classical demonstration of the eternal wisdom of God. In Satan’s reckoning, there was only alternative left open to God after the fall of man: scrap the game plan and start will over again. But the Lord was wiser and smarter than Satan,. And HE employed that wisdom in outwitting the devil while still remaining faithful to His own law. Somehow, defeated men would have to redeem his own race.
The only one who could qualify to make acceptable atonement for sin of man must be perfect man. But man was already rendered defective through sin. Since only God was perfect, divine incarnation therefore become inevitable. That was how God Himself, through the agency of His eternal Son, in the guise of the Nazareth carpenter’s foster son, entered the conflict. Jesus paid the penalty for the sins of the entire human race since in sin all mankind died. Through His death, the entire price necessary for the forgiveness of humanity was paid in full.
THE CENTRAL ROLE OF THE CHURCH IN THE CONTENTION’
Thank God for Jesus through his death, Jesus completely atoned for all sins of humanity. Nevertheless, the benefit accruing from it for individual man still had to be appropriated by personal faith. Eph. 2:8 “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God.” Since that faith comes by hearing the word of God. Rom.10:17, there is the need for those who will be saved to hear the word of God. The only way this is possible is as men preaches the word of God to his fellow men. Rom.10:13-14 “For whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved. How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher?” This task of presenting the word of God relevant to salvation, to perishing humanity constitutes a major responsibility of the Church in the world today. The second essential step is to teach the resultant converts to become effective followers or disciples of Jesus. But though completely defeated, Satan continues to put obstacles in man’s path, to prevent him from receiving this message. It is a commodity that no one wants to buy. People now hate to hear the true word of God.
THE PROBLEM WE ENCOUNTER
Discipleship is really where the battle line is drawn. As a result, anything that limits the church’s effectiveness in the performance of the discipleship task, retards her victory in this all important battle. Some people claim that focusing the church message on the things of this world is the way to be relevant to the listeners’ need, that this will bring about church growth. As a result, many have modified the gospel to fit the world. Rather than teach holiness, many hammer endlessly on material gain. Some have gone to the extent of being carried away into seeking powers from forces other than God to enable them satisfy and influence their audiences. The important thing seems to be that once the method work, the people will keep coming. That guarantees for them positions and influence that will satisfy their ego. Our position is that focusing on materialism causes Christian leaders themselves to become worldly. The clear position is that only through the power of the Holy Spirit that man can be drawn to God. All those who join the church mainly for materialistic reasons will not gain the attention of the Lord (John 2:23-25). The task of Christian ministers today remains that of lifting up Jesus Christ in His holy, compassionate and powerful reality, for the world to see. When we do that he will draw men to Himself, empowering them to become the children of God. That power produces holiness, humility, the spirit of sacrifice and perseverance in all who receive it. It removes their eyes from worldliness and focuses their attention on preparing for the hereafter. The Saviour is not looking for fans but followers, followers who will go with Him to death if necessary. If you do not crown Him Lord of all you do not crown Him at all.
CONTENDING FOR THE FAITH
Having taken cognizance of the present wave of doctrinal imbalances and heretical tendencies in the practice of Christianity in Nigeria today against the injunction to “earnestly contend for the faith that was delivered unto the Saints” we observed the following aberrations among others:
- Lack of sound teaching of the whole counsel of God in the church, arising from a poor understanding of Christian theology.
- Enthronement of man (self-serving gospel) and the subsequent orientation of man existing for the self rather than for God i.e. emphasizing “the God that man uses” mentality rather than “the man God uses.”
- Lack of true Christian values with the concomitant neglect of holiness.
- Merchandizing the gospel of Jesus Christ.
- Drive (quest) for power and success through occultism, spiritism, metaphysics, lobbying, manipulating and forcefulness.
- Personalization of the Christian ministry.
- Lack of ministerial integrity and leadership cohesion.
THE NEED FOR CHRISTIAN THEOLOGY AS AN ENHANCEMENT TO SOUND DOCTRINE
The church, as a school, does a lot of theology in attempt to teach “a body of Truth” another word for “doctrine”. Unfortunately, in some Christian quarters, the church is confronted with “bad doctrine” about God, as to what may be taught to His nature, purpose, intention and will for His people or the world at large. Such bad doctrines however, are often the result of bad theology. Good theology would collect, collate and carefully analyze what God had revealed of Himself as we now have them in the books, chapters or verses of the Bible from Genesis to Revelation. Such a systematic approach to the teaching and preaching or explanation of God’s word and purposes is a skill that can and should be learnt by all who seek to “correctly handle the word of truth.” Good theology and good doctrine are inseparable. It must be noted that a theological skill that is submitted to the control and use of the Holy Spirit has always been found more profitable to the church. We speak of Paul’s profitability to the church only in terms of grace given to him to have gone through a formal training under such a reputable and respectable Jewish scholar as Gamaliel, in view of the way such formal training enhanced his ability to express with clarity and depth his knowledge and revelation of God. Soundness in Christian theology enhances a more diligent and careful handling of the revealed word of God. How do we teach, rebuke, correct and train children of God in righteousness except we know and understand the nature of this God? The process requires basic Christian Theology (II Tim. 3:16-17).
Ironically, some who desire to train others now, never submitted their lives under their elders to be taught, disciplined or trained, they told us the Holy Spirit trained them. Would the Master (Jesus) have sent out His disciples untrained into the world that saw the living God as part and parcel of creation? The 3 years they spent with Jesus gave them sound theological principles to point the whole world to the one and only living God.
IDENTIFYING SOME FALSE DOCTRINES TODAY
IN HEALING: Divine healing require simple faith in God; magic healing demands superstitious faith in the healing medium, or magician. When one’s faith has to be placed on the minister or the person doing the healing rather than in God. It is falsehood. When faith is in “holy water”, “anointing oil”, “mantle” etc. one is involved in false doctrine. When the minister doing the healing, depends on any other source of power to healing other than Jesus Christ, it is falsehood.
IN PROTECTION: Being post-pagan societies, most areas in this country are quite susceptible to neo-pagan teaching on protection. In passages like Matt. 28:20, Luke 10:19, Isa 54:14-17, Prov. 18:10, God promises protection. When however, one is promised protection by means of an amulet or white handkerchief hung on the door post or the carrying of any object in the pocket in the name of “point of contact” one is exposed to false doctrine (and in fact occultism). It is not different from pagan practices.
“PROSPERITY” GOSPEL: One of the areas where the effect of false teaching are mostly felt in our churches today is the area of materialism. There is thus lopsided approach to the scripture that produces false doctrine which we call “prosperity gospel.” The emphasis on prosperity is as if it is all that Christianity entails, and as if faith in Christ can be quantified only in material term. The followership is made to understand that poverty is a curse, in such a way that wealth is projected as a sign of spirituality. Those who teach this way, have large fellowship because, in a materialistic society like ours, men want to hear how they can “prosper”. Those parts of the scriptures that teaches self-sacrifice, self-denial, the cross, sin and holiness are hardly used in such churches at all. When members of such church “prosper” no one looks at the genuineness of their sources of wealth.
CONVERSION WITHOUT TRUE REPENTANCE: What makes matters worse, is the tendency of these preachers to ignore true repentance. Basically, there can be no true conversion without true repentance. The teachings of Jesus and the Apostles are full of commands to “repent and be saved”. However, ion this false doctrine, people are made Christians because they changed their minds to come to church. Repentance is not merely a change of heart or mind, it is a change of action. “Turning away from sin to serve the living and true God.” 2 Cor.7:10-11, PS.38:18, Matt.4:17, Lk13:3,5; Rev.3:19-20. Bible talk about restitution Acts 24:16, mtt. 5:23-24, Ezek. 33:14-15. These days, preachers who want to attract and retain the crowd by all means deliberately neglect to emphasize the true repentance necessary for real conversion.
Others are perversion of Human right, unbiblical freedom, different false doctrine, etc.
REASONS FOR FALSE DOCTRINES
- PREACHES WITH ILL-MOTIVES
According to II Pet 2:3 and 1 Tim.6:3-4, greed or the desire to become rich through religion has expose many to seducing spirits for them to have large membership. Some of them peddle heresies and introduce strange doctrines that whip up emotions. Although some of them are enlightened, they lack an in-depth knowledge of the word of God. (2 Pet.2:12; 1 Tim.1:7
- FOLLOWERSHIP WITH ITCHING EARS. II Tim.4:3-4 The desire for members to have their problems solved at all cost, has encouraged their ministers to go to all lengths to acquire powers outside the source of the Christians power: the Holy Spirit.
- ACTIVITIES OF SEDUCING SPIRIT: I Tim.4:1-2 Speaks of seducing spirit, deceiving demons. These demons are charged with carrying out the programme of enticement of believers to forfeit virtue or surrender chastity.
It is at this point that we turn to the disturbing problem of the perversion of the gospel. There are a lot of confusions today as people leave the substance to pursue shadow. Some preach to serve self, often there is an unnecessary spirit of competition and rivalry in preaching of the gospel (Phil.1:15,17). But Phil. 2:3 says “Do nothing from selfishness or conceit…” They seek to be popular and cannot seriously call people to repent from sin. II Tim.4:3).
The Gospel is perverted when some preachers capitalize on people’s felt needs instead of proclaiming the kingdom of God. “But seek first the kingdom of God and its righteousness…” Matt.6:33. 1 Pet.1:6-7 teaches that believers may go through various trials for a while. These are according to God’s purpose in testing their faith and bringing them to purity, to the praise and glory of God. And Roman 8:18 assures us that the suffering of the present time are not to be compared with the glory that shall be revealed.
THE GOSPEL TO CONTEND FOR (GAL.1:6-12)
Let us in this day and generation contend for the faith once delivered to the saints. The Gospel is good news of Jesus Christ, Mark define in 1:14-15. The gospel must tell the story of God’s love for mankind John 3:16; God’s plan of salvation is finalized in Christ. (Heb.1:1-4).
The gospel must deal with the greatest problem, the problem of sin. Rom.3:23”for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” – see also 1 John 1:9”If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Only the blood of Jesus Christ cleanses us from sin. It must declare that Jesus is the only way to God. (John 14:6). Without Him, there is no meaningful relationship with God (John 1:12-13) “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name who where born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.”
The gospel must show man the two possible places ahead of him – HEAVEN or HELL (John 14:5-6, rev.21:8; Matt.25:34-41etc.). Jesus has gone to prepare a place for us in heaven. On the last day, there will be a separation of the sheep from the goats, the wheat from the shaft.
The Apostle Paul declared “I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God unto salvation to everyone who believe.” Rom.1:16. The greatest benefit of the gospel is that it produces a changed life, (the New Life in Christ). In this, the Holy Spirit indwells the believer giving the assurance of eternally being in the presence of God.
Finally, let us heed seriously Paul’s advice to another minister of God in Titus 1:10-11.
“For there are many insubordinate men, empty talkers and deceivers, especially the circumcision p[arty; they must be silenced, since they are upsetting whole families by teaching for base gain what they have no right to teach.”
In 1936 C. H. Dodd, professor of Divinity in the University of Cambridge gave the main outline of the Apostle preaching and teaching as found in the Acts of the Apostles. As follows:
- That the age of fulfillment (of prophesy has dawned) Acts 2:16, 13:18; “The last days” 2:17 The time fulfilled Mark 1:15
- These great event has taken place through the ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus – 2:22-23, 3:13-14, 2:24-41; 3:15; 4:10.
- By virtue of the resurrection, Jesus has been exalted at the right hand of God. He is Lord and Christ – 2:33-36; 3:13; 5:31.
- The Holy Spirit in the church is the sign of Christ present power and glory – 2:33;5:32.
- Messianic Age will shortly reach it’s consummation in the return of Christ.
- An appeal for repentance, the offer of forgiveness and the Holy Spirit and the promise of salvation (eternal life) 2:38-39; 3:19; 25-26:4:12; 10:43.
Thanks for listening.
The Rt. Rev’d Dr. J. Akin Atere, Ph.D
Bishop of the Diocese of Awori