THE CHURCH MOVING FORWARD by Bishop Dr. J. Akin Atere

SERMON PREACHED AT THE 2014 CONFERENCE OF CHANCELLORS’, REGISTRARS AND LEGAL OFFICERS ON THE 4TH AUGUST AT BASILICA OF GRACE, ABUJA BY RT. REVD. DR. JOHNSON AKIN ATERE (BISHOP OF THE DIOCESE OF AWORI)
TEXT: Philippians 3:13-14” Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.”
THEME: THE CHURCH MOVING FORWARD
Paul believed in moving ahead, not falling back, we should not be satisfied with where we are but moving forward (onward Christians Soldiers). With this in mind, let us consider how the Lord’s Church is described by Paul Apostle as a body both in life and its functions. While addressing the Romans in Chapter 12, verses 4 and 5 “For as we have many members in one body, and all members have not the same office, so we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another.”
Bodies are designed to live, act and to work, It is natural for the body to function in such a way that life today promotes life of tomorrow. Every organs of the body co-operate to build for the comfort of tomorrow. The same is true of the Church who also has her tomorrow. There must be a movement, because the church is not a monument.
Unfortunately, the body is occasionally faced with different kinds of enemies that can damage or even kill the body such as diseases, accident etc. When the body suffered from these attacks, the body is inactive and weak. Movement is difficult. All these and more are enemies to the body movement.
Likewise, the Church has her enemies that can keep her from moving into the future, they can damage, cripple or kill her. The Church must therefore be ready to engage in a battle against the enemies of progress. The enemies of the Church are many but I will like to concentrate on those within, that deals with the attitudes of her members, major of which is IGNORANCE.
It comes in various forms. There are those who claim to be Christian but pagan in pactise, still worship other gods and have self justifiable reasons to do so.
Isaiah 45:20 “Assemble yourself and come, draw near together, yee that escaped of the nations: they have no knowledge that set up the wood of their graven image and pray to a god that cannot save.”
I hope no one among you still patronize crystals, idols, ancestors worship, in the name of protection, wining cases, or securing clients. Are you a judge who is a Chancellor and also belong to a cult. You lack knowledge; your diocese has been polluted by your action. Your diocese goes nowhere. Even through you claim to be learned but serving other gods, It is foolishness!
There is a very stubborn ignorance: It is refusing to listen to God or hear Him. Even though they see what God is doing in His church yet they are spiritually blind due to ignorance. This was revealed to Jeremiah in 5:21 “Hear now this, o foolish people and without understanding: which have eyes, and see not; which have ears and hear not”
Christian that has no vision destroy the Church, if there is any reason why you are needed in the Church is to add to the knowledge of the bishop not only on the law but also in the Spirit. If you are blind or foolish Christian, then the Church is in trouble, there will be retardation. Hosea 4:1 & 6 talks about ignorant of the word of God, the fastest destroyer of the church today is our attitude to the word of God. “Hear the word of the Lord, yee Children of Israel: for the Lord hath a controversy with the inhabitant of the land, because there is no truth, nor mercy, nor knowledge of God in the land: My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge: because thou hath rejected knowledge, I will also reject thee…seeing thou hast forgotten the law of thy God, I will also forget thy children.”
How can the Church grow or move forward, if she carries the above curses because of the ignorance of knowledge of her people. How much do you know of the law/word of God? You can quote the constitution from section to section; may I ask what is in John 3:16? Because of ignorance we have engaged in crook paths that we are now looking for peace. Isaiah 59:8 “The way of peace they know not… they have made them a crooked path, whosoever goeth therein shall not know peace.” If we all know Christ as the prince of peace and peace is not in the body of Christ. Something is going wrong if there is any diocese in church of Nigeria where there is no peace. You, the officer of the law must together with your bishop not in ungodly manner, not politics etc. seek knowledge. Can there be movement or growth where there is no peace?
Where Christians don’t know the right thing to do, doing wrong thing Amos says “For they know not to do right, saith the Lord, who store up violence and robbery in their palaces. The knowledge of the word of God reveal all that is right you know. Therefore knowing what is right and not doing it as Chancellor, Registrar, Legal Secretary etc can breed violence. Is there no robbery in our parishes and dioceses? How I wish we know the mind of God when we are unrighteous. If we are not doing it right Zechariah says it causes God’s wrath to come upon us 7:11-12.
Jesus is prepared to heal the Church and make it grow but He wants to address our spiritual organs. He says in Matt. 13:15 “For this people’s heart is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing and their eyes they have closed lest at any time they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears, and should understand with their hearts and should be converted and I should heal them.”
Brethren, the Church is not nor growing, we are not moving. Paul says we want to please ourselves not God. Whereas, God is the owner of the Church. “For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God.” Romans10:3
How do we defeat this enemy? Paul says “Till I come, give attendance to reading, to exhortation to doctrine. “Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needed not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth”
UNBELIEF is also an enemy of movement in fact John 8:24 says it leads to death “… if yee believe not that, yee shall die in your sin”
Is it not an irony that even those who preached and some who work in the Church don’t believe in what they preach, Paul says the sin of unbelief is terrible “If our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost in whom the god of this world hath blinded the mind of them which believe not…”
There will be no desire for obedience to God. There are forces against Christians/Church in Nigeria but the greatest is within us. Where is the faith of our fathers? God/Christ is looking up unto the Church Nigeria is looking up unto the church for deliverance it seems the Church is becoming powerless because we are not living the Bible. Instead of using the new technology top know God, it is in the negative. It happened in Mark 9:4ff, when a boy with infirmity was brought to the disciples and they could do nothing why? Jesus said in verse 19 “… O faithless generation, how long shall I be with you? How long shall I suffer you….” Verse 23 “Jesus said unto the father of the child with epilepsy, ‘If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth, and straightway the father of the child cried out, and said with tears, Lord, I believe, help thou mine unbelief.”
All the above are others amount to SIN, As long as we remain in sin our identity will be lost. Heb. 12:1(b) calls sins weight that can easily beset us i.e. that can set us back.
My Lords, you have a vital role to play in the Church of Nigeria among the laity and in partnership with your bishop. Be at the side of the owner of the Church.
For the Church to move forward, we must recognize and defeat our enemies (ignorance, unbelief, apathy and sin). The church is under attack.
Send quality time at this conference/retreat to look at how Anglican Church can move ahead in the midst of her enemies.
Let us pray.