Apologetics is a necessary discipline for the Christian faith. Jesus and the Apostle Paul regularly defended their beliefs through rational arguments. The Apostle Peter tells us to be ready to give…
Much of the church suffers from an identity crisis. We don’t know who we really are. Are we just a group of people who meet on Sundays? A Jesus’ fan club? Or a gathering of holy people who do not wish to be soiled by their sinful neighbours? This interesting paragraph from Rich Lusk is a stirring reminder of who believers are.
*”The church is the first fruits of God’s saving work in the world. Thus the church models, in principle, human life the way God intended it to be lived. We are God’s renewed humanity. We live the life of the future in the present, the life of the kingdom in the midst of the world. As the church, we are a new city, set upon a hill, and therefore distinct, yet existing within the cities of the world. We are an alternative society, rivaling and subverting the idolatrous societies of the world. We ae a counter-culture, called to reform and transform the cultures of the peoples around us. We are a kingdom, transcending the kingdoms of earth. And we are a new Israel, a new nation dwelling amidst the nations of the earth, with our own defining story, rituals, songs, celebrations, and way of life marking us out as a unique people. We are a contrast society – specifically contrasting the light of a gospel-shaped life with the darkness of the old fallen order.”
Rich Lusk, When Church Bells Stopped Ringing: Towards a Public Ecclesiology for the 21st Century American Church.
You can read the entire article here
“By the waters of Babylon,
there we sat down and wept,
when we remembered Zion.
On the willows there
we hung up our lyres.
For there our captors
required of us songs,
and our tormentors, mirth, saying,
‘Sing us one of the songs of Zion!’
How shall we sing the LORD’S song
in a foreign land?”
(Psalm 137:1-4 ESV)
You can feel the sorrow, the anguish, and the pathos. This is the cry of the captive Jew taken from his homeland down to Babylon. ‘On the willows there/we hung up our lyres.’ How do you make music in captivity? How can you rejoice in the land of the oppressor? Jerusalem was the location of the temple, signifying the throne of God on earth. It was the privilege of the Israelites to be the chosen people of God among whom He dwells. The songs of Zion were songs of worship sung in the temple; they were unique to the people of God.
Jeremiah would go on to deliver a message to these captives, encouraging them to seek the good of the city, in spite of their captivity:
“But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.” (Jer. 29:7)
Yes, they were captives. And, yes, they were forcibly removed from their homeland. Yet, God was using their presence as a means of blessing their captors. Here was the Jewish community, God’s chosen people, bringing God’s blessings to the gentiles. Here was the seed of Abraham blessing the families of the earth (Gen. 12:3). This was the Gospel in infancy. Prior to this time, God’s saving grace was largely confined to the Israelites. Now it was flowing out to the nations. As Paul would later write in Romans 11, the gentiles were being grafted into the tree of the original Jewish church. And as that happens, we cannot help bursting into praise alongside Paul:
“Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and his ways past finding out!” (Rom. 11:33)
The songs of Zion were becoming the songs of the nations.
Isaiah wrote of a future time when the captive Jews will return to their homeland and be able to sing the song of Zion once more:
“And the ransomed of the LORD shall return, and come to Zion with songs and everlasting joy upon their heads: they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.” (Isa. 35:10)
But the very context of this passage indicates that this passage points beyond the return of the Jewish captives to their homeland in 538/539 BC. It looked forward to a time when ‘the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped’ (v. 5), a reference to the ministry of Jesus. It also speaks of when ‘waters shall burst forth in the wilderness and streams in the desert’ (v. 6), a picture of the era initiated by the coming of Christ and to be completed at his return (cf. Isa. 43: 19; 44:3-5; Joel 2:28).
What was confined to the Jew has been made available to all nations. The dwelling place of God is no longer just with Israel, it is being extended to all – to all humanity who place their faith in the Redeemer. And eventually, all humanity shall come together to sing that song of Zion. As John observed in his vision of the end of history:
“Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and he will be their God.” (Rev. 21:3)
God’s revelation leads us to look forward to that time when the Lord’s song will be sung by a great multitude, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb.” (Rev. 7:9)
And what song would they sing?
“Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” (v.10)
May we, through faith in Christ, be found a part of that joyful choir.
For Christians, the Bible really is God’s word. And it commands their allegiance. But for many, this is only limited to their personal concerns and family issues. It can give us prophecies, promises, and precepts, but we don’t go to it for principles. It does not guide how we invest, what job to accept, or whom to vote for. We love it, we believe it, but it remains in a box.
We need to bring the Bible out of this box and into life – human life. The Bible is the word of God. It is God speaking to us – to our art, to our business, and to our politics. By confining scripture to the narrow sphere we call ‘personal life’, we have dishonoured God and impoverished ourselves.
The history of Western philosophy reflects this. By neglecting biblical revelation, and attempting to reason autonomously, Western thought has spurned all kinds of ideas and systems. Idealism, pantheism, materialism, existentialism, nihilism, along with various theories about the relation between mind and matter, the nature of knowledge, and so on. To a large extent, these are man’s attempts to make sense of reality without input from God. Interestingly, the Bible itself has often been enlisted in support of some of these ideas!
Think of our global cities: London, New York, Hong Kong, Beijing, Johannesburg. Think of their amazing landmarks. For a moment, consider the great movies of the west, the Fortune 100 companies, and the national parliaments. Think of them as relying on God’s revelation. Imagine them operating on biblical principles. Envision them living out of the Christian view of Creation, Fall, and Redemption. This is what our world should look like. And that is what we would get when our world recovers the authority of God and the rule of his word, the Bible.
Nigeria is a very religious nation. With an almost equal distribution between the two major religions of Islam and Christianity, it is one of the few countries where the major religions have an almost equal number of adherents. According to the Pew Research Center, Christianity and Islam claim the allegiance of 49.3% and 48.8% of the population respectively1. The CIA World Factbook, however, puts the ratio at 40 and 50 percentage points respectively2.
With such a religious, God-affirming, revelation-dependent population, it is often puzzling to outsiders and alarming to observant insiders how she could have earned such a reputation for corruption, fraud, human rights abuses, and now terrorism. How could she have so many poor people when she has been blessed with so much wealth in the hands of elites, many of whom are religious? How could you have so much evil in a nation so religious?
The proposal in some quarters has been to eliminate or reduce the influence of religion altogether. This view is not unique to Nigeria. Western writers from Voltaire to Karl Marx to Christopher Hitchens have argued against religion, particularly Christianity, claiming it destroys the good in humanity and poisons human freedom. They assert it has been a force not for good but for evil. They claim that it stifles our innovation and creativity, promotes discord in society, and generally impoverishes humanity. In the case of Nigeria, we could point to the several ethno-religious crises which have sprung up over the years in different parts of the country, especially in the North; detestable crimes and abuses involving religious leaders; exploitation of the poor on religious pretexts; the ostentatious lifestyles of some religious leaders; and the general disharmony between leaders and organizations on both sides of the religious divide. Religion, it would be argued, has not profited Nigeria. Our constitution seeks to minimize the perceived disintegrating influence of religion by prohibiting political parties based on religion. Our schools generally avoid teaching from a religious perspective (though they maintain the teaching of religion as a subject). Our workplaces operate on putatively neutral policies which discourage appeals to religion or religious belief. In short, we seek to minimize the supposed corrosive effect of religion by ‘privatizing’ it.
This approach is unhelpful: it is both wrong and false. It is wrong because it prevents a person from being fully herself, and false because it simply doesn’t work. Religions are worldviews; they colour and influence every aspect of a person’s life. So it is futile to profess a religion and not expect it to affect areas like Politics, Education, or Work. Like smoke, religious beliefs must surely seep out to shape practical life for good or ill.
Religion is basically a person’s ultimate commitment. To whom or what do you hold allegiance? What is that thing or being you depend on as your utmost authority? That, in essence, is your religion. Secularism is not a substitute for religion; it is an alternative among religions. Whereas other religions offer worship to God or some deity, secularism places humanity or human reason on the altar. Far from being a way to minimize religion, it merely offers a different kind of religion.
Nigeria isn’t corrupt because she is religious; she is corrupt because she has a false religion. We worship a pantheon of gods, including the trio of Money, Power, and Fame. And this actual religion is practiced under the guise of the major ones. I was privileged to be at the inaugural service of the City Church, Lagos a week ago where my friend Femi Osunnuyi, the Lead Pastor, pointed this out. In describing how he came to plant the church in Lagos, he narrated how he was also confronted with this basic dualism in Nigerian society. So much religion, yet so much ungodliness. And he came to realize that the problem is that we have not really grasped or understood the Gospel. While a lot of people enter into Christianity by believing the Gospel, they sort of abandon it as a truth to shape how they live. And they go on living according to the dominant worldview in the society. The Gospel is Christianity, and when we lose the Gospel we virtually adopt another religion. And the consequence of that loss is all too obvious.
In the words of A.W. Tozer, “The Gospel not only furnishes transforming power to remold the human heart; it provides also a model after which the new life is to be fashioned, and that model is Christ Himself. Christ is God acting like God in the lowly raiments of human flesh. Yet He is also man; so He becomes the perfect model after which redeemed human nature is to be fashioned.”
The Gospel is the story of divine redemption. It is God offering himself for our sins and defeating death through Christ’s resurrection. This victory of God over all things is at the centre of the Christian story. It is a story that abases human pride while directing him to look beyond himself and live for the good of others. How? By following the example of his Saviour. If humanity’s saviour was none other than the eternal God taking up human nature in order to bear the misery of his creatures and heal them, how can anyone live differently?
The Gospel kills human pride, stifles greed, promotes love, encourages chastity, inspires diligence, and fosters true unity. The Gospel reveals our weakness but displays God’s profound strength. It shows our corrupt hearts but points us to the true solution. The Gospel goes behind the human facade and artistry, striking at the root of our social problems. When we recover the Gospel as both a power to transform lives and a principle to live by, we uncover the power of God to renew our society.
The Gospel will heal our political system by pointing officials to a Jesus who came to serve and not be served. It will turn around our educational system through the influence of a Jewish rabbi who poured himself into the lives of twelve ordinary men and shaped them into ambassadors of a heavenly kingdom. The Gospel is the bedrock of human rights because it reveals a God who cared enough for the weak and helpless to heal them and die for them. The Gospel is a display of divine justice in harmony with divine mercy; it is a lesson for our justice and legal system. The Gospel reveals the profound love of God which does not destroy in the name of religion but restores and redeems through grace. The Gospel condemns arrogance for it tells us the King of glory left his throne and came to die for us. The Gospel subdues empty boasting and displays of power for it proclaims that the crucified Jesus is the reigning Lord over every nation.
If we desire to transform Nigeria, let’s give her a lot of religion – let’s give her the Gospel.