A Cause for the Nigerian Church

claire-anderson-60670

A God of Justice

God is righteous and just in himself and he desires justice in his creatures. His divine righteousness is thus the basis and obligation for human justice.

When we say that God is just, it means that ‘God always acts in accordance with what is right and is himself the final standard of what is right’. According to the late Dutch-American theologian Louis Berkhof, “Justice manifests itself especially in giving every man his due, in treating him according to his deserts.” This is what God does, and he does so because that is what he is. In other words, God acts justly because he is just.

In Deut. 32:4, Moses declared concerning God that, “All his ways are justice. A God of truth and without injustice. Righteous and upright is he.” Abraham also appealed to this attribute of God when he asked rhetorically: “Shall not the judge of all the earth do right?” (Gen. 18:25)

A God for Justice

Justice is dear to the heart of God. Several Bible passages bear this out:

“Woe to those who decree iniquitous decrees, and the writers who keep writing oppression, to turn aside the needy from justice and to rob the poor of my people of their right, that widows may be their spoil, and that they may make the fatherless their prey!” (Isa. 10:1-2)

“Woe to those who devise wickedness and work evil on their beds! When the morning dawns, they perform it, because it is in the power of their hand. They covet fields and seize them, and houses, and take them away; they oppress a man and his house, a man and his inheritance.” (Mic. 2:1-2)

“Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne; steadfast love and faithfulness go before you.” (Psalm 89:14)

In Psalm 82, God notably declares his anger against rulers who pervert justice.

The psalmist begins by painting a scenario whereby God sits in council with the leaders of the earth and rebukes them. Why? For judging unjustly and being partial to the wicked. Then comes the instruction to

Give justice to the weak and the fatherless; maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute. (v.3)

He wraps up the meeting with a stinging rebuke of these princes in that much-twisted passage:

‘I said, “You are gods,

sons of the Most High, all of you;

nevertheless, like men you shall die,

and fall like any prince” ‘ (vv. 6-7)

The psalm comes to an end with an appeal to God for global justice, for all nations are his inheritance.

The prophet Jeremiah was also keenly aware of the contrast between God’s just character and the ungodliness in his society, and in 12:1-4, he called on God to act.

‘Righteous are you, O Lord,
    when I complain to you;
    yet I would plead my case before you.
Why does the way of the wicked prosper?
    Why do all who are treacherous thrive?
 You plant them, and they take root;
    they grow and produce fruit;
you are near in their mouth
    and far from their heart.
But you, O Lord, know me;
    you see me, and test my heart toward you.
Pull them out like sheep for the slaughter,
    and set them apart for the day of slaughter.
 How long will the land mourn
    and the grass of every field wither?
For the evil of those who dwell in it
    the beasts and the birds are swept away,
    because they said, “He will not see our latter end.”’

A People for Justice

The church is the body of Christ, his arms and legs, continuing his work on earth. We are the light of the world, God’s elect and chosen people. Our lives should reflect the heart of our Father. Where, as we have seen, his heart beats for justice, his people cannot be indifferent.

Jesus also makes care and concern for the suffering a criterion for judgment on the last day. The King will assess how we have treated the stranger, the hungry, the sick and the prisoner while we were on earth (Matt.25:31-46).

The Nigerian Situation

Our own society requires the church to fight for justice. For anyone who has lived within or studied it for a while, Nigeria is a society in dire need of reform. Consider just one instance: our prisons.

We have overcrowded prisons and it is heartbreaking to learn that a huge percentage of inmates are yet to even go on trial! According to the World Prison Brief, we have 63, 142 prisoners in our prisons. Out of this total, 71.7%  (45, 263) are awaiting trial or remanded. With an official capacity of 50, 153, our prisons have an occupancy level of 125.9%*.

Besides the appalling state of our prisons, we hear of repeated battery and harassment by members of the police force. Many are reluctant to report crimes to the police because they can end up being either branded as criminals or forced to part with money before their complaint is addressed.

What can the Church do?

As God’s community in the nation, what can believers do?

First, we should repent of our failures to take justice seriously as the church. In many respects, we have closed our eyes to the sufferings of the poor and the mistreatment of the weak.

Then we should pray for God’s justice to be restored in our land.

Next, we can petition parastatals and organizations that are noted for injustice and oppression. How about a signed petition from diverse Christian leaders urging the Nigerian Police Force to address abuses by its officers? Can we call on the Nigerian Prison Service to urgently address the plight of prisoners?

What about peaceful protests? We can organize peaceful demonstrations to call our government to tackle specific instances or areas of injustice. And we would do this in the name of Christ, who is the Judge of all the earth.

We should preach sermons which expound biblically the theme of Justice: both its nature as a divine attribute and our obligation to practice justice. Instead of messages which proclaim our comfort and prosperity, we need sermons which arouse our concern for the needs of others besides ourselves. And these sermons must be specific, highlighting how we often practice injustice to our employees, spouses, children, and neighbours.

In our individual spheres, let us cultivate fairness and justice. Are you in charge of a department or unit? live above board. Are you a parent? Avoid favouritism among your children. Are you a government employee? Be diligent and faithful. Do you run a business? Offer excellent service to both your employees and customers (in that order). Do you work in the Police or the Armed forces, I will repeat to you what John the Baptist said to the Roman soldiers in his day: “Be content with your wages”. Do you have the poor and needy around you (we all do)? Help them.

We must bear in mind the instruction of the apostle James:

Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world. (Jam. 1:27)

It is not enough to keep ourselves unstained from the world; we must also remember  widows and orphans.


*World Prison Brief, Institute for Criminal Policy Research. Figures are as at end of March 2016.

 

An American Dream, a Nigerian Lesson

martin-luther-king-3

Several years ago, Martin Luther King stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. He stood there not to preach nor to campaign, but to share a dream – a dream inspired by the belief that all men are created in God’s image and are therefore equal. His thought and civil action were clearly driven by his belief in the truth about humanity as revealed in the gospel.

Martin Luther King is an inspiration for a different but related challenge in our own society.

Nigeria may not have a challenge of racial injustice, but she does have a problem of ethnic intolerance. Like most countries in Africa, she is blessed with a racial homogeneity. However, the uniformity in race is more than offset by a diversity in tribal groups. According to the CIA World Factbook, she has more than 250 different ethnic groups. Over the decades, ethnic conflicts have sprung up in locations as far apart as Lagos and Kano. While the discord flares up from time to time in actual conflict, the disharmony is normally of a much more subtle nature. A remark, a look, a sneer – are some of the expressions which reveal our dislike of the other tribe. But also there is the discrimination in organizations, there is the coldness toward a neighbour from another tribe, and there is the outright distrust of some groups from the northern part of the country.

Just as the Gospel provides a stimulus for abolishing racial prejudice, it also gives a basis for seeking ethnic harmony. We may not all be excited about our 103-year-old Nigeria project. Some of us might still harbour a longing for a Biafra or some other autonomous region. Regardless of our hope or desire, the existence of Nigeria as a multiethnic nation is a present reality. Different peoples have been brought together to comprise one nation. Perhaps wrongly or imperfectly, the union has been several decades in the making. It is certain that this union was not brought about because the colonial masters wanted to realize the promise of the gospel. They did it to make the administration of this vast territory easier. But what began as probably a wrongheaded venture could be an avenue for the Gospel to be displayed in its grandeur.

Political force and legislation has not succeeded, and cannot succeed, in creating ethnic harmony; only the Gospel can bring this about. Why? Because ethnic sentiments are deeply rooted. As long as our identity lies in our ethnicity, we will always view those of other tribes with suspicion and we will regard them as inferior to ourselves. The Gospel, however, subverts this tendency by altering the basis of our identity. For the Gospel unites ethnic groups and tribes by proclaiming that they all have the same God and a common Saviour. Our ultimate identity does not lie in us being Hausa, Edo, or Gwari. It lies in us being humans created by a personal God who also redeems us through Jesus. And this same Gospel encourages us to look forward to a point in the future, at the end of this present age and the return of Christ, when the scene below shall be a reality:

‘After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands,  and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”’ (Rev. 7:9,10)

May Nigeria (along with other African countries), under the influence of the Gospel, be a little picture of this.


 

Nigeria needs more religion, not less

statue-overlooking-national-theatre

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.


  1. The Future of World Religions: Population Growth Projections, 2010-2050
  2. https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/fields/2122.html

The Church and Culture

Louvre Pyramid

“Culture covers the whole range of human society.” 

Brian J. Walsh

The relationship between the church and human culture is one of neither total acceptance nor pure rejection. Every culture, on account of our creation in God’s image, has some elements of truth, goodness, and beauty within it, which the Christian should not despise. Nevertheless, no culture is so preserved as not to be fallen and corrupted with the rest of humanity. The church needs to be discriminating, examining every cultural artifact, style, art form, or product in light of God’s revealed word.

Culture is a broad term. It encompasses all that we do as humans in developing God’s creation. When we design and build furniture out of wood, glass, or steel; when we compose music, write plays, or produce engrossing movies; when we set up institutions for promoting literacy and education, we are building culture. Fallen human nature, however, implies that our products as cultural beings will be tainted with sin. Our music may be brilliant while the lyrics extol pride and vanity. Our noble  effort to establish a political group might be tainted by a lust for power. And even a commercial business, which clearly serves an important need in society, could be managed by ambitious leaders who abuse and humiliate their subordinates.

So culture, while a God-given privilege and task, often bears the marks of humanity’s fallen nature. This is why discernment becomes necessary. We cannot abandon all cultural pursuits as evil, neither can we naively embrace all ideas as legitimate. Truth, goodness, and beauty must still remain our objective in assessing every form of culture.

Bringing this home, the church in Nigeria must be culturally discerning. Too often, we adopt either one posture or the other. Music, products, institutions, ideas, are generated across the diverse cultures of Nigeria. Embrace them as neutral? No. Reject them as worldly activities which do not befit the saint? Not at all. Culture must be assessed in light of God’s word. Does this song’s lyrics express truth or promote a lie? Is this institution in line with God’s design for human society? As the light of the world, we have a responsibility to pronounce on our society’s cultural pursuits. But we cannot stop there. We will also work to produce cultural products that bear the evidence of Christ’s redemption. Businesses in which managers demonstrate servant leadership, music which delight the ears and inspire the spirit, products which display excellent craftsmanship, and institutions which selflessly champion the public good. In this way, we would not only be dispelling the darkness, but we would also be giving light.

Nigeria is not Jerusalem

I often hear Christian individuals and preachers read scriptural prophecies about Israel or the Church (e.g. Isaiah 62) and apply them to Nigeria, as though Nigeria is God’s covenant people. ThisNigerian map in colours is a misapplication of scripture and it obscures its message. While it is proper to pray for our country, it is mistaken to assume that God has a redemptive covenant with the Nigerian nation as such. No. His programme is to build his Church, by drawing all nations to become his disciples (Matt. 28:19,20). And this Church will cut across every nation on earth.

Seeing Nigeria as God’s elect people or ‘our’ Zion or ‘our’ Jerusalem is theological confusion. His promises for the church will only apply to believers ‘in’ Nigeria. We should rather seek the conversion of our nation such that her people become true members of Christ’s family, and then they will partake of God’s promises. To apply God’s word otherwise is to turn it upside-down.

Nigeria will truly prosper only as she (the people and the nation) submit to Jesus as both Saviour and Lord, living faithfully by his commands.

The First Task of the Nigerian Church

The first task of the Church in Nigeria is not to advocate for human rights, cry out against corruption, or jostle for an audience in the media. Our principal task is to develop and articulate  a Christian worldview.

For the past several decades, we have done all the above and we are still doing them. For instance, my church still prays every week for the release of the Chibok girls who were abducted over a year ago in the Northern state of Borno. These are necessary. However, if we do not self-consciously craft a Christian outlook on life, we would be furthering Satan’s kingdom by living within a humanist worldview. Worldliness does not primarily mean listening to godless music or wearing skimpy dresses or enjoying sinful pleasures; it basically means thinking and living like the godless world.Nigerian-cathedral-800x500

In recent years, there has been a renewed interest in what the Bible teaches in a particular area, such as Business or the Family. Thus we have so many ‘Biblical Principles’ for this and for that. However, what we have largely done is to graft Biblical ideas and concepts unto a fundamentally secular  perspective or orientation about that area.  We seldom question the basic assumptions controlling that aspect of life or knowledge. So we end up grafting the stems of Scripture unto a Secular-Humanist tree. We need to go further. We need to plant a different tree.

A Worldview is a basic understanding of reality which guides how a person and community understands and lives in the world. It is basic in that it controls everything else. A secular worldview never glorifies God, for it looks at life as though God isn’t involved and His word doesn’t exist. Working within such a framework is itself rebellion against God (Genesis 1:1; Exodus 20: 1-3).

Therefore, as we commence the new year, the Church needs to get clear on what the story of the world (the worldview) is according to the Bible. And we would derive it by asking the following basic questions:

    1. What does the Bible teach about the origin of the universe?
    2. What does it teach about Man?
    3. What is really wrong with the world ( not what the UN, WHO, the American or Nigerian media claims)?
    4. And what is the true solution?

The answers to these questions would give us a coherent understanding of reality as provided by God himself. Then we would work within this framework to challenge the alternative story provided by our society, and proclaim the true answers to the true problem that our nation and our world face.

Growing up in Kano

Night lights


“Teach us to number our days” (Psalm 90:12)

I spent my early childhood in the Northern Nigerian city of Kano (sadly, I didn’t learn more than a few Hausa words and phrases!). It was an interesting place. Memories of walking in the neighbourhood, with the dry breeze blowing in my face, still pop up in my head. I would play football with my elder brothers (I have 3 of them), then we would go upstairs to watch TV. In those days, programming started at 4 pm, and there were just two stations, both of which were state owned: NTA (owned by the Federal Government) and the Kano State-owned CTV. There was much music, games, and movies. There were educational shows like debates and quizzes, too, but I preferred cartoons. Voltron, Tom & Jerry, Mickey Mouse, etc.  Then there were the Indian movies, with their enchanting songs. I learnt to sing or hum so many of them; they were quite popular among the Hausas.

School was nearby, so we normally walked there. I can’t recall whether we had a school bus. Anyway, I never needed one. We took breakfast at home then strolled to school. Mummy would give us a little sum of money (around 50 kobo, which was a lot for a small boy then) to buy something at break time. I was blessed with a caring mother who was so eager to see we were well taken care of. One hilarious breakfast incident often comes back to my mind. Tea was a regular in my home. Daddy would take Lipton tea (he hardly missed it), and we would be given Bournvita, Pronto, or Ovaltine (I started taking Milo much later). On this fateful morning, we were all seated for breakfast at the table, ready to consume our meal and head for school.  As usual, our tea had been prepared by Mummy and we began to gulp it. There was a sudden jolt in me as  my taste buds communicated with my brain that my tea was tasting different.  I had the same reaction from my brothers. Instead of the sweet, exciting taste of sugar which every schoolboy is familiar with, we sensed the sharp, unwelcome flavour of table salt. Then we realized that a mistake had been made: our tea had been seasoned with salt rather than sugar! We left for school, as it were, without our customary cup of tea.

I thank God for my childhood. I believe I am blessed to have grown up among such parents and siblings. The experience of growing up in such an environment is also priceless. Kano had this feel of calm and quiet contentment. The pace of life was relaxed and unhurried. It was generally hot during the day, but nights were cooler. And the harmattan season was always a delight for me. Yes, it was dry, and yes, you had to apply Vaseline on every part of your body (the lips included), but I loved the cold. For me, it was a welcome contrast to the regular daytime heat and sweatiness.

I still have pleasant memories of going out with Daddy in the evening, when he returned from work. Sometimes it was to get a haircut, and at other times just to get some things for the home. Night time in Kano was beautiful. The lights dotting the neighbourhood, the cool evening breeze, the smooth and uncongested highways, and the delicious taste of Suya which we sometimes bought either at the Kano Club or from a roadside vendor

Those years are gone, never to return. But the memories remain; a blessing for which to always thank God. I didn’t know Christ then, but now I know He had his plans for me.