Omotayo FAKINLEDE, BAHM Church, Surulere, Lagos, October 26, 2012.
“Today you are being baptized as a Christian. The ancient words of the Christian proclamation will be uttered over you, and the command of Jesus to baptize will be performed over you, without your knowing anything about it. But we too are being driven back to first principles. Atonement and redemption, regeneration, the Holy Ghost, the love of our enemies, the cross and resurrection, life in Christ and Christian discipleship~ all these things have become so problematic and so remote that we hardly dare any more to speak of them … During these years the Church has fought for self-preservation as though it were an end in itself, and has thereby lost its chance to speak a word of reconciliation to mankind and the world at large.” “a piety that is noisy and loquacious” Bonhoeffer
The tragedy of wasted religious activity. “The familiar phrase, the religious tone, the emotionally loaded words have their superficial and temporary effect, but the worshiper is no nearer to God, no better morally and no surer of heaven than he was before … Back of this tragic waste there is usually one of three causes: The Christian is either ignorant of the Scriptures, unbelieving or disobedient. I think most Christians are simply uninstructed. They may have been talked into the kingdom when they were only half ready. … convert … told that he had but to take Jesus as his personal Savior and all would be well. Possibly some counselor may have added that he now had eternal life and would most surely go to heaven when he died, if indeed the Lord does not return and carry him away in triumph before the unpleasant moment of death arrives. … After that first hurried entrance into the kingdom there is usually not much more said. The new convert finds himself with a hammer and a saw and no blueprint. He has not the remotest notion what he is supposed to build, so he settles down to the dull routine of polishing his tools once each Sunday and putting them back in their box.” Tozer
“Through Him we have received grace and apostleship for obedience to the faith among all nations for His name, …” Rom 1:5
“According to the Apostles’s teaching, no-one really can be regarded as having believed the gospel who has not repented and turned from a life of sin to a life of obedience to God in Christ Jesus. ’Believe the Gospel’, he says ‘the obedience of faith’. Faith is always an obedience. I am not talking about the works to follow all this. I say again, the very process of becoming a Christian is this ‘Obedience of faith’. Because I believe this, and as I believe it, I turn away from sin and I turn to God with grateful thanks, because of what Christ Jesus has done for me. The Apostle tells us that he has received grace and apostleship in order to call people to this obedience of faith.” DM Lloyd Jones
In preparing to deliver this message, I had a good reason to read the preface to all the Epistles of the New Testament. I draw the following summary:
These introductions by the various Apostolic writers answer questions such as Who was writing? To whom was he writing? What was the purpose of writing? And to what end was the Epistle intended? Furthermore, it went on to tell what was expected of the readers as a result of reading the Epistle. Notable exceptions to these are the Epistle to the Hebrews and 1st general Epistle of John. It appears here that the Apostles dove into the subject matter with no introduction. When we look at these prefaces, what do we find? “Paul a prisoner of Jesus Christ, Peter A Slave of God, John, the Elder, etc.” These answer Who wrote. “To the Saints at …, The Elect and Faithful brothers and sisters …” These are the recipients. “The Gospel of the Lord Jesus …” was the topic.
Notice that I am only talking here about the first five or so verses in each Epistle. These are facts you can get simply from these introductory verses even without reading the Epistles themselves!
My first quote came from a Pastor, a Teacher and a Martyr who lived in difficult times. In fact, the passage here had to do with the baptism of his nephew, named after him, whose program he could not attend due to imprisonment that later resulted in his hanging by Hitler in 1945. I speaking, as it were, to a little infant, he reached down into the depths of our faith: Its first principles. What are these? “Atonement and redemption, regeneration, the Holy Ghost, the love of our enemies, the cross and resurrection, life in Christ and Christian discipleship”. In his days of incarceration, Dietrich complained that these things are no longer being given sufficient airtime! Other things were deemed more important. He conclude this excerpt by the damning evaluation of the Church of his time in the following words: “During these years the Church has fought for self-preservation as though it were an end in itself, and has thereby lost its chance to speak a word of reconciliation to mankind and the world at large!”
That was from a man living and dying in a terrible war. My second quote also came from another Pastor who lived in peaceful and prosperous times in America. The title of his article, from which I quote, is itself illuminating: “The tragedy of wasted religious activity”. A quotable author any day: It was he that once said that some people’s religion is such a watery solution to the extent that if it were poison, it would not kill anyone; if it were medicine, it would not cure anyone! Here he diagnosed the cause of the waste in religious activity to be ignorance, unbelief and disobedience.
The Gospel & Its Purpose
In the Introduction to the first Epistle, the Paul said that he received “grace and apostleship for obedience to the faith among all nations”. The Church itself exists to a reconciliation premised on the atonement, regeneration resulting from the propitiation and redemption as a consequence. Bonhoeffer, with deep thoughts in a prison cell said a Church that seeks its self survival as an end cannot do this! It is incapable of carrying out God’s instructions!
“To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation” 2 Cor 15.19 Bonhoeffer says we cannot do it. Tozer says that, instead, we are often into the futility of religious activities that are ineffectual. “Unquestionably there is not another institution in the world that talks as much and does as little as the church. Any factory that required as much raw material for so small a finished product would go bankrupt in six months.”
The Guild & Its Challenge
When you look at its mandate and authority, the Guild resembles to me, in new-Testament language “Rulers of the Synagogue”. Thankfully, the church selected a more redeeming name: the Guild of Stewards. “And in a steward, it is required that a man be found faithful” ! Cor 4:2. That faithfulness requires two things: World regarding and self regarding. The Church – represented by the stewards, must know that there is a clear role for the church in its local environment in the world. It must know that, not from the present religious talk but from the scriptures. It must know the preparation is has had to fill that role. It mjust be determined to not only think about it, but to do it.
Matt 21:29-30 “ ‘I will not,’ he answered, but later he changed his mind and went. And he went to the other son and said the same. And he answered, ‘I go, sir,’ but did not go.” The Lord asked the Pharisees which one obeyed the father? The problem of doing appears to lie in the understanding. O, if I fully understand my role, I would fulfill it. True? That is why a book titled “How to have a successful marriage will sell quickly. It will sell because we assume that once we understand, we will do! Two renowned Atheists were talking. One said, I hate the Bible because it says so many things that are difficult to understand. His fellow replied him : The parts of the Bible I don’t like are the ones that I understand such as Love your enemies and he that has two coats should give to him that has none!
We have another gem from Dietrich in prison. “We have learnt a bit too late in the day that action springs not from thought, but from a readiness for responsibility.” and “Not everyone that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the Will of my Father which is in heaven” (Matthew 7.21) It is our sense of readiness and responsibility rather than mere knowing and understanding.
Faithfulness: God’s and Ours
The Central theme by the Church is “Great is Thy faithfulness”. The faithfulness of God. If I ask, What about our own faithfulness? Most will discount that even some may go as far as saying that it is not relevant. God’s faithfulness is all that matters. After all, compared to God, all our righteousness is like filthy rags compared to His! And the same goes for faithfulness.
This very religious argument is unfortunately in error. If we take a careful look, it may even account for our weakness and failure. It may actually be part of the unbelief that Tozer was talking about. Before I attempt a proof to support my argument here, let me draw attention to a practice the s=church should be aware of:
Watch the behavior of people at work and at Church: I teach at the University so I will use a familiar example which you can extend to your own daily experience. When there is a lecture, due to scarcity of space and the fact that everyone wants to hear the teacher, students rush for the front row seats. Now take the same students to the chapel for a prayer meeting. You start begging people to move forward! Why is this so?
Must Jesus bear the cross alone, and the world go free?
No there is a cross for everyone, there’s a cross for me.
We need to trust God for His faithfulness. That is our theme and our song! God also needs to trust us for our faithfulness. We should not be too humble about this especially if humility will cause us to set the bar and expectations of ourselves too low. How do we want to glorify Christ? By being stupendously wealthy so the world may know our God is not poor. By being in perpetual health and free from all the problems our other fellow travellers have? By being beyond tribulations and trials? “A ship is safe at the harbor, but that is NOT what ships are built for!” If I am a Lawyer, I will not think it is too much to be introduced as a SAN. Here I am being given the honour of a Professor! That is OK. What about the things of eternal consequences? O, in that, I am willing to be mediocre and a baby all my life! That is wrong, Very wrong. look at the Apostolic example:
Paul was able to tell, how much of the world’s great achievements he lacked: Did not drive a jeep or lived in a duplex an Lekki Phase 2. In fact, he was able to say “Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth.” I Cor 1:26. “ have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked.” 2Cor 11:27 and in 2 Cor 6.4 … “ but in everything commending ourselves as [a]servants of God, in much endurance, in afflictions, in hardships, in distresses, 5 in beatings, in imprisonments, in tumults, in labors, in sleeplessness, in hunger, 6 in purity, in knowledge, in patience, in kindness, in the Holy Spirit, in genuine love, 7 in the word of truth, in the power of God; by the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and the left, 8 by glory and dishonor, by evil report and good report; regarded as deceivers and yet true; 9 as unknown [b]yet well-known, as dying[c]yet behold, we live; as [d]punished [e]yet not put to death, 10 as sorrowful yet always rejoicing, as poor yet making many rich, as having nothing [f]yet possessing all things.”
When it comes to achievements in this world, the Apostle minimizes that and readily says he lacked in many ways including necessary food. Now look again at the same Apostle when it comes to faithful service in the house of God: “But by the grace of God I am what I am: and his grace which was bestowed upon me was not in vain; but I laboured more abundantly than they all: yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me” I Cor 15:10. “By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as an expert builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should be careful how he builds.”1Cor 3:10 “For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds”2Cor 10:4
What we see here is that, there are some things that the Apostle was not ready to be humble about! He was not just a builder in the house of God, He was a “wise, master builder”! He was an expert! He was faithful! He was not able to say only God can do it. “I can do all things”!
Phillipians 4:13. Paul, are you not being proud”? “I can do all things”! Paul stop boasting”! “I can do all things through Christ that strengthens me!” O, I did not know there were two of you there!
“I, as a wise, knowledgeable and effective steward in the house of the Lord.” Can you say that? If you cannot, don’t force it! Don’t fake it either. But let that be the aim! Paul received grace and apostleship to call the Nations to the obedience of faith. He was steadfast and faithful till he became “a wise master builder”! It is the same God we are serving. He was faithful at Paul’s difficult times. Is he still there today?
“He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” Micah 6:8
“May your life and death supply
Grace to live and grace to die
Grace to reach our home on high
Hear us holy Jesus”