WITNESSING TO CHRIST IN AN E-AGE: The Vigilance of the Pastor

Being A Paper Presented At the Ministers’ Prayer  Retreat Organized By Christian Association Of Nigeria (CAN), Ebonyi State Chapter, this day, Friday July 5, 2013 at Assemblies of God Church, no. 4 Ezza Road, Abakaliki

By Fr. Felix-Uche Akam


1.0          Introduction

More than ever, Nigerians live in a world that is not just sexually charged, politically tensed, criminally attractive but religiously confused. We live in a country where money determines virtually everything we do- the air we breathe, the education we get, and perhaps the life partners we choose. Nigeria’s map is littered with debris of failed policies, violent secessions, interminable wars, interminable rows of wandering refugees, endemic diseases, endemic poverty, hopeless debt burdens, ugly slums, massive unemployment of youths, desperate recourse to religion and magic and above all the absence of hope on the horizon.[1]  Nigeria lacks role models. And the church ministers called to guard public conscience are faring no better. If the leaders are bad, the followers are often worse.


In his book, Money, Sex, and Power, Richard Foster wrote: “The crying need today is for the people of faith to live faithfully. This is true in all spheres of human existence, but is particularly true with reference to money, sex, and power. No issues touch us more profoundly or more universally. No themes are more inseparably intertwined. No topics cause more controversy. No human realities have greater power to bless or to curse. No three things have been more sought after or are more in need of a Christian response”[2] We only need to look back between AD 33 and 2013 to understand that church ministers are guilty as the faithful in the abuse of power, money and sex.



2.1          Men of God and the Struggle For Power

Let me begin with power. Power is like a bottle of cold whisky: you take the first sip and enjoy it, you move for the second and the bottle is empty but you are drunk and you want some more. Power if not well used becomes an outgrowth of human pride and greed.[3] Leadership is itself like an exclusive power club which one gets into and becomes more or less immune to accountability, openness, ethics and heir to privileges. When schism happened to the church, it was doctrinally motivated. That does not hold again. Power tends to divide church in Nigeria more than doctrines. There is intra-denominational and interdenominational power tussle in the church. The tussle of power seen in CAN during change of baton summarizes ministers’ ambition for power.


2.2          Men of God and Quest for Money

If an entrepreneur is he who offers what people need at his/her own gain, what is said of directors of industries can be said of men of God on Nigerian streets. We love money. The failure of institutions of governance has made it difficult for normal business to thrive. Three industries exist in Nigeria today- politics, worship and crime. Any Nigerian who cannot fit into the three is destined to go hungry. Men of God have made God accomplice in their crimes, exploiting the psychological vulnerability of economically crucified people to their advantage.


If church were to be a product, Nigeria is a leading world producer; and all of here are the chief executives. The church has gone into the hands of capitalists. And when private investors enter any sector, the results are obvious- there is a competition as every investor aims to woo customers and maximize profit. According to The World Christian Encyclopedia, with Nigeria leading, the number of Evangelical Christians in Africa has grown from 17 million in 1970 to over 400million in 2012. The damage this has done to the innocent and orthodox churches is obvious. But more pronounced is the collateral damage it has done to gospel of Christ and Christian spirituality at large.


If God is patented in Nigeria, the royalties that will accrue from it would be more than that coming from oil and the rest combined. Like Israelites, Nigerians are religious people. We see God in every misfortune and fortune. God intermingles in our affairs and determines what happens there in. If you want a Nigerian to take you seriously, swear by God’s name. The success of commercializing the gospel in Nigeria draws strength from economic woes and the gullibility of Nigerians generally. There is no limit to what an economically crucified man can do to secure his liberation. Men of God have used religion a deceptive tool to sell Christ at a give-away, at a discount to unsuspecting poor faithful. To enrich ourselves we dilute gospel message, we convert economic problem to spiritual attack and turn around to falsely fix it on imagined enemy. In the process we sow seeds of suspicion and hatred among brethren and allow them to fight one another.


One of the tests of true religion is continuity of doctrine. In Jewish religion, God gave law to Moses; Moses passed it to Joshua; Joshua transmitted it to the elders; and the elders passed it to the prophets. The law and the prophets formed the foundation of Jewish faith. The Law, otherwise called the Ten Commandments teaches two principles: reverence to God and respect to man. These principles were elucidated and reinterpreted in each social context by the prophets. In Matt 5: 17-20 Jesus affirmed the Jewish root of the kingdom he came to inaugurate. He declared publicly that rather than break the Law and the Prophets He had come to fulfill them.


As the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy of a Messiah who would bring good tidings to the poor (Lk.4:18-19), Jesus truly identified with the poor, the oppressed and the powerless. Yet, He never allowed socio-economic liberation to take the place of worship. He never turned pulpit into platform nor converted the gospel into a national anthem. Rather, Jesus encouraged His disciples to give to Caesar what is Caesar’s. He insisted before Pilate and in Gethsemane that His kingdom was not of this world. He welcomed suffering and was crucified by the political power of Rome. He outlined among others, deprivation of materialism as the cost of discipleship and predicted hard times that would greet those who will believe in him. True to His prediction, His great apostles and disciples were martyred and the nascent church that sprang from the Pentecost went underground in her first three centuries and was called the church of the catacombs. In this sense true Christianity was permanently tied to the cross.


As ministers of God, we have been given this truth. And when you are given a truth you witness to it. Unfortunately, we have conspired to rob Christianity of an essential ingredient which is the cross. We proclaim Christ of Easter Sunday and forget Jesus of Good Friday. The gospel message oozing out from our pulpits to the waiting faithful is doctrinally ridiculous, most at times promising only that which God can give.  History disproves commercialization of the Gospel. Confronted with economic constraints in the past, the church once sold salvation under the guise of indulgence to the highest bidder. Though, it gave few privileges but such could not compensate for the immense harm it caused the church as an institution and the course of Christianity at large. In the French revolution, the church was lumped together and thrown away with the oppressive structure known as the ancient regime because it shied away from the truth and dinned with the haves.


We have taught politicians to use God’s name to oppress citizens and protect narrow interest. For instance, when a local journalist cornered former President Obasanjo in Lagos and asked for his reaction to the much publicized probes into allegations of irregular public spending during his tenure. His response was rather curious: “Anything you don’t have or you cannot get-leave it to God.” It was easy for him to say, after all, the former chaplain of the presidential villa, Professor Yusuf Obaje once made sensational comment in local tabloid that Nigeria’s 1993 presidential elections widely acknowledged to have been won by Chief M. K. O Abiola but annulled by the military leadership was “an election annulled by God.”


Former military president Ibrahim Babangida was able to hold on to power from 1985-1993 because he intermittently swore by God to hand over power to a democratically elected government. Many believed him because the name of God accompanied such oral covenant. Once asked whether he would hand over the reigns of power to a democratically elected government, General Sani Abacha said: “God will decide”. The families of the fallen, heroic soldiers who died trying to bring peace to Sierra Leone and Liberia were counseled to take solace in God after a paltry sum of money was paid as compensation. When the popular politician Funsho Williams was gunned in the build up to 2007 elections, his family was consoled with a promise that ‘God will punish the killers.’ After late president Musa Yar’Adua emerged as flag-bearer of his party, serious concerns were raised about his health, but the ruling People’s Democratic Party came with a statement that “sickness and health come from God.” Because the name of God was mentioned people went ahead to queue behind him at the polls. And when the fundamentally flawed process that brought him to power was upheld as free and fair elections by the Apex Court, he described victory as the ‘God’s own judgment.’The election victory addresses of sit-tight Nigerian governors do not fail to co-opt God in the perverted rulings upholding their elections. Not long ago, one of governors said that ‘God has been Vindicated’ in his victory at the Supreme Court. Worried by the prevalent attitude of making God an accomplice, the Catholic Bishop of Ekiti Diocese, in 2010, warned Nigerians to ‘expect God’s wrath on corrupt public officials.’


God’s name has become statecraft. When teachers protested their minimum wage three years back, they were advised by Nigeria government to go back to work as their reward will be ‘in heaven.’ The Niger Delta people have been repeatedly told to forward their case to God. Victims of Boko Harm’s insurgency have been repeatedly told to pray to God to deliver our country from its current security challenges. The gathering of Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) has been reduced to praying and fasting for a nation in dire need of God’s intervention.


We have colluded with politicians to cajole the poor to accept their deprivations as acts of God. We have domesticated God. Any business run ‘in God’s name’ is highly lucrative. The boom is on-going as many retire from professional fields to take the ‘holy trade.’ Doctors have abandoned their stethoscopes for cassocks just as well paid engineers have abandoned their calipers. We prefer the term ‘apostle’, ‘evangelist’ or ‘prophet’ to ‘doctor’ or ‘lawyer’.


We have to re-examine our call. In 2007, at Lagos, an accountant working with five-star hotel allegedly stole from his employee. He did not go shopping but rather handed over the money to a man of God under whom he served as a deacon. When arrested, he told the police officer that God told him to do so. When police went after the church, a spokesperson for the church refused to hand back the funds saying that what is given to God cannot be handed back to mere mortals. Last year in Abakaliki, a self-styled evangelist told my parishioner looking for the fruit of the womb that she would conceive but not through her husband. Because, the name of God was used, the woman was already looking ‘extra-marital-wards’ for answers before my colleague intervened to save the situation. Last two three months a man in Ebonyi killed his 78-year-old father at the order of his pastor because he was a spiritual obstacle to his destiny. Where are we going?


We confuse Christians, we accept bribe, we turn pulpits to platform; we lobby to be in big churches; we confer awards; we align with the rich and do all sorts of things because we need money. Rather divide us we should divide money as men of God.


2.3          Men of God on Delilah’s Lapse

Sex has been an age-long problem of mankind not only of men of God. To be sexual is to be human. If it were not a problem, Catholic Church would not have insisted on total celibacy for her clergy. No doubt there are often abuses here and there prompting some churches to advocate for the marriage of Roman Catholic clergy. While not joining issue with those who take Panadol for another person’s headache, I make bold to say that the behaviour of married ministers has not convinced the unmarried ones that marriage is the answer to infidelity. There is even a psychological proposal that the more wives one has the more the urge to look outside marital beds.


The ministers of God are most vulnerable for many reasons. We appear in uniforms, we are public figure and there is nothing that triggers women more than that. By our vocation, we are enemies of Satan; and our enemy is on the prowl like hungry lion hunting for someone to eat (1 Peter 5:8) and women are often his major bait to lure us to fall. The call to present this paper came to me on Wednesday June 3, 2013 at a time I was online reading a local tabloids, The Sun. Its banner headline read: Bishop Rapes a 15-year Old Girl in Port Harcourt…Sponsors Abortion’. In the story a man described as the chairman of Bishops in River State, Bishop Chibuike Nwabueze was said to have raped a 15-year-old girl and sponsored abortion of the baby. The incident was said to have occurred about 2p.m on April 29, at Calvary Army Ministry in Rumuoji Eneka, in Obio/Akpor L. G. A. of the state. The suspect allegedly admitted committing the crime but attributed it to set-up by his enemy-fellow bishop with whom he had locked horn with over the chairmanship seat of the communion of bishops. While we extend sympathy to this fallen colleague, we have to note that whether manipulation, set up or human weakness, the actions of both are not dignifying of genuine ecclesiastical office holders.



3.0          The Cost of Bearing Witness in an e- Age

Those who live in glass houses do not throw stones. The e-technology and e-freedom have for better for worst changing the vocation of witnessing at all levels. People want to know what their leaders do in the name of leadership. There are e-accountability, e-surveillance, in fact e-everything. When I was attacked in my room by armed men, journalists pressed me to know the colour of my undins, the person I was sleeping with as if priests are meant to share rooms and beds.


Public’s right to know extends to what church leaders do in the name of Christ. This right to knowledge is not just knowing why, when and how mangoes ripe; it extends to knowing the size of our genitals and what we do with them. Man now seeks to know as much as God knows. So much of the public right to know is good but there is a cost being paid in areas of leadership. Businesses now spend a vast amount of time on corporate compliance; the police now confront accusations of being ‘institutionally racist’; the army now thinks about the rights of women, HIV/AIDS carriers and homosexuals in its ranks, instead of devoting its energies to working out what it needs to fight; parliaments of world democracies can no longer trust themselves to behave ethically and are setting up ethics committees. Even the intelligence services now goes to court- and may well lose- when they seek to defend the secrecy on which their work depends.[4] And I am afraid that very soon, the would-be ministers of God may be required to present CVs and fill application forms, going against the ancient principle that no one who thinks he should be a clergy is suitable to be one.


Where once journalists waited, too differentially outside the door of great politician or prelate or soldier to favour them with bland words, today, they barge in, too arrogantly, to interrogate and arraign. The journalist, Jeremy Paxman thought it quite appropriate to ask Mr Hague of UK why nobody liked him, why he wouldn’t let his wife speak in public and similar questions which if asked of one ordinary citizen by another would earn the questioner a punch on the nose. But the conviction of the age meant that Mr. Hague had to answer with studious politeness.[5] The media freedom inclines journalists to abuse of positions. The one who brings a message soon ascertains that his role gives him power. By giving a false message, or an exaggerated one, by withholding a message or by delivering it at a great speed, by shouting it out when it should be spoken softly or by whispering it when it should be proclaimed from the housetops, he can affect events, advance or retard someone’s cause, earn money or lose it, make or break a career. The journalist knows this and unless he is a saint, he will sometimes exploit this knowledge. Sad enough, no journalist is a saint.[6]


Today, leadership conviction has declined. In the name of public probity, the media has set itself as prosecution, judge and jury without giving the accused the due process of law. In pursuit of possible iniquity, they regard almost any method of inquiry as legitimate, climbing over walls, hacking e-mails and breaking into people’s call/sms logs in the name of the public’s right to know. The News of the World’s publication of a list of the whereabouts of sex offenders with spent convictions was particularly a horrifying example.

Today, we have moved in frightening short time from an era in which some clergy got away with outrageous abuses of children because no one could question their authority to one in which any care-giver or priest lives in daily danger of having his vocation ruined by the witch-hunters of sex and child abuse. The damage done to Christianity is obvious. Perhaps less obvious but equally important is the damage done to e- children who are taught not to trust and will never trust the physical touch of a loving social worker or man of God; and who are taught to see every clergy as sexually guilty until he proves his innocence. An atmosphere of fear and suspicion prevails. Those in authority have become more pre-occupied with self-protecting procedures than with the needs of the children they serve, and power shifts to ‘fault-finders’ who were once indefensibly ignored.

4.0       The Vigilance of the Pastor

In a grand scheme of things, prudence comes before morality. Those who think they have no business with morality should be troubled by ethics of prudence. A leader’s reputation depends on prudence. And once reputation slips off a leader he becomes vulnerable. Leaders use reputation to intimidate and win. A prudent leader makes his reputation unassailable and thereby becomes ever alert to potential attacks, thwarting them before they happen. A prudent leader learns to destroy his enemies by opening holes in their own reputation. In so doing, he stands aside and let public opinion hang them.[7]


Every revolution engenders freedom, makes the cost of belief seems so cheap, and creates special difficulties for Christian witness “after the scientific revolution came the technological revolution, the industrial revolution, and then the revolutions in politics, in the life of the society, and in the rights of the individuals.”[8]  Enlightenment created its own gods, gods who didn’t bring a new faith but allowed people to express their faith in new ways.[9] This creation carries a price the world is paying today: the triumph of subjectivity, and the imprisonment of the divine, of the sacred, of God in a ghetto, banishment of Christianity from lives of state and civic society, confusion of people’s consciences and exclusion of God from public awareness.[10] If God is expelled from the scientific sphere; religion is expelled from the life of man. If morality is expelled from law, our laws are deprived of values. If science and technology enjoy an unlimited guarantee, progress can become blind and destructive.”[11]


Our witness is not a call to the martyrdom of the enfant church. We really do not need to believe in the Whig interpretation of history, in the notion of perpetual progress towards ever greater freedom to feel that some lessons have been learnt between AD 33 and 2012. We must be grateful for the freedom which allows us today to use the very words which Christ used without incurring the crucifixion of Caesars and their supporters. We are only required to expose our moral lives to public scrutiny. Going through the maze of politics, scandals, heresies and revolutions that at various times greeted her from within and without, the church walled itself in dogmatic fences using such documents as Syllabus of Errors of Pio Nono. Such position will no longer apply. The global tolerance and e-media technology- thoroughly good things in themselves- nevertheless challenge our moral convictions versus our lifestyles. We have to act or react or do both at the same time. Certainly! It is no longer business as usual.



5.0          Conclusion

Jesus told Peter that until he is strengthened will he strengthen others. When we seek to exploit the e-values without prudence, litigation can paralyse our vocation and make it difficult for us to practice; and so can false accusations beset the church which has care of the soul. Those who have irresistible urge to witness to this age must first understand that those who live in glass houses do not throw stones. True Christian witness must flexibly respond to every age without diluting the content of Christ message. This is what we have got to do. Unfortunately, Nigeria presents deliberate ingredients to blackmail our vocation when the time comes. But a return to eternal values of prudence, sincerity and accountability may save us in an e-age.

[1] Theophilus Okere, Crisis of Governance in Africa: the root of the problem, in Oguejiofor J. O (ed.) Philosophy, Democracy and Responsible Governance in Africa, (Enugu: Delta Publications, 2004) p. 4

[2] Richard Foster, Money, Sex and Power (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1990), p. 1.

[3] Ronald H. Stone, Prophetic Realism, (London: t & t clark, 2005) p. 66

[4] Charles Moore, Witness to the Truth, in ‘First Things: The Moral, Social and religious Challenges of the Day (New York: Burns & Oates, 2005) p. 9

[5] Charles Moore, Witness to the Truth, in ‘First Things: The Moral, Social and religious Challenges of the Day (New York: Burns & Oates, 2005) pp. 16-18

[6] Charles Moore, Witness to the Truth, in ‘First Things: The Moral, Social and religious Challenges of the Day (New York: Burns & Oates, 2005) p. 15

[7] Robert Greene, The 48 Laws of Power (New York: Penguin Books, 2000) p. 37

[8] Joseph Ratzinger, Christianity and the Crisis of Cultures (Francisco: Ignatius press, 2006) p. 13

[9] Michelle P. Brown & Richard J. Kelly (Ed.), You’re History, (New York: Continuum, 2005), p. 182.

[10] Ratzinger, Opt. Cit., p. 14

[11] Ratzinger, Christianity and the Crisis of Cultures, 17.