TEXTS: (a) AMOS 5: 21-27
(b) MATTHEW 23:23-24
Just as individuals exhibit character traits which may help make or mar the message of the preacher which he labours hard to proclaim, so also do churches and institutions which clergymen lead have character traits which could also make or mar their corporate message. The clergyman is the most potent instrument that can correctly or wrongly mirror the message of the church to the world it seeks to reach out to. As stressed in Paper 1 for a clergyman to rightly mirror the Christian message to the world, Peter identified seven features namely: goodness, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, brotherly kindness and agape love must be possessed by the Christian worker in addition to being born again. When a clergyman possesses or emphasizes none, one or a fraction of these character traits to the total neglect of others, he is presenting a caricature (or an altered image) of the christian message. A caricature is produced when the picture of a person or a thing is drawn by exaggerating only some of the features of the person or thing. That resultant picture is therefore false.
Amos who prophesied to the Northern kingdom of Israel from 760-750 BC made clear that specializing in some aspects or religion by Israel to the total neglect of other aspects was a false representation of what God willed. While they were busy offering sacrifices at Bethel and Gilgal and enjoying religious gatherings where scintinglating music was accompanied with stringed and other instruments, there was so much injustice, wickedness oppression, exploitation of the poor, corruption ungodliness and religious hypocrisy in the land. No wonder that in spite of their religiousity God spoke through the prophet in Amos 5:21-23 â€œI hate, I despise your religious festivals; your assemblies are a stench to me. Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them. Though you bring choice fellowship offerings, I will have no regard for them. Away with â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦. I will not listen â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€ The point being made here is that a life full of religious activities but devoid of justice, righteousness and other godly features is a caricature of true religion. We must avoid it.
Similarly, at the time of Jesus, the teachers of the law confused issues by majoring on minor issues to the neglect of what was important. They meticulously observed every detail of the oral law and also paid tithes on minutest items. They avoided to swallow small insects in their drinks but consumed very large unclean animals.
Is the situation different today while we lead the church in various religious activities but many poor, weak and unreached peoples are suffering among and around us?
In the next few minutes, we intend to identify some ways by which many of us clergymen today are making caricature of the Christian message by choosing what to major in while we neglect others.
2.0 OVERSTATING THE IMPORTANCE OF RELIGIOUS PROGRAMMES AND HYPER ACTIVITIES:
It will be difficult if not impossible for anyone to try to teach that Christians should not gather together in fellowship and worship. The demand that Pharaoh should release the children of Israel to come out of Egypt and worship God in the wilderness (Exodus 3:18), the expressions of the Psalmist on the call severally to worship (Psa. 81:1, Psa. 95:1,6; & 122:1) and the practice in the early church has recorded in the Acts of the Apostles and the Epistles and the message of Hebrews 10:25 and others are too numerous and compelling for any not to see the value in fellowshipping together. However, should the outcome of coming together in worship, which is summarized at the end of our communion service with â€œGo into the world to love and serve the Lord be missed by christians? Jesus calls Christians to come to him and learn and go out into the world thereafter to be salt of the earth and light of the world Matthew 5:13-16. Fellowshipping by the Christians is not for the sake of just doing so. Worship by Christians should issue out in witness. Today many of us will prefer that Christians should sleep and wake up in the church. It is a caricature of the Christian message if those we lead in worship donâ€™t go to the world to help the poor and to do evangelical missions to the pockets of unreached peoples within and around our territories. Great as it is to regularly have Synod sessions, DIVCCON, GAFCON Programmes and endless REVIVALS on our calendar, it is out of character for us to lead churches that have no carefully planned evangelical outreaches, mission fields at Parish, Archdeaconry, Diocesan and National levels. How can the Anglican Mission be so unknown in Republic of Benin, Togo, Niger, Chad, Cameroons and we are struggling to go on reverse mission to the Americas and the UK? A clear understanding of and obedience to Acts 1:8 should have resulted in ongoing missions at every church level within and around Nigeria. It is contrary to Christian character for our church at various levels not to have active mission fields.
3.0 SACRIFICIAL LIVING OR MATERIAL PROSPERITY:
No doubt Jesus came that all may have life in its full abundance (John 10:10d). But what does this mean in practical living? Does it mean all Christians must live in opulence? Is it expected that the quality of what we wear, the vehicles we drive and the houses where we live and how we are buried when we die should show how much material benefits faith in God has brought us?. The emphasis of too many preachers these days have denoted that the size of and the comfort enjoyed where we live, work, worship and how we travel is a true index of how right with God we are. We forget that John, though scantily dressed and not sumptuously fed was right with God (Matt 3:4ff). Jesus had nowhere to lay his head and depended on wellwishers in life and at death was buried in a borrowed tomb. Herod who was gorgeously appareled was far from God and died uncelebrated (Acts 12). Joseph of Arimathea was both a rich man and a disciple of Jesus while the lame man at the beautiful gate was neither rich nor a disciple Acts 3. It is a mis-characterisation of the followers of Jesus when we use riches or poverty as indicators of man s relationship with God. It is a caricature. We cannot establish from scripture that maintaining financial prosperity is God s will for all his children or that being poor is the result of being sinful. On the contrary the bible warns us on the dangers of the effect of riches on the heart of man (Luke 18:18-23, 1 Tim 6:6ff). Wealth chokes the word and cancels its progress (Matt 13:22). It is a delusion to think man can serve God and Mammon (Matt 6:24). Jesus pronounced woes on those who want their rewards, comforts and riches here and now (Luke 6:24-26). Our mandate as clergymen is to lead people to the Promised Land by preaching from scriptures (Joshua 1: 7&8). Creating the impression that money or riches will satisfy the soul is a misrepresentation of scripture (Ecclesiastes 5:10).
4.0 UNDER ESTIMATING THE DANGERS OF MORAL LAXITY:
Presumably, every preacher wishes to be taken seriously. When we say â€œ thus says the Lordâ€, we expect to be obeyed. But it matter what happens between the last time we climbed down from the pulpit and when next we are back on it preaching.
A Vicar and Archdeacon whose station is not too far from the state capital was known to have some deficits in his life. Not on a few occasions was he found drunk to stupor in hotels in town and his warden would be called each time to come and take him away. Another laxity in him was his having affairs with people of the opposite sex even when he is married. He would leave his car at home, travel in public transport to the state capital but drop at an hotel before reaching town to meet his secret lover. Unknown to him people would track him to the hotel and await him and his consort at the reception after romancing with his member s wife. Yet this same person will pontificate. Donâ€™t commit adultery, donâ€™t covet your neighbours wife and be holy and righteous. He will also add that â€œwine is a mocker and bear a brawler â€¦â€¦.. â€œ Prov. 20:1. If lay people are avoiding alcoholic drinks and the â€œman of Godâ€ is being brought back drunk from gutters to the vicarage, how is his character helping him to achieve the goal of his calling?
5.0 WALK THE TALK ALL THE WAY:
It is very easy to preach to people from the pulpit on various subjects themes and topics available to us. But remember that at our ordination as Deacon the Bishop explained that:
A deacon is called to serve the Church of God and to work with its members in caring for the poor, the needy, the sick, and all who are in trouble. He is to strengthen the faithful, search out the careless and the indifferent,â€¦â€¦.â€
Next, the Ordinand/s would be asked if he believe God has called him/them to the work and office of a Deacon in this church to which they reply in the affirmative.
Since we have been preaching, how many of us have not blamed the Levite and the Priest who ignored the robbery victim for failing to show him mercy as he laid half dead on the Jerusalem to Jericho road? Donâ€™t we also neglect accident victims on our roads and rush to attend scheduled programmes? Arenâ€™t we implying God can only be served during church programmes and not at points where people are in need?
Let me share some examples of the behaviours of some Vicars in some of our churches in the not too distant past
(i) One Archdeacon and Vicar was reported to have been taking at the end of every month, 50% of the offertory collected by his church to meet his personal needs!
(ii) Another Vicar was reported not only to have transferred part of the building materials meant for the construction of the Parish Church in Lagos to his home town for the building of his personal house in the village but was also converting food and other items provided for prison inmates to meet his family needs.
Thank God, we donâ€™t only have negative reports on clergymen as we have examples of.
(iii) A Vicar who on arrival in church for the 10.00am service one Sunday learnt his senior (Lay) Reader has lost a grown up son to death in the previous night and immediately dashed to the Reader s house leaving other assistants to conduct the service.
(iv) Finally in this series we have the example of another Vicar whose parishioner was clamped into prolonged detention by a military dictator. The family of the detained parishioner naturally suffered deprivations and were denied access to their bread winner. But the Vicar paid visits to the man and gave financial support from church funds to the family. Having been so supported when in need, the difference the man s contributions make to God s work today in that church cannot be compared to the token support his family got when in need.
Most of us labour very hard to be impressive in what and how we preach and teach. We cannot fault this approach. But it is a lot more helpful for us to realise that what characterizes our lives speak much more loudly than what we say. Any failure by a clergyman to recognize that examples are better than being preachy which will do fatal blow to whatever we try to achieve. If we desire to have a fulfilling ministry, we must forge an alignment between our character and the admonitions we give.
Clergymen are not theater arts practitioners who just play whatever role is assigned to them on stage and go out of the stage to do otherwise. We must behave like:
(i) Joseph who was resolved not to sin against his master Portiphar and more importantly against God his maker (Gen 39:9).
(ii) David who inspite of all odds, was not happy at the deaths of Saul his arch-enemy, Ishbosheth and Abner. Indeed he was deeply saddened by the death of Absalom in spite of having rebelled against him. He was resolute not to serve God with gifts that didnâ€™t cost him anything (2nd Sam 24:24)
(iii) Jesus Christ who despite his being badly treated went about everywhere doing good to enemies and followers alike and on the cross he prayed God to forgive his enemies who didnâ€™t know what they were doing (Luke 23:34)
(iv) Jesusâ€™ disciples who lived and died like their Lord: prayed for their enemies as Stephen did (Lord, do not charge them with this sinâ€ he said dying Acts 7:60). The Apostles characteristics were so loving and distinct that pretenders could not join them, nor did any of them hold on to what he had and no-one had too little or too much unlike the situation among Christians today.
If we must win the world to the master s side, what characterizes our ministry must show the love of Christ. Loving the world and its passing fads the same way the unbelieving people of this world do can never attract the unconverted to Jesus ( See 1 John 2:15-17).
Thanks most sincerely for listening.
Ven. Luyi Akinwande
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