FEATURE ARTICLE

Emmanuel Livingspring ObaaMonday, December 9, 2013
spring.manuel@yahoo.com
Madrid, Spain

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AN OPEN LETTER TO PASTOR CHRIS OKOTIE
AND A CALL TO REFLECCTION ON THE MULTIPLE TRENDS OF LIFE IN THE NIGERIAN CHURCHES


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any are the things that dignify men and women, and many are the ways men and women can lose their honour in the society. The very delicacy of life, and of the possible effects of our actions in the social context, calls us to reflect before making utterances. In doing this, we at least guard ourselves within ethical lines, and save ourselves from the inconvenience of hurting ourselves by hurting others.

In this domain, cultivated minds generally refrain from putting the horse before the cart, taking into consideration that they live in communion with others. In this line, it will not be a wise undertaking for anyone claiming to have a mission to accomplish, or a divine mandate to execute without at least having the love of people in mind.

It is one thing to claim to have the message or know the truth, and it's another thing to know how to transmit the same through the multiple channels that are available to us. In as much as I don't put human order before the divine order, we need to be careful, for God is revealed in many things we consider human. Thus, in conforming ourselves to this realm, our relationship with God is neither thrown to the dust, nor our dignity as human beings is undermined. In like manner, reason as a rational faculty should serve us well, and no one is exonerated from the use of this reason in his/her relationship with others in the general social context.

The necessity of this obliges us to know when to be guided by reason in our actions, knowing that the rhythm of spontaneity will not lead us to good end in all things. Thus, as human being, public figures have the obligation to make proper reflection, and to carefully selecting their words before making pronouncements. It will not be an excuse for anyone irrespective of his/her status in the society, to go about talking under the guise of having the mandate to talk.

Not minding that the focus and heat today, is generally on holders of office in the political and social spheres when they err, people are equally erring elsewhere. This, in some cases is not being well addressed, and if I may go further, I would say that the religious sphere is not an exemption in this case. In most cases, people lowly respond to these odds when it's a religious minister rolling the ball widely, either out of mistake or out of ignorance.

The Nigerian society as I know is generally not antagonist to religion, and the respect people have for God, is equally seen in their respect for religious ministers. This notwithstanding, there have been moments when the faithful don't take side with their ministers when they take to the wrong road, either by their words or by their actions. In some cases, the faithful have been brave to abandon these ministers, resisting to be led to an unfamiliar pasture.

In as much as the role of religious ministers has great relevance to the society, this relevance is not only limited to the moral and eschatological sense alone, but is also relevant in the context of the 'present' and the 'social union' that defines the society. On these bases and in virtue of their important role in building a just society, they need to guard against their pronouncements. For one to conquer heats of multitudes or have the power to influence others, but weak in conquering himself and his own lips, leaves him/her out as a weak individual. Thus, reckless comments bring no one the true glory, not even when the subject in question builds that glory around his/herself. The way this could be devastating for public figures in the political field, is equally the influence it will have in the religious circle.

Having said this, I am personally surprised as do others who have shown their feelings about the recent utterances of Pastor Chris Okotie, which caused a stir among the Christian faithful in Nigeria. I suggest that he does a personal reflection and an integral re-evaluation of his Christian knowledge; his status as a pastor; and his different lives in the course of time. Without the least intention of belittling him, these three points to which I call him, could be revealing in nature, for one of the good things we can do to ourselves is to know who we are.

Put in a different way, I would say, 'Pastor Chris, know who you are'. Come on man! Make an inward journey into yourself, in a self-rediscovery mission. Take time to re-examine yourself, and afterwards, try to turn the light of reason on your status as a pastor. Get at your personal foundations and the defining lines of your life.

I do feel that more than ever, this reflection is necessary for each and every one of us. The reason for this has to be understood beyond religion alone, given that we are all rational entities, and that our identity as persons is very much founded on this. However, since the call for this reflection is coming on the heels of utterances of someone who needs to school his flock in truth, and not in doctrinal confusion, the questions I am directing to Chris Okotie are multiple. As such, permit me to ask:

  • Where was Chris Okotie schooled (in theology/scripture)? Think beyond a physical religious institution, and reflect on the foundations and the gates of whomever or wherever he may have received his faith and teaching. Think as well about his aspirations as a person, the world within his mind, the world around him, and the world he has created in the course of time.

  • Which scripture has Chris Okotie fed himself with, and how did that scripture emerge in the course of time?

  • Which Christ is Chris Okotie preaching? Is he united with a historical Christ and his teachings as contained in the bible, and not united with the (same) Christ who instituted the Eucharist and journeyed with the church through the ages?

  • Is the God Okotie working for not the same God he is attacking?

  • Should we believe that the Okotie who was born yesterday, and who started his ministry a few decades ago is more knowledgeable than the Catholic Church?

  • Has Okotie and his church had the least of the tribulations (within and without) that the Catholic Church has survived in the course of time in her almost two thousand years of existence?

  • Has Okotie ever reflected on the humble lives of the multiple ministers of God, who are truly working and suffering for the spiritual and temporal welfare of their flock?

  • Has Okotie a good knowledge of all that has been transmitted to the church from apostolic times to the present day?

  • Who is Okotie answerable to? Is he a free style preacher or a preacher leaning on true inspirations and sound Christian doctrine?

  • Are the views of Okotie in his recent utterances also the view of other ministers or the view of other churches?

  • Has the view of Okotie in his recent utterances a base in the sacred scripture?

  • Has Okotie the knowledge of how the bible as we have it today emerged in the church?

  • If Okotie knows Christ and is working for him, does he equally know the Christ that has been with his church in the course of time, or a comprehensive knowledge of the church Christ has never abandoned in the course of time?

  • Has Okotie a good knowledge of church history?

  • For Okotie, what is the Christian enterprise all about?

  • Who was Okotie, who is he, and who will he be?

  • Has Okotie ever seen the cardinal point from where the sun rises?

Within the Nigerian church, it's not news than hundreds of Christian ministers are really working for God, and working for the good of their flock. But sadly enough, the four cardinal points of the same Nigeria are plagued by false ministers who are not prepared to lay their lives for their flocks, and who rather go about looking for their interests in their self-centeredness. Added to this is the problem of ministers who have constructed a new structure within the church, a structure before which the weak minded Christians have repeatedly fallen. Aren't some of these structures serving levers unto prosperous life for the minister/architects that set them up?

Where are we today in Nigeria? How many times have some ministers played over the condition of their own flocks, worked over their minds, and have them carried over to work towards their own enrichment? Sadly enough, a percentage of the faithful believe that each time their ministers speak, its God speaking, but this is not always the case.

Today, while leading the flock is an arduous task for any minister well committed, there are many false ministers out there, who are even ready to suffer, but with the motive of hitting their target. Anyone who observes this closely will not fail to affirm that, the turbulence in the religious ministerial waters in Nigeria is great. Like an open field where different birds are out picking food according to their individual taste, the church in Nigeria has become an open field with different birds on different missions.

With these developments, the church can as well be said to have come under the wind, especially in the last few decades. Thus, from those discrediting the work of the true and committed ministers to those preaching what Christ never preached, and from the 'new easy go' to the 'chose your style' ministers, some of our churches are gradually being turned into houses of confusion.

Furthermore, the miracle-thirsty and the prosperity-seeking minds of some of the faithful, and their self-seeking tendencies, are not helping issues. The Christian enterprise should be understood to go beyond these scopes, being a commitment that gives both the crown and the cross to anyone who embraces it. The faithful need not be confused on these, not even when what is served before them is the rosy side of Christian commitment. This one-sided, and non-integral presentation, has at times made some to build their hope on what they want, and not the knowledge that could be helpful to them in the wider context.

In addition, the rolling out of scriptural quotations as is the trend in Nigeria, has carried some faithful away in their judgment of who is a true minister, and who is not. Besides, the issue of poverty in the country is another problem, a reality from which the majority would fly away, if given the least of chance. In as much as suffering is generally not a topic of glory, well-guided Christians have on many occasions been able to turn this into glory. Thus, the issue of some ministers trying to exploit this reality, by replacing the gospel of the cross with the prosperity gospel, is netting huge sums for them at the detriment the welfare of the faithful.

Should the Nigerian church be stripped of some of these excesses today, some of those ministering now, will think twice before making their commitment in the house of God. In like manner, should the people's capacity to apprehend; to rationalize issues; and to investigate developments in an integral manner become strengthened, part of these dramas taking place in the church will lose their stronghold. With all these anomalies, the question today should not be how many seas shall the white dove sail before it is called to rest, but for how long shall the faithful continue to be victims in the hands of their ministers? For how long shall the poor faithful be milked dry by their ministers on grounds distinct from what collective contributions should be for?

In the face of all these problems, I am of the opinion that part of the problem we have today in being Christians, is that many of us are holy, but not human, forgetting that God is also revealed in our humanity. We need a mind that feels, a mind that is concerned about what happens to the other, and that takes care of the general human and physical environment in which we live.

For a country like Nigeria, what we need from religious ministers today is not flashy comments, but words propelled with living force; words grounded in truth and doctrinal security; words pronounced and directed with great purposes that are good in nature; words that are God's words and good of mankind. Ministers should run away from cheap popularity, reckless comments, and seek not to bask in false enlightenment. To some extent, the religious atmosphere we have in Nigeria is one filled with many un-commissioned ministers, who claim to be inspired by the Holy Spirit, but whose teachings run contrary to the one received from the apostolic times.

Rather than becoming part of the already existing church, a good number of these ministers prefer to begin new churches, and at the end we have conflicting teachings here and there. How easy it is to lead, bringing your views and ideas to others, and how difficult it is to be led, with one having to be conformed to the guide of others. The Holy Spirit doesn't contract himself, but people have contradicted this Spirit already, the One Holy Spirit that is the strength of the church. Should we look well, some of the claims coming to us from some of the men, who claim to be acting under the guide of this Spirit, can't but raise doubts in our minds. Some of these are nothing but fake insinuations, coming from no other place than the very mind of those handing them to the faithful. This is detrimental to the faith and the faithful.

To contextualize this more, we have on the one hand Christian churches united to Christ and the teaching of the apostles, while on the other, we have preachers who claim to be grounded in the scripture, but are completely at odd with the teachings handed down from the apostolic times. Funny enough, some even go to the length of contradicting the same bible, which they claim is the only authority for them. This is generally the case of unregulated institutions and organizations.

Before this turmoil, a good number of us are witnesses, and this is what some individuals and groups have made of the church in the course of time. But beyond the church, this is reality as well in other religions.

To cap all these up, permit me to return to Pastor Chris once more. Chris, you may have much to offer, but you don't have it all. I invite you to deep yourself into the past, into history of the Christian church from her humble but strong beginning on the Pentecost day; I invite you to seek true knowledge, and to study the lives of our Christian ancestors that have walked the way of the cross; I invite you to study the multiple lives illuminated by the spirit in the course of the dual definition of time; look into the millions of lives humbled, but strengthened by the same spirit. Chris, I invite you to study the lives nurtured by the Eucharist in the course of the ages, and above all to seek the origin the Eucharist in the Christian context.

Should you be schooled in the scripture, don't the same scripture speak about other things as we have them today in the different branches of theology? If you are a name in scriptural theology, what is your place in moral theology? How schooled are you in doctrinal and dogmatic theology, and what do you know about sacramental theology?

The Christian religion is more than the periodic scent of the flowers, stronger than the whispers of the night, and a reality beyond the imaginations of the mind. The Christian religion is a living wind, a coast of life, a journey and of course a school. Ministers need to keep these realities abreast, and be conscious of their own limitations before issues they don't adequately understand in the church. The flock is watching.

It is one thing to be a minister, and it's another thing to feel that in being a minister one can speak authoritatively about all topics in the Christian religion. While ministers have general knowledge about their religion, some issues are better left for specialist in the various areas of religion. In most case, they are those with better explanations to the faithful. This should be clear to us all, except someone who want to take upon himself something else. Truth in this case revealed in humility, is stronger than assumption and pride in any attempt to give false answers.

Let us all know that the Holy Spirit has never contradicted Himself, and should any Christian take a contrary stand on this, it will not be more than a personal posture. No true minister or church can contradict this. While Christians owe themselves human and divine assistance, anyone who fails and seeks to justify his/her actions, feeling he/she has served out truth, need to think twice. Obstinacy in error leads to nowhere, and enough of the confusions and contradictions being generated in the church.

Confusions and contradictions can never be considered an achievement under sound judgment. This will not be considered a healthy development for any minister of the sacred mysteries.

With these, I rest my case.

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