Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city,
and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make
a name for ourselves; otherwise we shall be scattered
abroad upon the face of the whole earth.”
The story of the tower of Babel stands as a stark warning of what happens when the city of man assumes priority over the word of God. The people wanted to build a city for themselves and make a name for themselves. God was left out. God, however, is the creator, the only giver of life, and when that priority is mistaken or misplaced, and when the city of man seeks to subjugate the word of God, or simply to ignore it, then slowly but surely pride, vainglory, materialism, selfishness, and that lust for power which ultimately leads to dictatorship and repression creep in, and the disintegration of society, corruption, deceit, and all manner of evils multiply.
It was in order to set this right, and to renew the relationship between God and man, the Word of God became flesh, lived in the city of man, and gave his very life in order to redeem the inhabitants of that city and to set it back on course. What we have in Scripture is the record of that life, preceded by the account of God’s dealings with his people before the birth of Jesus Christ, and followed by the story of what happened immediately afterward, together with reflections, admonitions, and teachings concerning God’s relationship with mankind, as revealed by Jesus Christ.
The Power Of The Word
The words of Scripture are in no way “magic,” but neither are they quite the same as the words of any other text. This is so because they are the record of God and particularly of the life and teaching of Jesus Christ, who himself said, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away” (Matthew 24:35). The words of Scripture, therefore, are vital tools in bringing people to the knowledge of Jesus Christ, and are essential in the life-long process of discipleship. It is hard to envisage what mankind’s relationship with God would be like if the written record of the Bible did not exist.
This is of course why the work of translation is so very important, and is still continuing here in Africa. The joy of people who at last receive the Bible in their own language is remarkable: no other book has ever had the same effect. To such people, and indeed to all who are truly converted and committed to the Lord Jesus Christ, the Gospel is as precious as gold, or as that pearl which Jesus referred to when he said, “The Kingdom of Heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; on finding one of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it” (Matthew 13:45).
For God’s people the Gospel is also dynamite. St. Paul wrote:
I am not ashamed of the Gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. For in the Gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.” (Rom 1:16-17)
It is impossible for anyone to have the Gospel and be unproductive, docile, ineffective, and defeated. Paul emphasises that he is not ashamed of the Gospel (Romans 10:11); rather, it is this Gospel that has the power to change lives, and even to change prevailing circumstances. Paul speaks from personal experience: He knows how a person of another faith can be totally changed and transformed. The Gospel is power—dynamite.
This power of the Gospel as recorded in Scripture is the power of God working towards the salvation of everyone who believes. It is more than just preaching, more than just talking: It is not merely an announcement of the fact that salvation will take place one day. The Gospel is itself a divine power leading to salvation; it leads to faith and action, to the restoration of lives, of communities, of the environment.
This salvation is available for all, of whatever tribe, race, nation, or faith. Those who accept it are brought into a right relationship with God, and seek to uphold God’s standards, God’s way of living, and God’s righteousness in the world. This is the righteousness that produces holiness, truth, and justice. Such righteousness, however, cannot be attained by keeping the law, but only by faith. The power of the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ must be seen in the lives of his followers today so that, even if we say nothing in words, others will be challenged by our lives, and surprised by our perseverance, no matter what the prevailing circumstances may be.
It follows from this that whenever and wherever the Gospel is truly lived, it must bring change in behaviour, courtesy, and character; it must bring change in health, in the environment, in education, and in the economy; it must bring progress and development to people and take the lead in community life and conduct for peace and justice in the city of man. The Gospel alone has the capacity to draw people of every race, tribe, and nationality to live in peace and to work together in harmony for the good of all. The Gospel—if it truly is the Gospel that is being proclaimed—will assuredly bring life, light, and growth; because of the Gospel, structures will be developed for the building of life together in communities and for the care of the environment; and at the same time, the power of the Gospel will militate against all forms of dehumanization or degradation. This was clearly seen in the life and work of Bishop Samuel Ajayi Crowther, whose urgent concern for education, agriculture, the welfare of the people, and the building of the economy was linked to the elimination of the slave trade. For Crowther the root and motivating power for all such developments was the Gospel, and all that he did in turn furthered the work of the Gospel.
Through Crowther and his successors has come the vital passion and drive for mission and evangelism today. The demonstration of the power of the Gospel runs through our veins from head to foot. In Nigeria, other great African Bishops and Archbishops have followed in the wake of Crowther, down to Archbishop Olufosoye in 1979 and Archbishop Adetiloye in 1988, Archbishop Peter Akinola and now our present Primate, Archbishop Nicholas Okoh. In their time, the Church of Nigeria has grown, and grown beyond human expectation, meeting needs in Nigeria and beyond.
It was Bishop Crowther who brought agricultural trade to replace internal slave trade. He brought in new crops such as cassava, corn, and plantain, and he encouraged farming. He also introduced schools and education along with health-care delivery. He encouraged the proper training of church officials. All of these developments gave meaning to the Gospel that was preached as they brought transformation to lives and communities. This is the model from which the ministry in Nigeria takes its cue. The Gospel must bring transformation; the Gospel must bring life, joy, peace, and blessings so that recipients become a blessing to others and the cycle continues.
In our episcopacy in Jos in the last twenty years, we have laboured to establish over twenty secondary schools, one seminary, several primary schools and health-care centres, and have provided two tractors for farming. We train pastors, health-care givers, teachers, musicians, evangelists, and missionaries. The Gospel is relevant and effective for all life and in all aspects of human endeavour.
The Practice Of The Word
In our life today there are three practical implications to be noted here:
First, it takes a determined, cumulative effort to keep teaching the word of God until the truth of how to live and obey God’s word is learned, accepted, and obeyed. We are to be channels through which the power of God can work, and such channels must not become blocked by laziness, selfishness, unfaithfulness, or any other kind of sin. We in Jos begin with placing the Word of God first at the beginning of all primary and secondary assemblies, at early morning family devotions and all church meetings.
Second, the Gospel must be lived out with undiminishing consistency in service to God, to the community, and to all people. We must show people by example in small and in big things everywhere and at every time what it means to carry and to live out the Gospel.
Third, we must be diligent, faithfully seeking to live as Christians who truly believe the Gospel. We must bring our faith to bear in all that we do, in order to bring glory to God in everything and to bring blessings to the people around us.
At the foot of the cross there is no favouritism. Living for Christ is living for others, for all others. It is service delivery, it is missionary, it is a total dedication and commitment to Christ and to obeying him. This kind of life will spark revival in the family, bring transformation in the community, and prompt renewal wherever such a servant of Jesus Christ is found.
The missionaries of old are great examples of this. No matter what the opposition, no matter how fearsome the juju looked, no matter how entrenched the tradition, no matter what the cost might be, they continued undeterred, living and teaching in such a way that people of all faiths or none might see the transforming effect of the Gospel. The Gospel was lived before the eyes of the entire world, young and old, rich and poor, men and women, people of any and every race and tongue, tribe and nation.
The Gospel is for all and we must dare to reach out to all. Here is the privilege and here is the cost of living in the power of the Gospel. Here are the reasons why the Word of God must be enthroned in the City of Man. It is not for man to decide how and when and what role the Word of God might play; that is a recipe for disaster as was seen time and time again in the history of God’s people in the Old Testament. It is for the Word of God to direct the course of the city of man, and where this is not yet so, it is the task of the people of God to reach out through prayer, teaching, preaching, mission, and evangelism. As we seek to do this in Nigeria today, we seek to follow an uncompromising discipline in baptism and confirmation preparation classes, in discipleship training, and in daily living. It is expected and required that Morning Prayers, according to the church’s calendar and lectionary, be said daily in our churches (usually very early, at first light, before the business of the day begins); it is expected that daily Bible study and prayer be the rule of life for individuals and for families. In our seminary in Jos, everyone must be in chapel at 6:30 every morning, and a similar pattern is maintained in our Anglican schools. The expected standard of behaviour must of course conform to this teaching. The Official Report of the Lambeth Conference 1998 said, “Churches that are really on the move, throughout the world, are churches listening gratefully and joyfully to Scripture.”
The Primacy Of The Word
The Primate of Nigeria at the time, the Most Rev. Peter J. Akinola, the Chairman of the Global Anglican Future Conference, said in his opening address on June 22, 2008:
Our beloved Anglican Communion must be rescued from the manipulation of those who have denied the Gospel and its power to transform and to save; those who have departed from the scripture and the faith “once and for all delivered to the saints” from those who are proclaiming a new Gospel, which really is no Gospel at all (Galatians 1). In the wisdom and strength God supplies we must rescue what is left of the Church from error of the apostates.
In the face of the crisis that has gripped the Anglican Communion concerning the authority of Scripture, the Church of Nigeria continues to take a firm stand on this issue. Clergy must focus on God and follow closely the teaching of Scripture on the nature and call to that office. It is their duty to learn to lead in accordance with the Bible so that the church will be light to the world in its service and mission and bring glory to God. They must resist not only the temptation to pride and power but also the temptation to be drawn away by food, by money, by “important” meetings, and by wining and dining with the high and mighty while ignoring the priority of the Word of God and of the task and mission of the church.
Today in Nigeria we have a growing Anglican Church in a country whose population is growing even faster! That means that it is a predominantly young population. The youth form the majority in our churches. At one point, the average age of Plateau State (of which our Diocese is a part) was calculated to be as low as 22 years. In comparison with the West we have a young church—young in its existence and young in its membership. We have a church that in parts of the country is persecuted, suffering, and not free to build structures or buy land. We have a church that is facing the growth and incursion of militant Islam. We have a church that is struggling with poverty, societal corruption, and political uncertainties. We have a church that is still struggling with inherited colonial mindsets concerning power, ability, and trust. We have a church that draws its membership from very many different tribal and racial groups, many of which have fought each other in the past, and now have to learn to live and grow together.
Above all, however, we have a church where faith is vital, and where the Word of God is the motivating power behind life and worship. It is true that, as in New Testament times, we struggle against the preaching of a false Gospel that prioritizes personal wealth and success. That does not alter the fact that through the Word of God we are offered a faith worth living for and a faith worth dying for—and thousands have so died. The very possibility of persecution makes a difference, and lessens complacency. It should not be thought that we have all the answers or that every single church is alert, alive, and kicking— sadly, that is not so! The vision is beginning to fade especially in some of the older churches, and that situation must be rectified before they fall into the sleep of death, and before mission degenerates into maintenance. But overall, there is a fire and a passion that is burning, and we must fan that fire until it catches light over the whole country, and all over the world, until the Word of God is enthroned in the City of Man.