16Aug20 - Preacher Diary
I was once on a flight to Abuja, Nigeria, and got talking with a man who wore a conspicuous large and flowing ecclesiastical cross. I spoke with him with all the respect due a clergy. When we got off the plane in Abuja, he opened his briefcase and gave me a copy or two of his newsletters, and I also gave him a few copies of our publications. He told me he was in Abuja to hold a meeting for Pastor Dr X. He called the name of a popular and respected mega pastor in the city. Sometime later, I met with Pastor Dr X and said, “By the way, I was on the flight with Prophet Z who said that he was having a programme for you.” I got a shocker. “I don’t know him. He was never here, was never invited to preach for me.” I assumed that I had not been properly heard, so I repeated my story more carefully. I got a more emphatic negative response. The Prophet had lied to me at the airport. Occasionally, I saw that Prophet’s billboards in parts of the country. In time, I got talking with another Bishop who narrated his experience with the same Prophet in a northern Nigeria city. The Prophet was guest speaker at a church where he and the resident pastor had made a deal on what ‘prophecy’ was to be administered to a certain member so that that member would ‘sow’ his jeep into the ‘ministry.’ The pastor had been wanting that member’s car. The Bishop who told me had earlier rejected the same ‘proposal’ at that ‘convention.’ That was apart from other sordid secret scandals bordering on money and romance.
Not every label is true; some are clever imitations. Look closely; what you take for Rolex could be Rolax; what you read as Samsung could be Samsong; what you see in a hurry as Gucci could be Guccie. Many years ago, I nearly bought a little transistor radio that I thought was ‘National.’ The brand name and lettering seemed so much like what I knew. On closer look, I realized that what I had read off in a hurry as ‘National’ was actually ‘Nationel.’ A very clever electronic imitation. According to a popular advert, “If it is not Panadol, it is not the same thing as Panadol.” If it is not the gospel, it is not the same thing as THE gospel.
6 I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel:
7 Which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ (Galatians 1:6 -7).
Appearances are not always real. They could be a mirage, a mirror, a shadow, or a clever copy. The world is beset with crises of imitations: counterfeit drugs, adulterated fuel, quack doctors, fake news, fake foods, fake certificates, false prophets. In religion also, it is no less important to judge products beyond their attractive labels. Over two thousand years ago, Apostle Paul raised an alarm about fake Christians, identity thieves of a spiritual sort, religious impersonators whom he called “false brethren” (Galatians 2:4).
That alarm is no less applicable today with Christians whose content does not match with their elaborate carton, whose soul is usually not where their body is, who lie not through their lips but by their looks. The gospel ‘brand’ they flaunt is often so persuasive and so much like the true that, according to Galatians 1:6-7, it causes a shift-rift in the church, in the lives even of those that are ‘called.’ It “soon” ‘removes,’ displaces, relocates especially from Christ Himself and from “the grace of Christ.” It has such persuasive power as to cause positional shifts in ‘marvelling’ ways, yet it is fake. Typically, it generates ‘trouble’ rather than edification; it is marked more with strife than with love.
The word translated as “marvel” in Galatians 1:7 is the Greek word thaumaz which is also translated as “wondered,” “admiration,” “marvel” in Revelation 17:6-7 describing the reaction of John the seer at the Great Harlot of Mystery Babylon. Does that connect the Harlot of Babylon with the deviant gospel? Does it say something about the gravity of the ‘amazing’ gospel? Does it provide an insight into how God views the peddlers of the mesmerizing ‘Another’?
What Paul described as “another gospel” was not essentially a blatant false; it was merely an alternative gospel – to “the gospel of Christ” that he had preached. Another Gospel did not mean an entirely alien religion or a gospel founded on a different Bible; it was a decorated perversion of THE gospel, a discreet distortion of aspects of the Original, producing religious folks who wore a title that they were essentially not. According to Paul, how ‘soon’ it (re)moves anyone, or the eminent status even of the ‘called’ whom it is able so ‘soon’ to shift, still did not make it true.
The alternative gospel has a Jesus, too, but a different Jesus than Paul had preached. It is inspired also by a spirit, but not the One that Paul had known (2 Corinthians 11:4). It also has a God, but not Jehovah. It has a ‘trinity’ of another sort. Paul says they “serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly.” They make members through deceit, not conversion, “by good words and fair speeches” (KJV). “They are good speakers, and simple-minded people are often fooled by them” (The Living Bible). Their goal is not heaven but “earthly things” (Romans 16:18; Philippians 3:19). According to Paul, therefore, we are not to be fooled by the lofty cross on their steeples, by their elaborate ecclesiastical costumes and rituals and titles, by the “fine words and flattering speech” by which “they deceive innocent people” (Good News Translation). Who sits at their decorated altar is not the Holy One but their private God, their Belly. Only the Almighty who sees all could say this. There is more to Christianity in those ‘sanctuaries’ than meets the clouded eyes of the simple.
Paul’s gospel, in contrast to the Alternative, was characterized by perils from antagonistic forces: “in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils by mine own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren” (2 Corinthians 11:26). One was the gospel of a cross-less Christ; the other was The Gospel of the ‘en-Crossed’ living dead endangered by in-house false brethren in league with satanic agencies (Galatians 2:20).
It is strange that ‘brethren’ should be listed among the ‘perils’ that trouble any shepherd or church; that any by the title of ‘brethren,’ “among” whom one dwells in trusted self-abandon, should be listed along with such ravenous antagonists as robbers and heathens and stormy seas and beastly wildernesses with their plural ‘perils.’ What worse won’t robbers and heathens do when brethren be aligned with enemies? On Paul’s list of ‘perils,’ there is not one mention of a devil. The perils all came by human hands (heathens, countrymen, false brethren) as well as natural forces (the wilderness and the sea). It was as if humans worked so willingly maliciously that there was nothing left for devils to do. Does that describe me? Does it describe my church?
There is not only an alternative gospel, there are also “false brethren” and “false teachers” and “false prophets” and “false [church] workers” (2 Corinthians 11:13; 2 Peter 2:1). Sadly, we have bothered more about false prophets and false teachers in the pulpits; we have not also drawn attention to their equally dangerous congregational counterparts – ‘false brethren’ with their ‘perilous’ baggage.
They are called ‘false brethren,’ not ‘heathens’ or ‘atheists’ or ‘Hindus.’ If they were heathens, we would be on our guard from start; if they bore the name of ‘Islamic terrorists,’ we might have been more cautious; but these are ‘brethren,’ yet false. They clad themselves in priestly robes, but they do not stand or speak for us. They come to prayer meetings, but not for the same reason as everyone. They join the church choir and sing with unctuous voices, yet they are false. Sometimes they climb up the ecclesiastical and leadership hierarchy of the ‘called’ and become prophets or teachers, still they are false. They speak our language, perform our rituals, call upon the name of our Jesus sometimes more loudly than everyone else, yet their title of ‘brethren’ is vain. Their activity results in collective bondage to the church. According to Paul, some of them are even spies, working among us for ‘another government’ (Galatians 2:4); “the enemies of the cross of Christ” causing tears in the apostolic presbytery; and they are “many” (Philippians 3:18).
And that because of false brethren unawares brought in, who came in privily to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage (Galatians 2:4).
At times they are not just one or two but “many”; ‘brethren’ in their plurals; spies whose soul is not usually where their body is. Ultimately, they threaten an entire people – not just one distant person but “us” all – with bondage again.
The word translated ‘bondage’ in that passage is the Greek word katadouloo, which means to enslave utterly; to bring into bondage; servanthood; intense or extreme slavery. Does that describe how some congregations relate to their leaders; how some worshippers see themselves in relation to their shepherds; or how even the shepherds themselves see their sheep? Does the relationship of slavery and bondage describe how brethren might dwell together in unity? And how worse the slavery could be when the enslaved do not even know that they have been enslaved!
May God in this season open our eyes to see clearly; not so soon moved by fine labels that lie; not brought again into the bondage from which Christ has set us free. May mercy break us free from the spell and perils of false leaders as well as false members. As we bother in all lands about failing political leaders, may God also raise in us a cry for the cleansing of His house from fake brethren and false priests with their attractive alternative gospel that brings again into bondage – a bondage that threatens “us” all. May the vail be taken off our faces, that we might see clearly into the Holiest, and into the mind of the Father. Amen.
From The Preacher’s diary,
August 7, 2020.