WE HAVE COME OF AGE
I received this burden about the time Nigeria celebrated her Independence Golden Jubilee. Looking at the nation, it is not an undue criticism to state that after 50years as an independent nation, so much is still left to be desired. A popular English adage says that a fool at forty is a fool forever. But here we are, at fifty years, apparently still crawling on the ground, unable to spread our wings and fly in pursuance of the lofty dreams that filled the aspirations of the pioneer independent generation. After 50years, we do not seem to have gone beyond the take-off point. In fact, it is as if the gains of the past as well as the efforts of those who fought for independence have gone down the drain.
It is very sad to note, however, that the above assertion is also true of the Nigeria church. The church, meant to be a salt in a tasteless society, apparently appears to be confronted and bogged down by virtually all the issues the nation is also embattled with. Ancient men of the church who witnessed her glory in the 70’s could never have imagined that the church would today decline into so much of carnality, impotence and celebrated error. So strong was the fervour, our passion and our commitment to the message of Jesus; so united were we in our resolve that it was believed that the entire nation would be won for Jesus by the year 2000.
But here we are today. It does not take a prophet to know that all is not well in the Body of Christ today. That despite so many churches and ‘Christian’ presence in our society, the moral life of the nation is at its lowest ebb is a clear indication that all is not well.
THE CHURCH OUGHT TO HAVE COME OF AGE
It was while meditating on this that the Lord gave me this message: the church ought to have come of age. The reason for bringing the spotlight on the church is because it is believed that she is God’s watchman over the nation and much more than the political leaders, she would be held responsible by God for the state of the nation! Two scriptures which confirm this are Ezekiel 3:17 and Prov. 14:34. In the light of this, let us consider the following scriptures:
“For when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God ... But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil. Therefore leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ, let us go on unto perfection...” - Heb 5:12-6:1
“For we know in part, and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away. When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things. For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face...” - 1 Cor 13:9-12
“And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come” - Matt 24:14
“And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual people but as to carnal, as to babes in Christ. I fed you with milk and not with solid food ... for you are still carnal. For where there are envy, strife, and divisions among you, are you not carnal and behaving like mere men? For when one says, "I am of Paul," and another, "I am of Apollos," are you not carnal? ...Now he who plants and he who waters are one, and each one will receive his own reward according to his own labor. For we are God's fellow workers; you are God's field, you are God's building...” 1 Cor 3:1-10
The writer of Hebrews is saying concerning a church generation that as at the time when it was expected that they should have matured, alas, they are still children. It is important that we realise that:
a) God has expectations concerning us. And by ‘us’, we mean the church in every generation, the church in every nation, the church in every region, in every city, in every locality, every Christian family (which are meant to be God’s arm of influence in the community where they are planted) and of course, every individual Christian.
b) We don’t have forever to meet divine expectations; we are being timed. And when such a time expires and we still fall short, divine judgment becomes inevitable (please read Luke 13:6-9).
Now, in 2011, shall we remind ourselves that the church universal has been around for over 2,000 years and the post-colonial Nigeria church has been around for 50 years; I believe that Heaven expects that we should have come of age.
INDICATORS OF A CHURCH THAT HAS COME OF AGE
What are the indicators of a church that has come of age? Let us be reminded that each time the word, church is used, it is in reference to the variety highlighted in (a) above
1. They are now teachers: Teachers here doesn’t necessarily imply standing behind a pulpit or giving a lecture. Think Isaiah 2:3 and Psalms 105:22. These two scriptures imply that we have a responsibility to teach how society and government are to be run. We can only be teachers to the degree that we impact on our society for righteousness, truth and justice. Alas, this church generation still needs to be taught, ever learning but never coming to the knowledge of the truth. We enjoy our church services and Christian programmes but they don’t go beyond the four walls of our church buildings.
2. They now feed on strong meat: Alas, they still feed on milk. In the things of God, there’s a dimension of milk and there’s a dimension of strong meat. You can identify a church generation that have come of age by what they feed on. Jesus Himself talks of the weightier matters of the law (Matt. 23:23). Daniel, Paul & John all talked of awesome truths that were not lawful for them to utter - at that time. But the Holy Ghost is here to guide us into ALL truth without which we cannot get into perfection. Milk is a temporary nutritional source for babes. After about two years, it ceases and the babe is expected to begin to feed on solid food. The milk dimension of the word can therefore be the application of the word to meet the temporal, that which is seen - for the things that are seen are temporal; but that which is not seen is eternal.
3. By reason of use, their senses have been exercised to discern between good and evil: Two vital issues here: (1) by reason of use (regular sustained exercise/discipline) and (2) their senses have been trained to discern. Alas they are void of discernment, perception and understanding. They swallow anything that comes from a pulpit. They are easily shaken by every wind of doctrine. Note here, that it says senses, not necessarily the Spirit leading. There are certain aspects of life that scripture is not explicit about but a church that has come of age have exercised their senses - sight (watch), hearing (quick to hear), smell (perception), feel (discernment), taste (test the spirits) - all leading to reasoning (understanding). By reason of use (experience). They understand how to make sense by looking critically into history, learning from past errors. When you learn by the experience of others it is called wisdom. Examples of where discernment is needed: in doctrine, in ‘spiritual’ manifestations/giftings, in motives, in the spirit behind an action or the source of an inspiration, in behaviour, in situations and trends (political, religious etc). Examples are: Peter to Bar-Jesus (Acts 8:20-23), Paul to the diviner girl (Acts 16:16-18) and to the sailors (Acts 27:9-11).
4. They are leaving: They understand that there are higher levels in God so they are constantly migrating; they refuse to tabernacle like Peter on the Mount of Transfiguration. Abraham the patriarch had this mentality of migration. That is why he never built a permanent structure. Alas, this church generation in Hebrews are content with the level they are. They come into an experience in God and in so much (youthful) excitement (and naivety), conclude that it is the best that can ever be and there’s a need to build something round it - to their own undoing. So they remain at that level and with the passage of time become a monument and eventually an institutional resistance to any new move of the Spirit.
5. Doing away with part-truth (I Cor. 13:9,10): This is very much related to the concept of “leaving” (in Hebrews). A church aspiring for maturity admits that all it has is a part and as it moves more into maturity, it is willing to do away with part-truth (all doctrines, activities, ministries and operations within the church - denominations, local assemblies, our personal lives and families - that were built on the framework of that level of understanding). Alas, this church is so married to that part that even when the perfect comes, it would rather cling tightly to it, the way a brat will cling to a teddy (...Solomon clung to these in love).
6. In speech, perception & conduct (I Cor. 13:11,12): There is a speaking that is attributed to children and there is one attributed to manhood; there is a reasoning and understanding that identifies children and that which identifies manhood. When you consider the level of reasoning/speaking of a church generation, you can tell whether they have reached or are gunning for manhood. There is a level of sight attributed to children and that attributed to men. The sight for children requires a lens (glasses) and lenses are ALWAYS biased. Lenses are ALWAYS tinted. A lens in this context connotes a man’s, an organisation’s, a society’s or a denomination’s interpretation of scripture. Every denomination provides its own lenses for its members; every man of God offers his own lenses to the people. But a church reaching for manhood begins to put away those lenses and sees face to face.
7. Putting away childishness: Some manifestations and charismatic display are more of a display of childishness. They all come under youthful exuberance. There are some aspects of the ‘faith message’ that are nothing but youthful exuberance; some visions & dreams that we conceive and pursue are pure display of childishness. Children will say, “When I grow up I will buy 10 ships, I will buy 20 aeroplanes, I will build 100 mansions” etc. There’s a spirit of competitiveness that is seen in children: my daddy’s car is bigger than yours; our house is finer than yours; I have more toys etc. This is the same spirit often manifest in the many gargantuan projects pursued by many ministers today. But when you are grown you begin to say I have no pleasure in them. Even when you truly have those things you are not willing to flaunt it.
8. By what they teach/preach (Matt. 24:14): Do they teach the gospel of ‘how to get saved’ or do they preach the gospel of the Kingdom? There is a world of difference. Note that ‘the end’ here can also refer to the maturation of a process. When a church begins to preach the Kingdom, then it is an indication that it is moving nearer towards maturity
9. Their attitude towards the Body (I Cor. 3:1-4): Unity is one of the strongest hallmarks of genuine Christian maturity and not even a state of sinlessness/moral perfection. When we harbour envy, strife and division either in practice or in principle, no matter how spiritual we claim we are, we are operating in carnality and are very immature. The Corinthian church is an example of a highly ‘spiritual’ yet very carnal church.
10. It follows the principle of “One plant, another waters” (I Cor. 3:5-9): A church that has come of age realises that it is not only impracticable to assume a “know-it-all”, “do-it-all”, “need-nobody” posture but outrightly unbiblical and a violation of the divine pattern. It thus knows how to do its part and allow others to do their part and rejoices when they do so. Alas, we see a church generation that believes it can do all. Today, some church/fellowship groups have succeeded in building very thick fence around themselves in order to prevent their members from going out to receive ministry and they consider it almost a taboo to bring a minister from outside its fold.
VARIOUS FORMS OF DIVISIONS
I need to emphasise a bit more on the subject of divisions within the body as this is one of the strongest hindrances to maturity. Divisions here include those between the clergy and the laity; between what is termed spiritual and what is termed secular (compartmentalisation of human life, which, to our shame, does not even exist in Islam!); doctrinal divisions, denominational divisions, divisions along social status, educational, cultural (issues of stratification, Racism, tribalism, cultural sentiments), affluence etc, including dividing the church along personality lines. Paul condemns all forms of sectarianism. In our own day, he would likely say: How can you say “I am of Adeboye”, “I am of Kumuyi”, “I’m of Olukoya” and so on and so forth. As long as we continue church on this note, no matter how well we think we are doing, we are still immature.
Looking into the Nigeria church, though we have come a long way these 50 years, it is sad to say that too many of these indicators say a lot about our level of maturity. This message is therefore a wake-up call to the Church of Jesus. The church in this nation should examine itself using this plumbline. So should the church in every region, every locality and every Christian family. The individual Christian is, of course, not left out. We do not have all the time. Eph. 5 says we are to redeem the time. Let us consider the scripture below:
“And do this, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep; for now our salvation is nearer than when we first believed. The night is far spent, the day is at hand. Therefore let us cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armour of light. Let us walk properly, as in the day, not in revelry and drunkenness, not in lewdness and lust, not in strife and envy” - Rom 13:11-13
This scripture is only telling us to come of age. May the Spirit of the Lord awaken our hearts to be able to respond positively, amen.
© Adeyemo Temidayo 2011