A sermon delivered by the Most Reverend Nicholas O. Okoh, Bishop of Asaba and Archbishop of Bendel Province at the Consecration service of four new Bishops of the Church of Nigeria in Abuja on Sunday 20th August, 2006.
Text : Jude verse 3: ‘Dear friends, although I was very eager to write you about the salvation we share: I felt I have to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints.’
This short epistle was written by Jude identified out of the five people bearing that name in the New Testament to be the brother of the Apostle James and Jesus.
It was written about A.D 65. From as early as the first century A.D; the church has been threatened by major or minor heresies and false teachings.
It noteworthy that there was one type of warning or reference to false teaching in many books of the New Testament. You find it in the Gospels, in the Acts of the Apostles, Romans, Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Colossians, 1st and 2nd Timothy, 2nd Peter, 2nd John and Jude.
Long ago, Jude realized the important connection between right belief and right practice. He realized the importance of maintaining orthodoxy and using the faith handed down by the apostles as a doctrinal guideline.
Jude’s letter therefore was a clarion call to summon the church to maintain vigilance and keep the faith pure and strong, to defend the faith and oppose false teaching.
HERESY DENOUNCED BY JUDE
The letter of Jude denounced the heresy, which has three parts.
The first part has to do with turning the grace of God into an excuse for immoral living.
If you look at Romans 6:1, there is a reflection of it there, in other words: perverted grace. These were antinomians, for them the law is dead, you can do what you like, the grace of God can forgive any sin, so no matter what you do, it is okay. For them, the more you sin, the more the opportunity for grace to abound. When you sin, you give the grace of God opportunity to do its work is their emphasis.
What matters according to them, is the inward part of man. Consequently, they practice all manners of sin. In verse 4 of that book, Jude wrote; “..they are godless men, who changed the grace of God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ, our only Sovereign and Lord.”
They even practiced homosexuality as the people of Sodom and Gomorrah did. These antinomians and their doctrine appeared in a fresh way again in the 17th century in a group known as the Ranters. The Ranters were pantheists, who believed that God is everything. John Wesley accused them of preaching a gospel of the flesh. For them adultery, drunkenness, theft are not sinful unless the person guilty of them understand them to be so, they lived filthy lives.
The second aspect of the heresy has to do with the Gnostics. The Gnostics denied the oneness of God and they taught that the God of creation is different from the God of redemption. The God of the Old Testament to them is different from the God of the New Testament. But Jude countered and insisted that we have only one God and that is why in verse 25 he wrote about the only God. These heretics also denied the uniqueness of Jesus Christ, they regarded Jesus Christ as one of the aeons or reincarnation and that he was in no way unique. But Jude countered them and insisted that Jesus Christ is our only master and Lord as you can find in verse 4.
The third aspect of this heresy Jude addressed was that they spoke ill of the angels. They denied and despised the angels and discouraged people from honoring or having anything to do with angels. Jude, the man of God spoke of them as spiritually careless as Cain motivated by material gain as Balaam and rebellious to authority as Korah.
Jude in verses 5-7 concluded that these false teachers would be punished by God like disobedient Israelites in the desert, falling angels, the city of Sodom and Gomorrah and other towns who had their influence.
Brothers and sisters, new Bishops, men and women, boys and girls who have assembled in this edifice; how does Jude’s teachings concern our Christian ministry and us today?
The church of Nigeria under whose umbrella you are going to serve is emphatically Bible-based and evangelical and I make no apology for that position.
There are many false teachers today everywhere within and outside our denomination, in Warri you will find them, in Bauchi you will find them, in Lagos you will find them, in the United States of America you will find them, where you are going to serve, you will find them.
It is known that one of our prominent leaders no longer believe in the uniqueness of Jesus Christ.
Today it is very easy to find Bishops who believe less and less and less. They are more known for what they disbelieve than what they believe making one to wonder whether they were forced into the ministry of the church of God
These false teachers seek to destroy the credibility of God’s work, in everything they do. They try to destroy the credibility of the word of God. They do it through their false interpretations; they rationalize everything and apply the principle of relativism. They make their culture and experience superior to the Word of God instead of allowing it to act as a judge and to transform culture.
With sophistry, they subtly minimize the sinfulness of sin. They indulge the grace of God, continuing in sin, living immoral lives yet expecting the grace of God to abound contrary to scriptures. They cleverly undermine obedience to the Lord Jesus in their daily lives.
Brothers, like Jude, I urge you to contend for the faith of the saints: Bishops-elect Christian Ide, Musa Tula, Adebayo Akinde and Martyn Minns; contend for the faith of the saints; be the Jude in Warri, be the Jude in Bauchi, be the Jude in Lagos and be the Jude in the United States.
You should have nothing to do with the heresy and the lifestyle inspired by it. Instead with humility and love, rebuke them and correct their errors with the glory of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Furthermore, there are some among us who have the attitude of the heretics in 1st Timothy 6: 5-10. They believe that religion is all about gain? This is the mercenary motive in the church ministry that is so clear in the church today.
What was the end of those people? 1st Timothy 6 : 10 says:
“For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. Some people eager for money have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.”
So as you go, you will find people like these whose main interest in the ministry of God and the church is gain. Rebuke them; correct them in humility so that they do not destroy the faith handed over by the saints.
Another heresy that you need to contend with in our midst is nominal Christianity. Nominal Christianity is a heresy because it presents a deformed Jesus, it represents the type of Jesus that is incapable of doing anything supernatural or living an upright life. These people misrepresent Christ and his Church to the world.
They have Christianity that lack moral powers like the 8th century B.C Israelites in the days of Amos, Micah and Isaiah. They were very good at coming to worship, they paid their tithes and offered fabulous offerings. They observed religious feasts, sang religious songs and danced very well; they offered sacrifices yet they took bribes, oppressed the poor, perverted justice and lived immoral lives. In your dioceses contend against these heresies.
Yet another heresy, the power of ethnic factor in the church. The power of ethnic factor in the church has grown to the proportion of becoming a heresy.
When you understand ethnicity to mean only my tribe is good and capable. Right or wrong, only my tribesman or woman is good. No good can come from another tribe. When you become inconsiderable toward people of other tribes then it has become your doctrine, a heresy which you proclaim. There is need for repentance, otherwise we present a wrong Jesus to the world. This tendency has grown to a proportion of heresy that distorts the truth of Holy Scripture. As Jude did, we must rebuke the teachers and correct this heresy, we must continue to remind ourselves that in Christ, different tribes and languages met on the Pentecost day, white, black, brown, yellow, red and so on, Jews and Gentiles, Greeks, Romans, men and women, slaves and masters, the rich and the poor, Hausa, Yoruba, Igbo, Nupe, Ijaw, Edo, Uruobo, Isoko, all meet to become one tribe in Jesus.
HOW DO YOU CONTEND FOR THE FAITH?
How do you contend with faith in the place you are going to?
1. Maintain a good prophetic ministry, preach, teach, write the truth of God. If you preach and teach and write the truth of God, then you will refute the ignorance of people who are spreading falsehood. Study to show yourself approved unto God a workman that needed not to be ashamed rightly dividing the word of truth. You are to monitor through what you teach, through what you preach and through your proclamation, the truth of the Gospel.
Your Diocese must be Bible-based, we are taught that all Scripture was inspired by God and it is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.
So rely on the Holy Scripture, do not allow people to ridicule you out of the bible, because when they take the bible from you, they will give you something that can not stand and they lead you into destruction. No amount of pretence to knowledge by people who do that should ridicule you to abandon your scriptures. Hold it, teach it, preach it and then you will save yourself and those who hear you from error.
2. Live it out in your deadly life. The truth of the Gospel must reflect in your own personal life with you showing examples in personal scarifies and self denial.
Do not live as if the purpose of the Episcopacy is to make money, you have to contradict that notion from the way you conduct yourself and from the way you live your life by the standard you set and everything around you and in your family.
By so doing you will be contending for the faith that has been entrusted to you, because if you live and give the impression that the Episcopacy is all about money, is about success, etc, you will prove right the worldly heretics who think that religion is gain. Those who followed this idea in the past made shipwreck of their faith with eternal consequences.
3. You will promote evangelism. Evangelism is very important for you to spread the faith and contend with the faith that has been handed over to us. Operation 1-1-3 is a double edged sword, one for increasing our members and two for deepening the faith and quality of our members. Inculcating in them christian virtues of honesty, trust worthiness, accountability and social justice so they can stand for the Lord. When you promote evangelism at this level, you will be countering all false notions about the church of Nigeria.
4. Get involve in the ministry of caring and sharing in order to present a holistic gospel to the world. If you do this, you will be contending in a very serious way for the faith that is entrusted to us.
5. Administer your dioceses well, honestly, trusty rigorously and in the self-denial of the Christian leader. Be fair to all parts of the diocese and do not allow any narrow-mindness to block your view because it will lead to evil.
These tasks, my brothers, you must admit is great, but note according to Jude, God is able to keep you from failing. ( verse 24). So if you rely on him, you will not fall. You will be able to carry it out and be able to rebuke the devil and any form of teaching and establish the glory of God in your Diocese. You should also remember 1st Thessalonians 5: 24 God who calls you is faithful he will do it if you rely on him. He who has called you will not let you down but do not let yourself down for our God will keep his own part of the deal.
Remember also Jesus’ promise in Matthew 28:20, “Lo, I am with you always, to the close of age.” To do what? To protect you. You may be going to places where you are like sheep among wolves and you need to be careful but the Lord says, I will protect you and I am with you always and he says again, I am with you always to overcome difficulties and to fight your battles.
If you bear all these things in mind, you will be a good servant and a successful minister of the lord Jesus.
NIGERIAN POLITICAL SITUATION
In this national edifice, we can not forget our all important project for 2007, the general elections. Some politicians have tasted the privileges of being in power and like to remain there. Some others feel left out of power and would like to come in, some who have seen in the corridors of power would like to move in to the sitting room of power to take over.
May God help Nigeria?
As a church, we call upon all Nigerians to support with their prayers, the project of 2007. God has always heard our prayers, when things are very difficult, when we pray, when Nigerians cry and come down on their kneels, he hears our prayers. Please pray for Nigeria, pray for 2007.
Let it be known that sincere leadership is spiritual, calling for virtues of self sacrifice, self denial, total commitment and justice. This is why, nobody can really be a statesman or serve the people very well who has no God in him.
If you want to be a leader, then you have to first of all submit yourself, your will, your ambition, your understanding of life to the power of God.
Then God will lead you before you lead the people. You must avoid the struggle and indeed the intense rivalry in this political dispensation we are about entering. We must avoid violence. Power belongs to God and he gives it to who he wants. We must avoid a situation where people like Bola Ige, Dikibo, Funsho Williams have lost their lives.
It is not normal, God will judge because all lives belong to God.
Whatever you do in other to get into power, if God is not with you, you will not get there. If you like rig the election, you will not be there, if you like spend heavy amounts of money you will not be there, if you like kill your opponents, you will not be there, if you like, change your parties, you will not be there.
Without God you can not make it. For the scripture tells us except the Lord builds the house, the labourers labour in vain. Except the lord keep the city, the watchman is awake in vain. So brothers and sisters, fellow people of God, we have a duty to our country. Our Christian lives must be brought to bear upon the 2007 project and when we do this, then we will be helping our country to move forward.
But we will be a people practicing worthless religion if our moral lives continued to be a scandal to the people.
So I challenge you this day, to go home and contend for the true faith that was entrusted to us. As you do that, as I do that, may the Lord bless us and hear our prayer.