By Femi Aribisala
When Christ called his disciples, he did not instruct them to register in Bible schools, go to theological seminaries or get degrees as Masters of Divinity.
When I wrote my first Christian book, I sent free copies to many pastors in Lagos. One of those to whom I sent a copy sent it back with “return to sender” written on the package, even though it was addressed to his church office. I thought this was strange until Lucky Polete asked to see the package. When I showed it to him, he said: “No wonder. That is a wrong address.”
“What is wrong with it?” I asked. “He is not a pastor. He is a bishop,” Lucky replied. “If you don’t address it correctly, it will not be given to him.”
I thought Lucky’s idea a bit far-fetched. Why would a bishop return a gift because it was addressed to him as pastor? But I was curious to see if there was any truth to Lucky’s position. Therefore, I changed the title to “bishop” and instructed my secretary to send the package again to the same address.
Guess what happened? This time, not only did the book get to the man, he wrote me a reply in person, thanking me for it.
Vanity of vanities
How can anyone reconcile Jesus’ demand that his disciples shun highfalutin titles with the myriad of chieftaincy titles Christians award themselves today? We call some people Overseers, Wardens, Provosts, Knights of John Wesley, Guild of Stewards, Cardinals and Popes. We address some as those of old addressed God. We call them “Monsignor” (“My Lord”), “Venerable,” “Your Eminence,” “Your Grace,” “Holy Father,” and “Supreme Pontiff.” We even have a “Vicar of Christ,” which means Vice-Messiah.
Jesus is particularly scathing about this. He says of the religious elite: “Their lives are perpetual fashion shows, embroidered prayer shawls one day and flowery prayers the next. They love to sit at the head table at church dinners, basking in the prominent positions, preening in the radiance of public flattery, receiving honorary degrees, and getting called ‘Doctor’ and ‘Reverend’. Don’t let people do that to you, put you on a pedestal like that. You all have a single Teacher, and you are all classmates.” (Matthew 23:5-8).
True servants of God don’t need human pedigrees or validation. Amos says: “I’m not a prophet! And I wasn’t trained to be a prophet. I am a shepherd, and I take care of fig trees. But the LORD told me to leave my herds and preach to the people of Israel. And here you are, telling me not to preach!” (Amos 7:14-16). They told Amos not to preach because he was not a graduate from their bible colleges. He did not have their spiritual certification.
However, Jesus says: “that which is highly esteemed among men is abomination in the sight of God.” (Luke 16:15). Titles and positions of honour are highly esteemed among men. Therefore, they are abominable to God. Seminaries and Bible Colleges need the approval of the state. This makes them of men and not of God. Credentials are used to gain and impress the world. But we are to love neither the world nor the things in the world. (1 John 2:15).
When Christ called his disciples, he did not instruct them to register in Bible schools, go to theological seminaries or get degrees as Masters of Divinity. He taught them by himself then told them to wait in Jerusalem for the Holy Spirit. (Acts 1:8).
The Holy Spirit is our certification. Jesus says: “when the Comforter has come, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, he shall testify of me.” (John 15:26). If we are truly working in the Lord’s vineyard, the Holy Spirit will also testify of us. This is what happened with the Apostles: “God also bearing them witness, both with signs and wonders, and with different kinds of miracles and gifts of the Holy Spirit, according to his own will.” (Hebrews 2:4).
Validation of Jesus
Everything physical or natural about Jesus was designed to make natural men have little regard for him. It pleased God that Jesus should be inadequate according to all those superficial standards the world holds dear. He was born in a manger. He settled in a non-descript town, so much so that someone asked: “Can there be any good thing come out of Nazareth?” (John 1:46).
Jesus came from a poor background. His father was a mere carpenter. Jesus did not go to school. Neither was he a graduate of some theological seminary. Therefore, the Jews marveled about him, asking: “How does this man know letters, having never studied?” (John 7:15).
By God’s deliberate design, Jesus was not even a Levite but was from the tribe of Judah. Therefore, he was not a priest and could not have been a priest according to the Law of Moses. He had no civil or ecclesiastical authority as a Jew. Nevertheless, signs and wonders followed him wherever he went. Thus, the Jewish religious elite demanded of him: “By what authority do you do these things? And who gave you this authority?” (Matthew 21:23).
The Pharisees maintained only they and the rulers of the Jews had the authority to validate a man’s ministry. So they denigrated Jesus: “Have any of the authorities or the Pharisees believed in him?” (John 7:49). Since they refused to certify that Jesus was a prophet, they were convinced he did not have a leg to stand on.
Church of men
But Jesus was contemptuous of man’s validation. He did not only refuse to submit to their authority, he insisted their authority was invalid because it came from men and not from God. Therefore, he asked them: “Who gave John the right to baptize? Was it God in heaven or merely some human being?” (Luke 20:4). Clearly, John’s authority came from God and not from men.
John the Baptist did not establish a bible school and insist men must register and take courses before they can be baptised. Nevertheless, in most churches today, you have to take several weeks of bible study before you can be baptised. Isaac and Rebecca did not have to take ten spiritual classes before they were married. But that is de rigueur in some churches.
Some even insist a man must have such worldly things as a cooker, a fridge and a television before he can be allowed to get married. Some have blood-tests as a prerequisite and refuse to marry anyone who is HIV-positive. Others refuse to marry those whose blood-types makes them susceptible to having children with sickle-cell anaemia.
In short, our churches are the churches of men. They insist on the credentials of men when God clearly has no regard for them. Our pastors establish their own commandments that take men back to Egypt.
Jesus was oh so different from the pastors of today. Mark says Jesus taught as one that had authority and not as the scribes. (Mark 1:22). Jesus himself says the works he does in the name of the Lord are his credentials. (John 10:25). When a man raises the dead back to life, he does not need human validation. “If we receive the witness of men, the witness of God is greater.” (1 John 5:9).