By Obadiah Mailafia
IN Matthew 5:13 we read: “Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be salted? It is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men.”
I find the metaphor of salt particularly instructive. Salt is not only an additive that gives taste to food; it is a preservative and an antibiotic. Among the Russian people, guests are welcome with salt and a loaf of bread; a gesture of the highest hospitality that can be offered any visitor. In the Old Testament, a covenant of salt was considered a covenant of everlasting obligation. Our Lord is here describing his followers as those who add seasoning to a tasteless humanity; the healers of the world — custodians of the eternal covenant of hope.
Our Nigeria of today is tasteless because we as believers have lost our saltiness. Our country is mortally sick with a sickness unto death — to echo the Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard – because we have lost the salt properties with which to heal a broken world. We have departed from our first love — from the covenant of our forefathers — fallen prostrate before Baalim. We are the latter-day Laodicean Church; so tasteless and so lukewarm that it would have to be spewed out.
Make no mistake about it: Jesus Christ is the first and the last; the beginning and the end of all things. We are in Him and of Him. The tragedy of Christendom today is that we have compartmentalised our lives into separate secular boxes. We welcome Him in our churches on Sundays but deny Him in our business and political lives.
I happen to be a student of Islamic philosophy and metaphysics. I admire certain aspects of the Muslim religion, especially where they reject any separation between the secular and the sacred. They always insist that Islam is “a complete way of life”. If we were not just Sunday church goers we would live the full apostolic gospel in its totality.
Although I was born into the evangelical tradition, I happen to be catholic and ecumenical in outlook. My greatest influences have been figures such as Abraham Kuyper, the great protestant statesman of Holland; Francis Schaeffer, the American Presbyterian pastor and philosopher; the catholic philosopher Jacques Maritain; and the Lutheran German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer. All these churchmen are united in the conviction that Christianity must be lived as a complete and holistic way of life. Christ in us, Christ above us, Christ behind us, Christ before us; the hope of glory. Christ in us means we are called to humanise the earth, to redeem a lost and broken world.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer was one of the famous churchmen who led the resistance against Adolf Hitler in Germany. He urged Christians to accept the cost of discipleship and to abjure “cheap grace”. He was executed in a German political prison in April 1945 age 39. At the hour of his death, he knelt down and prayed. Ever the pastor, he was the one comforting his fellow prisoners rather than being comforted. His last words: “This is the end–for me, the beginning of life.”
Today, the wind is patently against the face of Christ in Nigeria. Churches have been burnt down in Yobe, Borno, and Adamawa and throughout the northern states of Nigeria. Thousands of Christians have paid with their lives, while many more have been rendered homeless. In Maiduguri, not too long ago, a young pastor was taken hostage by Boko Haram terrorists. They asked him to renounce the Lord or face imminent execution. He chose the path of martyrdom. Before he was executed he was allowed to call his wife. I shall paraphrase his last testament: “My darling wife, I love you,” he wept; “take care of the children, please tell the brethren that I did not betray our Lord”.
My friends, we face difficult days ahead. No one knows how the future of our great country will pan out. What seems clear is that nations that cannot continually reinvent themselves are likely to atrophy and die.
As Christian leaders, our role is to pursue the path of hope and reconciliation. At a time when evil men are driving a wedge between Christians and Muslims, we are called to restore hope in a hopeless world. We can make the difference because we are different. We can make the difference because we are in this world, but we are not of it.
We are heirs of a heavenly kingdom. In our politics, in our businesses, in our cultural and intellectual activities, we must bring a kingdom approach to bear in all we do. Because Jesus is the Way, the Life and the Truth, we cannot be otherwise.
The Jews have always adhered to the ideal of Vivek Olam (to perfect this world) as their life-philosophy. For Christians, the call to politics is a call to human redemption. The ideals of the Common Good have been central to Catholic Social Teaching since St. Thomas and the medieval Jesuit Fathers of Salamanca. We are called to seek the Common Good of all — to unite in solidarity against the common enemies of the people — poverty, illiteracy, disease and disempowerment.
May the Holy Spirit – the spirit of wisdom and grace — guide us to become the leaders our country needs in times like these. May we never forget our true calling as servants of the people. Do not ask for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for you and me: “He has shown you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8).
(Concluding part of a Keynote Address Delivered on the Occasion of the First Prayer Summit of Christian Leaders Organised by CAN Nasarawa State Chapter, in Lafia, August 5 2017).