Thieves in the Camp
Social commentators make a lot of critical capital of the fact that many perceptibly corrupt politicians, businessmen and civil servants are always to be found, often in the front seats, in our mega-religious events. In January this year(2013), the headlines screamed: “Jonathan dares not come to my church”, quoting Pastor Tunde Bakare, who is as much a pastor as a social critic. The picture of ex-Governor Ibori, shaking hands with Pastor Adeboye in the Redemption Camp, has become the icon of the menace. Nobody has forgotten that Cecilia Ibru was a staunch member of the MFM. But then I ask myself, what are the Pastors to do?
Politicians and Rich Business People not allowed
Should a Pastor put up a poster saying “Politicians and Rich Business People not allowed?” That would not be right, if you ask me. The Church is an open “club”, where members and non-members are equally welcomed, in the hope that the wicked, on hearing the Good News, will forsake his wicked ways and turn to God. Now, the Pastor is not God, he is only a messenger. No pastor can convert a single soul. Conversion is the sovereign work of the Holy Spirit in the heart of willing and repentant sinners. Some will hear and change dramatically, some will change gradually, while some are described as “ever learning, but never coming to the knowledge of the truth”.
It is instructive that Jesus faced the same situation in his earthly ministry. The Jews accused him, “this man is a sinner”, because he was actively and regularly found in the midst of sinners. He not only welcomed them to fellowship, he visited them. He was in the house of Matthew the fraudulent tax collector. He stopped by in the red-light district, and one of the loose women wiped his feet with her hair. Even his disciples misunderstood him, when they met him alone in the company of the woman of Samaria. He had only one answer for the criticisms: “The Son of man is come to seek and save the lost”.
He also gave a number of parables to this effect. One is the parable of the fisherman. The Kingdom of God is like a fisherman who throws his net into the deep. Naturally, the net brings up all sorts of creatures. However, it would be futile for the fisherman to jump into the sea to prevent certain kinds of fish from coming into the net. No. The net has to be hauled in first before the catch is sorted. The Church is still fishing! Now, even in the Church, among people who are supposedly Christians, you will still find some misfits. Jesus said: “Have I not chosen twelve, yet one of you is a thief”!
They should be excommunicated!
And that brings up the second parable of the Kingdom for today. The farmer planted wheat, but suddenly discovered that tares were springing up in the plantation. He was advised: “pull out the tares”! He declined and responded: “Let us wait until the time of harvest, lest you pull out the wheat with the tare”. Things are not always what they seem at face value. Supposedly good people may be disasters in waiting, while perceptibly evil people may be rough diamonds in process. It is not a pleasant job, nor a first or easy recourse, for a pastor to excommunicate. The first job of the Pastor, when a member is caught in a misdemeanor, is to guide and restore, to pluck out of the fire, to rescue from the mouth of the lion- “Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness”. But the public would have him throw the member to the fire, and crucify him if he does not.
Nevertheless, excommunication is an option: “Therefore put away from among yourselves that wicked person – any man that is called a brother [who is] a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner”. But at what point should this be? How many years? Jeremiah is reputed to have preached for 40 years without a single convert, yet he kept at it (that is why his Lamentations was so long after his warnings came to pass, for the people had enough time to repent, alas, they did not). Excommunication is not to prevent from coming to church, it is to withdraw the benefits and recognition of brotherhood until the backslider repents.
Preach to Them!
Now this is the job of the pastor. The Word of God is the power of God to salvation. It is the primary instrument for engendering change. And that is why locking them out is not an option. That is why excommunication is not a blockade from coming to Church. The Church must seek every avenue and opportunity possible to preach wholesome words to its various constituents. We probably need more preaching like John the Baptist’s in the Church today (Lk 3:12-14): “Then came also publicans to be baptized, and said unto him, Master, what we shall do? And he said unto them, Exact no more than that which is appointed you. And the soldiers likewise demanded of him, saying, And what shall we do? And he said unto them, Do violence to no man, neither accuse any falsely; and be content with your wages.”
Though Jesus mingled with the “sinners”, he spared no opportunity to let them know that their ways are not pleasing to God. “Woe unto you, hypocrites!”, he told the religious and political elite of his time, who made a lot of pretentious show with their tithes, offerings and religious activities. They were roundly lambasted for practicing a religion that neglected the “weightier matters of the law”, which were things such as justice, mercy, and faithfulness. They were condemned for devouring widows’ houses and for being full of extortion and violence.
The Good News
All is well that ends well. Matthew was a tax collector, he became an Apostle. Mary, demon possessed prostitute arose from her tearful adoration to become a disciple, while the woman of Samaria became an evangelist. “Zacchaeus, which was the chief among the publicans, and he was rich” also received a visit from Jesus, and at the end of the day said: “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor; and if I have taken anything from any man by false accusation, I restore him fourfold.” Publican are defined by Wikipaedia as “public contractors, in which role they often supplied the Roman legions and military, managed the collection of port duties, and oversaw public building projects. In addition, they served as tax collectors for the Republic (and later the Roman Empire), bidding on contracts (from the Senate in Rome) for the collection of various types of taxes?. Now you know who Matthew and Zacchaeus were!
The “sinners” that Jesus associated with became saints. I’m sure we will see less criticisms of Pastors hobnobbing with “sinners” when it becomes apparent that the sinners re-enact the “Zacchaeus experience” after their contact with the church. Perhaps it has been happening, but we have not been hearing. Perhaps we need to see and hear more testimonies in this area. Of course, the Baptist had a word or two for those who continue to make a mockery of their Christianity in public life : “Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance: And think not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham. And now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees: therefore every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire”. By all means let the sinners come to church, but by all means let the preacher tell the sinners the truth.