Let us focus on three key foundations for national renewal – Faith, Family, and Education in the context of this reflection. The three keys based on our knowledge and obedience to God’s commands points to the role of the church in national renewal. The three keys also forms the elements of Public Theology as a theology of history guided and based on the public events in the life of God’s ONLY Begotten Son, Jesus Christ. Public theology seeks personal renewal, the welfare of the state and a fair society for all by engaging issues of common interest to build the common good according to God’s command. The church, raised as a holy and the biggest catalyst for personal and national renewal has a mandate in winning souls and transforming the lives of the Kingdom citizens. Today, rather for the church to be the light and salt of the world, the world is now the salt and light, influencing and dictating to the church hence, the need to ask God like the Apostles did, ‘… Lord, increase our faith … faith as a mustard seed.’ The question for our reflection is, what is making the church and Christianity to be powerless, declining, and dying despite its huge memberships which exceeds that of any employer of labour, including the government?
The Gospel of Luke helps us to articulate a public theology for life in the world that ‘does not seek after images through which to understand and affirm the inner circle of those who might see themselves as special friends of God. It is a theology shaped by external events that become the backdrop for understanding God’s saving work in the world.’ Luke’s public theology as a theology of salvation history ‘has Jesus as the Revealer of God’s will at its centre, providing the anchor against misinterpreting the Kingdom of God as the kingdom of this world.’ In Luke’s theological presentation, God is working decisively and singularly in Jesus.’
The focus and example of Luke’s public theology points to ‘Jesus as the ONLY one who makes known the purpose of God to bring salvation to the world, and the way salvation will become a reality.’ The Gospel reading from Luke 17 provides a template of public theology to examine our nations especially Nigeria Independence at 59 in relation to the challenges of faith brokers with their ‘prosperous, kind, and loving’ version of powerless Christianity (Matt 23:15). In the Gospel of Luke 17, Jesus is recorded as teaching his disciples about forgiveness and faith because, ‘it is impossible but that offences will come but woe unto him, through whom they come’ (v 1). Jesus explicitly says that forgiveness and faith are linked to peace and justice hence, call to discipleship is a call to redemptive love for one another, for the common good, and welfare of everyone in our society as the hallmarks of the gospel.
Decline of public theology is centred on personal events in the life of powerful church leaders or founders, for example, many religious Nigerians today are sons and daughters of their founders, General Overseers, Bishops, Imams rather than seeing themselves as special friends of God. Decline of public theology resonates with Jesus warning in Luke 17 at the religious leaders – faith-brokers who taught their converts their own hypocritical theology and ideology.
Comparatively, let us note the difference between the term ‘disciples’ in verse 1 to ‘apostles’ in verse 5. The disciples are the larger group of followers of our Lord Jesus Christ, ‘those who truly believed in Him, as contrasted with the unbelieving Pharisees.’ Apostles were the twelve, the smaller group of disciples, ‘more informed because Jesus had spoken many things to them which the larger group did not hear’ (Jn 2:24-25). In response to Jesus’ warning, the apostles’ request ‘… Lord, increase our faith,’ was with a genuine and humble heart. They wanted the faith needed for radical forgiveness that could promote repentance. For Jesus, his apostles’ petition for more faith is not about the amount or grade of faith but genuineness of faith and commitment to obey Jesus’ instructions. Faith as total dependence on God and willingness to do His will is not something we use to put on a show for others like today’s faith-brokers. The amount of faith is not as important as the right kind of faith, holy faith of a mustard seed, small, but it is alive and growing.
Jesus’ corrective response to the erroneous request of the apostles for increase of their faith provides a reflection on the need for repentance and forgiveness. Our problem is not the amount of faith, but the attributes and accurate understanding of the nature of holy faith, without which no man or woman shall see the Lord. Faith begins with repentance, knowledge of our unworthiness like the faith of the Centurion in Luke 7. Faith that does not safe cannot promote peace and justice (Lk 7:50).
There is no lack of faith in the world especially in Nigeria, courtesy of faith-brokers, the professional preachers with their ungodly gains and kind of wisdom (Jer 8:9). Metts Wally in his book, Faith Brokers: Professional Christians and their Ungodly gains, warned against the danger of spiritual stock brokers who have turned faith to buying and selling process, turning people away from substance to shadow. The marketing of religion Martin Luther tried to prevent five century ago is now a common trend with glamour of blending God and money. Faith brokers’ miracles grow seed hence, giving has become a demonstration of our faith in God and His word. The biblical faith William Tyndale died for on October 6, 1538 based on his believe that the church was covering up the truth resonates with today’s rise in the scandal and epidemic of biblical illiteracy in our churches and nations hence, the secular worldview’s rejection of biblical Christianity.
Like in many other nations, the problem in Nigeria at 59 is lack of faith as a mustard seed, a humbleness to repent of our sins, a capacity to believe God and His Word, a trust in God and not in our human wisdom that undermines God’s commands. Christian faith that comes by hearing and hearing the Word of God as a mustard seed grows, forgives, and expands naturally. Life for many today is filled with fear, anxiety, and very little inner peace and happiness because we lack humble faith as a mustard seed. Capitalising on this lack of faith, today, many faith brokers in many nations are preaching and speaking to people about exercising their faith with “tempting” promises and loving illustrations which incite the gullible listener to action. Benny Hinn recently denounced the faith brokers’ prosperity preaching, that tempts people, ‘if you have faith to send in $10, God will bless you with $100.’
Genuine nurtured faith according to Jesus’ teaching is about faith that operates in the arena of grace and mercy. Genuine faith in the quantity as a mustard seed enables us to command a tree of unforgiveness to be uprooted and to be transplanted to the sea. There are many other trees God has not planted in many nations and especially in Nigeria that need to be uprooted and transplanted to the sea of forgetfulness.
Fola Ojo in one of his publications ‘Unless we kill ‘EFCC,’ Nigeria is finished’ used the four letters EFCC to explain some of the trees that God has not planted in Nigeria that need to be uprooted for Nigeria to come alive again. Fola Ojo used the first alphabet E to describe the ‘bitter, acerbic, and uncouth ethnic hatred’ that abounds in Nigeria. According to him, ‘everywhere you go in Nigeria, national benefits are often determined by what your surname sounds like.’ Another tree represented by alphabet F is how we fritter away our nation’s resources. According to Ojo, ‘leadership myopia and dystopia over the last 59 years have plunged Nigeria’s hard-earned cash into the pit of waste and foreign banks. The conduits of waste are innumerable,’ because our leaders cares for their pockets than caring for the people.
C for Cronyism points to nepotism, ‘favouritism based on kinship … doling out benefits based on blood relationship. Ojo’s sadness is that ‘our system condones man-know-man; it is who-you-know that lands you a position; not necessarily the talent you possess. Cronyism dumps the toxic-worst on a nation; and buries the brilliant-best. It creates a fecund ground for brain drain and forces round pegs into square holes. Cronyism has driven millions of talented and skilled Nigerians from their fatherlands in search of hope in other nations they now help build.’
The last C for Corruption is ‘the elephant in the room … the demonic lizard.’ Ojo rightly explained the extent and some effects of corruption on Nigeria. According to him, ‘the new generation of Nigerians sees nothing abnormal about corruption if they benefit from it. Decadence has dug deep into our fabrics. It surely will take a long time to salvage the system … Projects that cost millions; they earmark billions. They collect the billions and abandon the projects. The same contract re-awarded to the same people under a different name; and the cycle of crime spin on like a carousel.’
Nigerian faith brokers with their common practices and methods of non-denominational congregations, fellowships, urban based congregations, mentoring, networking, effective media and publications emphasised success in business and political life which also depend on the level of sowing or giving. Taking advantage of promised financial security and good instant returns to those who follow the spiritual law of positive confession, they however promote corruption and nepotism and the poor masses are the prime victims. The ongoing cries of revolution are like putting the cart before the horse. Nigeria at 59 calls for a renewing public theology with faith as a mustard seed in contrast to faith brokers’ cash and carry gospel. Faith is not money making tradition. Any public spontaneous response against ‘protracted and prolonged acts of greed, injustice, and inequity by the ruling class without repentance and forgiveness may amount to an arm of flesh. Cry for deliverance begins with cry for repentance and forgiveness. Wesley’s example of revolution in United Kingdom in the 18th century remains a model for Nigeria and that is what Methodist Church Nigeria, the first international denomination in Nigeria owes Nigerians as we prepare for the 60 years of Nigeria’s Independence next year, 2020.