OLUFEMI EMMANUEL PhD
The root of Christianity could be traced far back to God’s decision to create mankind in his image and likeness for the primary purpose of fellowshipping with him. His dream was not just to create an abandoned mass of wild and independent souls to populate the planet earth and among whom only a fragment would be conscious of their creator and maybe manage to give him his due honour. On the contrary, God intentionally created the human specie and race to bear his likeness and image for the purpose of interacting with him in the context of genuine worship, intimacy and responsibility.
In order to make that dream a possibility, God intentionally wired man with the relevant components among which is the inner yearning, hunger and thirst for the creator; along side with this inner craving is the will power by which man could be independent in his thoughts, decision and choice; thus man has in him the two dynamics of longing after God and the potential to take his own independent decisions even in contrast to his creator. It is amazing to realize that God could make a man with that tendency to make choices that could be injurious to the intention of God himself; he did not create a man that he must have to manipulate and drive in order to achieve his intention, rather he made a man that could willingly submit to him and carry out his purpose of mutual relationship. That was the basic root to which Christianity could be traced.
Biblical accounts have it that at his initial stage of existence, man had direct access to God; there was no need for a go-between who would have to reel out conditions for reaching God; even after the fall, Cain and Abel offered sacrifices by themselves to God without an intermediary service; Enoch walked with God and his fellow humans could not find him again because his friend (God) had taken him away; records also have it that Noah walked with God likewise all the Patriarchs. God told Abraham, “Walk before me and be perfect….” All these men were living naturally in relationship with God; they lived among the people of their days; they interacted practically with their environments; they engaged in socio-political and economic issues of their days; they were not really known as ‘religious’ people as it were, but as ordinary people in whose lives such values and characteristics of godliness could be seen.
Without the need for intermediaries in their relationship with God, these people were the priests and the prophets as far as their personal relationships with God were concerned. They knew how to set up the altars; they could offer the sacrifices and call upon God; they enjoyed consistent fellowship with God who often honoured their faith through continuous revelation of himself to them.
The Patriarchal faith set the standard of ideal relationship with God for all ages that have come after them even till date. The Patriarchs were men of real and redeeming faith; they did not pretend anything to God and their fellow men. Their relationship with God could easily reflect in their relationships with their neighbours, friends and even enemies. But there came another generation after the patriarchs to whose custody the management of the religious paraphernalia was committed; the priestly generation took away personal access to God by standing in-between him and his seekers ; it brought about a redefinition of godliness as perfectionism in handling the religious activities and thus brought a dichotomy of character and charisma. The Sons of Eli were typical examples of how a perfect religionist could be a son of Belial at the same time. They were experts in offering sacrifices and leading the worship; they knew how to handle temple matters and coordinate them perfectly but they were also experts in immorality and corruption. The Prophetic generation seems to toll the line of the Patriarchs in terms of character, hence they were not always agreeing with the priests. The Prophets were practical prosecutors of the ideals of God; they were realists who say it as it is where priests only hide behind the facade of religiosity.
The Lord Jesus practically clarified the difference between the ruse in religion and the reality therein. The religious system of his time was personified by the Scribes and Pharisees with whom he was always at loggerhead. Jesus clearly drew the line between the religious lifestyles of the Scribes and Pharisees and genuinely truthful life that should characterize his Disciples. In Mathew 23, Jesus makes it clear that the only reason why the Scribes and the Pharisees should be respected is because they occupy the seat of Moses and they teach the word of God. But for other obvious reasons, they should not be followed. The dangers of deception in religion are clearly outlined in the following ways from Jesus’ description of the Scribes and Pharisees:
- “They say but do not do”:- This is contrast to Jesus who placed doing before saying. Religious leaders only boast to give false impression but in reality they do not exhibit the commensurate lifestyle that befits their claims.
- “They place heavy burdens and grievous to be borne and lay them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers”:- In contrast, Jesus’ burden is easy and his yoke is light.
- “But all their works they do for to be seen of men….”:- Showmanship is the way of religious hypocrisy, but Jesus does nothing to be seen and applauded by men.
- Love for popularity, recognition and respect: – Religiosity is always a loud business that loves to attract attention from people whereas Jesus would always warn people against cheap popularity.
- Gains: – Empty religion loves to win and gain more people and money; it travels far and wide to make more profits and thereafter promote more evil with the proceeds.
- Outward righteousness and inward wickedness:- Religiosity only celebrates floweriness that only human beings could appreciate but never cares about the inward dirt that irritate God.
The Lord Jesus is the sole definer of what the Christian life should be. It is not the church leader, pastor, prophet, General Overseer or Bishop or Prelate that will do that. It is only the revelation of the person, word and redemptive work of Christ that validates what is called ‘Christianity’ as a reality any other thing is a mere religion of ruse.