By Isaac Asabor
As scripturally stated in the biblical book of Acts of the Apostles in chapter 4 verse 19 to 20, the people, the priests, the captain of the temple, and the Sadducees came upon Peter and John when they were greatly disturbed that they taught the people and preached in Jesus the resurrection from the dead. Not only were they interrogated for preaching what seemed to fall in the realm of political religious dogma in those biblical days, they laid hands on them, and put them in custody until the next day, for it was already evening.
However, many of those who heard the word believed; and the number of the men came to be about five thousand. The foregoing scenario which played out in the biblical days as documented in Acts chapter 4 from verse 19 to 20, can be related to contemporary situations where Pastors seemingly preach themselves into trouble as literary cannonballs of criticism always trail their sermons that are more often than not targeted at the government that be.
The foregoing view cannot be pooh-poohed as the intersection between religion and politics in Nigeria by each passing day has been reverberating from the pulpits. Caught in this act that has drawn the ire of the government are pastors affiliated to Protestant Christian denominations where the relationship between religion and political partisanship seems to continually intensify.
As stated in the scripture, when Peter and John were questioned, they sarcastically retorted and spoke right back thus “Whether it is right in God’s eyes to listen to you rather than God, you decide. As for us, there’s no question-we can’t keep quiet about what we’ve seen and heard. “- Act 4:19-20.
At this juncture, it is not out of place to say that at every political dispensation that not few clergies that are affiliated to the orthodox and Pentecostal churches have the predilection to be delivering scathing political messages right from the pulpits, specifically to the government so much that tongues have kept wagging as to whether it is apt for men of God to ignore the scriptural injunction made available to them in John chapter 21 that the sheep should be fed.
What is this food with which shepherds are to feed the flock of God? It can be no other than the Word of God. Peter declares that Christians are to desire the pure spiritual milk of the Word so that by it, we can mature in our salvation (1 Peter 2:2). As early as the book of Deuteronomy, we see the Lord describing His Word as food for His people who live not by bread alone, but by every Word that proceeds from His mouth (Deuteronomy 8:3). Jesus reiterates this thought in His temptation in the wilderness (Matthew 4:4). The importance of the Word of God as food for our souls cannot be over-emphasized.
Have you ever heard that the words of God which are usually conveyed by pastors from the pulpit is meant to be food to Christians? Yet many of us frequently experience feeling spiritually dry, thirsty, hungry, and even empty deep inside as most pastors who are ordained to explain or interpret the word are more often than into what can in this context be called political activism preaching seeming political sermons that are of no relevance to the congregants. We can even experience this feeling right after we leave the church. Little wonder not few are found yawning or sleeping while sermon is been preached.
Our lives consist of many matters, but the foremost matter for our physical survival is food. When we haven’t eaten in a while, we become very clear that everything else is secondary. Only eating food satisfies our hunger and nourishes us. Without eating, we simply can’t continue to exist.
In the same way, the foremost matter for believers to be healthy and grow in the divine life is to eat spiritual food. But what is the food for our spiritual life?
God gave His Word to us to be our spiritual food. So even more than studying the Bible, we actually need to “eat” it. Nothing is more important to our Christian life than our being nourished with the Word of God. Biblical knowledge cannot help us if we as Christians spiritually become famished, and consequently weak and dying. God’s primary concern for us is that we would be living and growing by eating the Word of God as our food. At this juncture, it is expedient to ask, “Who is to feed the sheep as Jesus Christ instructed in the book of John as virtually all the pastors are preaching politics from the pulpits?
Similarly, what mother would insist that her child first, above all, study hard and behave well, yet never prepare food for her child to eat? On the contrary, a mother knows that the primary matter concerning her child’s wellbeing is that the child eat nourishing food to be healthy. Then all the other things can be taken care of.
In the same way, God’s real concern for all of us, His children, is that we be living, full of His life, and growing in His life by eating His Word.
Besides seeing the word of God as spiritual food, there are other reasons why it is inappropriate for Pastors to resort to preaching politics instead of feeding their followers with spiritual foods.
There is no denying the fact that to preach is a called duty for any pastor. The congregants go to church with the assumption that what would be preached will be anchored on biblical scriptures that would speak to their situations. Paradoxically, when their expectations are not met, there is no reason why they would not be disappointed as the pastor has resorted to substitute fiery exegesis with political message. To this writer, such act tantamount to what can be dubbed as spiritual malpractice.
As independently gathered from respondents by this writer, not few Nigerians with dispassionate mindsets were of the view that faithful Bible preachers should use the text of the Word of God as their source of preaching, and not information extracted from conventional and social media. Seen from the foregoing, it stands to reason that anything less is simply a speech or rhetoric which may be inspirational, moral, or even Christian-themed. But disappointedly, if such message does not satisfy the spiritual hunger of the congregants, then it is meaningless as the point of view raised by the pastor in his or her politicized sermon can equally be found on the pages of newspapers or on social media platforms or among gossipers in the markets and beer parlors.
Sometimes a given text will make political or moral statements. For instance, if a pastor that is devoted to the wellbeing of his spiritual children preaching through Psalm 139, he or she cannot escape the references to the sanctity of life. Or when preaching through Proverbs he or she will encounter many economic truths that shape capitalism. Or preaching through parts of James or Timothy, it will be inescapable for him or her to avoid the harsh condemnations of greed.
But as a rule, pastors, especially those who preach in an expository (taking a book at a time, chapter at a time, verse at a time) approach, will be guided by the text. To embellish such topic anchored on an expository topic, no doubt, spiritual malpractice.
For instance, it flies in the face of reasonableness to equitably compare Jephthah with a contemporary politician.
“Who is Jephthah, after all?” You may have asked. A painstaking peep into Judges Chapter 11 would reveal that “Jephthah the Gileadite was a mighty warrior. His father was Gilead; his mother was a prostitute. Gilead’s wife also bore him sons, and when they were grown up, they drove Jephthah away. “You are not going to get any inheritance in our family,” they said, “because you are the son of another woman.” So Jephthah fled from his brothers and settled in the land of Tob, where a gang of scoundrels gathered around him and followed him”. If I may ask in this context, “What is praiseworthy in Jephthah (the son of a prostitute) to be compared with a politician?”
Be that as it may, it is expedient to say that in as much as this writer is not tacitly gagging men of God from speaking on what bothers them, their followers and the economy, it suffices to opine that they can do same without interfering with their primary assignments as indicated by apostle Paul’s letter to evangelist Timothy in 2 Timothy chapter 2 verse 15 where he wrote “Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needed not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. To my view, talking politics on the pulpit does not appear like “dividing the word”. In fact, there are many platforms available for them to speak. Such platforms, no doubt, cut across Opinion Editorials (Op-Eds), Blogs, Books and other platforms of influence that the pastor can maximize to speak his mind on political issues. Even so, he must jealously guard that influence and always speak winsomely. Again, as a minister of the gospel, he must not make politics more important than his pastoral duties.