Circling the Bunkers

Circling the bunkers
A Russian Bunker Source: Flikr.com

Sometime ago, I met a learned man. My aunt in the United States introduced me to him and he gave me an appointment to see him at the faculty.

Aside from being a respected professor in his field, he is also a clergyman in the Anglican Church.

My meeting with him was purely regarding my career, but as we began talking, he started to admonish me on my personal life. He began to tell me stuff about my thoughts and relationship with God which no one – not my relatives or anyone else – could have known except by supernatural means.

I looked on in surprise with my mouth almost ajar as he probed into my life and appealed to the biblical story of David and Goliath and how with God on my side, I will become victorious in life. I knew right there that the Holy Spirit was speaking to me through him.

By the way, that’s not the first time that God would send someone to strengthen me in my time of despair. The first time I experienced that was in 2014 during my Masters at the University of Ibadan.

A Christian professor from another faculty suddenly walked up to where I was seated before the lecture started and told me a certain thing which no one else knew. At that time I was depressed and was about throwing in the towel, but what he said gave me hope and confidence in God.

In the case of this Anglican canon, although I treasured his counsel, I didn’t expect that a man in “that” denomination would be a mouth piece for God. You see, my family were baptized in the Anglican Church, but the controversy that occurred when my parents exited the denomination left a degree of cynicism in my mind.

I had little trust in anyone in a position of leadership in that church because I perceived them to be  opposed to the move of the Holy Spirit.

Later as I reflected on this experience, God spoke to my heart, “You can’t pocket My Holy Spirit!

How true!

All along, I had been putting the Holy Spirit of God in a test tube of sorts. I had concluded that He could only speak to me through certain pastors or ministers that I revered or those from the denomination I approved of. That was a “we alone” mentality, and thank God for demolishing it.

This mentality is what I call “circling the bunkers.” A bunker is a defensive military shelter designed to protect people and valued materials from falling bombs or other attacks.

A bunker is mostly built underground – and metaphorically speaking – it is a fortress of ideas or practices that is specially protected or defended by individuals with an agenda.

Circling the bunkers is a preconditioned thinking in which a believer invests so much in church traditions, denominational positions, theological systems or outward labels as criteria of spiritual legitimacy and is more ready to defend these than the gospel of Jesus Christ itself.

Many believers today have sadly missed out on God’s intervention in their lives because they assumed that He can only speak or supernaturally work through their preferred or “our own” vessels.

But God can and does ministers through vessels who don’t meet up with our self-made conditions.

I want you to understand that God is not limited by denominations, institutions or human vessels. In fact, God can use a weak, despised, uneducated and a very young person to confound the strong, influential, wise and mighty of this earth.

Yet, many people have a problem accepting others on the basis of minor doctrinal differences or finicky rules:

An Arminian is teaching theology? I’m not interested.

He’s a pre-triber? Nope. Bye.

A Christian woman wearing make up and jewelries? She’s a Jezebel!

An evangelist dancing disco, wearing jean trousers, a hand chain and a even a tattoo? Have mercy Lord, he’s a false convert.

You are from that denomination where you speak unknown languages and raise your thighs when praising God? Out.

That pastor doesn’t use the King James bible? Heretic alert.

I remember when I started a Facebook Christian group six years ago, one guy demanded I put a Bible verse on all my articles because as far as he’s concerned, if a Christian doesn’t have a Bible verse for everything he writes, he’s going by “human wisdom.” He’s defending his fundamentalist bunker.

Couple of years ago, a friend tagged a pastor of a popular Nigerian Pentecostal church to my Facebook post, Unmasking the Queen of Heaven, and the man said something like:

“I was following along when he was quoting the Bible to expose this spirit, but you see when he began quoting these historical and religious non-biblical sources, he lost me. I don’t give attention to such write ups.”

Nothing new here. In the cute little world some people live in, the Bible is the only authority that must be appealed to: history must be scorned, logic should be rejected, science despitefully spat on, arts (especially African arts) demonized, theology should be relegated and unless it’s Jewish culture, it should be trampled upon.

This is what I call a “fundamentalist heritage.” It’s a constructed mental box that is obsessed with dotting every “i” and crossing every “t” at the risk of being labelled an apostate. They can take just one sentence you made and turn it back at you with a polemic of 2000 words and quotes from an entire chapter of the Bible.

We must not fall into the delusion that unless a person speaks or writes like our own pastors or reverend or elders, he must be messed up or absolutely false. This is how people miss out on God’s treasures.

I have known people who found the truth of Scripture even while they were still trapped within a religious system of deception and by God’s leading, they eventually found their way out, especially when they realized they couldn’t change the system.

God used a mute donkey to convey His message to a recalcitrant prophet. And there are times He will use poor, broken vessels to reprove, instruct, reveal His will or work in the lives of His people. That’s the sovereignty of God.

In the Bible we have an example of a prophet who discredited God’s revelation because he felt only his “clique” could legitimately speak for Him.

When God permitted a deceiving spirit to lead Ahab to his death, out of 400 prophets, Micaiah had a different message – a genuine insight into the heavenly conference. When he prophesied Ahab’s death at Ramoth Gilead, a respected prophet reacted:

“Then Zedekiah son of Kenaanah went up and slapped Micaiah in the face. “Which way did the spirit from the Lord go when he went from me to speak to you?” he asked” (1 Kgs. 22:24)

Such arrogance! Notice, he was not dedicated to God’s truth but a “party line.” Just talk like we do and you belong. This prophet felt he had a patent on the Spirit of God. He thought he had a corner on His revelation.

This is why it is dangerous to follow anyone who tells you he is the only mouth piece of God, or that his ministry is the only one that carries God’s approval.

Elijah nearly fell into this trap when he said, “I am the only one left” – the only one jealous for God. But God made Him realize that He has marked out for protection seven thousand in Israel who have neither kissed Baal nor bowed to him.

I do not have a corner on God’s truth. I am not the only contender. My blog is not the only place where truths are being shared. There are many others who have been labouring before me and will continue when I am no more here. That leaves no room for arrogance.

In Matthew 23, Jesus assessed the situation and rightly called the religious leaders of His day, “blind guides” (vs. 16, 24), “fools and blind” (vs. 17, 19), and “blind Pharisee” (v. 26). They were blind because their hearts were hardened and they idolized their outward piety above their inner spiritual state.

In Romans 11:25, Paul explained Israel’s mistake: “Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in.”

Their hearts were hardened because they were blind to what God is doing. The same can happen to a Christian too – stuck up in a traditional or denominational rot and blind to the move of the Holy Spirit.

The key is to accept others just as Christ has accepted us. He “chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love…to the praise of the glory of His grace, by which he made us accepted in the Beloved” (Eph. 1:4, 6).

It was by His grace – not our works – that we were accepted, so we should extend that same grace to others. We need the ministry of the brothers and sisters outside our bunkers.

Finally, our focus should be on Jesus Christ as the sole standard (Heb. 12:2). It’s self-righteousness when we judge people by their outward labels rather than their devotion to Jesus Christ and His Word. It’s self-righteousness when we compare ourselves to others and judge them on that basis. God has only one standard for righteousness: Jesus Christ.

To eat Meats, or not?

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One of the roots of religious delusion is evidenced by people who are bound under strict laws that stipulate what they can or cannot eat.

These dietary rules are believed to make them more approved before God and contribute to their spiritual elevation or whatever marker of spiritual enlightenment they subscribe to.

A look at various religious systems bears this out. In Judaism, there are kosher dietary laws which adherents are expected to keep.

Drawing from its Judaistic influence, Islam also adheres to certain dietary laws that prohibit eating pork, lobster and clams.

In Hinduism, Mahayana Buddhism and Jainism, dietary laws are taken a notch higher by the prohibition of all meats. Animals are believed to have souls and are to be venerated.

The New Age spirituality, which is the fountain head of the current reverence for the earth and environmentalism, believes animal meats contain harmful “vibrations” which should be avoided by seekers or adepts.

Some professing Christians also adhere to the dietary laws of the Mosaic laws. Seventh Day Adventists, for instance, under the instruction of their prophetess Ellen White, are taught that:

If we subsist largely upon the flesh of dead animals, we shall partake of their nature.” – Testimonies for the Church 2:61.

“Its use excites the animal propensities to increased activity, and strengthens the animal passions. When the animal propensities are increased, the intellectual and moral powers are decreased. The use of the flesh of animals … benumbs the fine sensibilities of the mind.”– Testimonies for the Church 2:63.

“Among those who are waiting for the coming of the Lord, meat eating will eventually be done away: flesh will cease to form a part of their diet.” — Counsels on Diet and Foods, p. 380.

Even though it’s documented that Ellen White broke her own rules and ate meat on some occasions, it’s clear that within the sect, these dietary laws are presented as keys to moral purity, intellectual dexterity and salvation.

There are also some Hebrew Roots and Sacred Name adherents who observe these dietary laws.

Some of these religious groups produce medical books warning people against eating any kind of meat. But these “findings” have underlying religious undertones and are propounded because they validate their presuppositions.

This issue needs to be addressed because even within some Christian denominations, many people are still indirectly placed under a dietary yoke of bondage.

I have attended two well-known Nigerian Pentecostal churches where a preacher and a guest speaker demanded that Christians revert to the dietary laws of the OT if they want to experience physical and spiritual wellness.

It’s one thing for a Bible teacher to teach his/her opinions, it’s another thing for him/her to equate those opinions to a divine order.

You may not personally like certain foods, that’s okay, but you don’t have to make it a stumbling block for other believers.

For instance, let’s say, Pastor A doesn’t like eating apples because he has allergies whenever he does. It’s fine if he says to his congregation, “I don’t like apples because they affect me negatively when I eat them.”

But when pastor A now stands on his pulpit on a Sunday morning and says:

“As I was praying and studying my Bible last night, God gave me a special revelation about apples. As a child of God, you must avoid that fruit because it was the fruit that Satan gave Eve to eat and Eve gave Adam and ultimately caused the downfall of the entire human race. It defiles the body and soul. It deadens the intellect.  If you want to be closer to God and enjoy His deeper love and fellowship with holy angels, then stop eating apples!”

These remarks would not only be a form of pastoral manipulation and control, it would also be an attempt to lead people into the bondage of legalism.

Notably, Pastor A has taken several dangerous steps:

1. He has projected his personal tastes onto everyone. That is, if he’s allergic to apples, then everyone else must be allergic to them as well.

2. He has equated his personal preference to collective preference. If he dislikes apples everyone else must do so too.

3. He has elevated his personal preferences to divine mandates. Whatever he loathes must also be what God also loathes. Technically, God is reduced to his rubber stamp who must endorse whatever resonates with his personal desires.

4. He has masked his true intentions by using a fraudulent revelation as an ecclesiastical cement on his personal tastes.

This is the progression of many legalistic doctrines in many churches today – with the exception of those that are directly taught by demons to their mouthpieces to uphold their existing pacts.

Now, if you replaced the “apples” in my analogy with “meat” and certain natural things that some church leaders urge their members to avoid, the twisted syllogism fits. This is an Athenian development of false doctrines.

First of all, what does the Bible teaches about being a vegetarian? Is it wrong to eat meat?

In Genesis 3:18b, after the fall of man, God instructed Adam, “And you shall eat the plants of the field.”

At that time, man was condemned to exhausting manual labour in order to make a living. Indeed, Adam was to work before the Fall, but when God cursed the ground at the Fall, there was a clause attached:

“In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread till you return to the ground” (Gen. 3:19). Taking verse 18 without the surrounding context of the preceding and proceeding verses is flawed exegesis.

Now, in six chapters later, we see that God expressly gave man permission to eat animals: “Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you; and as I gave you the green plants” (Gen. 9:3).

In the same book of Genesis, we read that the Lord and His angels visited Abraham and Sarah. Abraham prepared the best that he had and it consisted of beef:

“And Abraham ran to the herd, and took a calf, tender and good, and gave it to the servant, who hastened to prepare it” (Gen. 18:7).

If meat were harmful, then why did Abraham give it to the Lord to eat?

Even in the temple offerings, God instructed the Levites to eat the lean meat of cow, sheep and goat but burn their fats in the fire:

“You shall sprinkle their blood upon the altar, and shall burn their fat as an offering by fire…but their flesh shall be yours…” (Num. 18:17-18).

If killing animals and eating their meat was sinful, then God commanded the Levites to regularly sin by eating the meat of animals that had been killed, and this went on for centuries.

It’s also instructive to also note that the menu the Lord personally prepared for Elijah before he faced the prophet of Baal consisted of meat:

“And the ravens brought him bread and meat in the morning, and bread and meat in the evening; and he drank from the brook” (1 Kgs. 17:6).

In the New Testament, the apostle Paul instructs Timothy and classifies abstinence from meat along with the teachings of forced celibacy as lies taught by deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons:

“Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by giving heed to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons, through the pretensions of liars whose conscience are seared, who forbid marriage and enjoin abstinence from foods which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth” (1 Tim. 4:1-3).

If you are a believer in Jesus Christ, then you must also accept His truth:

“Do you not see that whatever goes into a man from outside cannot defile him, since it enters, not his heart but his stomach, and so passes on? (This he declared all foods clean). And he said, “What comes out of a man is what defiles a man” (Mark 7:18-20).

It’s not that roasted pork or cooked okro or smoked grasscutter meat which goes into your tummy that defiles your soul. It is what comes out of your heart. This is what the Lord Jesus taught.

If you reject the truth of Jesus Christ, then you can’t be said to be a follower of Christ. If you take Moses over against Christ, then you are far from Biblical Christianity – the way of grace and truth. For it is written:

“For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (John 1:17).

The dietary laws (Lev. 11:41-44; 20:25; Deut. 14:3-20) for the Jews were very strictly adhered to by even the apostles. But on the cross of Calvary, God broke down the middle wall of partition between Jews and Gentiles (Eph. 2:14-18).

The dietary laws were put aside along with the ceremonial/temple laws. Therefore, we can partake of meat without any prohibitions.

The only restriction observed is in some instances of meats offered to idols which Paul said he would rather avoid if it will cause fellow Christians to stumble (see 1 Cor. 8:13).

Just as we have it today, some people in the early church were also teaching that Christians ought to merge the laws of Moses with the grace offered in Christ in order to be saved and have a “deeper” Christianity. As a result, many Christians reverted to the old laws and customs of Judaism. This led to the meeting (or “council”) of the Apostles at Jerusalem.

From there, only four dictates from the Mosaic laws were binding on Gentile (non-Jewish) Christians:

(a) They were to abstain from the pollution of idols.
(b) They were to eschew sexual immorality.
(c) They were not to shed blood.
(d) Avoid eating strangled animals or animals with blood in it.

It says nothing about avoiding unclean animals, circumcision, keeping the Sabbath, using the Hebrew names of God/Jesus and some other finicky rules that many have dubiously piled on the heads of their followers to allegedly merit God’s approval.

Paul’s charge to Timothy bears this out once again:

For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving; for then it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer” (1 Tim. 4:4-5).

The New Testament makes it clear that Gentile Christians are not bound by the Mosaic dietary laws. There is no animal that God created that is “unclean” to us – whether it’s a pig, oyster, shellfish, horse or snail. Don’t let anyone hold you captive under any religious teaching that says otherwise.

Let “no one pass judgement on you in questions of food and drink or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a sabbath” (Col. 2:16).

A clear ignorance of this principle has unwittingly opened up the lives of many Christians to the influence of seducing spirits that reinforce these rules in their lives and rob them of their God-given spiritual freedom.

If any plant or animal is safe to eat, we are free to eat it. This, of course, doesn’t mean that there are no moral restrictions on eating.

We are not to be gluttons, for example, and cannibalism is prohibited, but there are no “unclean” animals today.

The vision Peter had concerning all kinds of animals also reveals the will of God allowing man to eat meat:

“Then a voice told him, ‘Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.’ ‘Surely not, Lord!’ Peter replied. ‘I have never eaten anything impure or unclean.’ The voice spoke to him a second time, ‘Do not call anything impure that God has made clean’” (Acts 10:13-15).

Though God’s point was that Peter was not to consider Gentiles “unclean,” He also made it clear that eating the “unclean” meats was permitted.

Christian salvation and sanctification is by the grace of God. It’s impossible to somehow, by our own works, convince God to love or accept us anymore than He already does.

Holiness is not defined altogether by what we abstain from. It’s defined by our heart attitude toward Jesus and our desire to follow Him.

What it means to be “Born of Water and the Spirit”

Some have taught that being born of water means baptism (implying baptismal regeneration) and some others have interpreted it as physical birth. To find out, we need to take a look at the entire teaching of the New Testament.

John 3:3, 5 Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again … Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit.”

If this text alone implied that baptism was a key prerequisite to entering the Kingdom of God, then Jesus would have made it a requirement of salvation, but this is not so.

Now, if baptism is not the New Birth, to what does the word “water” in John 3:5 refer? Let us look elsewhere and see what are the agents and instruments by which the work of regeneration is wrought:

1 Peter 1:23 “For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God.”

James 1:18 “He chose to give us birth through the word of truth that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created.”

1 Corinthians 4:15 “Even if you had ten thousand guardians in Christ, you do not have many fathers, for in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel.”

Titus 3:5 “He saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit.

In these passages we see that regeneration or rebirth is wrought by the word of God and Spirit of God. We are born again by the Word of God and the Spirit of God.

Now in John 3:5, we have the Spirit directly mentioned but can the “water” be taken to mean “the word” without forcing the language? First, let’s compare it to Ephesians 5:25, 26:

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word.”

Indeed, the Greek word translated “word” here in Ephesians (rēmati) is a different word from the Greek word translated “word” (logos) when the Word of God is spoken of. But in 1 Pet. 1:25 (“… And this is the word that was preached to you”), the same rēmati that is translated “word” in Eph. 5:26, is used twice of “the Word of God,” and that, too, is direct connection with regeneration by the Word.

In John 15:3, Jesus said: “Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you.” See also John 17:17 “Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth.”

But some may ask why did not Jesus say plainly, without a figure in John 3: “Except a man be born of the word and the Spirit”? The answer to this is very simple.

The whole passage is highly figurative. The word translated “the Spirit” (Pneuma) is itself figurative: means literally “wind” and is without the definite article.

Literally translated the passage would read, “Except any one be born out of water and wind.” In this, the wind symbolizes the vivifying element, the Holy Spirit. (Compare Ezekiel 37:9, 10.) Naturally, therefore, “the water” symbolizes the cleansing element, the “word.” (Compare John 15:3).

The passage thus reduced to non-figurative language would read, “Except any man be born of the word of God and the Spirit of God.” Thus we would have Jesus teaching the doctrine afterwards taught by Paul and James and Peter.