Monday, 25 November 2019

Why is it difficult to encourage questions today in the church? Part 2

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In my first post, I discussed the importance of questions in the church. This Part 2 post will focus on why some of us find it difficult to encourage questions. In the last post, I will be discussing why it is important for the church to provide answers to questions, and defense and explanations especially to our truth claims.

In this world full of conflicting and divergent ideas, it is counterproductive to shut down questions asked by people seeking for information and answers, no matter how offensive, useless or negative they may seem. If we do not allow, especially our members, to be free to ask us questions, they will still ask the questions anyway but unfortunately, they will ask someone else who may give them answers we may not like.

The 90th thesis written by Dr Martin Luther in his 95 Theses which he posted on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg in October 31, 1517 states “These questions are serious matters of conscience to the laity. To suppress them by force alone, and not to refute them by giving reasons, is to expose the church and the pope to the ridicule of their enemies, and to make Christian people unhappy.”3 Dr. Luther advised that the best approach towards the questions asked by the laity would not be suppression or playing the Ostrich, instead questions raised needed to be answered and arguments raised needed to be refuted. He warned that if attention was not paid to answering the questions asked by the people, it would come to a time the church and its leadership would be brought to ridicule. His warning was not heeded to and the church had a split.

The question is, when we refuse to answer the questions raised by enquirers and our members, what are we afraid of? In some cases, we configure the system and the institution in such a way that makes it nearly impossible or very difficult for questions to be asked in the first place. Fora are not created with the sole purpose of answering questions. Even when questions are asked, we structure the process in a way that will ensure that those who ask questions are either ignored or labelled or tagged or at best be given little or no answer, which shows the questioner that there was no willingness to answer his questions in the first place. We exercise a certain level of unbridled freedom because we believe that nobody will do anything. We can get away with anything, so we think.

We even administer punitive measures to those that ask questions. A few years ago, a story was told of a senior pastor who asked a question in a meeting that comprised of both his colleagues and their superior. Because of the question he asked, which bordered on some financial decisions taken concerning their superior, he was suspended from the church for some time and punished. If this can happen to a pastor, what do you think will happen to someone who is just a church member? This example only represents the difficulty people encounter when they have questions to ask in their churches. I do not understand why a Christian leader will present a Financial Report and Accounts, for example, and yet frown when listeners ask questions concerning what he has presented. How will he or she manage to preach about integrity the next day? These punitive measures only succeed in shutting down those who have questions. Ironically, these are the same things we are expecting from our political leaders.

Why is it difficult to encourage questions in the church today?

  1. Our unconscious claim to ‘infallibility’ as leaders. Christian leaders are still saved and redeemed sinners just like every other children of God. We are called as ministers by God, with different gifts, deployed to diverse market places to represent Him. Every one of God’s children is responsible wherever God has posted you; whether in the Medical field, Political arena, Law and Justice, Companies and Establishments, the Church, etc. You are called upon to be faithful wherever you are as a steward of God’s treasures and grace. The Church is supposed to be like the place where these ministers of God are coordinated and equipped to ensure that each person fulfills his/her calling (Eph.4:12). Christian leaders play a great role in equipping the saints for these good works. Unfortunately, instead of equipping God’s people, many of us make ourselves lords over them. Lords do not owe anybody and cannot be questioned. Over time, we seem to even forget where God picked us up from as lost sinners. We carry on as if we cannot make mistakes and our ‘yes men’ defend us and fan our ego. If we are accused by members of infidelity or misappropriation for example, instead of answering the questions raised, we defend and shut the questioners down. So, we hear leaders who say something like, “who are you to ask me this question?’ or “how dare you ask the man of God such questions? Are you suspecting him?” In different forms, we assume infallibility as if there is something else we are, separate from God’s people.
  2. Our insecurity as leaders. Many of us are very insecure in our positions of authority. We want to protect ourselves and the institution where we work even at the expense of truth. This defensive mode makes us to take aggressive postures. When inquirers or members ask questions seeking for answers, especially the ones we do not want them to have, we resist and fight. We find it difficult to own up to our mistakes so we fight and cover and protect ‘our own’ even when other brethren are shouting foul. We struggle to delegate to those we fear may ‘know more’ than us. So we ignore other of God’s ministers who are in different other market places but who may help out with the answers, just to ensure we maintain and protect our own and be the only ‘celebrity’ at the apex. Open Forum therefore gives us sleepless nights and where we can, we ensure it does not happen. In so doing, questions are not asked.
  3. Our incompetence and ignorance. Information is moving so fast and the questions of people are becoming more complicated. The basics of the questions may remain the same but people’s experiences and the way it impacts on them are more sophisticated than before. Technology is increasing. If one is not developing himself/herself and matching up with these changes, over time, you may not be able to face the questions people are asking. Even in communicating the Gospel, we have to develop skills that match with the changes around us. When we refuse to improve ourselves, we can become myopic in our thinking. When we perceive we are not competent, our insecurity increases and we are unwilling to allow questions.
  4. Our fear and cowardice. Another reason why we are often afraid of taking questions is because we want to be in the good books of the world. If in the cause of the questions, we are ‘pinned down’, we are afraid of saying the truth. We are afraid of engaging our cultures because we will be asked difficult questions concerning traditions, LGBTQ etc. We are afraid of being quoted. A prominent man of God was put on the spot on a News Network when he was asked "Is Jesus the only Way to God?" (John 14:6). He mumbled without any definite answer even when the questioner repeated herself. He did not want to get any 'backlash'. That is cowardice for a Christian. So, it is not just that seasoned theologians are scarce, we desire to enjoy the accolades of the world. We are afraid and abandon the truth alone in the ‘dark’ to suffer.
  5. Our resistance to progression in technology. I was in a meeting where a bishop glorified reading the bible in printed format and said that if he discovers that someone is not carrying his printed bible, they will not be friends anymore. You see, we will not be able to answer the questions of our youths if instead of looking for ways to maximize the use of technology for the benefit of the church, we are condemning it. The enlightened youth knows for example that he can read the bible in several formats and still be enriched. We are likely to shut such youth down when he asks his sincere questions. In epistemology, every means of acquiring knowledge has its advantages and disadvantages. Instead of enforcing the means that is best for us as individuals, we should encourage people simply to seek and assimilate knowledge in a way best for them.
  6. Our distraction by the strange gospel of health and wealth and our rebellion insisting to continue its propagation. The claims of health and wealth theology are illusive and unsustainable biblically and existentially. They cannot answer life’s deepest questions. The extrapolations of health and wealth gospel fail all the three tests of truth, namely logical consistency, empirical adequacy and experiential relevance.2 It creates celebrity and cult figures out of us as Christian leaders. First called the theology of glory as against the theology of the cross by Martin Luther, you are made to believe that answers to life’s problems are in the hands of one man who “negotiates between us (him) and God for whatever thing we may need”1. He represents us before God and collects our offerings and righteous works and takes them to God. By our works and giving, we are justified and prospered. Our insistence on preaching and teaching what cannot withstand scrutiny forces us to maneuver and avoid questions, especially the difficult questions of life. This makes asking questions very difficult.
  7. Our hypocrisies. We all call on the government to be transparent in its dealings, but many of us are not transparent in our churches. In many cases, our lives are not matching what we preach and we are unwilling to repent. Because we are hypocritical in our dealings, we resort to intimidation and all sorts of cover up. Have you heard a Christian leader say something like, “If you do so so and so again, I will curse you”? When there are discrepancies between our private life, the way we handle finances, relationships etc, and what we preach or what the Bile says, naturally, we will not want to encourage questions because we will be afraid of being put on the spot. Our unwillingness to be transparent is a challenge and makes us to block all avenues of people asking questions. What we forget is that the Gospel of Jesus by its nature cannot be separated from the life of its propagator. The efficacy and authenticity of the Gospel of Jesus will always refer the listener to the life of the professor for them to stick, and once there are inconsistencies, everything crumbles. We seem to think that we can preach the power of the Gospel while we live differently to the demands it places on our lives. It CANNOT work. When we have this unfortunate scenario, we will most likely discourage questions and use other things to assuage people’s quest for truth.
Granted that some questions can be very difficult, often interrogative, and provoking, however, we cannot run away from answering the questioner with humility, grace and respect, keeping good conscience. (1 Pet.3:15-16). As Ravi Zacharias will always say, “behind every question is a questioner” and we have to ensure that both the question and the questioner are answered. The former is a valid expression while the later is a person loved by God. Our young people have many questions to ask. Inquirers and our members have tons of questions bothering them. Are we ready to create the atmosphere for them to ask their questions, so that they know the answers we gave to them while we are still around? Let's not think that things will continue as usual this way. NO. If we refuse to open up and encourage questions, with what is going on with the Social media, I see an implosion in the near future within the church. It will either happen as a revolt or a revival. I wish it will be the later.

In the next/last part of this write up, I will look at the biblical imperative as it concerns answering questions and explaining the truth claims we preach.

Reference
  1. Ekwedam, C. (2016). Following hard after God. PNUR Revival Press and Books, Port Harcourt, Nigeria.
  2. Zacharias R. (2019). Why Jesus. Lecture at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries Academy, RZIM. https://www.rzim.org/page/academy-core-module
  3. Evangelical Lutheran Church, (2019). The 95 Theses, Assessed 25/11/19 ONLINE: http://www.zionlutheran-ssm.org/95.pdf


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Wednesday, 13 November 2019

The importance of asking questions in the church – seeking for answers. Part 1.

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A question, according to Cambridge Dictionary, is a sentence or phrase used to find out information. When people want to get information on a matter, they ask either broad or specific questions concerning the matter. The questions are normally directed to someone who is believed to have either in part or in whole the answers. Answers to questions can invite more or follow up questions which altogether are supposed to bring clarifications to the issues being considered.

In the church, we must allow those who are eager, to ask questions, plenty of questions. Every question is an opportunity for the church to explain and make our truth claims clearer. Every question asked by inquirers gives us the opportunity to make stronger our invitation to them to embrace the Lord Jesus Christ. Every question asked by members of our churches is an opportunity to make their persuasion firmer. Questioners are not to be seen as enemies or troublemakers, neither their questions be seen as worthless. Every question has worth because it is asked by a person who has worth. The worth of a person is derived from the Imago Dei (Image of God) in him or her.  When people ask questions, it shows they are interested. We have to recognize this interest and see how we can cooperate with God to steer the questioners to the answers that meet their real need.

The disciples asked Jesus plenty of questions and He answered all. In fact, every question was an opportunity to teach a specific truth or to expand or emphasize what has been taught before. We owe much of the teachings we have in the Gospels to the questions the disciples asked. Even when Peter asked Jesus in Matt. 19, what someone called “the dumbest question”, “We left everything to follow you. What will we get out of it?" Matt. 19:27 TLB, surprisingly He replied. The question sounded selfish, but Jesus replied him, not glossing over Peter’s personal interest. He painted the picture of what the rewards look like for them who were the first fruits of His ministry and also what it will look like for anyone who will sacrifice in His name. It was indeed an opportunity.  He answered their questions. Even when Philip made a request in John 14, He mildly reprimanded him and yet answered him. We must encourage both inquirers and our members to ask questions.

The benefits of asking questions
  1. Questions help us to arrive at the truth. The conviction of people become stronger when their questions are answered and they arrive at what they are convinced to be the truth by themselves. The Bible warns against false teachers and false prophets. (Matt.24:4-5). We are enjoined to “test everything” (1 Thess.5:21). Asking questions is one of the ways to arrive at judgment whether something is true or false.
  2. Questions help us to reason. When questions are asked, our reasoning is awakened. People talk about ‘common sense’; oftentimes, questions awaken our common sense. As Ravi Zacharias observes, “God has put enough into the world to make faith in Him a most reasonable thing. But He has left enough out to make it impossible to live by sheer reason or observation alone.” God does not shutdown the faculty of reason when we place our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Instead, the more He makes Himself known, the more He helps us see the reasonableness in placing our faith in Him. Questions appeal to our reason and makes us think. We serve God with both our faith and reason.
  3. Questions open us up to further enlightenment and help us to improve on what we used to know. They often query what we know before so that we can either develop stronger persuasion, or change our minds over what we used to know. This in turn changes our attitudes and life generally. Many years ago, each time we taught about holiness, we used to focus on lipsticks, eye shadows, shoulder pads, short sleeves, curling of hair, bangles and necklaces, and so on; you know all those things women use to beautify themselves. However, the more I saw failures also among brothers and the struggles in my own heart, the more some pointed questions confronted me. “Does it mean that holiness is a concern for women alone? Why should we always focus on women? Are all the brothers holy and only women have problems? If not, why are brothers not being challenged to holy living during our preaching?” These questions helped me to understand that dressing is only a subset of a bigger whole and holiness is deeper than wearing headscarf twenty four hours of the day. Further studies helped me to have a more balanced view of holiness and encouraged me to pursue personal holiness as a brother.
  4. Questions widen our horizons and reveal areas where our attention has not gone before. When we allow and encourage questions, they challenge our narrow-mindedness and call our attention to areas of improvement that hitherto we would not have known any other way. We rot when we close our doors against questions. This is because, we will continue in our old ways even when they are no more working and the world has moved on. The beautiful Gospel of Jesus is timeless but it is preached within time. Paying attention to the questions each generation is asking helps us to make it relevant. When we do our part, the Holy Spirit takes over from there.
  5. Questions help to bring out the assumptions of both the questioner and the explainer. Because we are not spirits, it is only through asking questions that motives are revealed, real needs are exposed and knowledge is gained of what exactly we should pay attention to.

People cannot develop strong convictions in what we preach and teach when they have so many unanswered questions they are not given the opportunity to ask. Even God uses questions to speak to us.
Most of us were raised not to ask elders questions, especially difficult questions. It worked for our parents. But not anymore. You cannot raise your children today without paying attention to their questions. If you don’t answer them, their peers and the social media will answer them. There used to be a time when you would bring down your guards without questions immediately someone tells you that he is a believer. But not anymore, you must ask further questions.  There used to be a time when once a pastor says “the bible says…”, everybody leaves to obey what the pastor said. Nobody would ask further questions. But not anymore. Many can read the bible today in different versions. The more people read and study, the more they will seek for clarifications.

We are exposed to many worldviews today, each competing for our attention. The church must open up to the questions people are asking. Our young ones who will replace us must be encouraged to ask their questions now we are alive. Let them know what our answers are to their questions about God and life. The earlier we do this, the better for us. I hope it is not getting late for some of our churches.

Look out for the remaining two parts of this write up. God bless.


Reference
Cambridge University Press. (2019). Cambridge online dictionary, Cambridge Dictionary online. Retrieved at November 13, 2019. https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/question.

Zacharias R. 2019. The 3.4.5 Grid. Lecture at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries Academy, RZIM. https://www.rzim.org/page/academy-core-module


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