Is your Church’s “theme for the year” really from God?
As the New Year starts, churches in my country roll out themes for the year. Most of these themes are rolled out in vigils as churches cross into the New Year together. The themes are often things that God is saying to the local church to guide them for the rest of the year. While it is encouraging that men and women gather to worship and hear from God as the year begins, there are often a few looming concerns that one would easily observe.
Now, I must start by saying that the local church is God’s plan for establishing His Kingdom and that is not about to change. God’s plan was for the local church to stand and for the Kingdom of Hades to not prevail over it (Matthew 16:18). God is not going to write a new Bible for our generation; the plan is the local church and we better get on board with it and make it work. However, as I looked as several themes from several churches, I couldn’t help but ask myself a number of questions:
- Why are most of the themes based on personal prosperity and financial “breakthrough”?
- Why don’t the themes factor in the problem of sin, the saving grace of God through Jesus and the need for repentance?
- Why are these themes sounding more and more like motivational messages and not like biblical imperatives?
- Why are the themes detached from the issues affecting the country?
- Why are the themes so attractive to the world?
- Why are the themes so ambiguous and thrilling to the flesh?
Now, I’m not implying that all church themes in my country are like this; there always is a faithful bunch. I must clarify this because some people often read what their emotions tell them to read when you address their churches. Also, I’m not claiming that the above questions are by any means things I have heard from God; these are my own personal reflections based on what the scriptures say concerning how the local church is meant to operate. You see, in pagan histories, there was an oracle (a wizard, a witch, a temple priest or priestess etc) who was the only person who could communicate with the gods. This person was so powerful; at times even more powerful than the ruling class. Pagan histories teach us that these pagan oracles were the centre of power that led to much abuse and idolatry. The biggest form of abuse and idolatry that we know is that they stood in the way of people experiencing the one true God that created the Heavens and the Earth. We see Paul the Apostle confront such a wicked oracle in Acts 13:4-12. I reckon that some congregants (not all) who gather to hear from God through their pastor what the new year would hold, often perceive him as a pagan oracle of sorts, through whom alone they will hear God speak. It behoves us to, therefore, ask: does the modern “oracle” speak what God is saying as he dishes out the theme for the year?
Let me take us back. When the Gospel of the LORD Jesus arrived in pagan cultures such as Rome, the indigenous people noticed something peculiar about Christianity. In a sense, their conversations with the early Christians went something like this:
- Pagan: Where are the images and idols of your gods?
- Christian: Our God needs neither images nor idols. His fullness lives in bodily form in the person of Jesus Christ. (Colossians 2:9)
- Pagan: And where are your temples?
- Christians: Our bodies are the temples of God and He lives inside of us. (1 Corinthians 3:16)
- Pagan: And where is your high priest?
- Christian: He walked with us for 33 years on earth and He is now seated in the Heavens ministering for us in a tabernacle made by God. (Hebrews 8:1-2)
- Pagan: And where is your temple sacrifice?
- Christian: Jesus Christ sacrificed himself once for all. (2 Peter 3:18)
- Pagan: And where are your attending priests?
- Christian: We are all priests in service to God. (2 Peter 1:9)
It became obvious to the pagans that Christianity was not another religion. In fact, the Christians were called atheists for a while in ancient Rome. They had one God; not several. Their God was personal; not impersonal. Their faith pushed them to inconvenience their personal wealth for the sake of the Gospel and not protect it or accumulate it. They died for their faith; they didn’t kill others for it. This is because our most precious faith is not centred on a sinful man, but rather on a Holy God. I love that we go to the churches on New Year’s day to seek God. I also highly encourage this practice. But are our churches and their themes like the early church’s? Do we still have one God in our midst or do we elevate some things and people in the place of God? Do our churches push us to know God personally or do they push us to become impersonal with him by asking him for things and to bless our already-made plans? Do our churches teach us to inconvenience our personal wealth for the cause of the Gospel or do they teach us to accumulate it in their treasuries and consequently succeed economically for having “sowed seeds”? Do our churches remind us of the martyrs that died for their faith or do they teach us humanism- that God will kill all our enemies and lift us up to shame them?
We must understand that God speaks to us all who have repented of sin and received the promise of eternal life. I say this because many people often think that God only speaks through the pastor on the pulpit. And like the pagan practices, they make their pastor the centre of their faith, instead of the risen Christ. We know this is true because some of the “pastors” give messages or themes for the year that are downright heretical and the congregants believe it as Gospel truth. Some themes are without a biblical backing or they are simply an eisegesis of scripture. Eisegesis means butchering the word of God and twisting it to say what it is not saying. The opposite is exegesis- careful and truthful interpretation of God’s word. And what a breath of fresh air it is when churches seek the scriptures and use them to guide them for the year. But when eisegesis is rampant, you are faced with a number of problems.
One, a professing pastor who is not in touch with God’s word is offering a theme that leads the congregation away from God, not towards Him. It is not a lie that we teachers will be judged harshly (James 3:1). Two, a blind congregation that is carnally hungry for tickling messages of prosperity (2 Timothy 4:3-4) is ripe for the pastor’s unbiblical theme. Three, a congregation that wrongly believes God cannot speak unless the pastor speaks does not seek God’s will but the pastor’s, just like in pagan practices. They forget that the pastor (who is part of the fivefold ministry) is not tasked to do all the donkey work of seeking God on behalf of the people, but rather he is to equip the congregation to seek God for themselves and become ministers to the world (Ephesians 4:11-12). We are not meant to gather in our buildings on weekends and hang out like a club; we are meant to be serviced weekly and dispensed into the world like a courier team. God designed the local church to use its leadership to equip believers so that they may GO out and minister (Matthew 28:19-20, Acts 1:8). The fivefold team is essentially a team of equippers more than a team of ministers. When they stop equipping and start doing the donkey work that all believers should do, the result is weak congregants who cannot even pray for the sick until the pastor arrives.
I love what one of my pastors put on Facebook as an update. It went something like this:
Congregant: Pastor, what is the LORD saying for 2020?
Pastor: Do you have a Bible? Read it! That is what the LORD is saying.
I loved this update because the pastor is fulfilling his Ephesians 4:11-12 role. He is refusing to be a pagan oracle who has a monopoly access to God. In Christianity, the oracles of God are not special people but rather they are the entire sacred Scriptures that are available to all (Romans 3:2). God has made us all the priesthood of believers to receive truth from His word and to receive service from the leadership of the pastors. This is how the Roman Catholic church in the Middle Ages made church history as we know it. The Pope became an oracle instead of the scriptures. And that is exactly how they abused power, doing the will of a man and not of God. The same is happening today, especially in professing Evangelical churches; the “Man of God” has become an oracle that has replaced the authority of the scriptures. Paul the Apostle himself, with all his qualifications, calling, wisdom, miracles subjected himself to the noble Bereans when he preached; they investigated the scriptures to see if what he was saying was true (Acts 17:11). Paul (The Man of God) refused to be a pagan oracle and deferred to the authority of the scriptures.
I also love that Facebook status update because it embodies the mission of Jesus in Mark 10:45, where he comes not to be served but to serve. Jesus isn’t boss in his ministry on Earth; He is servant. Why then would I take the place of boss yet I am only a servant to the servant? When I am a boss, I can say something heretical and be closed to correction. When I am a servant, I am cognizant that I am a steward and have to preach sound doctrine. And when I go off track, I do not wait for correction because I have invited it already as a way of life. I say this because many Kenyans sit and listen to heresy taught Sunday after Sunday and they cannot challenge it because the pastor is a boss not a servant. Secondly, they cannot challenge it because the pastor is the oracle instead of the scriptures; so the congregants themselves are ripe for deception on account of their ignorance. The local church is meant to function with our pastors as leaders who are submitted to the scriptures and with congregants feeding on the very word daily, instead of depending on their Sunday 45-minute sermon snack to survive. If that changes, we will see our churches being challenged with pertinent questions from their congregants:
- “Why isn’t sin being preached and spoken of?”
- “Why doesn’t the church preach on the blood of Jesus?”
- “Why doesn’t the church preach on the second coming of Christ?”
- “Why are our New Year themes always self-centered and prosperity focused?”
- “Why aren’t any of the yearly themes based on justification, sanctification and glorification?”
- “Why is this pastor twisting the scriptures?”
- “Why are we being told to follow our dreams, yet our dreams could involve sin?”
- “Why are the blessings of God only financial?”
- “Why are gifted people in ministry excused for their lack of character?”
- “Why is that pastor quoting a heretical teacher?”
- “Why are we focusing on buildings for legacies instead of spiritual batons?”
- “Why are we not equipped to cast out demons?”
- “Why is that sermon based on a businessman’s life instead of the Gospel?”
- “Why aren’t we taught how to engage in spiritual warfare?”
- “What are we doing to minister to the poor?”
- “Why aren’t we planting churches in places the Gospel hasn’t been preached?”
- “Why is the unadulterated message of the Gospel not taught?”
- “Why are we so distant an image from the early church found in the book of Acts?”
These questions cannot come from false converts; only true worshippers. These questions offend pagan oracles; they encourage biblical pastors.