I would have entitled this piece “The Tragedy of Religion” because of the opportunities it offers for escape. Religion is defined as any cultural system of worship, including designated behaviours and practices, world views, texts, places, ethics, or organisations that relate humanity to the supernatural – in the popular belief, God. This definition would have provided me windows of escape, but Dr Okey Onuzo, a pastor, from who I borrow the title, is blunt about it: the tragedy of the church! I can only tread carefully on this difficult journey because I do not claim perfection.
Dr Onuzo’s ministration on the urgency of a revival for people to worship or serve God on His terms, and not ours, reminded me about a story I was planning to write. At that point, last Sunday, the still small voice made it compulsory for me.
Last month, a pastor friend of mine was invited as a guest preacher for two days in a church in a Lagos suburb. On the first day, his theme was holiness: the need for people to be holy to make heaven.
In the Bible, God instructs us to be holy. And according to Bible scholars and preachers, it is a command repeated throughout both the Old Testament and the New Testament. The Hebrew word translated “holy,” qadash and its derivatives, carry the meaning of “set apart”—sanctified, consecrated, hallowed.
And the Greek word translated “holy,” hagios and its derivatives, imply an absence of fault or impurity. To be holy, therefore, means to be cleansed of faults and set apart by God, who is Himself faultless and pure.
It therefore follows that any true and rewarding relationship with God must be based on holiness. No half measures! My pastor friend harped on this throughout his sermon on the first day.
The following morning, my friend said he was shocked to the marrow when the pastor of the church visited him in the room he had been provided to advise him against dwelling on holiness.
Reason? The pastor said people do not want to hear about holiness these days so some pastors avoid the subject in order not to drive church members away or stop new comers.
So what did my friend do on the second day? He said he ignored the advice and he was handsomely rewarded when the fire fell during the second sermon with many people falling and confessing during an anointing session to betray evil powers that inhabited them. When the news spread, the whole neighbourhood, and beyond, poured into the venue.
Dr Okey Onuzo
The growing tendency to relegate holiness to show that unrighteousness pays is the point Dr Onuzo was making. Despite the increasing number of Christians, with millions of people attending church every Sunday, many people relate to God on their own terms. Holiness has taken backstage.
Dr Okey is not a jeun jeun pastor (a hungry or greedy pastor looking for money). A consultant nephrologist and the pioneer physician of the first private dialysis centre in Nigeria for the treatment of patients with kidney failure and related conditions, he could live comfortably on his medical practice. Life Support Medical Centre was opened as far back as October 4th, 1986.
Dr. Onuzo received Jesus Christ as His Lord and Saviour in 1970 at a guest invitational service; and in 1973 at an anointing service at the University of Ibadan in Nigeria, he received an apostolic calling with emphasis on the teaching and the prophetic ministries. Over the years the Holy Spirit has exposed and expanded these callings to touch several lives in different parts of the world.
Dr. Onuzo is an acknowledged conference and seminar speaker in different parts of the world. He continues to be available for the work of the ministry despite his busy clinical work. For several years, he has circulated a monthly meditation to various parts of the world.
Praying for the Holy Spirit to intervene, Dr. Onuzo warned against “romanticising Christianity,” saying emphatically “There is no excuse for unholiness.”
Pastor E.A. Adeboye
Even the critics of Pastor E. A. Adeboye acknowledge his position on holiness, which he always underscores in the Redeemed Christ Christian Church (RCCG) and anywhere he preaches or speaks.
In fact, the first mission/vision of the church is to make heaven, and it goes on to say “To accomplish No. 1 above, holiness will become our lifestyle.”
He has never deviated from that, not even when, years ago, the church was struggling for membership.
In the book, “Stories of Pastor E. A. Adeboye,” he recounts how a fellow pastor tried to discourage him from preaching holiness: “Years back, a friend came to me and alleged that instead of the church growing we were just going round in circles. He advised that I change the theme of my preaching. He said, “Everybody is talking about prosperity and other sweet things, but you keep hammering on about holiness. Change and go the way the world is going.”
But I said, “No, no, no, I’m sure I got to where I am because I’m committed to a God who is a holy God. You wait and see, sooner or later, the balloon will burst and those who want to go to Heaven will come because they will look and say this fellow has remained steadfast. This is what he was preaching at the beginning, this is what he is still preaching now. He must know something that others don’t know.”
If you do your business the way it has to be done, the Divine Partner will play His own part. Things might be slow to start with but it will pick up. There were times when my wife and I couldn’t go to Lagos from the Camp because we didn’t have just one Naira to pay the toll gate fee. There was no money. Today, by the Grace of God we can afford to go to Lagos from the Camp by helicopter when we are in hurry. I have enough children now who would say, “Just tell us what you want.”
Glory be to God. When you are in active partnership with the Almighty God, you will begin to have unusual victories.”
In the United States, Joel Scandrett, observes that, “We act as if holiness were either outdated or something that characterizes only a small (if important) part of our lives.”
According to him, “This is partly due to our quest for cultural relevance, which is defended in the name of winning others to Christ. If we talk about holiness with unbelievers, won’t that present just another hurdle for them to overcome on their way to Christ? For this and other reasons, we are rapidly forsaking our historic commitment to holiness. Recent polls show that many self-described evangelicals march in moral lockstep with mainstream American culture in practices of divorce, spousal abuse, extramarital sex, pornography consumption, materialism, and racism, just to name a few.”
He says, like the others above, holiness stands at the beginning and centre of God’s call on all of our lives.
Conclusion: God says in the Bible “Be holy, because I am holy!”