The Gospel 12: A Final Word
By: Deji Yesufu
On Monday, 25th April, 2017, I was arrested by the Nigeria Police and slammed in detention. The police had arrested me at the University of Ibadan for creating a scene that could have degenerated into religious confrontation and possible riots at the university. The union of Christian fellowships at the University of Ibadan had invited “Apostle” Johnson Suleiman to preach in crusade fashion at the university. This event was coming on the heels of the much publicized allegations of perverse sexual activities among other things brought against Suleiman by Stephanie Otobo. The matter had reached a feverish level in the country, with major newspapers publishing the story; so when I learnt that Suleiman was coming to UI, I felt scandalized. Why, of all pastors in Nigeria, should Johnson Suleiman be the select one brought to preach at the university? As the day drew nearer, I thought seriously about doing something, even if little, to register my personal displeasure against his visit. I came to the conclusion of carrying out a one-man protest against him. The rest, like they say, is history.
Other reasons that spurred my protest against Suleiman included the fact that he was known for his record of failed prophecies and he was a preacher of the perverse prosperity gospel which had become the hallmark of preaching in our day in Nigerian churches.
The Wants of Our Time
It was J. C. Ryle, in his book “Holiness”, that said he lived in a time (19th century England) where people regarded every minister of the gospel as a true man of God; where every message preached in a church was a sound message; and where every church was a church of Jesus Christ. He explained further that distinguishing the false from the true had become an incredibly unpopular thing to do. People would much rather everyone did whatever they wished with their Christianity and was left to God to be the judge of their actions. Bishop Ryle believed, however, that the hard task of distinguishing the true from the false, and stating clearly what was right and what was wrong had always been the hallmark of true Christians and true churches. Though such actions were very unpopular, they remained biblical. He argued that, at every time in history, this Christian calling ought to be biblical and not to follow the popular culture. If this was true for 19th century England, it is a hundred times truer today.
There is a kind of preaching ongoing in our churches today that could best be described as damnable heresy. The message does not exalt the living Christ or contain the kernel of the gospel; it is man-centered and totally dishonors the saving initiative of God the Father. Some have most appropriately labeled it the gospel of prosperity but the roots of its errors extend far beyond.
In gospel preaching there is the need for ministers to examine the historical development of the messages they preach. We received a tradition of “scriptures only” from the 16th century Reformers, but most of all the other traditions that the Reformed fathers put in place to safeguard the gospel have been thrown out of the churches. The same fathers who taught “scriptures alone” also taught a concept of faith alone, grace alone, Christ alone and to the glory of God alone. All of these five points come under the header “the five solas” of the Reformation. These truths were eventually swallowed up by Arminianism and the coming of Liberal Theology to the churches. As the gospel strove to survive under the suffocating influences of these two errors, the Charismatic movement succeeded in crowding out gospel preaching with a pursuit of religious experiences. And then the Word of Faith movement crowned up the whole process by preaching a false Arminian theology coupled with a pursuit of signs and wonders as well as wealth and prosperity. This is the gospel that my generation inherited and there is no greater purveyor of these errors than the likes of Johnson Suleiman.
Guard your Doctrine
Paul left some clear instructions to Timothy in the first epistle he wrote to this progeny of his in the faith. He said in part:
“Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons… Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.” (1 Timothy 4:1, 16)
The greatest challenge the churches have faced throughout history has not always been the encroaching influence of false messages from outside but rather the evolvement of perverse doctrines from WITHIN the churches. Paul’s message to Timothy was simply this: damnable heresies will come into the churches in the last days. These messages will be taught by pastors but they would originate from demons. Your duty would be to guard your own self and the doctrines (teachings) that you have received. You must persist in teaching these truths, regardless of what others are saying because it is only in doing this that you would be saved, along with those who hear you. In other words, if you deviate from the gospel message that was handed over to you by the apostles, then you, Timothy, would be damned, along with all those who hear you.
The danger of false doctrine is that it will not only send the preacher to hell but also carry along with him all those who are listening to his messages. Why is this so? It is because of the initial thesis we have been pursuing from the beginning of this series: men can only come to the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ by hearing the gospel (Romans 1:16). If what people hear is not the gospel message they cannot be saved. The sad part of it all is that a false gospel has the potential to impart hearers with a false security: a belief that they are already Christians when they are not. These people may say Christian words, indulge in Christian ministry, and support Christian causes but they are not Christians. Most times, they will continue in this false profession until they open their eyes in eternity. So, while cults and false religions[i] have been clearly identified by past generations of Christians and we today have received these traditions and separated from them, the greatest need of our time is identifying false Christian preachers and separating from these men and their messages. This is so that the gospel message which alone can save a sinner is preserved in our churches. It is the challenge that stands before Christians in our time and our success or failure in making these distinctions will determine whether we would succeed at passing on a pristine gospel message to our children and the coming generations.
It was the thought that “Apostle” Johnson Suleiman might be imparting a perverted gospel and a perverse spirit to a generation of the students of the University of Ibadan that drove me to protest his coming that day. I was detained by the police for four hours but gained my freedom afterwards. Suleiman had his way with his crusade and I had my say in my protest.
To end this gospel series, I wish to commend the gospel message to my readers. This message is the story of God’s love for all humanity which compelled him to send his Son Jesus Christ to the world to die for the sins of all men. By placing simple faith in the done work of Christ on the cross, you can be saved from God’s sure wrath that is coming upon the whole earth. I am writing this series at a time of great shaking in the nations of the earth. After one hundred years, and at a time when only a few people living today had ever witnessed a worldwide pandemic, the Coronavirus has invaded almost every country in the world. The initial response of countries was to impose a lockdown but after a month or two of the exercise, it has become obvious that if the Coronavirus does not kill people outside, hunger will kill them inside their homes. Therefore, as at the time of writing this, leaders of nations were lifting the imposed lockdown on cities and towns, and asking people to return to their businesses so that the economies of nations do not collapse and a worldwide economic depression does not hit us. Already the price of crude oil is hitting an all-time low and a country like Nigeria is losing billions of dollars in planned revenue. The future is bleak and there is little hope in what men can do. While deaths by the Coronavirus continue to gallop, medical personals are losing hope and committing suicide in their numbers.
In spite of the shaking that has hit the nations, the gospel message has not changed: God is calling on all men to believe the gospel message and be saved. As you listen to a so called Christian message, it is also your duty to be extremely discerning of what you hear. Not everything that passes as a Christian message is truly the gospel. I have tried to share with you what the gospel message is. If the core tenets of your beliefs are not faith alone, grace alone, in Christ alone, based on the truth of the scriptures alone, and in pursuit of the glory of God alone, it is safe to conclude that what you have believed is not the Christian gospel. The hard truth of our times is that we are not only called to preach the gospel alone, we are also compelled to preserve the gospel message. Or else, we would wake up one day to discover that a message may carry the name Christian but does not possess an iota of the gospel in it.
I have written this series so that you may understand the gospel. And by understanding it, you may believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thus be saved. It would require that you understand that you are a sinner and thus be led to repent of your sins. It would also require that you trust Christ alone as your substitute before God. I am confident that if you have read the writings in this series to this point, the Lord has begun a work in you. And he who has started a good work in you would bring it to complete fruition in the day of the Lord. God bless you for reading.
[i] The Christian churches of my generation have inherited a sound tradition that religions like Islam, Buddhism, and Hinduism are false. We have also been taught that Christian sects like the Jehovah’s Witnesses, Christian Science, and Mormon are cults.