Willing Subordination: Counsel to Reformed Christians in Nigeria
By: Deji Yesufu
That one Archilles’ heel of reformed churches anywhere in the world is their penchant for church split. Reformed Christians are usually united around doctrinal matters. Yet, it is these doctrines that end up dividing us. We are reminded often in our churches that doctrine divide and to avoid the unpleasant experience that doctrinal division bring, many churches do not build their church around core doctrines of the Bible. In a bid to gather a following, they pay lip-service to doctrinal issues and too many times build the life of the church around a denominational name, personality and charisma of a leader, or even on ethnicity. They reason that very few people will contend with such issues – realizing that it is quite easy for people to reach varied conclusions on doctrinal matters. So, if you will build a united church, they say, do no build your church on doctrine. Yet, the clear instruction of scripture is that the Church of Jesus Christ must be built on doctrinal matters. John writes in his second epistle: “If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him God speed: for he that biddeth him God speed is partaker of his evil deeds.” (2 John 10-11).
The core doctrines that most reformed Christians in Nigeria uphold are enumerated in the London Baptist Confessions of Faith (1689) or the Westminster Confessions (1648). These documents are nearly 500 years old, but they still help Christians of today to understand certain fundamental of the faith that they cannot compromise on. These documents are founded on the truths of the Christian scriptures, the Holy Bible; they were published as products of the protestant reformation in Western Europe; and they continue to guide Christians on what they hold as truth today. And therein lies the problem. What is inevitable in the life of the church is that there will come a day when a local gathering that is committed to a set of doctrines will need to examine the veracity of a particular doctrine or practice. Consultations with the Bible might not be helpful as it often leaves too many grey areas unattended to. The next port of call must be the confessions but because the confessions themselves are half a millennium old, they may not be able to settle the matter in dispute. At such a time, what do Christians do? This is the question I sought to answer in two sessions in the just concluded Bible seminar at Crown Reformed Assembly, Ogba, Lagos. I took God’s people to Philippians 2:1-11 and I suggested that we all must imbibe a spirit of willing subordination in the Church. This is what I mean.
One prime admonition of the above given passage was Paul’s counsel to the Philippians to “… let this mind be in you even as it was with Christ Jesus…” The mind of Christ was one where our Lord, despite being God, took up flesh so that he might redeem humanity from sin. Christ willingly subordinated himself to God to accomplish this task and the result was that God has highly exalted the Son and given him a name above every other name. When Christians gather in a local church, there is the prime need for us all to submit to one another – to be willingly subordinated to each other. It is a spirit of humble service to each other. To be able to do this, however, we will need numerous resources and the passage enumerates these resources for us. The Christian that will come into church to serve others must be one who has received “consolation in Christ”, “comfort of God’s love”, “fellowships with the Spirit” and abounds in the spirit of God’s affection and mercies to him (verse 1). This is a reality of grace that must have been extended to us, from which we can give to others also.
It is when God has given us so much through grace that we seek the path of being likeminded in church; we seek to love the things that God loves; we seek the path of unity – as much as we can foster it; and we pursue one mindedness on issues (verse 2). We quickly realize that certain things, as far as fellowship in church is concerned, will militate against genuine church life. These things will include the pursuit of vain glory (verse 3) and selfishness (verse 4). Then Paul suggests one antidote to all church splits: “… let each one (of you) esteem other(s) better than themselves…” The root of division in church, the catalyst that aid all crisis, is the tendency in all of us to think that we are better than the other person. We also often extend this selfish thinking to the ministers in church: we believe we know more than them; we are convinced we can preach better than them; and we believe that things can be better done in church if we were in charge. If you come into a church gathering and all you seek to do is to serve God’s people; in the process of doing this, you will realize that you could actually do certain things better than another person – but rather than criticize that person, you should willingly subordinate yourself to that person. With time, the church will recognize your gifts and you will be put in a position to exercise them and add to the life of the church. The truth of the matter is this: some of us may be better than certain officers in the leadership of a church in doing certain things but the Spirit of Christ will help us to see that providence has put that person in that place and if we look well enough, we will understand that that person is better than us in many other facets. A spirit of willing subordination is what Christ had that led him to die for our sins even though he is the God of the whole universe; the spirit of willing subordination is what God call us to have as we serve in the local church.
There is no doubt that there are autocratic leaders in the church and there are times that false doctrines and practices will tend to creep into the local church. Discernment however includes not just our ability to spot these things but a graciousness of heart in dealing with them. It will mean that at some point we want to decide whether these issues are fundamental enough to cause for our separation from the local church. And when we do separate, it must be done in a gracious manner that does not leave ill feeling behind; nor does it cause for others to be embittered and thus splitting the local church. The local church is the ground and the pillar of truth for a community. There are some places where the church that is committed to sound doctrine is the only avenue for inhabitants of that area to hear the gospel of Christ. The last thing any of us want to do is to destroy the church of the living God.
My thinking is simply this: as long as a church is committed to a sufficient scripture; as long as they are willing to weigh doctrine and practices in the light of the confessions; and as long as we have leaders who are willing to dialogue, there is no issue that will arise in the local church that cannot be sorted out. And as we sort these issues out, brothers must be willing to forgive one another; we must be willing to serve one another; and we must be willing to subordinate ourselves to whatever authority the Lord has set over us. Most times issues like these are never really sorted but when the individuals involved take the matter to the Lord in prayer, Christ has a way of giving peace to the situation and with time the person who is wrong will know it and amend both his doctrine and practices. But when we force things on each other in the name of “I am right and you are wrong”, we display a selfishness and hurried spirit that is clearly not a fruit of the Holy Spirit. The mind of Jesus Christ was one of willing subordination to God the Father even though he was God himself. We can go and do likewise.
(The following are the sermon preached at the just concluded Bible seminar at Crown Reformed Assembly, Ogba, Lagos. You can click the link to listen to them.)
“Behold My Servant” by Pastor Taiye Arimoro
“The Spirit of the Bondservant” by Pastor Deji Yesufu
“Qualification for Service” by Pastor Deji Yesufu