Is Christianity struggling to keep up with the trend in an increasingly fast-paced and changing world where spirituality is not merely persecuted (that would be easy) but narrated as unnecessary? Why be spiritual when we can simply achieve the Millennium Development Goals and fight with hash tags for good governance?
With “Five Questions for Pastor Iren” we address the church versus the trends and the move of God today. Pastor Emmanuel Iren is the Senior Pastor of Celebration Church International, a Church with a mandate to: “make disciples, teaching them to live a life of HOPE, FAITH and LOVE in Jesus Christ” ().
To provide some context: reading the bible we see miracles by the power of God, impossible things happen: a man lame for 38 years walking, a man blind from birth seeing, the red sea split in two, amongst others.
These days such miracles are not as popular and more importantly they are greeted with cynicism from the general public. Pastors and Christian activities are increasingly criticised and seem to be conforming to a new mould of ‘cool’. In ‘youth’ churches today there seems to be emphasis on fashion and technology, two concepts emphasised in other aspects of life these days.
I, like many young people, am no longer clear on what ‘spirituality’ means now. Beyond the trends what is spirituality? And more critically: how is God moving today?
Dear Sir, I and the readers of Grow360 blog would appreciate your response to the following questions in contribution to this conversation:
1. Who is a Christian in 2014?
Pastor Iren: There is no such thing as a Christian in 2014. I admit that things are radically changing in the world but for a true Christian, the core is preserved. The change a Christian is permitted to experience is not as a result of conformity with the world but transformation by the renewal of our minds by the word of God. Intellectual enlightenment is a welcome idea for a Christian (for as long as it is not inconsistent with the word of God). I also believe that a Christian can have just enough social exposure to help him or her function in whatever sphere he may find himself in life. However, using this to redefine the concept of Christianity isn’t only wrong but sinful. We serve the unchanging God who has an unchanging word with an unchanging counsel.
2. Are sharp suits, trendy make-up and acquaintance with technology new necessities for spirituality?
Pastor Iren: NO! I cannot exclaim this enough. These are all marketing gimmicks taken to the extreme. They can be put to ‘rightful use’ but this- in most cases- isn’t the case. In marketing, you investigate the ‘wants’ of people and offer it to them at a cost to achieve your goal. But the true gospel cannot be marketed because the natural man does not ‘want’ it. He needs it but he doesn’t know what he needs. The god of this world has blinded his heart. God needs to unveil him and that’s not going to come by wearing a fancy suit! Technology cannot convert people either. Our trust must rest on the gospel. Yet, this is not an excuse for the prevailing mediocrity in many religious cycles. Some people got tired of this and decided to be excellent especially in the administrative aspects of running a Church. This is okay as a complimentary approach but not a substitution approach. Sadly, many Churches have replaced true gospel teaching for marketing. In marketing, the appetite of the customers is a priority. You tell them what they want to hear. In preaching the gospel, the counsel of God is the priority. Preaching right might cause people to walk out on you as they did Jesus in John 6. But those who will stay would be children of God indeed.
3. As a young Christian, when I am asked by an unbeliever: ‘What is the relevance of God?’ How do I respond?
Pastor Iren: It’s a really good question. First of all, anything that people who do not have a relationship with God have cannot be called the relevance of God. I see churches miss this all the time. They say, in Christ, you cannot be poor. Don’t get me wrong, I believe that God blesses but have you checked Forbes list recently? How many of the men and women there even agree, to begin with, that there is a God? The relevance of God is not wealth, or health (there are false religions that heal impressively well) or any other thing people have outside God. The relevance of God is God! That a man can fellowship with God is nothing but a privilege! The bible calls us heirs of God- not just heaven or anything else but- God Himself! (Romans 8:17). There are other important but secondary relevance of God:
A. Eternal life: Many don’t get it. Christians will never die. Jesus, the resurrection and the life said that those who believe in Him will not die. O halleluyah! We may ‘sleep’ when our time on earth is done only to open our eyes in a greater realm with joy unspeakable, having our depleted body parts instantly restored never to deteriorate again.
B. Escaping hell: understand the situation here. It is not that those who do not know God will simply not have eternal life. There is no neutral point. It’s eternal life or eternal death. Even if the promise of eternal life wasn’t so attractive, eternal death is worth our flee. Many of our ladies cannot even stand the sight of worms in a television. But there would be worms perpetually feasting on people in hell for eternity! It is of course besides the fire with heat like none other on the earth. Trust me, escape from this is a relevance of God.
C. Dominion over satan:
4. Pastors are now ‘celebrities’, flaunting wealth, fashion and adding their voices to politics amidst increasing criticisms of their activities. To ask a vague question: is this right? And more specifically are these the new things to which I should aspire to please God?
Pastor Iren: It is a sad reality that Church is seen as ‘good business’ these days. Many may pretend to have a genuine interest in the gospel but when the fame comes, you will see easily where their heart is. It’s sad. It is not wrong for a Pastor to be rich. It is wrong however for the wealth to be mysterious even to key members. It is risky to not have people within and outside the ministry who can speak to you when you seem to be going ‘over board’. It is wrong to handle Church account as your personal account. As for involvement in politics, I may not call it a sin. I’d let motives be the judge. As for flaunting wealth, I wish I knew what you call that exactly, but in a general sense, I have seen some examples of that which are sinful. I do not speak as one who knows it all. As a Pastor, I need prayers too, and have taken some steps by the wisdom of God. However, I believe that it would take a miracle for Pastors to win back the trust of a lot of people. May God help His Church, Amen.
5. How is God moving today?
Pastor Iren: In the Church that I Pastor, Celebration Church International, and in the world at large, I am convinced that God is doing a work to help us take the word of God as it is, instead of manipulating it to suite our agenda. For a lot of ministries, this manipulation isn’t intentional. They just haven’t been trained to interpret the bible and there are a lot of assumptions here and there. Again, even in this, I do not count myself to be a professional, but it is a burden that God has impressed upon my heart for His Church. God bless.
Pastor Emmanuel Iren is a trail blazing youth. He is the Senior Pastor of Celebration Church International based in Lagos, Nigeria. He is also the Publisher of Triumph 30 Devotional, a daily devotional that has sold thousands of copies and blessed lives since its release. He is married to Pastor Laju Iren, President of the Have You Eaten Foundation.
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