An important example for the Church in Nigeria » YNaija

by Ogbeche Ohotuowo

My people are ruined because they don’t know what’s right or true. Because you’ve turned your back on knowledge (Hosea 4:6)

Christians will remember Ravi Zacharias as a staunch defender of Christianity, a man of tolerance, and a man relentless in his quest for knowledge while proclaiming the gospel of Christ.

However, many Nigerians may not know that the teenage Ravi Zacharias was a skeptic himself, who became an atheist until his turnaround at age 17. While he was recovering from a suicide attempt, Ravi found the words of Jesus in John 14:19: “Because I live, you also will live.” Since his discovery of the Bible, he traveled and taught for 48 years, teaching and providing answers to skeptics like he once was.

Unlike many champions of the Christian faith, particularly in this part of our world, Ravi welcomed questions from people across every religion and walk of life. He listened, he had compassion for others, he was accomodating and tolerant. He didn’t attempt to bamboozle people or shut them up through a position of authority but he tried to answer questions with “hard facts and evidence.”

His ministry’s mission, in Ravi’s own words is to: Reach the thinker and the skeptic; to answer the questions and do evangelism in clearing all the obstacles that stand in the way so that the questioner can take a direct look at the cross of Jesus Christ. It is to help the thinker to believe, and the believer to think.

What if all pastors and churches, adopted this approach?

This is not advocacy that all pastors become apologetics, but that Pastors should create opportunities for debates and questions from their members and also from non-Christians. In many churches, we do not see pastors create room for questioning. The few brave people who ask difficult questions or provide empirical facts to counter supposed miracles are shut down by pastors and congregation members alike.

Have Christians asked themselves these questions: “Who are we emulating by shutting people up? Is it Jesus, who even entertained questions from those that were going to crucify him?” I don’t think so.

One of Ravi Zacharias’ core ministries was the creation of open fora/debates and panels, set up to answer peoples’ objections to Christianity with gentleness and respect. Gideon Odoma, an adjunct of the Ravi Zacharias International Ministries, is also doing this work in Nigeria. He teaches about arguments for the existence of God, science and religion, religious diversity, among others.

But the majority of Nigerian pastors or Christian teachers do not adopt a gentle approach in answering questions about Christianity, or in welcoming diverse opinions. If you have ever questioned the authority of a pastor in Nigeria or pointed out something seemingly contradictory in the Bible, or even made a statement condemning an approach by a Christian on Twitter, the response you’d get is usually neither ‘gentle’ and or ‘respectful’, or in the words of believers, not “done out of love.”

Our practice of Christianity has forcefully closed the doors to thinking, or querying things that do not sit well with us, right from when we are young, so that we rely on ‘My pastor said’ to defend the most ridiculous things, including how 5G is spreading the coronavirus.

“And the people of Berea were more open-minded than those in Thessalonica, and they listened eagerly to Paul’s message. They searched the Scriptures day after day to see if Paul and Silas were teaching the truth.” – Acts 17:11

Maybe Nigerian Christians can start listening to Ravi Zacharias and emulate his approach to dissenting opinions today. He may longer be physically with us, but his words and messages live on.

According to Ravi, the Gospel is beautiful but you can never proclaim this, without respecting the honest questioner. To properly do this, his ministry approached knowledge sharing by retaining the dignity of the listener while upholding the nobility of the gospel. This means that, people who ask questions are not made to feel stupid, or ostracised, or treated like they do not have faith. People who ask questions of their pastors should be seen as they are – people searching for knowledge. If you can’t help them find that knowledge, at least don’t shut them up, or disrespect them.

Ravi also did not refrain from answering the most controversial questions, not just about our human existence, but also about social issues, particularly whether gender equality exists within Christianity.

Maybe Christians can remember that the Bible does not say that the quest for knowledge is a terrible thing. In fact, the Bible encourages and applauds those who seek knowledge. For instance, Proverbs 18:15 says: “An intelligent heart acquires knowledge, and the ear of the wise seeks knowledge.”

If the Bible itself shows that acquiring knowledge is good, isn’t it also good for teachers in the church to acquire the knowledge and show their members the way? Why then should they consistently shut down people who ask questions?

For Christians and especially leaders of the Nigerian Church, each day is an opportunity to show tolerance of dissenting opinions and love towards those who ask the hardest questions.

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