Christianity is a religion of the New Testament
To those Nigerian Christians who are eager to cite Old Testament passages in support of their tendentious interpretation of certain practices, like paying tithe and the rest, it is important to teach them that the Old Testament is not the fundamental reference point for our Christian religion. Jesus is the fundamental reference point of our religion. He is the fullness of the Old Testament Law and Prophets. He is the final point of appeal and the final arbiter of biblical authority. He himself said it: “I have not come to abolish the Law and the Prophets but to fulfill them” (Matthew 5:17). In other words, it is Jesus who gives us the best interpretation of the Bible. At the Transfiguration of Jesus in the presence of three of his disciples (Peter, James and John), two great Old Testament biblical figures – Moses and Elijah – representing the Law and the Prophets respectively, appeared and were conversing with Jesus on the mountain (Matthew 17:3; Luke 9:30). Luke’s version of the Transfiguration tells us exactly what Moses and Elijah came to do: they came to converse with Jesus about his impending passion and death (Luke 9:31).
In the midst of the divine manifestation, a voice was heard from the clouds saying: “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; listen to him” (Matthew 17:5; Luke 9:35). That was the voice of God the Father, telling us to listen to not anyone but Jesus. This took place after Moses and Elijah had disappeared. When the three disciples got up, they saw no one except Jesus. This is a turning point in biblical revelation: Jesus is the voice we have to listen to. He is the fullness and fulfilment of everything written in the Old Testament. In his preaching ministry, Jesus gave a new interpretation to Old Testament laws and regulations. Several times in the Sermon on the Mount, he told his disciples, “You have heard how it was said to the men of old, do this… but now I say to you” (Matthew 5:21-48). The message here is that Jesus is the final arbiter of biblical truth. Those Christians who are quick to regurgitate Old Testament passages to validate their position on sundry religious teaching need to know clearly that we are not practitioners of Judaism but of Christianity. Our religion is based on Jesus himself. The kind of tendentious interpretation of the Bible that tries to wave Jesus aside is not of Christianity. We cannot set the teachings of the New Testament aside and go back to the Old Testament as if Jesus never existed. Whatever we do not hear directly from the mouth of Jesus or infer from his teachings and those of the Apostles and the early Church is not of Christianity.
The challenge of biblical prophecy
In their days, the biblical prophets confronted the evils in the religious and political structures of society. They issued series of divine warnings to both political and religious leaders on account of their prophetic interpretation of the signs of the time, calling them to amend their ways and return to God. While warning against the oppression and exploitation of the poor, the Prophet Amos issued a frontal attack at the religious establishment and announced the coming doom that God would visit on the oppressors of his children: ‘They sell the just for money and the needy for a pair of sandals; they tread on the head of the poor and trample them upon the dust of the earth, while they silence the rights of the afflicted’ (Amos 2:6-7). ‘Yahweh has sworn by his holiness: The time is coming upon you when you will be dragged away with hooks, even the last of you with fishhooks’ (Amos 4:2). ‘I reject your feasts, I take no pleasure when you assemble to offer me your burnt offerings. Your cereal offerings, I will not accept! Your offerings of fattened beasts, I will not look upon! Away with the noise of your chanting, away with your strumming on harps’ (Amos 5:20-23).
The Prophets Isaiah, Hosea, Ezekiel and Micah also followed this strain of prophecy in their campaign for social justice. Their words of admonition are still valid for our own times and for our own leaders. They challenge us not to compromise with evil wherever it exists and whichever guise it assumes. In his book, Witness to Justice (2011), Bishop Matthew Kukah put this issue in clear perspective, when he said: ‘Some of those who have become rich by corrupt means find a moral basis for their corruption by supporting religion. They erect places of worship, they sponsor pilgrimage and keep holy men and women in the holy shrines around the world, and they make large donations in exchange for the holy waters of legitimacy.’ For Bishop Kukah, the danger with this is that ‘both religious bodies and the beneficiaries of these seemingly noble actions run the risk of mistaking criminal bargaining with God for spirituality. When religious leaders turn a blind eye to the actions of certain individuals and use material generosity as a basis for gauging the depth of spirituality and commitment, we run the risk of draining religion of its ideals and goals.’
Bishop Kukah continues with an indictment of religious leaders: ‘The greater part of the blame does not lie with those who even may have gotten their wealth through corrupt means or those who do not put their wealth to good use. The sinners are those false prophets who have taken it upon themselves to compromise with Baal, those who revere the wealthy and powerful and refuse to prophesy about a God who provided for all his children.’