Nigeria – The valley of decision for the global Church

Nigeria - The valley of decision for the global Church - Graham Ford

The church worldwide has two critical issues to deal with at the same time: the challenge of militant Islam and the challenge of secularist atheism.  These issues are critical because both militant Islam and secularist atheism are operating in a coordinated attack not only on Christians but also on the Christian contributions to Western culture.  Both movements are gaining and using power with the goal of removing both from every nation and society.

But of the two, the most severe issue is the challenge of militant Islam, for the simple reason that, were secular atheism to cease in collaborating with Islam and its goals and instead oppose Islam, as one day it must for its own survival, Militant Islam would easily crush it.  The image the Bible gives us of this process is that of a beast toppling its rider and crushing it under its hooves.  The Church in every land has to face and endure militant Islam, or there will be no Church.

Let me define militant Islam: it is that sector of Islam that supports, funds, encourages and trains offensive actions in the field of terror and military actions, or cultural or political displacement and domination in all fields such as industry, government, education, health and finance.  In all cases the aim is to turn previously once-Christian lands into Muslim lands, and to demoralise, defeat and eradicate Christianity and Christian cultural norms and ideals.  Taken to its ultimate conclusion, its aim is to eradicate Christianity down to the last church, as successfully has happened in countries such as Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Lybia and more recently Afghanistan.

The fact that many Muslims do not activily engage or even support the aims and methods of militant Islam does not undermine the historical reality of militant Islam, the constancy of its 1,400 year-old mission nor the present-day acceleration of its activities to all parts of the world.  There are many Muslims who do actively engage and support the aims and methods of militant Islam, and I chose to call these militant Muslims.

What should Christian goals and strategy be in the face of the global march of militant Islam?  I want to come at this question by focussing on Nigeria, for it is Nigeria’s Christians that are in the heart of the fire of persecution by militant Islam, yet they remain numeous enough that they are still capable of influencing events, rather than merely patiently suffering the gross and morally grotesque injustices that militant Muslims, in the name of Islam, inflict upon Christians across the face of the earth.

In Nigeria the numbers of Christians and Muslims are largely equal, and most of Nigeria’s population see themselves as Christian or Muslim.  For decades there has been violent struggle and persecution and sometimes war.  The Biafran War in the early seventies was an attempt by a mostly Christian region of Nigeria to secede and form a separate nation, distinct from what it saw as a Muslim dominated government.  Government forces starved the Biafran people into submission with a loss of life of probably 2 millions.  All but 100,000 of these were civilians.

Since then, there has been a continuous erosion of Christian liberties in the north of Nigeria, with many state governments and the courts adopting Sharia Law, which is the system of Islamic Law that puts non-Muslims at a very severe disadvantage before the law compared to Muslims, in every area of life.

At the same time various militant Muslim groups, some militias, some Muslim tribes, have pursued a policy of ever-increased murders of men, women and children, burnings (including burning familes alive in their homes), rapes, kidnappings, mutilations, pillaging and land grabs.  Light arms have flowed in large numbers to these groups, often paid for by rich militant Muslims in the Arab world.  These groups – mainly the Fulani tribesmen and Boko Haram – continue to cause havoc, bloodshed and misery across the northern and central regions of Nigeria for the Christian population.  Their methods are primarily military – targetting unarmed populations with military weapons in surprise attacks.  These attacks have frequently been facilitated by government forces, who appear to do little to dissuade the militant Muslim forces, unless international pressure is brought to bear.

Christian leaders in the country have remained divided as to how to deal with the onslaught, shocked by finding that often nearly entire church congregations have been massacred, including the priest or pastor and his family.  Psychologically the shock of the extreme voilence is difficult to deal with. For example, Christian farmers have been attacked, and found staggering back into their home villages with both arms mutilated, their hands cut off and stuffed in their pockets by the marauders. 

The government forces, alledgedly stretched to capacity, have not had the resources, or the willingness, to mount a convincing defense of its Christian population, which has grown distrusting of a government whose president is  himself a Muslim Fulani.  Wishing to prevent a general breakdown, the courts have shown themselves to be harsher on Christians who unsurprisingly have sometimes responded violently.  Five Christian men have been recently sentenced to death for killing a Fulani – arguably in self-defense.  No such sentences have reportedly been handed down to Fulani killing Christians, further weakening trust by Christians in basic government insitutions, as they feel their government yielding to the influence of militant Islam.

In this lawless situation, old tribal loyalties have reasserted themselves, with rather weak tribally-based militias serving as vigilante forces as the only way to provide a measure of defense against relentless marauding.  Lacking proper abilities of investigation, identification, arrest and trial, such forces have instead embarked on reprisal raids, dishing out extreme violence in return in order to ‘teach them a lesson they will never forget’ – hardly the Christian concept of a Just War, but an understandable attempt at trying to create an incentive for the marauders to cease operations in the absence of any viable alternative.  Ofcourse, each counter-attack creates a new narrative of victimhood and justification for mounting further, larger and more violent raids with even more brutality and bloodshed inflicted upon the innocent.

Christian leaders have pleaded with their angry young men to show restraint, but as in any broadly based Christian population, few will be saints.  As usual in any conflict leaders have held a variety of views as to how to respond.  I say ‘as usual’, because since the days of the Roman persecutions, Christians have held a variety of opinions on the right course of action, ranging from quietist pacificism to holy war crusading, with Just War coming somewhat in-between,  a compromise position that never quite succeeds in restraining belligerent forces once total war breaks out.

The truth is that the New Testament gives little guidance on the subject of war and violence.  In general its focus is on being peacable and becoming peacemakers.  Its concern is the kingdom of God, not the kingdoms of this world. If you want a nice ‘proof text’ that tells you exactly what to do when faced with implacable jihadists who want to cut off your head, carry off and gang rape your daughters and kidnap your little sons and train them to go into battle to murder what remains of your family, you will be disappointed – for that is not its purpose.  Its purpose is to train you in righteousness – i.e. to make sure you do not become the perpetrator of such vile actions.  But for those whose culture is by design dead set against all things Christian and was invented for the express purpose of wiping Christianity off the face of the earth by all means necessary including shockingly brutal violence, as far as that culture is concerned the only relevance it sees in these Christian teachings is how it can exploit them to make Christians lower their guard sufficiently so that it can win with the least cost to itself.

While we know that we must bring the Gospel to the Muslims through authentic Christian living and teaching, loving eachother, our neighbours and our enemies, we also know that we will only ‘save some’, and that friendship with God always and in every place and time means enmity with the world.  In these last times the world, the flesh and the Devil appear to have conspired together to form what they consider to be the best weapon against the Biblical peoples – the Jews and the Christians – and that is militant Islam.  So while we may have a Bible in our hands and a song in our hearts, this will not stop the marauders marauding.

However, there are a few verses that in fact shed more than a little light on the subject.  The first was something Jesus told his disciples – in fact it was one of the last things he taught them before his trial.  We read in Luke 22 the following:

‘And he said to them, “When I sent you forth without money-bag and knapsack and shoes, you did not lack anything, did you?”

And they said, “Nothing.”

Therefore he said to them, “But now, he who has a money-bag, let him take it and likewise a knapsack, and he who has no sword, he will sell his garment and buy one.  For I say to you, that it is essential for this to still be accomplished in me, which has been written, ‘And he was counted with the lawless; for the things concerning me must have an end.’” 

But they said, “Lord, behold, here are two swords.”

Now he said to them, “It is sufficient.” ‘   (Modern Literal Version, Luke 22:35 ff)

Jesus was counted with the lawless, i.e. regarded as wicked, an imposter and someone who should be killed.  In our day, Jesus is regarded by many in the same way: not good, not holy, not the Son of God, and despite all the good He did and the truth He taught and the person He was and remains, he is increasingly despised and rejected; the inspiration, preservation and authority of the Word of God despised, reviled and rejected.

In that circumstance, Jesus commands His disciples to make practical steps to look after themselves, as they can no longer trust themselves to those to whom they minister to be able or willing to return their kindnesses with practical assistance.  A few days beforehand, Jesus had prophecied this:

‘Then they will give you up to affliction and will kill you, and you will be hated by all the nations because of my name.  And then many will be offended, and will give up one another and will hate one another.  And many false prophets will arise and will mislead many. And because lawlessness will be multiplied, the love of the many will be cold.  But he who has endured to the end, this one will be saved.  And this good-news of the kingdom will be preached in the whole inhabited-earth, for a testimony to all the nations, and then the end will come.’   [Matthew 24:9-14, MLV]

We are living in a unique time, in which there is arising a global antipathy towards the Biblical message and the Biblical peoples.  The name of Jesus Christ stands for the law of God, the righteous demands of a loving and righteous God, and as such stands in opposition to both Sharia Law and the new laws of licentiousness of secular atheism that have been passed in the West.  Both systems of law count as lawlessness according to the Biblical standard.

Given this, the widespread understanding of Christianity serving the common good is breaking down, and in its place has emerged a hostility that ranges from Christians loosing their jobs for holding Biblical viewpoints all the way through to genocidal campaigns as we have seen in the Middle East and now in places such as Nigeria.

It is not only people that have this hatred, it is nations, that is the structures of power and governance that bind nations together.  In particular we have seen concerted cooperation between nations in transnational organisations such as the United Nations and the European Union against Biblical teaching concerning the family, and repeated prejudicial actions against the Biblical peoples: examples include repeated condemnation of Israel and an almost complete unwillingness to assist Christian refugees attempting to flee persecution from the Middle East or Pakistan.

Jesus’ modern-day followers are regarded as lawless around the globe, simply for being Christians.  And so Jesus’ advice should apply.  We, the Christians must equip ourselves with the essentials of survival.  Jesus refers to ‘money’, ‘knapsack’, ‘shoes’ and ‘sword’.

Let us recognise the idiom of Hebrew thought and expression, that uses the particular to symbolise the general.   Jesus is drawing our attention to the essentials of survival: finance, supplies, assets and defense.  These are not the elements of the spiritual life: openness to the Word of God, prayer,  holiness, love: these are the elements of the physical life.  Jesus us is telling His disciples that we must think about these things too.  And while all these are our personal responsibility, in reality we need to work together, for we cannot be effective in these earthly matters if we are not united together.

Christians having financial resources, supplies and assets seems hardly controversial, although in many countries it is. In Muslim-dominated countries Christians are kept in the poorest of jobs to maximise their hardships, and what little they have is frequently taken from them or destroyed.  But it is to defense that I now want to give thought to, as this is clearly controversial, not least for Christians themselves.

To re-emphasise the point, Jesus, in refering to the ‘sword’, is not merely referring to an object, as though possessing a sword alone will do much.  A sword is an instance of a much larger concept, of self-defense, of the ability to mount a defense, a corporate skill in handling weapons and tactics, the strategic understanding of how to maintain a defense effectively in the face of many enemy strategems, and above all the moral understanding of how to use force and why, so as not to descend in the immoral morass of brutality that characterises the enemy.

The Christianity Jesus requires of us in these trying lawless circumstances is no less a Christianity – it is still based on the law of love.  It requires of us to understand that our money, our supplies, our assets and our force all belongs to God and are to be used in accordance with His law: we share, we give, we lend, work hard, and we protect eachother.  Remember: ‘Love protects’. 

Against an enemy that cannot be reasoned with, who will not be dissuaded from attack, who will use every failure as a pretext for greater hate and false condemnation, who will never ever stop until the Great Day of the Lord when, according to the New Testament, all the foes of God will be destroyed by none other that the Risen Christ Himself (who will also forever be the Prince of Peace!), our loving duty is to ENDURE.

And that endurance cannot happen if we are all impoverished, starved, enslaved or slaughtered. 

And so, my message to the Christians of Nigeria is this:  help each other prosper, have stores to get through tough times, invest in effective assets and learn to defend eachother from evil men.  Each of these will require changes to how things are at present, and there is much work to do.

I believe these include the following practical issues that need to be addressed:

The challenge of farming in Nigeria could be greatly helped by improving the use of water through drip irrigation, of which Israel is a leader, coupled with solar pumping.  This and many other innovations could increase yields and crop quality, creating resources that can then be used to benefit the entire community. 

Obey the 10th
Take care to obey the 10th commandment – ‘Do not covet’.  There is no need to resent a neighbour’s success, instead learn from him and collaborate with him.  And let those who prosper help others to do so also, rather than exploit them, for we all must give account to the Lord before the great white throne on the day judges the hearts and deeds of all men.

Build defensively 
In the hundreds of years of warfare in Europe against the Muslim invaders, an essential part of the resistance against the oppressors was that every house, church and village was constructed with effective defense in mind.  One can see these structures still to this day in Portugal, Spain, southern Italy, Sicily, Hungary and Greece. Being tropical, the soils of Nigeria should lend themselves to be reconstituted back in rock-like blocks using modern Geopolymer technology using Low Temperature Setting Geopolymer blends.  Relatively low cost, cheaper than concrete but stronger than unburned clay, thick defensive structures can be created to make it harder for marauders to gain entry or shoot through.  I would draw your attention to the architecture of Ezekiel’s temple, a structure that has never yet been constructed, but whose plan and details serve as an inspiration for practical defensive structures designed to protect people against modern small-calibre and rocket-propelled weapons.

Own the night 
Marauders are by their nature men of the night, who do their deeds in darkness or perhaps into the dawn.  If you need to repel and negate their strength, it is essential that Christians learn to defend themselves at night and have the preparatory structures, the tools and the training to do so.  Marauders who attack the peaceful by night must learn that they are probably will not return home unharmed or alive. 

It is essential that there are effective systems of intelligence to know what the enemy is doing before he strikes so that preparations and positions are taken in time.  As the enemy’s tactics adapt to your successes, learn at least as fast if not faster, anticipating and pre-empting their moves to keep your little-ones safe.

None of this is possible unless God assists us, and we cannot receive what He has for us if we do not learn from what He has said, do what He has said and look to Him in every step.

Each community needs effective organisation that involves every household.  Just as Moses organised the ancient Hebrews during the Exodus to be led by men in their tens, hundreds, five hundreds and thousands, so we must be so organised, so as to teach skills and coordination, ensure discipline (with any power comes responsibility) and grow leadership. This ‘sword’ is not just for a few to wield: that is what the government’s forces are – too few –  and it is not working.  This ‘sword’ must be wielded by every adult, for marauders can attack any house, any school, any church, any business.

By developing a Biblical understanding of community defense, it will be easier to collaborate with others of similar outlook to create the necessary strength to deter or defeat the marauders when they attack.  Hopefully it should also be possible to collaborate with Government forces, who should welcome the addition voluntary resources that well-disciplined community defense provides.  However, if that is not the case, then it must not be used to fight a legitimate Government – one that meets the requirement of government described in the Letter to the Romans, starting at Romans 13:1.   If they are not legitimate, well that is a subject for another time, but in my view that a government committed to the principles of Sharia qualifies as a government under the definition given by St Paul.

Place Christianity and the chuch at the heart of community government  
Just as in Saxon Wessex in the ninth century King Alfred the Great made government morally accountable to the church, and sought to have the systems of justice fully informed by both the Old Testament Law and the New Testament teaching, and so created the basis of English government and English Common Law, so in every community let use embrace the Bible and the elders who know it to instruct and advise those who must wield power in order to preserve life.

Link across the globe
The Christians of the Earth need to become united.  Tradition, distance, language and culture must not be barriers to building the unity necessary for the Church to endure and remain faithful and strong, becoming partners in giving and receiving.

While this is advice is given from the peaceful and ample comfort of my desk in England, I am very aware that what my Nigerian brothers and sisters face today has been faced by many others around the world, and will before long be faced by all.  Nations will fall – the Western nations first, but eventually all nations, before the great and terrible day of the Lord.

Scripture has a lot to say about how we must endure in the coming days.  These times will be a fluid situation in which greater threats will emerge, but for which there exists in God’s word wise responses, so that His church may endure and be found spotless at the time of His coming.

But above all, let us hold fast, looking to the Lord our rock, for I believe that out of this fire will emerge a purified Church, a united Church and a Church who is already living in a way that will last for a millenium, once Christ returns.  The prophet Daniel looked forward to our day and was excited by what he saw.  I believe that what He saw was a church filled with members who would minister as Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Joseph, Moses, Joshua, Samuel and David did, as well as minister like  Peter, Paul, John and Jude.

I remain convinced that old denominational structures will fall, but that through relationships of sincere love rather than organisational heirarchy God will bring about a global kingdom of love, His church reflecting His glory.

Graham Ford

President – Jesus Christ for Muslims