My dear People of God,
Greetings in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord and Saviour of humankind! We are Christians, followers of Christ, anointed ones like Christ! We are as St. Peter wrote, “a chosen race, a kingdom of priests, a holy nation, a people to be a personal possession to sing the praises of God who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light” (1 Peter 2:9). How do we maintain our Christian status?
St. Peter was aware of the challenges to Christians and that is why he wrote, “Your minds, then, must be sober and ready for action; put all your hope in the grace brought to you by the revelation of Jesus Christ. Do not allow yourselves to be shaped by the passions of your old ignorance, but as obedient children, be yourselves holy in all your activity, after the model of the Holy One who calls us, since scripture says, ‘Be holy, for I am holy’” (1 Peter 1:13-15). The greatest challenge is worldliness. It is true that we are human beings and people who are in the world. But clearly as people born again with water and the Holy Spirit, we are meant to follow new way of life (see Romans 6:4). We are in the world but not of the world (see John 17:11, 14-16). No wonder St. Paul wrote: “Do not model your behaviour on the contemporary world, but let the renewing of your minds transform you, so that you may discern for yourselves what is the will of God – what is good and acceptable and mature” (Romans 12:2).
One of the most attractive things happening in the contemporary world is named ‘wood’ – Hollywood, Nollywood. Movies and films are great attractions in our world! It is not surprising. It is like football matches. Thousands and thousands of spectators crowd stadiums where matches are played. Thousands and thousands rush to support their football clubs. Even here in Nigeria, the number of people who support English football clubs is alarming. Personally, I support my club, Arsenal! The attraction of football and that of movies and films are natural. Human beings like whatever is interesting. Before, we were all attracted by Hollywood movies. I remember when I used to watch the various cowboy movies. However, these days, people in Nigeria and in many countries in Africa enjoy Nollywood, Nigerian movies.
The joke is that some people have turned religion to movies. Such people are more interested in the attractions that they give the people. For them, it is not the glory of God and the salvation of people that are primary. What is primary is the number of people whom they attract and of course what comes from such attraction. Somebody, precisely Msgr. Hypolite Adigwe, in his teaching on Jesus the Good Shepherd pointed out the present trend in the realm of religion. According to him, “the present trend in the realm of religion which has led to the commercialization of God in the sense that ‘the more deceptive and manipulative the pastor/leader, the more sheep he wins to himself’” (“Jesus the Good Shepherd” in The Christian Outlook, Saturday May 13, 2017, p. 5). Many modern pastors, priests, overseers, ministers etc are attracted to movies and are turning religion to movies in order to attract people to their religious body, assembly, ministry or church. In that way, religion has moved from worship of God for the glory of God to entertainment and funfair to attract people.
It is evident that the primary motive for such attraction is not the glory of God and the salvation of the people but “sordid profit” (see Titus 1:11). This is not a modern development. Even at the early times of Christianity, some people tended to make Christianity “Christywood” – shows, entertaining, presentations, false and fake claims of prophecies and miracles that were really means of attracting people to themselves supposedly in the name of Jesus Christ. The fact is that they were more interested in the material gains which they would get from the attraction. Jesus Christ himself gave the warning about false Christs and false prophets who would use their fake signs and wonders to deceive even the elect (see Matthew 24:24-25). By displaying miracles and pretending to perform miracles and wonders as well as making prophecies and blowing various tongues and joyous melodies, they were interested in drawing people to themselves in order to draw from them money and what money could buy. St. Paul warned about such people. He warned about people of this kind who upset whole families, by teaching things that they ought not to, and doing it for the sake of sordid gain (see Titus 1:11). Such people see religion as a way of making huge profit (see 1 Timothy 6:5). And they make huge monetary gains by their religion of movies.
Religious leaders and founders of religious Christian religious movements that are more commercial and entertaining than devotional are many. They are fulfilling the warnings of the Apostles. St. Paul warned that such would lead to the abandoning of the faith: “The Spirit has explicitly said that during the last times some will desert the faith and pay attention to the deceitful spirits and doctrines that come from devils, seduced by the hypocrisy of liars whose consciences are branded as though with red-hot iron” (1 Timothy 4:1-2). There will be people who would keep up outward appearance of religion but would have rejected the inner power of it, that is, holiness and longing for eternal salvation (see 2 Timothy 3:5).
Such people would attract not only “silly women who are obsessed with their sins and follow one craze after another, always seeking learning, but unable ever to come to the knowledge of the truth” (2 Timothy 3:6-7), but also young people who are attracted by the passions of youth. The words of St. Paul to such people are: “Turn away from the passions of youth, concentrate on uprightness, faith, love and peace, in union with all those who call on the Lord with a pure heart” (2 Timothy 2:22-23). Of course, people who wish to follow Christ in spirit and truth are not to be deceived and attracted by false pastors, overseers, priests etc who use the Lord for their advertisement and commercialisation knowing that Jesus Christ himself definitely stated: “It is not anyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ who will enter the kingdom of Heaven, but the person who does the will of my Father in heaven” (Matthew 7:21).
Christians have to be very careful to assess and accept those who do the will of the Father and worship God in spirit and truth and not those who demonstrate and advertise themselves in order to attract people and gain material benefits from them. St. Peter has his own warning: “As there were false prophets in the past history of our people, so you too will have your false teachers, who will insinuate their own disruptive views and, by disowning the Lord who brought them freedom, will bring upon themselves speedy destruction. Many will copy their debauched behaviour and the Way of Truth will be brought into disrepute on their account.
In their greed they will try to make profit out of you with untrue tales” (2 Peter 2:1-3). It is true that many of such religious leaders and founders shout “in the name of Jesus” but their hearts are more on Naira than in salvation of souls. For any genuine Christian, the salvation of souls is the supreme law (Salus animarum suprema lex). But for many so-called leaders of religion, their supreme law is tithe and sowing of seed!
It is true that sowing of seeds is part of Christian practices but that is not the principal motive for Christianity. St. Paul wrote to the Corinthians as he was making collections not for his own profit but for the needy in Jerusalem: “But remember: anyone who sows sparsely will reap sparsely as well – and anyone who sows generously will reap generously as well. Each one should give as much as he has decided on his own initiative, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9:6-7). The sowing is not to be poured into one’s purse or bag but to be made available for the Church and the poor in the society. Think of St. Paul. He was not raising money for himself unlike some of the modern pastors and ministers who are gathering huge sums of money for themselves and their families and purchasing houses and expensive vehicles including private jets! We must be care: “The love of money is the root of all evils’ and there are some who, pursuing it, have wandered away from the faith and so given their souls any number of fatal wounds” (1 Timothy 6:10).
Turning Christianity into an entertainment and commercial asset is leading many people astray. Christians should be cautious and not be deceived by those who manipulate Christianity as Christywood in order to attract followers with a view of making huge material gains. They will make the gains but they will pay the price. What will be the price? Jesus Christ mentioned those who thought that they were promoting Jesus Christ by shouting “in Jesus’ name” and “Lord, Lord” but in actual fact they were destroying Christianity: “When the day comes many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, drive out demons in your name, work many miracles in your name?” Then I shall tell them to their faces: I have never known you; away from me, all evil doers!” (Matthew 7:22-23).
This verdict of our Lord and Saviour should teach us a very serious lesson: Christian religion, that is, Christianity, is not for material and social entertainment and pleasure but for eternal salvation. We should be careful. When many of the disciples of Jesus Christ abandoned him because of his teaching about the Eucharist, Jesus Christ turned to the Twelve: “What about you, do you want to go away too?” (John 6:67). Many so-called Christians abandon the Catholic Church to join Christywood churches, assemblies, ministries – those whose founders and leaders follow the trend warned about by St. Paul: “The time is sure to come when people will not accept sound teaching, but their ears will be itching for anything new and they will collect themselves a whole series of teachers according to their own tastes; and they will shut their ears to the truth and will turn to myths” (2 Timothy 4:3-4). I add, people follow the trend of entertainment and shows with the name of Jesus!
Faced with this challenge, what do sincere Christians do? St. Peter gives us the answer: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the message of eternal life, and we believe; we have come to know that you are the Holy One of God” (John 6:68-69). Genuine followers of Jesus Christ, the Holy One of God, are not those who seek for enjoyment, entertainment, material and social profit and gains but those who “must keep steady all the time; put up with suffering; do the work of preaching the gospel; fulfil the service asked of you” (2 Timothy 4:5).
True Christians are not to be deceived into following people who manipulate and twist Christianity into Christywood – a church of movies, entertainment, display of attractive music and sounds, fake miracles, bubu yaya, chokolokobangoshe, commercialisation of religion and advertisement of self. Such churches, ministries, assemblies and organisations will surely attract many people and deceive them into abandoning true Christianity, the Christianity of following Jesus Christ by renouncing oneself and taking up one’s cross to follow Him: “If anyone wants to be a follower of mine, let him renounce himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Matthew 16:24; see Matthew 10:38). Certainly, the “Christians” who propagate prosperity and religion of entertainment cannot renounce themselves and take up their crosses!
My sisters and brothers, my dear People of God! Do not allow yourselves to be misled by people who pretend to be Christians but are in fact “religious” actors and actresses, pretending to be mighty men and women of God. Are they really working for the salvation of souls or for sordid gains? Do make a commitment to true Christian faith “and so be able to lead a life worthy of the Lord, a life acceptable to him in all its aspects, bearing fruit in every kind of good work and growing in the knowledge of God, fortified, in accordance with the glorious strength, with all power always to persevere and endure, giving thanks with joy to the Father who has made you able to share the lot of God’s holy people and with them to inherit the light” (Colossians 1:10-11). Be Christians, remaining always faithful to the Lord, with heartfelt devotion (see Acts 11:23, 26) and not superficial, pretentious, ostentatious showmanship in the name of Christ. May God help all genuine Christians to resist the attraction of fake “Christianity” that is really Christywood!
Most Rev. Hilary Paul Odili Okeke