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* SO MUCH CONFUSION (This report comes to us from a member of the Mission Helper team, Michael Thom.)

As newcomers to Nigeria my wife and I have been struck by many strange sights and sounds: the chaotic city traffic; the midnight village drums; the sea of dark faces gazing curiously at us.

And the many, many, churches. Traveling down any road in Akwa Ibom State, home of the NCLC Bible Institute, one cannot travel even one mile without passing several churches. And in the city, every block seems to have at least two or three.

Some of the churches are Christian, but a large number of Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons arer also evident. Churches that advertise miracles and wealth are large and popular.

The names of the churches range from the traditional to the bizarre. On our last trip to Uyo, I saw the Methodist Church and the Lutheran Church of Nigeria. But there were also the Wide World Prayer and Healing Mission, the Ultimate Liberty Ministries, and the Garden of Miracle Chapel.

Looking at the large number of churches here, one might ask, “What are we doing here? What need is there for more missionaries in a country that seems so full of them?”

The best answer to that question is the one given by Mr. Umoron, a businessman from Uyo whom we visited last week. Speaking of the many churches, he said, “There is so much confusion! One church says one thing and the other says something else. And so many churches are only interested in your money!”

Many churches mean much confusion. Satan likes that. Satan can use the multitude of churches effectively to keep many Nigerians in a state of bewilderment and spiritual ignorance. If he is able to keep on pouring out his flood of false doctrines, perhaps the simple message of the crucified and risen Savior from sin will be drowned out. That is Satan’s plan. And it seems to be working quite well.

But God has a different plan. And we are part of it. God’s plan is to send forth His Word–through us. God’s plan is to use our lips and our tongues to share the message of Jesus, our Savior from sin. Through that Word He will cut through the confusion and bring understanding, peace, and joy through Christ.

That is why we are here.

May God continue to thwart Satan’s plan to confuse! May He continue to spread the pure and saving gospel of Christ.

* “THE TRUE RECONSTRUCTION OF THE CHURCH” — A three-volume set of books entitled “The Wauwatosa Theology” was published in 1997 by Northwestern Publishing House, Milwaukee, Wis. The set contains essays of three professors (J. P. Koehler, August Pieper, and John Schaller) from the Wisconsin Synod seminary in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin during the first three decades of the twentieth century.

In their monthly Study Club meetings pastors of our CLC’s Minnesota district have been reviewing some of these essays. At a recent meeting Pieper’s “The True Reconstruction of the Church” (first delivered at the August, 1919 Convention of the Wisconsin Synod at New Ulm, Minnesota–and found in Volume III) was reviewed. The essay came across as especially pertinent to the church and its ministry also in our day.

Yes, the essays are from the first decades of another era, but a conscientious reader will find that what is said could have been written for the first years of the twenty-first century as well.

We would like to share just a few paragraphs and observations from that (50-page!) essay. It soon becomes clear that the writer was concerned about the direction of his church (synod)–even as we are about ours today. All emphases (italics) are in the original.

The true weal and woe of the church is to be measured by this standard. The stronger its spiritual character is, the more glorious it is, and the weaker its spiritual character is, the more wretched and deplorable is its condition. This is true of each individual member of the church, of every congregation, and of every synod.

“Our general synod is not in a flourishing condition inasmuch and insofar as it has brilliant and titled professors, educated and eloquent pastors, master teachers, capable officials, model constitutions and organizations, adequate facilities, beautiful church and school buildings, imposing education institutions, or a phenomenal external growth, constantly overflowing treasuries, heavy endowments, adequate property and lucrative business establishments; but it flourishes to the degree that the spiritual character just described–faith, knowledge, fear of God, piety, blessedness, holiness, love toward God and our Lord Jesus Christ, the very image of Christ itself –dwells in it.” (pp. 298-299)

A bit later the following diagnosis is made–and then elaborated upon at great length.

. . . The spiritual life among us is in the process of diminishing. We have now had the gospel in its truth and purity in great abundance and power for so long a time, and have accustomed ourselves to this blessing so thoroughly, that we no longer regard it as something extraordinary. This is already the first step toward despising it. We have already begun to make of our entire church life and Christianity a matter of effortlessly transmitted tradition, inheritance, and custom; and thereby to retain the outward form or shell and to lose the kernel and the essence–that is, the spirit of faith, of love toward God, of fear of God; the spirit of mortification of the flesh and of good works; and the spirit of brotherly love.

” . . . To prove this, I shall have to go somewhat into detail. In our Christian homes there is and remains very little of God’s Word, hardly even the regular family worship with Scripture reading and prayer every morning and every evening. Yes, in some Christian homes there is no common prayer at all anymore, neither spoken by the father, nor by the mother, nor by the children, particularly in such homes in which the children do not attend a Christian school. Even the table prayers have been discontinued in some families. The Bible is seldom or never opened. Only the grandmother still prays perhaps with her hymnal; all the rest either leave the hymnal at the church, or they put it away immediately after the church services until the following Sunday; it only serves in the regular church service. Is this not true? . . . ” (pp. 302-303)

The essayist made every effort to show his concern was more than impractical theological theory.

Let each one ask himself: Is my Christianity, my faith, still power and life, or merely an outward form and habit? Is Christ and his grace really still the only strength of my heart and my portion, or is it the things of this world? Do my thoughts and desires seek that which is above, or that which is on earth? Am I still one who prays? Is God’s Word still being used in my house, or have the Bible, the hymnal, and the catechism become silent and dead books to me? What is more important to me, the spiritual and eternal welfare of my children, or their temporal and worldly advantage?” (p. 305)

While such questions directed the reader toward spiritual self-examination, no question was left as to the source of strength for spiritual revival. For example:

” . . . Here is the secret to success. This Word [the Bible] is spirit and life, sheer divine power, divine fire. This Word must restore the world, the church, our ministry, if only it lives in it, that is, in faith and prayer thinks it through, meditates on it, studies it. No one can sit in a hot oven without being warmed. No one can live in the Word, in the gospel, without being illumined by its light, being warmed by its glory, being set on fire by its fire, being strengthened by its power, and being spiritualized by its spirit–unless, of course, a person is entirely unfit for faith, obdurate, ossified, or mummified.” (p. 318)

Whenever the essayist pointed fingers, he did not forget that some of those fingers pointed backwards. As a seminary professor he sought to touch the hearts and consciences of his fellow “professional” clergy. Often it was pointed out that if the religion of pastors and teachers was shallow and superficial, what do they imagine they can do for God’s people in the pews or behind the desks?

The three-volume set of books is not cheap. Yet it would be a worthy investment for any pastor or layperson who is ready for a personal spiritual examination on many fronts. — Seems that should be all of us.

(Note: permission was received from Northwestern Publishing House to reprint these quotations. — Ed.)