Presidential address of Archbishop Nicholas Okoh to GAFCON III
The Most Rev. Nicholas Okoh, Primate and Archbishop of All-Nigeria
Jerusalem International Conference Center, 18 June 2018
Presidential Address to the GAFCON III Conference
Proclaiming Christ Faithfully to the Nations God’s Gospel
“Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the Gospel of God”.
Introduction: God’s Gospel is the life-transforming message of salvation from sin and all its consequences through the death and resurrection of the Lord, Jesus Christ. It is both a declaration and a summons: announcing what has been done for us in Christ and calling us to repentance, faith and submission to His Lordship. “The New Testament use of the Greek euangelion, ‘joyful tidings’, ‘good news’, has an Old Testament background in Isaiah 40-66, where the Septuagint verbeuangelizomai, ‘bring good news’, is used of the declaration of Jerusalem’s deliverance from bondage and also of a wider announcement of liberation for the oppressed.”1 The importance of understanding God’s Gospel cannot be overstated in the light of the need to faithfully proclaim Christ to the Nations, which is the focus of our Conference. Paul underlines this particularly by defining his identity at the opening of his letter to the Romans in relation to his calling to be an apostle, set apart for the Gospel of God. Central to the Gospel of God then is the Person of Jesus, the Son of God. The Gospel of God would, therefore, refer to the Gospel concerning the Son of God who came to save mankind.
Origin of the Gospel of God: The Gospel finds its ultimate ground in the character of the triune God, His perfect love and holiness. It announces the work of the triune God. The Son came to do the Father’s will in the power of the Spirit. By the Spirit He was incarnate of the Virgin Mary in fulfillment of the Old Testament Scriptures, becoming genuinely one of us while remaining truly God.2
He was made like us in every way, except sin.3 At the same time He is the unique Son of God, the only Saviour of the world. He lived the perfect life that none of us can live, always doing the will of the Father who sent Him.4 He died for our sins and was raised for our justification, always in perfect unity with the Father and the Spirit.5 In Romans, Paul departs from his usual opening style in which he describes himself as the apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God as is evident in ICor. 1:1; 2Cor. 1:1; Col. 1:1, etc. Rather, he stresses that God is the source and authority behind the message (1:9). Nonetheless, he constructs a statement in which Christ is named with God as the legitimizing authority.
Paul’s introduction demonstrates that the Gospel derives from God just as Christ proceeds from the Father; and the content of the Gospel is Christ Himself, a point so well articulated in Romans.
Judgement and Mercy in Biblical Theology: The subjects of judgement and mercy are always in disharmony in theological discourse as is also evident in the Old Testament Scriptures. It is difficult for some to reconcile the judgmental and merciful attributes of God. The success of the Gospel comes about because it is grounded in the character of God Himself being ineffably just and yet indescribably merciful. The Gospel of God, which is Jesus Christ Himself, satisfies fully His love and His justice.
The consequences of sin are death, judgment and eternal death in hell, so His justice demands. But God’s perfect love means that He will not abandon His creatures to the judgement they deserve. This unresolved tension is resolved in Jesus Christ.
The Core Elements of the Gospel of God: The Gospel had been promised through the prophets in the Holy Scriptures, about His Son who descended from the Davidic dynasty in the flesh. But by the Spirit of holiness the Son resurrected, and through Him grace has been made available. The identity of the recipients of the epistle gives an indication about the nature and purpose of the Gospel. Some ancient Greek manuscripts of Romans 1:7 have a variant reading omitting (in Rome) thus making the rendering more universal, the Gospel to all the beloved in God. This suggests, and the rest or Romans makes clear, that God’s Gospel is not limited to the beloved in Rome alone but is indeed to all peoples, Jews and Gentiles alike. Jesus said “that many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven.”6 This gives God’s Gospel a universal appeal, and the church cannot afford to miss this point. We are obligated to proclaim it powerfully and dutifully to the nations because it says, everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved (10:13) and in verse 12, it declares that there is no distinction between Jew and Greek. We are justified by faith, not by works of the Law. Because of what Jesus has done for us on the cross, we have peace with God.
The uniqueness of the Gospel, therefore, is this, that it is God’s initiative, not ours. Paul tells us in the opening verse of Romans Chapter 1 that he has been ‘set apart for the Gospel of God’. It is not his idea and it comes from no human source. As he affirms to the Galatians, the Gospel he preached ‘is not man’s Gospel’ but what he received through revelation of Jesus Christ’ (Galatians 1:11,12).
The core elements of the Gospel of God are these: “First, the prophecies have been fulfilled and the new age inaugurated by the coming of Christ; second, He was born into the family of David; third, He died according to the Scriptures to deliver His people from this evil age; fourth, He was buried, and raised again the third day, according to the Scriptures; fifth, He is exalted at the right hand as Son of God, and Lord of the living and the dead; and sixth, He will come again to judge the world and consummate His saving work.”7 Through this Jesus, we may have forgiveness of all our sins, which we receive through repentance and faith.
Different Emphasis of God’s Gospel around the World:
In preparing the Address, I asked people in different parts of the world to tell me about what the Gospel means to them and how it may be threatened. Let me report what I have been told.
THE WEST- The West now includes some of the most secular nations on the planet, among which, sadly, is England with its Church of England, to which the Anglican Communion owes its origins and for which we still have a deep affection. Thanks be to God, there are still many fine churches and people who preach the saving Gospel which Paul describes in Romans and elsewhere, the Gospel that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners and that we need to turn to him in repentance and faith. The Gospel has virtually been lost in the nations of the West. If the Gospel is to be embraced again by the West, we need to first and foremost understand how it has come to lose the Gospel. But tragically, the Gospel has virtually been lost in the nations of the West because the churches have lost the essence of the Gospel.
Much of the New Testament letters are concerned with guarding the truth of the Gospel against the threats of subversion from the surrounding cultures and there is a point where adaptation to a culture tilts over into adaptation of the Gospel message itself, to the extent that it becomes what the Apostle Paul warns the Galatian church about, that is, another Gospel (Galatians 1:6). This is exactly the point in the human sexuality palaver. The Biblical Gospel recognizes that human nature is radically fallen but the West, at least at the popular level, maintains an essentially optimistic view of human nature. Historically, the Church of England has seen its role as being to express the national spiritual and moral consciousness but tended to substitute moralism for the biblical Gospel of grace.
When the morality of society broadly coincided with Judeo-Christian morality, this problem was not so evident, but with the profound changes brought about by the sexual revolution in the 1960s, church leaders who see their role as articulating the moral consciousness of society found themselves increasingly distant from a biblical understanding of morality, sin and human nature.
SOUTH-EAST ASIA (Singapore)-The Gospel is that there is one true and living God, the Maker of heaven and earth. God has, in His great love, appointed Jesus Christ as mankind’s only Saviour and true King.8 Jesus died for the sins of the world and rose again bodily to overcome the old order of sin, darkness and death, and to inaugurate the new creation which will be consummated when He returns in glory. Through Jesus Christ alone, God redeems and re-creates the fallen world. In re- creating the world, which begins now on this side of eternity, God is restoring His divine intentions for the creation. This includes the clear order of male and female, and the institution of marriage as a lifelong union between a man and a woman “till death do them part.”
Jesus Christ by His Spirit transforms all those who come to Him in repentance and faith, to grow in holiness in every aspect of their lives to the praise and glory of God the Father. Forgiveness of sins and new life in Jesus is the good news that the Church, the redeemed people of God, believe in and are committed to proclaiming to all the world with holy love and courage.9
However, with the milieu of surging multi-religions, the Church in Asia must guard against inclusivism (the belief that all religions lead to God) and syncretistic interpretation of the Christian theological facts as witnessed in Chung Hyun Kyung’s presentation at the World Council of Churches at Canberra in 1991, where she identified the Holy Spirit as same with the ancestral spirits of the dead in Shamanist Korean religion.10 Jesus Christ remains the only way, truth and life; no man comes to the Father except through Him.11
NORTH AMERICA-The Gospel in North American involves helping people know that they are alienated from God because of their sin which manifests itself in varieties of ways: materialism, idolatry, obsessions with sports, sex, drugs, alcohol, religion, and success. The only solution is to humble oneself before God, asking forgiveness of one’s sins based on the death of Jesus Christ on the cross and His resurrection, and asking Him to come and indwell him/her with the presence of the Holy Spirit. This culminates in a day-by-day, alive, dynamic, relationship with God through Jesus Christ resulting in eternal life. The Church still keeps the orthodox Faith with focus also on aggressive Church planting. In that context, however, the Church should be on the alert to ensure that the influence of another gospel which is already entrenched in that environment is not imperceptibly adopted by the unsuspecting and innocent believers. It is especially from North America that a false gospel of inclusion without repentance has come.
SOUTH AMERICA- God loved mankind so much that He gave His only Son, Jesus Christ, for the salvation of all. He came to offer all full salvation, which should bring freedom, not only spiritual or from sin but also from oppression. Jesus made this very clear in His Nazareth Manifesto; “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.”12
In Christian theological scholarship, South America contributed immensely in the area of Liberation Theology. It is also worthy of note that Pentecostalism has blossomed there greatly. However, while fierce Pentecostalism rages and the Gospel of God is being applied for the benefit of the masses, it should be monitored to avoid adoption of elements of another Gospel.
AUSTRALIA-God is the creator of all things and the King of the universe. He created human beings to serve Him and rule the world under Him as His image bearers. But human beings rebelled against Him and fell into sin which corrupts every human life and leads to death and condemnation at the judgement. In order to save human beings, He sent His Son into the world. He died upon the cross and rose again that those who believe and repent may be saved. Those who persist in sin and unbelief will be condemned. The danger is that some preach a false gospel by presenting Jesus as a mere example for human beings rather than a Saviour; by underestimating sin and the reality judgement, thinking that human beings can save themselves; believing that all are saved; or that repentance is merely feeling sorry and not actually making Christ their Lord. A false Gospel is as bad as no Gospel at all. Furthermore, for human beings to treat sexual sin as not sin means they cannot see the need for repentance and so will continue under the condemnation of God.
Australia, experiences the impact of the secularism of the West. So too does New Zealand where despite the faithful witness of some, we see the adoption of another gospel.
AFRICA- Gospel primarily is about deliverance from sin and eternal death. But in its application in Africa, emphasis is laid on the power of the Gospel to solve existential problems. The African lives in an environment full of powers-native power or African science-through which evil people harm others. We, therefore, preach the power of the Gospel of God that sets people free from witches, ill-health, diabolical persecutions, evil arrows, etc. For this reason, we have the churches that emphasize healing, exorcism, breaking of curses, protection from evil, and even some form of prosperity doing quite well since these things Africans respond to. However, care must be taken so that adaptation does not become another or false gospel. If the focus is shifted to earthly things and solving of existential problems (created in Africa by successive political leadership failure), it becomes another Gospel. Emphasis must be on eternal realities and implications of the Gospel for human existence here on earth.13 Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners.
Discerning and Combating the False Gospel: The fact that the Gospel appears in the beginning, middle and end of the epistle is a clear indication that the letter to the Romans is concerned about the sharing of the Gospel of God for which Paul had been called. The liturgy of the Lord’s Supper has aptly encapsulated the central message of the Gospel of God in the acclamation that follows the consecration prayer, thus:Christ has died; Christ is risen; Christ will come again.
Baptismal theology in Romans equally demands the life transforming impact of the Gospel of God. It says; “Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?
We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.”14 This is instructive for evaluating any contemporary theology. Unorthodox and new fast-lane theology that does not emphasize repentance and transformation should not be condoned.
Any distortion of the Scriptures is a distortion of the Gospel of God, and therefore a false gospel. Referring to the Bible, Billy Graham wrote; “We do have authoritative source material. It is found in the ancient and historic Book we call the Bible. This Book has come down to us through the ages. It has passed through so many hands, appeared in so many forms and survived attack of every kind. Neither barbaric vandalism nor civilized scholarship has touched it. Neither the burning of fire nor the laughter of skepticism has accomplished its annihilation.”15 We can be sure that no antics of the present generation can undermine the Word of God revealed and written. Any gospel not derived from the Bible is a false gospel propagated by the spirit of the anti-Christ. Other marks of a false gospel are denial of the incarnation and virgin birth, denial of Jesus coming in the flesh, denial of the original sin and sin’s impact, denial of man’s depravity, teaching salvation without Christ, denying the divinity of Christ, denying the death and resurrection of Christ, denial of the second coming and final judgement, denial of the marriage institution between man and woman, etc.
Propagating the Authentic Gospel of God: There is a remarkable link between salvation and declaration as Paul shows in Romans 10:9 namely that ‘if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead you will be saved.’ For Paul, this Gospel is not only about what is believed but also what is proclaimed.
It is not sufficient that Jesus is recognized as Saviour, He also must be Lord over the affairs of one’s life, something many 21st century “believers” are resisting.
They want to exercise their human rights and determine what they do and not what the will of the Lord might be. God’s Gospel says that our body is the temple of the Holy Spirit; that we are no longer in charge because we have been bought with the blood of Jesus Christ.16 To acknowledge Him as Lord is also to acknowledge that He is God, sharing in the unity of the Godhead. Belief, confession and the way we live must be consistent.
The Gospel, the proclamation of what God has done in Christ, is the powerful means by which God saves men and women today.17 As the Gospel is proclaimed, the Holy Spirit enables us to trust in God’s promise of forgiveness and eternal life. Faith, genuine repentance and a transformed life are evidence that the Gospel has been at work. Because Christ has died and been raised from the grave, we cannot continue as before. It is henceforth a life characterized by obedience to God and trust in His goodness, love for God and for our neighbours, and hope in the midst of righteous suffering.
It is either God’s Gospel or No Gospel–the Position of GAFCON:
This is the conviction and position of the GAFCON Movement. Canterbury is the Mother See of the Anglican Communion. Although, as we made plain in the Jerusalem Statement and Declaration of 2008, we do not accept that the office of the Archbishop of Canterbury necessarily defines Anglican identity and belonging. Canterbury occupies a privileged position in the spread of the Gospel around the world. She should not distort the Gospel in order to take away offence for the Gospel without offence is an empty Gospel.
Much has been made by the Archbishop of Canterbury of ‘walking together’ and ‘good disagreement’, but the prophet Amos reminds us; ‘Do two walk together unless they have agreed to meet?’ (Amos 3:3). If we walk together with those who deny the orthodox faith, in word or deed, we have agreed that orthodoxy is optional. Then it is just ‘our orthodoxy’ and, therefore, no orthodoxy at all. Contending for the Gospel cannot mean just maintaining my right to my views, but being willing to publicly challenge church leaders who contradict the Gospel and establish the need to maintain apostolic boundaries. Outright false teaching, such as is championed by TEC, the ACoC and the SEC can actually have a galvanizing effect on the body of Christ. For us it has served to awaken the sleeping giant of orthodox Anglicanism around the world. But ‘good disagreement’ is like a slow acting solvent which gradually dissolves the convictions of the orthodox, while all the time they still think that they hold to the apostolic faith. We must be ready to challenge the denial of the Gospel wherever it is manifested in word or deed.
The Biblical Gospel is God’s initiative. It is by definition not something we can work out for ourselves. Selective reading and application of Gospel imperatives to suit any generation is unacceptable. According to Archbishop Fulton Sheen, “The Church never suits the particular mood of any age, because it was made for all ages. A Catholic knows that if the Church married the mood of any age in which it lived, it would be a widow in the next age.”18 However, the most insidious aspect is not the appearance of those who defiantly reject the Word of God, but the tendency of orthodox believers in such churches to continue in fellowship with them. By doing so, they speak by their actions and a watching world naturally concludes that if they can live with such contradictions, then they are not orthodox.
Conclusion: The Gospel of God is the good news about human justification through the crucifixion, death, and resurrection of Christ for the sake of mankind; this Gospel is to be proclaimed faithfully. Salvation is by faith alone in Christ Jesus as the Lamb of God, the only acceptable sacrifice for human sin. Faith derives from the confession made and shared through preaching; preaching and teaching of the Gospel are central to the Gospel of God. Rituals and ceremonies do not communicate adequately what God has done in Christ; the Gospel needs to be preached. The preaching must not be compromised, but is to be discharged faithfully in every generation, as Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever. The challenge is for believers to live in anticipation of His return by proclaiming the Gospel faithfully to our Jerusalem and the nations through the sharing of the true, undiluted, and uncompromised word of Christ- Jesus is the crucified and risen Saviour, the only hope of eternal salvation for humanity.
The Gospel announces God’s great victory and the fulfilment of His ancient promises in Christ.19 Sin and its powers are defeated.20 Judgment is removed so that there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.21 Death has been overturned by the one who is the Resurrection and the Life.22 Exalted to the right hand of the Father, He pours out His Spirit on the church, equipping it powerfully to worship, to witness by word and deed to the Gospel of God, which always remains the Gospel concerning His Son.23 This same Gospel, proclaimed by Jesus and His apostles, is our message in every age and the key message of GAFCON to a broken world of lost men and women, who can be rescued only by Jesus, the crucified but risen Saviour and Lord of all.
As we said in the Chairman’s Letter of June, 2018; “A major way in which this great task will be carried forward beyond the Conference is the launch of nine key networks: Theological Education, Church Planting, Global Mission Partnerships, Bishops’ Training, Youth and Children’s Ministry, Women’s Ministry, Sustainable Development, together with an Intercessors’ Fellowship and a Lawyers Task Force”. As the scope of our work expands, it is good to be reminded by the songs of Ascents that, “Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labour in vain”.24 We are utterly dependent upon God’s grace for anything that will have value for eternity.
In view of the need and urgency to proclaim the Gospel, and eternal consequences should the Church fail, this Conference is calling on all ministers of the Gospel to wake up from the end-time slumber imposed by religious pluralism, heterodox philosophical ideologies and faithfully, zealously proclaim the Gospel of God to all the nations; “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.”25
Our Assignment from the Gospel of God:
1. The Gospel of God is a gracious gift to give us life in abundance.
2. It should not be subject to cultural distortion. Defend it in word and action.
3. The world still needs the Gospel because people need salvation. Preach it loud!
4. The Gospel of God is good news to the whole world – rich and poor, old and young, male and female, educated and illiterate, white and black, red and yellow.
5. The Gospel of God is still potent if preached faithfully to the nations. 6. There is urgent need for preachers and church planters-faithful missionaries.
7. Faithfulness is required in delivering the message of the Gospel of God.
8. The Anglican Communion is called upon to return to the old path of God’s Gospel.
9. Anglicanism is the Gospel; the heart of the Gospel is Jesus Christ, not any human being no matter his title and the institution he represents.
10. As we rediscover the ministry of proclamation of the undiluted Gospel, cognizance must be taken of the real possibility of martyrdom, in very hostile situations or contexts.
11. Children of God must not join politicians to play sexual politics with the Gospel of God as is being done in the West. When the nuclear bomb of secularism explodes in the West, the fallout can be felt in all the world.
In closing, please stand. Will you join me in our united declaration, our GAFCON war cry:
Answer: ‘To the Nations!
1 S.B. Ferguson and D.F. Wright (1998:278). New Dictionary of Theology. England: Inter-Varsity Press.
2 Isaiah 7:14; Luke 1:35
3 Hebrews 4:15
4 John 6:38; 8:28–29
5 1 Peter 3:18; 2 Corinthians 5:21
6 Matthew 8:11
7 S.B. Ferguson and D.F. Wright (1998:279). New Dictionary of Theology. England: Inter-Varsity Press.
8 John 3:16-17
9 Rev 12:11
10 D. F. Asaju, The African Anglican Bishops ‘Lagos Synod’: A Review in Context of the Anglican Homosexuality Crises in Transformation: Crowther Journal of Theology and Missions Volume 1 No. 1, 2016, p. 14.
11 John 14:6
12 Luke 4:18-19
13 Colossians 3:1-2; Philippians 3:19-20; Matthew 6:33
14 Romans 6:3-4
15 Graham, B. (1984:23) Peace with God-Revised and Expanded. Minnesota: World Wide Publications.
16 1Corinthians 6:19-2017 Romans 1:16–17
18 Fulton Sheen, https://twitter.com/rvierlin/status/1002444001377751040?s=19, Retrieved on 1st June, 2018.
19 Genesis 3:15; Isaiah 53:5–620 Colossians 2:13–15
21 Romans 8:1
22 John 11:25
23 Acts 2:33; Romans 1:1–3
24 Psalm 127:125 Acts 4:12