When the Salt Has Lost its Saltiness
“I don’t care what people think.” You have probably heard this statement countless times. It’s often the preferred talking point of those who are doing or are planning to do something that is deviant from moral or cultural norms.
Though we are often eager to say we don’t care what people think, the statement is not entirely true. Closer to the truth is that we don’t care what certain segments of society (or a community) think because we care what another segment thinks. So, many people will reject some moral norms (say decent dressing) because they don’t care what the old moral guards think while at the same time, they are so obsessed with what the new (trendy) moral guard thinks.
Beyond the truthfulness or falsity of the statement, however, it is important to consider its appropriateness. As believers, should we care about what people think or not?
Before God and men
Of course, in some sense, we should not. When Elijah was standing for God against Ahab, he didn’t care that the latter thought he was the disturber of Israel (1 Kings 18:17). Elijah maintained his stance, insisting that Ahab was the one disturbing Israel with his idolatry.
Paul (and his team) were accused of turning the world upside down (Acts 17:6) but that didn’t stop him from preaching.
So, there is a sense in which when we are doing what is right and good, we should not be bothered about what people think. Some will think that our affirmation of God’s moral law (say regarding abortion or homosexuality or transgenderism) is troubling to society and some will think that our proclamation of the gospel is a sign of intolerance (a case in point is the response to the Church of England teaching its members how to proclaim the gospel to people of other religions).
In these cases, we should rightly not care about what others think as long as we are going about our business with the kindness and generosity that upholding Christian doctrine and practice requires (1 Peter 3:13-17). These are the instances where we should be willing to suffer for doing good.
Ministering before God and men
Yet, Paul was so concerned that in preaching the gospel he did it with so much integrity as to commend himself to the conscience of everyone who listened (2 Corinthians 4:2).
In his first letter to the Thessalonians, he reminded the church how they (he and his team) didn’t approach them with the intention to defraud, flatter or seek glory for themselves. Instead, they sought to please God, giving themselves sacrificially for the church, and acting towards them with the gentleness of a nursing mother (1 Thessalonians 2:1-8).
We see the same thing in his second letter to the Corinthians. In the first chapter, he was insisting that his change of plans (regarding his planned visit to them) was not evidence of dishonesty (2 Corinthians 1:15-22). Instead, he reminded them of how he behaved amongst them with simplicity and godly sincerity. Three chapters later, he talked about how they renounced “disgraceful, underhanded ways,” refusing to “practice cunning or tamper with God’s word.” Instead, they were commending themselves to everyone’s conscience by their open statement of truth (verse 2). In chapter 5, he expressed his hope that the conscience of the Corinthians bore testimony to their character (verse 11). And we can of course multiply examples.
Paul summarised all these examples in a statement of intent in Acts 24:16: “I always take pains to have a clear conscience toward both God and man.” We see it again in 2 Corinthians 8:21: “For we aim at what is honourable not only in the Lord’s sight but also in the sight of man.” The author of Hebrews shares this same goal: “We are sure that we have a clear conscience, desiring to act honourably in all things” (Hebrews 13:18).
It is, therefore, not surprising when his instruction regarding the selection of elders includes the condition that “he must be well thought of by outsiders” (1 Timothy 3:7) and that he must be “above reproach” (Titus 1:7).
Living as believers before God and men
But this is not all about ministers and leaders. Paul also wrote to all believers that they should make their reasonableness known to all men (Philippians 4:5). Peter also admonished us to exhibit such good behaviour that those who want to slander us will be ashamed of themselves (1 Peter 3:13-17). And it is in this way that we have a good conscience.
We see another instance in 1 Thessalonians 4. Here, Paul admonished the church to aspire to live quietly, mind their own affairs, and work with their own hands. One of the reasons for this is that they may “walk properly before outsiders” (verse 12).
He also told Titus to encourage believers to use wholesome speech that cannot be condemned by unbelievers. Just as in 1 Peter 3, any unbeliever who wants to oppose us should be ashamed because they cannot say anything bad about us (in this context, about our speech).
Finally, here is Romans 12:17: “Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honourable in the sight of all.”
In essence, Paul and Peter and the author of Hebrews are insisting that everyone should be able to see that our lives are marked by integrity, sound speech, truthfulness, honour, reasonableness, godliness, diligence, and self-respect (not busybodies and meddlers).
The idea that we can be lacking in all these areas (with the world around us recognising such lack) but then throw the bogus statement “I don’t care what anyone thinks about me” around will be strange to these authors. If the people around us think we are unkind, liars, fickle, dishonest, lazy, ungodly, badmouthed, etc., then something is wrong and we should be dealing with it.
Of course, as explained above, if they were saying that we are intolerant because we believe that Jesus is the only way to the Father or crude because we believe homosexuality is sinful, that’s a different ball game. However, when we fail to commend ourselves to the conscience of unbelievers, it is a problem we can’t sweep under the rug.
Adornment or blasphemy
Continuing from this thought, let’s examine those passages where the Scriptures insist that our behaviour can make the faith we profess more attractive.
One instance is Titus 2:9-10. Here Paul teaches that Christian servants’ behaviour and attitude can adorn the doctrine of God (or as the ISV puts it: “make the teaching about God our Savior more attractive”). That is, the way they behave before their masters (especially unbelieving masters) can add beauty to the faith they profess.
A popular passage in this regard is Matthew 5:13-16. Here, we see that through our works, we can add taste to the world and shine a light on it. And when we do this, others will glorify our Father in heaven (verse 16). Paul also made the same point when he called us to be blameless and innocent (shine as lights) in this crooked and twisted generation (Philippians 2:15).
Yet, on the other hand, Paul spoke about the behaviour of believers becoming a stumbling block to unbelievers. We see this in Romans 2:24. In this chapter, Paul showed that the hypocrisy of the Jews caused the name of God to be blasphemed among the Gentiles.
But this is not a Jew-Gentile problem. In Titus 2:5, Paul insisted that the poor behaviour of Christian women (in this context, their rejection of their femininity) can cause the word of God to be reviled (discredited, ISV). The same argument applies to younger Christian widows (1 Timothy 5:14) and Christian servants (1 Timothy 6:1).
In essence, our behaviour, character, and manner of life as believers (individually and corporately) can either adorn or discredit the message that we preach. Said differently, our life is a message.
Losing our saltiness
Sadly, we believers are losing our saltiness in many ways. Instead of adorning the doctrine of God, organised Christianity has in many ways brought it to ridicule.
Of course, it is wrong to overlook all the impressive ways that individual believers and Christian communities have adorned and continue to adorn the gospel. But this is not a ledger where we should be content to post some items on the debit side and others on the credit side.
Rather, we should be willing to identify all the ways we are losing our saltiness and working towards reforming ourselves and bringing greater glory to the one who has called us to his marvelous light.
What follows are instances I have noted in the past week where we as Christian communities have often (through our behaviour, demeanor, and attitude) brought ridicule to the name that we profess.
During the week I saw a clip of a Nigerian pastor prophesying that Bola Ahmed Tinubu, who was declared winner of the February 25 election, will not be sworn in (or inaugurated) as the President.
He specified how the military will intervene, arrest him, set up an interim government, and then hand over the reins of government to Professor Yemi Osinbajo, the outgoing (now outgone) Vice President.
Well, May 29 came and Tinubu was sworn in. As you would have guessed, the clip trended and people had a laugh. But for me, it was another sad instance of people discrediting God’s name with false prophecies.
There was also another Pastor who prophesied confidently that Tinubu would not rule Nigeria, to loud Amens from the congregation. Well, at the time of writing, he has ruled for three days.
These are not isolated events, however.
Still on political matters, Premium Times wrote an article in 2020 about a Pastor who falsely predicted that Biden would lose the election. In 2019, PM News also did a recap of seven pastors/prophets with false prophecies.
Many religious leaders in this country have made false prophecies a sport for various reasons. Just last year, Foundation for Investigative Journalism published reports of undercover visits to certain churches where religious leaders issued various false prophecies.
Imagine the hundreds and thousands of unbelievers who had to read these reports. What would be their impression about the Christian faith when popular (and not so popular) prophets/pastors continue to issue false prophecies in God’s name?
Dabbling into politics
In a previous article, I have offered some reflections on how Christians should approach politics, especially how to avoid indifference on the one hand and utopianism on the other.
Contrary to some of the points made in this article, many Christian leaders have acted in ways that discredited the Church.
In 2020, while the whole world was dealing with COVID-19, some pastors were spreading propaganda about COVID-19 vaccines and 5G technology being the mark of the best. (Of course, this is different from those who believed that the vaccines were unsafe – which is a medical and not a biblical issue.)
When the former President of Nigeria (Muhammed Buhari) came back from a medical trip, propaganda started that it was a clone of one Jubril from Sudan that was being packaged to us as Buhari. A popular pastor also supported and spread this propaganda in his church.
Generally speaking, most of the public false prophecies that have come from pastors have had to do with politics. Religious leaders have not been content to encourage members to be good citizens, participate in the development of their country, and vote wisely (which will lead to conscientious Christians voting differently); instead, the church has been turned to campaign grounds where political activism has overridden the message of the kingdom.
In all of these, we have caused the name of the Lord to be reviled among unbelievers.
Making fun of God’s name
This same week I saw a skit where a comedian was using the story of the angelic visitation to Joseph as comedy. There was zero reverence for God’s name or for the angels. It was a tasteless expression of utmost disregard for God and the holiness of his name.
Yet believers were laughing at the ‘joke’. It was a Muslim (presumably, given her name) that mentioned that the comedy was blasphemous.
Expectedly, many people started mentioning that if this was Allah’s name, there would have been an outrage. In fact, some mentioned that he could not have tried it with Allah’s or Mohammed’s name.
This reminded me of an article I wrote about this issue following a discussion that happened in my football Whatsapp group. I noted that Christians seem to believe that there are only two options: be comfortable with the desecration of God’s name or lynch those who do it. But this is a false dilemma, as I showed in that article. We can be as firm as the Muslims in rejecting the desecration of God’s name without resorting to violence or threatening it.
Failure to recognise this has meant that every unbeliever has come to believe that it is the Christians who can tolerate (and laugh at) any desecration of God’s name. They believe (explicitly and implicitly) that we don’t have any regard for our God and they are willing to blaspheme or make fun of it.
Bringing the world into the church
Another thing happened this week: a critic of organised religion that I follow on Twitter posted a video where some people were using their church building (the very place where worship takes place) as a sort of gym. Even though he wasn’t a Christian, he was concerned that the church, which was supposed to be some holy place, was turned into a gym.
This same week, I saw a short video of a church where secular music was adapted and used during worship. But this was not the first time where we have seen such videos.
While Christians do not need to avoid every form of secular art (as I have argued somewhere else), the idea of bringing them to church and playing them during worship services shows how much disregard we have for God’s holiness.
How can unbelievers take us seriously? Even worse, how can they take our religion seriously and honour the God we claim to worship? Don’t we realise that what we do is often more important than what we say?
Many people will not attend church at all or, at least, not regularly because they have come to believe that the church is all about money.
In many churches, sermons have been reduced to motivational talks and endless classes about how to succeed in the world. And the unending emphasis has been matched by the incessant demand for money, covert competition among members, the pervasive search for miracles, and the reinforcement of crass materialism.
This prosperity preaching has tended to obscure the gospel and even important topics like suffering, perseverance, holiness, and God’s sovereignty, among others.
When many of the adherents of this prosperity preaching end up getting disappointed, they begin to rail against the church and God.
While money is essential to the functioning of the church (as I have argued in another article), the reduction of Christianity to the seeking and spending of money has undermined our witness to the watching world.
I also read a story this week about an herbalist that used a pastor for ritual after the latter visited him for spiritual powers.
And there are endless scandal stories surrounding men of God in the country.
In addition to this corporate loss of saltiness, we all know how our own individual lives are causing the name of God to be blasphemed among unbelievers. It is not a time to throw blame or demonise a particular denomination or movement. The problem is corporate and individual and we must confront it at both levels.
I prose three solutions to our lack of saltiness as the Christian church in Nigeria.
First, we must return to sound theology. In two different articles, I have explained why we need the whole counsel of God and why sound doctrine matters. Most of the problems highlighted above are the results of poor theology.
Instead of endless motivational talks, we need to go back to serious study of the Scriptures, a study that incorporates sound historical theology (what the Christian church has taught throughout its existence). Christianity is not 10-year or 100-year old and we cannot interpret scriptures and our faith immersed in our own cultural milieu without hearing the voice of those who preceded us.
In essence, sound theology is the path toward faithful Christian living, individually and corporately. And this sound theology must be anchored on the gospel.
Secondly, we need to recover the fear of God. The Christian emphasis on the grace of God has often led us to overlook his holiness; we have celebrated his immanence and forgotten his transcendence. Without this recovery, Christianity will continue to be a plaything rather than a religion.
Thirdly, we need to exchange worldliness (properly understood and defined) for holiness. In a previous article, I have shown that we are to affirm the world (as God’s good creation that he sustains and will one day redeem) and also deny it (as the fallen creation that is now in rebellion against God). We often have no problem affirming the world (though many believers still fall short here), the challenge comes with denying it.
But Christ has told us that we cannot love him and the world. If we are serious about adorning the doctrine of God, being the salt and light of the world, then we must take the difficult path of holiness. We must not love the world and the things in it; rather, we must love God and our neighbors.
Lord, the light of your love is shining
In the midst of the darkness, shining
Jesus, Light of the world, shine upon us
Set us free by the truth you now bring us
Shine on me, shine on me
Shine, Jesus, shine
Fill this land with the Father’s glory
Blaze, Spirit, blaze
Set our hearts on fire
Flow, river, flow
Flood the nations with grace and mercy
Send forth your word
Lord, and let there be light
Lord, I come to your awesome presence
From the shadows into your radiance
By the blood I may enter your brightness
Search me, try me, consume all my darkness
Shine on me, shine on me
As we gaze on your kingly brightness
So our faces display your likeness
Ever changing from glory to glory
Mirrored here may our lives tell your story
Shine on me, shine on me