Rev Dr Matthew Awujoola is President Lagos East Baptist Conference. He spoke with Sunday Oguntola on issues relating to the church and nation. Excerpts:
Are Baptists evangelical, protestant, conservative or a blend of everything?
Frankly speaking, we have not moved from what we have been. We are evangelicals. And as evangelicals, we believe strongly in the entirety of the Bible, not just a single experience in the Bible. We believe from Genesis to Revelation and we operate Genesis to Revelation, and to better stress that, as Evangelicals we believe in the power of the Holy Spirit, the operations of the Holy Spirit.
In terms of the worldview, are Baptists progressives or conservatives?
Sincerely, Baptists are progressives within the context of the standards of Scripture. That is who we are.
The congregational system of the church inadvertently creates tension between the pulpit and the pew. How can this be diffused?
Well, first and foremost for me, anywhere you have more than one person, there will definitely be conflict. We should not misunderstand the natural tendencies and turn that to be anything extra ordinary. Let’s come down to what actually are the areas of tension so for anybody who is raising that kind of objection, there must be specific areas to know how to actually address it.
Well a lot of pastors in the church want to fully call the shot like their Pentecostal counterparts while members want to have a say in decision making. How do you resolve that because it’s really a big problem?
Thank you so much for that. Frankly speaking, for me, I don’t think that is a problem. I think the problem for issues like this is a problem of education or thorough understanding of the makeup, the structure, operations of the people called the Baptists, how the local church should operate. For any pastor who truly understands what it is, there won’t be any crisis.
Because the Scripture is very clear on the position of the pastor in the church. What is the position of the members? Very clear. What is the position of the deacons? Very clear. When any of these players don’t really understand their positions and their limits, then there will be trouble.
A pastor may not understand comprehensively his position and limits, then he may drive his position beyond the limits. There shall be crises.
So each of those parties have limits?
They have positions and limits. They do. It is very clear. It’s not only in the Baptist, it’s everywhere. In every organisation, you have your position, you have your limits. By the time you are stepping beyond your position, you are going to infringe on other people’s rights and privileges. And for that, there will be crises. I think that is the problem.
So the best thing is to have a reorientation or reeducation of our people on what Baptist polity is actually. Many people are not getting it or some people are not getting it correctly whether the pastor, deacon or any other church members, if they are not getting it correctly, there will definitely be crises.
Which is more powerful in the Baptist Church: the local church or the cooperating bodies?
The local church is powerful because the local church, by our style, is responsible for the cooperative bodies like the Association, the Conference and the Convention. But the other way round in practice is that the local church submits a substantial part or a good part of their liberty or their power to the operation of the Association, the Conference and the Convention.
And by that, they are also responsible to obey and to comply with whatever these bodies have decided on since they are part of the body that decided that we are going to be operating or doing this or doing that. So they should be responsible to submit to such an arrangement.
Your oncoming conference is on the church and political engagement in the times of hostility but there are so many Christians who believe that the church should have nothing to do with politics. What’s your take on this and the position of the Baptist Church on politics and the Church?
There’s nowhere in the Bible that we are forbidden or in our policy as a Baptist that we are forbidden from interfering or being involved in politics. There’s no way. In fact, we are commanded by the Scripture to be salt and light in our society. And one of the ways we can do that is also to participate in the development of our community.
But where there is a difference is that as a Baptist, we are not expecting that the State should dictate the nitty gritty of how we worship inside the local church. And as also the church, we are also not expected to come as a church as an entity to dictate to the State what should be done. If anybody feels he should be a politician, no problem. He should go on personal ground and become involved.
Can the church show support?
To what extent will the church support?
The church will support through legitimate means.
Through votes, if the member is found worthy.
Will the church give endorsement to a trusted member? Does the pastor or the church say this is someone we want for this position?
Honestly, yes. That’s allowed.
Oh! That’s allowed. But we haven’t seen much of that. Maybe so many pastors are not aware?
No. They might not be aware or we have not been encouraging more of our members to be involved in politics. You know, this is just coming up more and more recently, there is this fresh awareness on the involvement of members in politics. So as we speak, many of our members are just coming up. So it’s possible that we have not been seeing such but we have such already happening, that Christians as light and as salt must be involved in the operation of the State.
How can the church respond or what should be the response of the church to hostility in the political environment?
Number one, the Church or Christians should be involved in the operation of our society, at every level, and that involvement will begin from how we as an entity, the church as an entity, is able to influence the immediate environment, who are we to our neighbors, to our immediate neighbors, how have we been able to meet their needs, in terms of welfare, in terms of care, what kind of message do we represent to them, peace-loving, caring.
Yes! Be a card carrying member of any political party. Be actively involved. There are people amongst us who are specifically called for this. Let’s encourage them, we motivate them. Let them be involved at the ward level, at the state level, and at every other level of our operation. They should be part.
By the time they are part, they will be able to help. And all these involvements will also help us to operate our policies and to implement government policies. In Nigeria, we have a kind of culture that is very funny. We have great policies but we don’t implement them. Can anybody who is Christ-minded, people-loving, follow through with these policies at all the strata of our government?
So we need people who are that courageous and people-loving enough to follow through with the policies. Another way of involvement is giving support to those who are in leadership, not only in the area of prayers but also providing a form of counsel and support for them, meeting them one- on- one, those who are in government are not dropped from the moon, they are human beings, they have friends, family members.
If a church is under an attack in a hostile community, what should it do or how should it respond?
Sincerely, I subscribe to self-defense. You can’t wait and let people kill you. Ethically, it’s accepted. Scripturally, it’s acceptable to protect yourself from being killed. That is within one’s rights.
But when Jesus was about to be arrested and Peter fought back, He resisted him. Is that also a possible response?
That was a rare case; just one case. There were times when Jesus ran away from being lynched. There’s another time he confronted them, not violently now but he confronted them, and he disarmed them with just words of interaction. So he defended himself. When he submitted himself to be killed, that was on purpose for the salvation of the world.
So it is wrong for a Christian to say these terrorists are in my community and I will hand myself over. That would be suicide, isn’t it?
Yes, definitely. You have to protect yourself. You have to defend yourself.
Any legitimate means. Anything that is legitimate. With whatever that is legitimate, you have to protect yourself but that aside terrorists also are human beings. They have agitations. There are miscreants sometimes, so to speak, in the community where we live and in order to douse the tension around us we have to engage some of them: Why are you so violent? Why are you doing this? And on some occasions, we see them dropping their arms. Terrorists are human beings too.