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Inaugural sermon of the new Primate of Nigeria: “Jesus is Lord”

In the Cathedral Church of the Advent, filled with over two thousand people, Archbisop Nicholas Okoh was installed as Primate of the Church of Nigeria, the largest Anglican Church in the Anglican Communion with over 18 million churchgoing members. In a service full of hymns of the church, anthems by Handel and Parry, and drumming and dancing, and in the presence of the Acting President of Nigeria, Archbishop Okoh gave the following forthright address. The following are notes taken at the time. They do not claim to be verbatim in every respect. 

Chris Sugden, Canon of Jos Nigeria.

I am grateful to all those who have come. I want to thank God for your ministry ( to Archbishop Peter Akinola) in our midst. You said you consecrated me and presented me twice, as a Bishop and Archbishop. Thank God for the robust health that you have enjoyed. You have overstretched yourself, and the other day you almost wiped me out. This man who wants to retire was not tired. God who has given you such wonderful health will continue to sustain you. And to Mama Susan Akinola, thank you for being so diligent, devoted and keeping the home for us. Thank you for putting the new life into the episcopacy of our church. The older concept has vanished. The new one came into place in your primacy. And you have seen huge success in evangelism, at GAFCON and in building the ecumenical cathedral. May God grant you many more years of fruitful retirement.

I want to make all of us speak in tongues. I am capable of doing that. I want you to say Kurios Jesus – the theme of my address – the Lord Jesus. My texts are 1 Corinthians 12.3 : ‘Therefore I tell you that no-one who is speaking by the Spirit of God says: “Jesus be cursed” and no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except by the Holy Spirit.’; and 2 Corinthians 4.5: ‘ For we do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake.’ I propose to take you through the usage of the word ‘Lord” and apply it in different ways.

“Jesus is Lord” was a confessional cry used in worship in the pre-Pauline Hellenistic Christian communities. ‘Lord’ is the word used in the Septuagint to denote Yahweh. It means ‘master’ or ‘owner’, or anyone occupying a position of authority. In the Septuagint, ‘kurios’ translates the Hebrew for Lord. He is the one who commands, the responsible head of the group. In the Septuagint, ‘kurios’ refers to Yahweh, a human, or Baal.

In the Jewish literature after the Old Testament, ‘kurios’ is the word used for God. There were usurpers of this title. In 12 BC, Augustus the Roman Emporer called himself God and Lord. It was used of Herod the Great (75 BC to 4 BC). It was also applied to Agrippa. The Roman Emporer Domitian between AD 81 -96 used the title Dominus et Deus. These are human beings who adopted divine titles for themselves and made themselves more than they were meant to be. Yahweh, the Hebrew word for God, was too sacred to pronounce, so the Jews used the term Adonai. In Greek, kurios replaced the proper name for God from being mentioned. In the Old Testament, God was called “kurios’.

Jesus referred to God the Father as the Lord of heaven and earth. God is the only ruler, the king of kings and Lord of Lords. God is creator and Lord of all. The world is naturally his property. In the New Testament, divine titles for God were freely used of Jesus as God. Jesus was referred to as Lord, and by the polite form of address ; “rabbi”, implying a recognition of Jesus as a leader. He himself said that “As the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath – he has control of the holy day of God’s people, and by extension over the people of God. He was conscious of an uninhibited authority over the people of God. Paul in I Thessalonians 4:15 speaks of the exalted Jesus as Lord.

The New Testament community submitted itself to the Lordship of Jesus Christ and accepted him as ruler of the earth. His name was placed above every name. He was regarded as superior to all, head of all, and entitled to the worship of all. Jesus Christ is also Lord of the living and the dead. He is Lord even in creation: he is the head of creation and through him creation will be redeemed.

So Jesus was seen as God himself. The Holy Spirit enables any believer to be able to say “Jesus is Lord” from the depths of his or her heart. For “no one can confess Jesus is Lord, except by the Holy Spirit. In the Nigerian context this means that Jesus is Lord of 250 tribes. He commands evangelism to be done as a command to be obeyed.

We are reminded of the old missionaries and the old pastors who made it possible for us to worship God wherever we like. It is therefore our responsibility to ensure our children are exposed to the life and teaching of the church, to ensure that the church does not die in our hands,

The Church of Nigeria in the next ten years should make every effort to extend the gospel to all the people, and to live out the gospel in the lives of all its members. Where the gospel is shallow, we will deepen it. We will encourage more study in the life of our church. We will seek something good in every evil that befalls us. In the present crisis in the Anglican Communion, at the moment huge sums of money are being spent to undermine marriage.

We are unable to accept this. The recent presidential address to his diocese by the Bishop of Liverpool is not acceptable to us. He argued that in the past people had to live side by side in the church, who held opposite views on war. In the same way he is saying, if some people say that same-sex relationships are okay, they can carry on, and if some say they are not okay, they can carry on too.

The danger is of establishing two authorities in the Church, one of the Bible and the other the canon of a deviant subculture. We refuse to accept it. For whom does the Bishop of Liverpool speak? For himself and his diocese, but he does not speak for the Church of Nigeria. He also spoke of a direction for the Anglican Communion. We do not know if he has the authority to speak on that. If the Communion Covenant is intended to carry the spread of the homosexual lifestyle thoughout the communion, it is doomed to fail. The Bishop of Liverpool chose to speak at the wrong time.

Do not be afraid of being called homophobic. It is a term designed to close down any expression of a contrary view. Respond by accusing them of gunaphobia – an inordinate fear of women and of relationships with women.

We are not pursuing anybody. Only the love of Christ constrains us and our hearts are open to you.

In the gospel of Jesus Christ there is transforming power. Whatever your problem, you will be transformed by the power of Christ.

The Church of Nigeria believes strongly in the healing ministry: “by his stripes we are healed”. We must pay particular attention to HIV and malaria. Jesus is the Lord over health. We must encourage churches to open hospitals and clinics to attend to our people.

The Church must also collaborate with the Government to provide good education for people. The Government took over many of our schools. Rather than be frustrated let us open new schools so that we can bring up children in the faith. Those children who are shooting people in the streets are the products of the schools taken over by the government. These people were raised in schools where God has no part in the syllabus.

I appeal to the Federal Government to pursue their initiative in the Delta region. People there deserve to be listened to. The oil on which we depend is God’s property, given to us by a benevolent God. Its abuse for self-enrichment is a sin against God and against the people of Nigeria. We cannot continue to be a society which has no strength to stand – if we do, we collapse. We have no place to take us. Ghana is too small to accommodate us. That is why we must as a people solve our own problems,.

We must work for the Common Good. We must work so people do not steal money. If you do not steal money, you do not have to have too much money in the bank. Our children will be able to build new houses and the houses we all now live in will be out of fashion in fifty years. We must steal less and less till we are delivered from this problem.

Think about Nigeria having an underground rail system without having a stable power supply. Is it possible? Congregation calls out NO

Think about Nigeria having a tourist industry without security and safety. Is it possible? Congregation calls out NO

Will there be progress in society if people get education only to increase the number of post-graduates who are unemployed. Congregation calls out NO

Jesus is Lord over politics and elections. If Jesus is Lord over our private and public life, then we should serve the Lord diligently. The people who go out into politics should be people who have something to offer.

If you criticise those in public life and refuse to come into politics yourself, then you are part of the problem. If you want to change society and have what it takes, come out, take part and you will win.

Jesus is Lord of our business life. He gave advice in a parable to put money on deposit with the bankers, and it would receive interest. So business is approved. But profiteering is not of God.

If you travel to China to make some fake medical drops, and people suffering with ailments take those drops and die, you are making blood money, you are making money out of human beings. Scripture and the creeds teach that Jesus will come again, and that means we are all accountable to him: “Prepare to meet your God”.

We all have to appear before him to give account of our stewardship.

Why speak of the worship of God in a plural society? We forget that Jesus came in a plural society. Christianity has always been placed in a plural society. But because of that Christianity does not refuse to assert its own position. That Jesus is Lord should determine what we do in our meetings. If something is not of God, if its interests are only narrow, it will not go through.

If it will glorify the Church of Christ, that is where we go. Looking to our future with the rest of the extended family of the Anglican Church, we must determine what we will accept and assist. This is very important.

We remain committed to GAFCON / Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans and all that it stands for. We will remain with the Global South as long as it remains on the side of orthodoxy. We are part of the Council of the Anglican Provinces of Africa, and call on all its members to own CAPA and contribute to it. Under ecumenism, we recognise we are only a denomination,.

We have brothers and sisters who are equally serving God in other churches. That lays on us calls for unity and working with all other Christians. But we must also open up discussions with younger denominations, as individuals and as church groups.

Jos has had a terrible share of the inhumanity of man to man. I want to plead with the authorities that they should not think that concern about these matters will go away as they have in the past where an enquiry has been set up to investigate until another atrocity happens.

I plead that people who treat people like that should not be allowed to be free. If that happens then society will return to the state of nature that dog eats dog.

The Church is a temple and Jesus is the cornerstone The Church is the bride of Christ The Church is the body of Christ and Jesus is the head.

Brothers and sisters. Whether in ancient times, in modern times, in post modern times in the IT era, in plural or monolithic society, in the unknown age of the cultures of the future, join me to affirm “Kurios Jesous”, Jesus is Lord. He is Lord of our individual life.

If you are in church and he is not Lord of your individual life, you are wasting your time. You have to have knowledge of God who reveals himself to you in a personal relationship. As a church, we must submit to Jesus as Lord, no matter what persecution comes our way. He is the head of the Church and he died on a cross.

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