DIALOGUE OF THEOLOGICAL EXCHANGE

Rev. Dr. Fr. Cornelius Afebu Omonokhua

Director: Mission and Dialogue

Catholic Secretariat of Nigeria, Abuja

 

 

Some “men and women” of God have deviated from preaching the true message of God to preaching their “own selfish message” thereby presenting a distorted concept of God. This could either be a result of ignorance or selfish interest. History has recorded three categories of prophets in almost all the revealed religions: Professional, false and true prophets. The professional prophets rely on the manipulation of God’s message to earn a living. The false prophets are those who made themselves prophets and claimed that they have received anointing and divine calling. The true prophets are those who are truly called by God to preach his word and administer his sacraments. A true prophet is known through the discernment of a legitimate authority and those in charge of formation and training of clerics and ministers of the word of God. This legitimate authority also control and direct the dispensation of the gifts and messages entrusted to the true prophets. The Catholic Church for instance issues célébrâtes (certificates) and faculties to priests after ordination to preach and administer the sacraments. True Pastors / Imams are custodians of God’s message.  They do not need to deceive the people through manipulation, brain washing and indoctrination if they are properly trained.

 

The earth trembled inNigeriaat the recommendation of the Senate President, David Mark that “issuance of licenses to preachers will be considered as that will help guide what the preachers tell their listeners.” Nigeria Vanguard newspaper reported this on Tuesday, 26 June 2012. Many print and electronic media also reported the same thing at different times. The numerous comments that followed David Mark’s recommendation bothered on the fact thatNigeriais a secular state that allows freedom of expression. Others argue that it is not the duty of government to monitor and regulate the way and manner preachers deliver their messages. I think that David Mark’s point can not be thrown away with a wave of the hand. Given that it is not the duty of the House of Assembly to issue laws on the modus operandi of preachers; the religious leaders should see it as a duty to create a forum for serious dialogue of theological exchange.

 

Dialogue of theological exchange is also called dialogue of experts. If a person claimed to have a calling to be a medical doctor because he has been an unskilled worker for a very long time in a hospital and without a university degree in medicine or adequate training and formation opens a hospital, makes himself a medical director and a cardiologist; guess what will happen to the patients who will attend that hospital? Every field of life necessarily calls for proper training and formation. Religion should not be different. As a matter of fact, religion calls for more systematic formation. Some Church institutions ensure that candidates for the priesthood have nine years of training and formation after secondary school before they are considered for ordination. In our visit toTurkeyandEgypton July 1 – 7, 2012 at the invitation of the UFUK DIALOGUE FOUNDATION, we met Dr. Ahmet Muharrem Atliğ, a Muslim scholar who did not only study Islamic theology and Arabic but studied Christian theology and Philosophy. He is the secretary general for intercultural dialogue platform inTurkey. He told us that he could only preach in the mosque with a licence even thoughTurkeyis a secular state. He went further to say that in many parts of the world; it is only licensed Imams that are permitted to preach in the Mosque.

 

In dialogue of theological exchange, it is necessary for the religious preachers to be well formed in their own religions and the religion of others so that the experts can talk at the same wave length of theological awareness. Even where government can not legislate on religious preachers, there should be a form of control to prevent religious pollution in the name of being called by God. Worshippers must be delivered from the whims and caprices of preachers who operate at the level of dreams and visions that can not be interpreted by either the followers or by any one else. This calls for a structure and mechanism that should be put in place by every denomination and sect to monitor and check religious preachers. Before the reformation and proliferation of Churches, the Congregation for the propagation of faith ensued that those who write or preach heresies were called to withdraw their thesis or statements.  This mechanism has not stopped in the Catholic Church till date. Those entrusted with the ministries that include preaching are under the supervision of a diocesan bishop or a Religious Major superior. There are many Churches however who still have this line of authority to ensure that the word of God is not abused to the extent of making inflammatory statements that are capable of causing violence. Our Muslim brethren may need to enlighten us if they have a line of authority that controls preaching in the Mosque and public places inNigeriaakin to some other countries in the world.

 

According to the Second Vatican Council (Nostra aetate), Dialogue of theological exchange creates a space for specialists to seek and deepen their understanding of their respective religious heritages, and to appreciate each other’s spiritual values. Until now, dialogue of theological exchange in Nigeria has been identified more in seminars and workshops. It is not clear whether the proceedings of these seminars go beyond communiqués that are not often implemented. Unfortunately not every denomination and religious sect takes part in these discussions. The present realities in the world today should be a serious call for the religious leaders in Nigeria to be more involved in this form of dialogue. Nostra Aetate identifies the following reasons why the Church must engage in dialogue of experts:

  • In Hinduism people explore the divine mystery and express it in myth and philosophy; they seek release from the trials of life by asceticism, meditation and recourse to God in confidence and love.
  • Buddhism proposes a way of life in which people can attain a state of perfect liberation and reach supreme illumination, either through their own efforts or with divine help.
  • Muslims worship the one, merciful and almighty God; they endeavour to submit themselves to God’s decrees, venerate Jesus as a prophet, revere the Blessed Virgin and await judgement and the rewards of heaven.
  • Jews are linked by spiritual bonds to the Church which springs from what God brings about in the patriarchs, Moses and the prophets; Israel is the olive tree on which Gentile branches have been grafted; Jews remain very dear to God because God does not take back his gifts and promises to them.

The Nigeria Inter-religious Council (NIREC) should actually wake up to the challenge of dialogue and deliver Nigeriafrom being seen by foreigners as a religious war zone and a “no go area”. The world is actually watching to see our level of sincerity in delivering religion from being used as an instrument of violence.