It is perhaps pertinent at this stage of our history, at this turn of our political and socio-economic life, while searching for lasting solutions to our myriad national problems, to take a look at the contributory factors induced by religion. My focus is on our modern day version of Christianity, Pentecostalism, which seems to be the in-thing nowadays. It is no gainsaying that it is perfectly normal nowadays, that for one to be socially acceptable, one must be a Christian. A Christian not just in terms of accepting the doctrines of the Christian church as it was said to have been postulated by Jesus Christ, but to be born again. Religion, which ordinarily should have been a strong social and moral weapon, is today a strong source of social concern in our motherland.
Our Christian men of God today have contributed in no small ways to the social upheaval the Nigerian nation is going through at the present moment. They laid the foundation of greed and social discontent from which the society is yet to come to terms. They departed radically from the preaching of the Lord Jesus which emphasised contentment and instead substituted greed and avarice into the social lexicon. They offer wishy-washy holiness and continue to inundate us with the doctrines of prosperity, albeit, prosperity at all costs. They decided to build a temple of materialism from which they hold the befuddled populace in a trance-like grip. They pretend holiness while their every deed and acts spell materialism and nothing but materialism. They have constituted themselves into a national shame seeing profit in a false preaching and call to a material God.
Writing on the surge of Pentecostalism in Nigeria is a daunting task. This phenomenon which has been aptly described as a “disease” by the Rev. Nyansako-ni-Nku, President of the All Africa Conference of Churches in 2007, has taken our dear country like wildfire. The respected clergy man stressed the need to rescue people from this spiritual trap. Nigeria, in particular, is experiencing the fastest growth in Christianity in Africa with the Pentecostal churches playing a very large role in this development. There are about 3.9 million Pentecostal members in Nigeria, following only Brazil with about 24 million members. Nigerian Pentecostalism has been thriving on the people’s ignorance, surviving on a mixture of evangelism which incorporates African traditional beliefs. They have been surviving on befuddling the populace with miracles and promises of prosperity. African Pentecostal followers are repeatedly told that the “Holy Spirit changes lives so that sickness and calamity only befalls non-believers”. However, it is only the believer who is able to double his donations to the church that is guaranteed the favours of this material God. The success of the incorporation of old traditional beliefs into mainstream Christianity (by Pentecostals) brings into full circle old superstitions which were hitherto marginalised by more mainstream Christian missionaries (Erhard Kamphausen, Head of Academy Mission, University of Hamburg).
Unlike their counterparts in various parts of the world, who devoted their time and energy to the development of their countries and to fighting the cause of the poor, Nigerian Pentecostal clergymen would rather wine and dine with those in power, even in the presence of abiding poverty and hunger in the land. The romance with politics was never as intense as in the fourth republic when our men of religion came out openly in support of Olusegun Obasanjo, a so-called born-again Pentecostal Christian. All through the years of Obasanjo’s misrule, the celebrated Pentecostal community could only muster whimpers of protest at the audacity of that dubious man who hid under the cloak of a condescending religion. Before the controversial landslide election victory of Obasanjo in 2003, the president of the Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria, Mike Okonkwo, urged all Nigerians to vote once more for the tyranny and misrule of Obasanjo, since he was one of the folds. In fact, around that time, Enoch Adeboye of the Redeemed Christian Church of God likened Obasanjo to the prophet Elisha whom God had “specially ordained”. This was just one in the unguarded forays of Pastor Adeboye into the murky waters of politics. I can vividly remember this pastor openly anointing Olusegun Osoba as the only one fit for the government house when Osoba was seeking for the second term which he eventually lost. While all Nigerians were aghast at the effrontery of Obasanjo during the infamous third term debacle, it took the boldness of Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor in May 2006 to declare that “third term in office is not a crime”. Yes, dear pastor, it would not have been a crime, only that our doctored constitution did not allow it and Nigerians never wanted it.
Our men of God have gallantly deviated from the path and only pay lip service to the true essence of Christianity. The fact that the church business remains one of the most flourishing businesses in Nigeria is openly embraced and flaunted in our faces without apologies. Holiness in their preaching translates to wealth. You can only be holy if you are wealthy and powerful. The ignorant masses are made to witness organised miracles and made to hope on promises of prosperity. After all, “our God is a God of riches and miracles”. The race for material wealth is actively influenced by these supposed men of God. In order to continually give testimonies in churches, men and women would do anything for money. No source of wealth is ever questioned by the “Gods” of these prosperity preachers. All are welcome in the sight of the almighty. There is obviously nothing wrong with seeking prosperity. However, there are many things wrong with striving to be rich at all costs so as to appear as the specially-favoured of a material-minded God with the society remaining morally bankrupt for it.
The Christian teaching have always emphasised that the pursuit of God, while not in contradiction with material comfort, has nevertheless stressed its incompatibility with unbridled pursuit of materialism. It is only apt to state that our dear nation, while in the throes of despicable political leadership, is also groaning under a terrible assault by a cult of religious materialists. We are living in an era of religious materialism, also known as spiritual Pentecostalism, and the society is poorer for it.
Is it not surprising that in the various fronts that have arisen in our struggle for the socio-political and economic emancipation of Nigeria, the hierarchy of the Christian fold, especially the charismatic arm, has been frighteningly silent. We read of the activities of the clergy of other climes in their identification with the struggles of their people. Uganda is a country that readily comes to mind when it comes to clergy-activism. The Latin American countries have also demonstrated that it is possible and holy to identify with the oppressed masses. All we see our Pentecostal leaders doing is actively embracing corrupt leaderships, vigorously protecting their establishments, declaring million dollar profits, opening universities after universities and buying jets upon jets.
The lucrative nature of this modern day pseudo-Christianity can only be explained by the rapid nature of its spread. It is particularly endearing to many Nigerians because of its tendencies to revert to traditional means in their efforts to perform miracles. Their flamboyance is another attractive feature as this is well attuned to the African psyche that loves all things vain and gorgeous. Pentecostal churches and hotels compete for space in Nigeria while cinema halls, disused warehouses, bars, brothels and night clubs have all been turned to churches. To maintain their grip on the people and to assure the comfort of their profit base, these churches have been extremely creative, particularly in the use of the media, radio, television, newspaper, posters, electronic mails and even the internet. Even the home video industry has been virtually taken over by the Pentecostal industry (Musa A Guiyab, University of Jos, Nigeria).
Perhaps a journey down history lane would show that the origin of Pentecostalism in Nigeria was practically devoid of altruism midstream. While the native pastorate policy of Rev Henry Venn was actually meant to empower native Africans in the running of the Anglican Church leading to the emergence of Bishop Samuel Ajayi Crowther. The subsequent indigenous prophetic movement that later became the Christ Army Church in the 1920s probably served as the impetus that led to the formation of the Aladuras, and later that of Christ Apostolic Church by Joseph Babalola in 1941. The formation of the Celestial Church of Christ while expanding the fold increased the incorporation of native African precepts into the teachings of Pentecostalism tremendously. The increasing nature of the newly formed Redeemed Christian Church of God was further accentuated by the leadership of Enoch Adeboye, with the phenomenal expansion of the church thereafter.
However, in the 1960s to 1970s, originating in the wave of evangelical student revivals, new Pentecostal churches were brought into being with Benson Idahosa emerging as the leader of this breed. The Deeper Life Bible Church was one of those churches that emerged and remains one of the largest neo-Pentecostal churches to date. However, unlike others, it remains conservative up to these days. No doubt, the spread of evangelical student revivals were influenced in no small measures by the exposure to the teachings of Oral Roberts, Robert Tilton, Kenneth Copeland, Kenneth Hagin and a host of others. It must be said that the influence of Benson Idahosa on the extremely materialistic nature of Nigeria’s Pentecostalism was in no small measure. To this date, this material man of God remains the reference point in assessing materialism in Nigerian Pentecostalism.
It may be necessary at this juncture to take a look at how much God had blessed his children while preaching the Pentecostal message. In the course of waking up the dead and making the lame walk, Nigerian Pentecostals have continued to organise crusades and revivals to bring solutions to the numerous problems afflicting the people. Problems such as barrenness, unemployment, financial difficulties, deliverance from ancestral curses, sickness and so on. In the course of performing these miracles and wonders, our pastors have not done badly financially. Of note is the Christ Embassy Church of Pastor Chris Oyakhilome which has an annual turn-over running into billions of naira. David Oyedepo, the general overseer of Living Faith Ministries (aka Winners Chapel) has grown into what is termed “an oak tree in Christendom”. His riches are stupendous and his ministry boasts of a 50,000 capacity worship centre known as Cannanland in Otta, Ogun state, along with a private university and many other similar interests. Of course, his Holiness rides in a private jet to further enhance the business of his ministry.
Adefarasin is an eloquent and charismatic televangelist whose mission today boasts of a 1.3 billion “Rock Millennium Temple” that was meant to accommodate thousands of worshippers. Other pastors are not lagging behind with the likes of Chris Okotie, Samuel Abiara, Victor Onukogu, Emmanuel Ede, Ejike Mbaka, Temitopoe Joshua, Theophilus Olabayo and Mathew Ashomolowo boasting of billions of naira amongst them collectively.
While much can be said about the docility of our present day men of the bible in the face of the social injustice and economic marginalisation of the masses, a special mention must be made of one who refused to toe the line. Pastor Tunde Bakare of the Latter Rain Assembly remains a lone voice in a class of acquiescent men of liturgy. His non-conforming attitude to the Obasanjo years remains fresh in memory. In particular, his prophecy on “Hundred Days and Hundred Ways” rattled the then government so much that he was promptly arrested and interrogated by the State Security Service.
While the nation is being plundered, Nigeria’s holy men are busy licking milk and honey. While majority of Nigerians can hardly afford three square meals, Nigerian men of the word are busy counting billions and flying in private jets. While the nation is burning, our pastors are busy baking and eating cake. The people have been starved of divine knowledge because an informed people remain a threat to the interests of the “church”. The moral fabric of the nation is weak and appalling, almost non-existent. Yet Nigeria boasts of thousands of churches with stupendously rich ministers. Deception is being actively pursued under the guise of Christianity. While we have no quarrel with an honest business that generates profits, all we ask of these material men of God is to be sincere and stop this deception. All we desire is the truth in our efforts to sanitise the Nigerian society.
Jesus brought the gospel of love, peace and redemption but Nigerians are being short-changed as what we are getting is plainly the Gospel of Materialism. It is so bad that the whole thing has been turned into ridicule and the pastors are busy fleecing the society blind. May God save us!