By Bolanle Bolawole
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Bishop David Oyedepo of the Winners’ Chapel has become the whipping boy and fall guy of those defending CAMA for good as well as for bad reasons or motives. Interestingly but not surprisingly, many of the critics are supposedly not just Christians but also church leaders. In Nigeria, church leaders are quick and agile at tearing at one another but mute and frightened to defend Christians and the Church when they are assailed by enemies of the Faith.
An unfortunate aspect of this Samballat and Tobiah mentality is that more often than not, the church leaders who take pleasure at not being their brother’s keeper manipulate Scriptures to deceive the unwary and take advantage of the simpletons. They rationalise and abridge the truth. Their stock-in-trade: Selfishness, jealousy, rivalry, cut-throat competition, puffing and showing off, grandstanding, gaining undue advantage, overtaking those ahead of them by any means possible, Machiavellian, currying favour, doing the bidding of their pay-masters who dictate the tunes from behind closed doors, falling head over heels to be in the good books of the powers-that-be, men and women with skeletons in their cupboard and striving desperately to divert attention from themselves and unto others, fifth columnists and paid agents – I can go on and on!
Dogs don’t eat dogs, they say; but not Nigeria’s church leaders! A Yoruba adage says chicken don’t gnaw at each other’s intestines. It would appear dogs and chicken know what many Nigerian church leaders are yet to know! How dare any church leader denigrate other church leaders yet to open their churches, saying they are not Christians? Such arrogance! Such arrant nonsense! And such baloney! Some church leaders play God but thank God for Martin Luther and the Reformation he led, we can now all possess and read the bible. For those who still allow themselves to be led by the nose, Karl Marx’s derogatory description of religion as the opium of the people stands true!
The South African reggae musician Lucky Dube crooned: Read your bible and understand what it says. We are not “makaranta” pupils who chant after the alfa or imam. Paul admonishes us to study and show ourselves approved, not ashamed but sufficiently armed and correctly espousing the word of God. I want to tell you something: No man of God is God; none, no matter how much we may reverence them! And none is infallible; not one!
I once heard a respected pastor say he had preached Malachi 3: 8 – 12 for years until God told him one day that he was preaching the wrong thing. This pastor said he had been preaching that God said ‘bring your tithes and I will pour you blessings’ but God told the pastor that that was not what He, God, said. Of course, any pastor would be surprised and might even argue. That scripture appears straightforward enough and is preached at virtually every service where tithes and offerings are collected. But God corrected him and said, ‘I said I will pour them “a blessing” and not “blessings”
Now, there is a world of difference between “a blessing” and “blessings” Before that day, each time I paid my tithe I expected “blessings” to follow immediately but since that day, each time I pay my tithe, I beseech God for the “one” blessing – “a blessing” – that there will not be room enough to contain. Apostle Paul says we know in part and prophesy in part – until we change mortality for immortality, there are things we will never know in this mortal frame; regardless of our level of anointing or closeness to God.
So, why should anyone say you will not be blessed if you do not pay your tithe? Do they pay tithe in Japan or China or the Soviet Union? Are they not blessed? Atheists get blessed. Muslims get blessed. Hindus get blessed. Buddhists get blessed. Traditional worshippers get blessed. It stands to reason, therefore, that there must be reasons for being blessed other than the payment of tithe. You must have seen the post making the rounds on social media of the difference between Development Economy and Religion Economy.
Or when it is said that those who do not pay their tithe will not make heaven! Is that the consideration or condition for making heaven? Are they the ones holding the keys to heaven? They themselves are supposed to be struggling like everyone else – with fear and trembling, like Paul said – to make the same heaven! If anyone is sure he or she has qualified for making heaven, why did they hide like everyone else from COVID-19? Sometimes, stretching to make a point, church leaders exaggerate and tip over.
Unfortunately, the belief has gained currency that the controversial sermons that many church leaders preach – and their shenanigans – are all aimed at pleasing the god of mammon. When they tear at one another, it is to protect or garner more territories (enlargement of coast). The “Pull Him Down” syndrome (so that I can displace or replace him at the top) is rampant. The silence of others, even in times of grave and great moral crisis or conflict, as the Church in Nigeria witnesses today, is occasioned by the fear of stepping on powerful toes that can land them in trouble. Few are the church leaders who can afford to ruffle feathers. Yet, Martin Luther King Jr. said the hottest place in Hell is reserved for those who keep silent when they should have spoken out.
Oyedepo has proven to be one of the few church leaders still daring to speak out – and stepping on toes in the process. It cannot be because he has nothing to lose but it is in spite of that, that he speaks out nonetheless. Oyedepo, having garnered much, and his Mission having strayed as much as many other church leaders away from “evangelism and nothing but evangelism” (which I understand was the mantra of the older generation of Nigerian church leaders), will, I suppose, have questions to answer if his feet are held to the fire. Whether he is prepared for this or whether through his activism he hopes to keep it at bay and ward the wolves away, remains to be seen.
Oyedepo’s umbrage at CAMA came swiftly and frontally and must have left the powers-that-be gasping for breath. Don’t try it! That was his bold and audacious message to the government on CAMA. Try what? Don’t try interfering in church administration. You cannot take the church over! You cannot sack its leadership! You cannot appoint administrators or trustees for it. You cannot appropriate its wealth. You cannot obstruct it in any way or form. Don’t try it! Good! Great!
But the Bishop should be told that provisions were made in CAMA for court intervention before CAMA can swoop on any church. Perhaps, Oyedepo reckoned to discountenance that as an afterthought or fulfilling all righteousness. In those days when courts were courts and judges were judges, the court was the bastion of justice and the last hope of the common man. Everyone was sure to have his day in court. No more! Before our very eyes, the EFCC intimidated, blackmailed, and subdued the judges. Today, however, Karma has come for the same Ibrahim Magu who is at the mercy of the same judges! But that is a story for another day!
Now, judges speak with discordant tones. They speak from both sides of the mouth. They cast glances over their shoulders. “Forum shopping” has entered into our judicial lexicon: Where a few of the still upright judges prove difficult, the government can arrest judgment in such courts, pack bags and baggage and shift to a friendly court that will do its bidding. In this kind of situation, who can trust today’s Nigerian courts?
Many Nigerian churches (small letter “c”) have deviated from the ideals of the Church (capital letter “C”), prompting respected clergyman, Olubunmi Okogie, to refer to them as “business centres” The Church is the Church of Christ; as He said in Matthew 16:18 that “on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” Simon, whom Jesus named Peter (meaning “the rock”), was a type of Jesus the Solid Rock and the Rock of Ages. Jesus decided to build his Church on Peter. That was why, even though the devil sought to destroy that rock, he failed. That was also why, even though the rock went back to his vomit, so to say, Jesus went after him and restored him.
The Church was one for a long time before a split came. Today, we have denominations too numerous to number. Churches now proliferate and mushroom. And anywhere there is proliferation, there is bound to be lowering of standards. There will be fakery and adulteration. Half-baked men and women loom large and run riot all over the place. Poisonous ideologies and dangerous, damaging philosophies and sermons not only take roots but also rule the waves. Unfortunately, the rat-race that this engenders has spared no one. All manner of charlatans are in top positions today even in so-called respectable and responsible churches.
I agree with Oyedepo that no CAMA can remove just one strand of hair from the Church – but I doubt if the same can be said of the mushrooming churches that we have today. All have sinned and come short of the glory of God! In veering into business activities and abandoning the mantra of “evangelism and nothing but evangelism”, many have entangled themselves with the cares of this world. This is where they have run into problems.
Conversely, the Church of Christ has no problems! Like Jesus said in Matthew 21: 44, “whoever shall fall on this stone shall be broken: but on whomsoever it shall fall, it will grind him to powder” Jesus made an example of Saul of Tarsus on the road to Damascus (Acts 9: 4 – 6) when He told the tormentor of the faithful that “it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks”
So, when Oyedepo warned CAMA or the Government to beware of this Church, like Julius Caesar was warned to “beware of the Ides of March”, he was dead right. However, many so-called churches today are the synagogue of Satan. Many of those parading as men and women of God have strayed from His presence.
Matthew 7; 22 – 23 says: “Many will say to me that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? And in thy name have cast out devils? And in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity”
There are too many shenanigans in today’s mushrooming churches that will make Jesus more ashamed of them than he was of that temple in Matthew 21:12 where he drove out those buying and selling. It is such shenanigans that have necessitated (mind my word, “necessitated”) the Financial Reporting Council (FRC)’s Governance Code and CAMA to hang over the churches today like the sword of Damocles.
We shall take a look at a few of those shenanigans next week, God willing.
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