The Cross and the Crossroad – Leke Alder’s thoughts on the ongoing church controversy.
At the heart of the ongoing debate is the nature of church economics. Why do people give to churches in such huge figures? Why would a Pastor take money from the poor?
Recent events in the Church have generated social fervor about the lifestyles of men of the robe and the governance structure of the Church in Nigeria, in particular the Pentecostal hue. This is as expected because the funding profile of the Church is primarily derived from contributions from congregants. There is a lot of angst out there because Nigerians are experiencing economic hardship. This provides some of the context for the public backlash. However we risk throwing out the baby with the bathwater if our passion becomes a raging flood that sweeps away reason and structural facts.
Are there excesses in the church? No doubt. The eco-system is imperfect for the simple reason that Pastors are men afterall. And the operations of some snake oil merchants have only served to compound issues. There are now magicians in robes, economic opportunists in cassocks, ecclesiastical predators in surplices and charlatans in collars. But there are also genuine men of God and ministries, thousands upon thousands of them.
The spectrum of the Church in Nigeria consists of orthodox churches, evangelicals, pentecostal institutional and pentecostal independents. Methodist Church is orthodox, ECWA is evangelical, the Redeemed Christian Church of God, Deeper Life Bible Church and the Assemblies of God are pentecostal institutional, whilst Daystar Christian Centre is a pentecostal independent.
The Orthodox Church establishment laid the foundation for modern Nigeria. They are the offshoots of missionary work. They educated the people we now refer to as the founding fathers of the federation. They established the first set of hospitals and schools in Nigeria. Methodist Boys’ High School, Baptist Academy and Our Lady of Apostles Grammar School are well known examples of schools established by missionaries.
It was the Church that educated the first set of civil servants in Nigeria. And the Church has always been at the nexus of cultural re-orientation in Nigeria. Who can ever forget the work of Mary Slessor, the diminutive nurse who fought against the barbaric culture of the killing of twins? And so when we chant about the “labour of our heroes past,” we must not forget that some of these heroes are the missionaries and the orthodox establishments.
Now we do not know why but clearly, God raised a generational stream of young men and women to build on the foundational work of the orthodox churches. The work began with the establishment of the Scripture Union (S.U or C.U – Christian Union) in primary and secondary schools. From that movement emerged the generation of those who now head the Pentecostal institutional churches today, in particular the unassuming Pastor Enoch Adeboye and the self effacing Pastor William F. Kumuyi. Incidentally both attended The Apostolic Faith before fate directed their trajectories. Both are very well educated. Pastor Adeboye has a PhD in Applied Mathematics whilst Pastor Kumuyi has a first class honours degree in Mathematics. At the time of their ascendance, the “faith movement” was taking root in America and this spawned the ministries of the late Archbishop Benson Idahosa, Bishop David Oyedepo and Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor. We must also note the great work of a little known Englishman who settled in Ile Ife, the late Pa Elton. He would be responsible for the mentoring of the next ministerial generation and the establishment of Pentecostal doctrine in Nigeria.
However something major took place in the early 80s. A then unknown medical student at the University of Lagos was ordained a Pastor by the Assemblies of God Church. This was an extremely radical event 30 years ago. His name is Dr. Tunde Joda of the Christ Chapel fame. He was a product and proponent of the Faith Movement and was highly influenced by the ministries of Rev. Kenneth E. Hagin and Kenneth Copeland. He opened the door for his generation and made God exciting to young people. That was a generational advent and invariably members of that generation became Pastors.
Because of the educational background of the generation, the Pentecostal movement acquired sophistication. The emergent Pastors are generally creative in approach, aggressive, uninhibited and resourceful. Many emerged through the “model parish” structure of the Redeemed Christian Church of God. Dr. Tony Rapu would prove pivotal to that structure though there is evidence to the effect that Pastor Tunde Bakare was perhaps the first model parish Pastor. That was before he went on to found the Latter Rain Assembly.
Some in that generation are now in full time ministry but many maintain a dualism – they work as professional managers and entrepreneurs whilst running the churches on a full term basis. (Some are in government). And so we arrived at a literal prophetic era in Nigeria church history – the era of the order of priest-kings technically known as the Order of Melchizedek. All Christians belong to this Order but these young Pastors in dual callings typify the Order. Most are successful in their secular callings and it would be uncharitable to assume that they went into ministry for money. Most do not collect salaries from their churches. Instead they contribute. These emergent Pastors signified a generational move of God. The generation is noted for “speaking in tongues” – a peculiar glossolalia dating back to Pentecost. They are thus referred to as “Pentecostals”. (In modern parlance, the term “Pentecostal” has come to signify exuberant loud worship and gifted oratory). They redefined what a man of God is and till today, the redefinition presents a challenge to society. So aggressive are members of this Pentecostal movement that in a strange twist of fate, they exported Christianity back to the UK. And they have established churches in over 160 Nations of the world including Ukraine America and Ireland.
Nigeria as a nation has no social security system. The absence of social net is why individuals take care of the economic needs of their parents in old age. This familial approach to social security leaves huge swaths of needy citizens unattended to. Into this void has stepped the Church. The Church complements the efforts of some State governments who clearly cannot cope with the deluge of developmental challenges facing Nigeria. And the Pentecostal generation has acquitted itself wonderfully at this task.
Let’s be more particular. Pastor Taiwo Odukoya, a man of grace runs The Fountain of Life Church. It has a hospital, an orphanage, a school for the indigent and orphans and a vocational farm. Pastor Ituah Ighodalo, the founder of Trinity House supports indigent students with scholarships. His Lydia Grace Foundation supports the rehabilitation of lower class prostitutes, among so many other initiatives. Pastor Tony Rapu, the Pastor of This Present House runs one of the most successful drug rehabilitation programmes through the Freedom Foundation network. Pastor Poju Oyemade organises a hugely successful bi-annual youth empowerment seminar called The Platform.
Rev. Sam Adeyemi, a gentleman of the robe runs Daystar Christian Centre. His Church has a community impact programme and has renovated 5 State schools, among so many other programmes. He is particularly noted for leadership training. Pastor Paul Adefarasin of the House on the Rock Church hosts an annual cultural impact programme called The Experience. It is a major engagement platform for youths through music. The City of David, a Redeemed Church parish runs a most successful soccer academy and acclaimed football club, COD United FC. These are just a few examples of what these particular ministries are engaged in and space will not permit us to name the works of so many other ministries. Many church ministries run schools, hospitals, orphanages, sex worker rehabilitation programmes, drug rehabilitation programmes, community development programmes and youth development programmes. By the time we scale up to the network of Redeemed Christian Church of God and the like, the exponential value of Church ministries becomes staggering in proportion. The Catholic Church is responsible for the establishment of a post graduate university, the Pan African University. That university has taken up a major responsibility for skill development in the private sector. The Church also founded Loyola Jesuit Secondary School. Even the much maligned Bishop David Oyedepo founded two universities! No other Nigerian, living or dead has accomplished such feat as far as we know. Invariably almost every church has bent its back to carry the burden of the State and it’s a huge burden.
A wholesale condemnation of the Church is not helpful. The Church through its programs saves Nigeria from the consequences of its dereliction in governance. Perhaps there is a need for a compendium of the good works by churches that is accessible to the general public. The Church essentially aggregates resources to create a social security net for Nigeria. Otherwise we will have more drug addicts, prostitutes, orphans, hapless widows and certainly more crime. We will also have less kids in school, less young men acquiring trade skills, less micro-financing of small businesses, and less value orientation and instruction for our youths.
At the heart of the ongoing debate is the nature of church economics. Why do people give to churches in such huge figures? Why would a Pastor take money from the poor? To the man looking from the outside those giving ten percent of their salaries are either gullible or hypnotized. But the notion of giving is a fundamental of the Christian faith. Jesus said, “Give and it shall be given unto you”. Apostle Paul wrote, “He who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. So let each one give as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity; for God loves a cheerful giver. (2 Cor 9: 6 – 7). Giving in Christianity is predicated on the principle of sowing and reaping. And giving is a socio-economic ladder according to Christian doctrine. It is also proof of love for God. It is within this context that we can understand why the poor give to churches. The poor man’s faith teaches him to give his way out of poverty, though we must admit that the role of industry is sometimes neglected in teachings. There are perversions of the doctrine of giving but that does not make the doctrine any less fundamental.
Now, unlike some religions, Christianity runs an economic commonwealth when it comes to institutional development and building programs. Everyone contributes to the commonwealth. And the value of a gift before God is relative to deprivation. That would seem heartless to the outsider and some will consider it exploitative, but the story of Elijah and the widow of Zarephath is a wonderful illustration of the dynamics of giving to a man of God (or church ministry) in an economic downturn. And the parable of the widow’s mite establishes the principle of relative deprivation as a measure of value.
That said, it must be mentioned that the Church has oft times operated with a silo mentality. There has to be better engagement between the Church and civil society. In addition, a peer-to-peer review system must be instituted. If the Pastors judge themselves they will escape condemnation. Some advocate state interference in religious affairs. Regulating the Church sounds okay in theory but it can prove a very dangerous idea in a tri-religious society like Nigeria. Not with all the goings on. And we may have a peculiar situation of a man of different faith sitting in judgment over Christian economics without doctrinal understanding and vice versa. We must not rush us into dangerous territory. As we shall soon discover, this obviously targeted regulation will create inconsistencies and challenges as we seek to apply it across all religious boards. But the Church has to recognize that society has significantly altered, and for many Nigerians it is the one true institution.