Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Is Pentecostalism in Nigeria Exploiting or Edifying its Followers?

It is a difficult question to ask whether or not the Nigerian Pentecostal churches have been exploiting their members. This is so because the Pentecostal churches are diverse in their orientations, doctrines, and leadership structures. As we have noted in the preceding sections in this article, the adoption of the
Pentecostal label by most church planters to describe the focus and essence of their minis tries was, in most cases, a ploy to cajole, or deceive the unsuspecting devotees into believing that their churches were built on the pillars of righteousness, holiness and other Christian virtues that would edify them and prompt the manifestation of God’s power in their lives. The attendees of Pentecostal churches are full of expectations that the miraculous would continually manifest itself in their assemblies. To determine therefore whether or not the ‘masses’ – and these consist of both the rich and poor attendees in the churches– are exploited or edified by the ministrations of their pastors, requires finding out whether their expectations have been fulfilled or are being fulfilled. Opinions are bound to vary from one person to another, and from one church to another.

It is apparent that any enquiry regarding the benefits derivable from the attendance of Pentecostal churches broaches the responsibility of both the church leadership and the attendees. The issue raises matters such as the funding of the church by attendees, and the power possessed by the pastors to minister to the spiritual and physical needs of their flocks.

On finance, the Pentecostal pastors emphasise the importance of sowing ‘seed faith’ to their flocks during ministrations. The emphasis placed on the financial obligation of the Pentecostal devotees to ‘God’s work’ contrasts sharply with what obtains in the main-line churches. The biblical injunction in Malachi 3:10 has become trite and jaded:

Bring ye all the tithes into the store house, that there may be meat in mine house, and prove me now herewith, saith the Lord of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven and pour you out a blessing.

The pastors anchor their request for monetary assistance on the above scripture which is portrayed as a non-negotiable financial obligation of the devotees. The obligation is known as the ‘tithe’ – which means 10 percent of the income of each devotee. In most Pentecostal churches in contemporary Nigeria, the pastors have designed other means of increasing church finances in addition to the receipts from tithes. Levies for church building, procurement of musical instruments, welfare for the needy, church planting within and outside Nigeria, and so on, have often served as complementary sources of generating funds.

The cupidity of Pentecostal pastors is not confined to their churches alone, even on crusade grounds – where there are mixed multitudes with different orientations and perspectives, – the pastors are not discreet in their urge to amass wealth. At a crusade in Lagos, in November, 2002, where thousands of Christians converged at the crusade ground of Victory Holy Ghost Mission, to receive miracles and deliverance from satanic bondage, the ministering Evangelist, and renowned tele-evangelist, and a respected Pentecostalist who enjoys acclaim and recognition in Pentecostal circles, Uma Ukpai, was quoted to have admonished the congregation to come forward to sow ‘seed faith’ as a necessary condition for divine blessings from God. Ukpai warned that those who refused to sow seed faith would not prosper, and he exclaimed: ‘If you are not a giver today, you shall be a beggar tomorrow’. Consequently, half the worshippers at the crusade ground – estimated to be about 20,000 – were reported to have responded by trooping out to sow seed faith. This trend has become an institutionalised style in Pentecostal assemblies across the country. The urge to accumulate wealth to support the high tastes and extraordinary sophistication of the pastors has continued to mean that the business of soul-winning, which ought to be the primary concern of Christian evangelistic mission, is actually a profit-making venture. Perhaps, the pastors are desirous of building financial empires here on earth – where moth and rot consume to the detriment of their flocks who had built undue dependence on them.

The second level of analysis, is to determine the claim to power by Pentecostal pastors, on the basis of the degree of the occurrence of the miraculous in their congregations. Opinions vary regarding the perception of the role of the urge to power and authority of Pentecostalism in Nigeria. There are those who believe that the version of Christianity exported to Nigeria through the missionary exploit of the Europeans, was devoid of power, because as they claim, the traditions and values in which the power of the religion lies were lacking. The proponent of this school of thought believe that the deletion of the7th-10th books of Moses from the Bible and their banning as ‘apocryphal’ emasculated African Christianity in its entirety. Arguing along these lines, Justice Adewale Thompson read a racial meaning in the actions of European missionaries who brought an incomplete and distorted version of Christianity to Africa. He noted that the books of Moses which were deleted from the Bible are in special places in Europe where they are being gainfully utilised. According to him:

These books have been banned by canonical order only. They existed as part of the original bible and are still available in their purest forms in the proper places ... African Christianity as is being practised in Africa would only sustain a peaceful condition. In times of crisis, the African must look elsewhere and his Ogun, Obatala, Sango, Yemoja, Orunmila, Oshun, Obaluwaye, Aja, Esu are to fight on his side.

Expatiating on the powerlessness of African Christianity, and the resort of some Pentecostal pastors to the utilisation of occult powers in order to stay relevant to their congregations, Onuorah Nzekwu remarked that:

...the pastors are another case entirely. Several have communion with the devil. Some went to herbalists to request for medicine they will use to draw people to their churches.

Under such circum stances, how much work do you think the Holy Spirit will be able to do.

There have been several exposés on some miracle-working pastors who were indicted for being neck-deep in occultist practices and rituals. Such names as Primate Olabayo, (Evangelical Church of Yahweh), Prophet T. B. Joshua(Synagogue of All Nations), Pastor Chris Oyakhilome (Christ Embassy), and the late Pastor (Founder) S. B. J. Oschoffa (Celestial church of Christ), etc. had been linked to occultist practices.

In an edition of Newswatch Magazine with the cover page captioned ‘Lies, Miracle Lies NBC clamps down on Pentecostal pastors’, the dangers of the unregulated broadcast of miracle claims by some notorious pastors who use the electronic media to deceive the public were analysed. The National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) must have decided to ‘stop broadcast stations across the country from airing religious programmes with unverified miracle contents in them, on the basis of the reports it received’. True, there are numerous testimonies about the miraculous which assault the intellect, and which are often shown to deceive the simple and gullible public. The intention of those ‘miracle-working pastors’ is to attract large followings and resources to themselves. But since the pronouncement of the clampdown order on March, 30, 2004, which understandably was aimed at sanitising the presentation of Christian religious programmes on the country’s numerous television stations, the NBC has taken a dive into controversial waters, a development that has ranged it against most of the Pentecostal pastors.

The then President of the Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria (PFN), Bishop Mike Okonkwo, expressed disappointment when he said that the PFN was worried about the infiltration of those ‘who have modernized occultism by injecting the name of Jesus Christ into their largely unbiblical practices into the PFN fold’. It is the infiltration of the anti-Pentecostal pastors that has continued to delegitimise the claim of Pentecostal churches to Christ-like righteousness, holiness, and sanctification, through their misrepresentation of Pentecostalism.

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