Opinion: Is another revolution imminent in the Nigerian church? – By AZUKA ONWUKA
The tithe debate kick-started by the radio presenter known as Daddy Freeze is causing ripples in the Nigerian church. It has done one big thing among Christians: It has reduced the fear that has enveloped Christians for decades – the fear ingrained in them not to question whatever is said by the spiritual leaders – for fear of incurring the wrath of God.
In spite of the fact that the mission of Jesus Christ was to set the captive free (from sin, eternal damnation, bondage, fear, baseless traditions, sickness, etc), right from the time the Roman Empire took over the control of the church till this moment, most religious leaders have employed fear and emotional blackmail as tools to hold the people captive. From generation to generation, someone rises to open the eyes of the people and set them free, but soon after, the same person who set them free would start a gradual process of using a different form of fear to imprison the minds of worshippers.
In 1517 (exactly 500 years ago), Martin Luther got tired of the deviation that had taken place in the Roman Catholic Church where certificates called indulgences were purchased from priests for sins by members of the church, as well as other doctrines that ran contrary to the teachings of Christ, and published the Ninety-five Theses. He knew that he could be killed for heresy for challenging the Church, which held absolute political and religious powers, yet, he was ready to die for his belief, which he saw as standing for Christ rather than standing with man-made doctrines.
The publication of those 95 theses led to what is known today as the Reformation. The eyes of the people were opened and they began to question the doctrines, dogmas and practices of the church. Gradually, Protestant churches emerged from the Roman Catholic Church with the aim of returning the Church to what it was in the days of the disciples of Christ.
Unfortunately, soon after pulling out of the Church of Rome, the Protestant churches began to fall into the same pit they accused the Roman Catholic Church of. The kings used the church to keep the people in financial and mental bondage. This led to the French Revolution. Europeans decided that nobody should have absolute power over them anymore either politically or economically on the grounds that he was the representative of God on earth.
Years later the fire in the Protestant churches began to die. Churches became like social clubs. The gospel took back stage. Some people felt it was time to revive the church. This led to the emergence of Pentecostal or Evangelical churches. In Nigeria, they gave the older churches sleepless nights. The Roman Catholic Church, the Anglican Church, the Methodist Church saw their membership depleting, as the Pentecostal churches preached like Jesus Christ and His apostles did that one must be born again to be truly called a Christian. They condemned the doctrines and rituals of the older churches. Their prayers were characterised by speaking in tongues. They held crusades with claims of healing and deliverance from evil spirits. They preached financial breakthroughs. Their leaders wore designer suits instead of cassock worn by the older churches, and moved around the church during sermons rather than preaching from the pulpit like the older churches. They called themselves pastors, prophets and general overseers instead of priests, bishops, primates or Pope.
The older churches began to adapt most of the things the newer churches did in order to remain relevant and stop losing members. And unlike when a Catholic priest could hardly make two sentences without condemning the Anglican Church and vice versa, the opponent to be condemned became the Redeemed Christian Church of God, Winners Chapel or the Synagogue Church of All Nations.
But the newer churches have one weakness: they are usually owned by the founder and his family. Even in a few cases where the church is not owned by the founder, the general overseer is so powerful that his word is synonymous with law. Their founder or general overseer, therefore, cannot be challenged or questioned. Whatever he says is said under the “direction of God”, and no serious member of his church will publicly criticise it or even question it.
The founders of the modern churches are also smarter. They have studied church history and found out that the two ways preachers of the gospel ran into trouble or suffered persecution and even death were by criticising those in authority and embarking on evangelism. For example, it was by criticising King Herod that John the Baptist was arrested and later beheaded. It was by evangelism that Stephen as well as many other disciples of Christ was killed. It was by evangelism that Pastor Eunice Olawale was killed in Abuja in July 2016. In addition, preaching against sin, speaking about repentance and telling people that God will not accept money made through corruption, fraud, drug trafficking and other crimes annoy worshippers, scare them away and make them keep their money.
On the contrary, preaching to people about breakthrough, healing, protection, and long life makes worshippers feel good. And if they want to experience these blessings, they have to first of all sow a seed, give offerings, and pay their tithe. But those who don’t do so will not only experience no blessings, they will even be victims of calamities like sudden death, fire incidents, terminal illnesses, marital turbulence, filial waywardness, career stagnancy, joblessness, etc. Definitely nobody wants to experience such disasters.
So, if things are not going well for people, they are advised to give to break the cycle of failure in their lives. If things are going well, they are told to give to show appreciation to God and receive more open doors or open heaven.
Pastors are now superstars flaunting their Rolex, Rolls Royce, and Gulfstream. The richer a pastor is, the more it is seen that God’s blessings are abundant in his church. So, if you want to experience such divine visitation, you need to start attending his church.
Tragically, we are faced with a church where most people have been made to believe that wealth is the primary aim of going to church. And little or no emphasis is placed on how it is acquired. That is why an employee stole millions of naira of his company and used it to “bless” his pastors and church, even though he did not have a car. It shows the power of preaching and the influence pastors of the new churches have on their members.
The effect of this focus on prosperity and healing is that Nigerian Christians have become less godly and more religious. There is a kind of race to make money by all means that bribery, fraud, adultery, cutting corners and similar crimes are not seen as crimes but smartness and pragmatism. As long as one gives to the church, these sins don’t count as much, since this is the time grace.
It is, therefore, not surprising that Daddy Freeze’s anti-tithe campaign has given many Christians voice to start a campaign of taking back the church from prophets of Mammon and returning it to Christ who instituted it. Happily, the ploy to use threats, blackmail and curses to instil fear in the minds of those who support Daddy Freeze is not working. They know the Berean Church was commended in the Bible by Paul for not swallowing whatever was said by Paul but checking the scriptures to confirm if what he said was true. Perhaps, we are about to witness another Reformation of the Church in Nigeria. Punch