There is this popular truism among the East Africans about the coming of the missionaries to that part of the continent more than a century ago. It goes thus: “When the white men came to (East) Africa, armed to the hilt with the Bible, we had our lands. They asked us to close our eyes for prayers and we obeyed them. But when we opened our eyes, we had the Bible but lost our lands.”
That “confidence trick” played out long before the emergence of the Pentecostal system in the Christendom in the early 70s. The harbingers of this system which has been transformed into the money-making arm of the body of Christ were the late Archbishop Benson Idahosa who founded the Church of God Mission or CGM, and Pastor William Kumuyi who established the Deeper Life Bible Church or DLBC.
The DLBC was built on non-materialistic foundation. By their appearance, you could accurately pinpoint who was a Deeper Lifer. No earrings or necklaces. In fact, the system forbade a member wearing a wedding gown. Plaiting hair with nylon threads standing like antennae or looking like the head of Medusa the Gorgon that had snakes for hair was the trademark of a DLBC member. Their dress code was something else. They were fond of wearing cheap clothes and wearing black berets also stood them out among other Christians.
Pastor Kumuyi was so averse to worldliness that he commanded his members to destroy all their electronic gadgets. He described the television sets as the devil’s boxes capable of corrupting their minds and leading them not only astray but also to eternal damnation. Many folks obeyed the commandment and vandalised their sets that included the popular Grundig products, leaving their parlour desolate.
A colleague of mine in Standard newspapers of Jos received an order from his fiancée to set all his electronics he brought from the United Kingdom ablaze or no marriage. He came crying to me. I literally wiped off his tears with a solution that he should bring the electronics to my flat for safe-keeping. Then, I asked my electronic technician to give me some scraps in his workshop. He gave us more than we wanted. We assembled them in front of his flat and cremated them, so to speak. Pictures of the bonfire were taken from different angles and copies were sent to her in Takum in the present-day Taraba state where she was a student. The fanatic fiancée was extremely happified with what she saw. And I was happier because my sitting room appeared richer in electronic gadgets when added to my own.
Archbishop Idahosa’s CGM took the opposite direction. In that system, female worshippers still have the liberty to dress like the typical Pentecostals, especially the youths among them… expensive, long wigs and braids cascading down the waistlines, tight skirt jeans or trousers, heavy make-ups, etc., complemented with jewelry. These days, it is difficult to differentiate between a Pentecostal heading for church and a disco crab going a-clubbing.
The church has truly evolved. While I was growing up, the well-known denominations were the Roman Catholic Mission, the Baptist, the Anglican, the Methodist and the Christ Apostolic. We were so comfortable with their Orthodoxy.
I was born into the Baptist family. The church operated an organised system where the reverends were employees of the church on weekdays and preached only mostly on Sunday mornings and evenings. No weekday services or crusades intended to raise money.
One thing that has not ceased to baffle me is the way education has been weaponised by the system to exploit. Imagine arming up someone only to turn the gun against you. This is exactly what is going on in the Pentecostal system as far as school planting is concerned. They fleece the congregations to build schools – primary, secondary and tertiary. But they will price the school fees beyond the reach of those that contributed to the actualisation of the projects, using God as an instrument of cajolement! Virtually everything in the church is for God even though there is no God in most of the new generation churches. The present-day God is merciful, patient and tolerant! That is why many people will do things in the name of God and get away with them. It is happening everywhere… a total departure from the vision of those that shipped Christianity to this country. They built schools and hospitals as a tool of evangelisation with minimal fees charged. The missionaries were friendly and kind to the poor and needy.
Today, the church or the body of Christ, save the Orthodox ones, has become commercial enterprises run by individuals or families. The church is now a big business. Ex-Governor Jonah Jang of Plateau state was once quoted as saying that there are more churches than beer halls in this country. He was damn right. And the number is rising in a geometrical proportion. A high profile pastor once assured us that he would plant churches at a shout’s distance from themselves.
The irony of this prevalence of churches all over the country is that morality has not been enthroned in our way of life. Corruption and allied crimes are still walking on all fours. In fact, corrupt politicians and rogues are known to lumber cash in “Ghana must go” to churches in the spirit of giving to God what is His. Church members are being brainwashed by smooth- talking pulpit crooks on daily basis into believing that any cash or material things like landed properties, cars, etc, taken to the church are meant for God.
Congregants, especially the womenfolk, ever so gullible, can go the extra mile to please the self-styled spiritual fathers. In this end time, the so-called spiritual fathers have supplanted biological fathers to the extent that the kids parents laboured to train and give better life would rather place these crooks on regular allowances, donate cars and landed properties to them or sponsor them on overseas vacation than extend the gestures to their aging parents in their moments of need. Yet the Bible says that they should honour their parents, not spiritual fathers who reap bountifully where they did not sow. Women are the most vulnerable and the so-called spiritual fathers know this and they exploit their weakness to their advantage.
Tithes and offerings are the IGR or Internally Generated Revenue of all the churches. Billions are raked in on daily basis because church activities are held from Sundays to Saturdays. Christians spend more time and money in the church, day and at night, even at the expense of their businesses which they believe are not thriving because of the enemies in the village.
I was livid with anger sometime ago when I went to get more curtain materials from a customer. It was a Monday morning and his shop somewhere in Kubwa was under lock and key. I gave him a shout and to my utter amazement, he told me he was having a programme in the church. He did not find it funny when I told him it was not right to abandon his shop at that hour instead of being around to sell his wares. If there was another place I could get a similar material, he would have lost the market that Monday morning. And the devil would be blamed!
Church business is booming in Nigeria because we are so lazy, looking for the easiest way to make it and the pastors are cashing in on the weakness. The poor economic environment is not helping matters. The pulpits have also exploited this to their maximum advantage. They tell their followers to ignore the earthly economy and key into the heavenly economy that is immune to depression. People are asked to come with all manner of investments in the name of seeds. Some are known to have sold their failing businesses and taken the proceeds to the church to sow in anticipation of better days.
So, the church has become a farmland? The truth is that some farmlands are so barren that any seed, no matter how good, perishes in the belly of the earth because the Holy Spirit that is supposed to fertilise the soil has fled at the sight of Mammon which is now fiercely worshipped especially in the Pentecostal environment. The Holy Spirit and Mammon are like water and oil… they are immiscible! The emphasis now is on large number of worshippers and building eye-popping auditoriums. Feel free to punch my nose on the Last Day if 99 per cent of them make Heaven!
The Founder of the Christian faith declared that it would be easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man (pastors inclusive) to enter the Kingdom of God. I don’t think the passage is against anyone getting rich but not at the expense of the people who are zealous to serve God. But the riches should be used as a weapon to rescue the needy they have so fleeced from the lethal jaws of poverty. No pastors, bishops, archbishops or whatever titles they hold, would jet to heaven or cruise there in a limo.
As it was in the beginning, so it is today: The modern-day men of God hold the Bibles, prayer points, etc, and we have our belongings. Then, they ask us to close our eyes for prayers of blessings. And by the time we open them, the Bibles, etc, are in our hands but they are in possession of our riches.
May God help us, the hapless victims!