WHO owns the church, Jesus Christ or Daddy and Mummy? Could the church have become a subtle business venture?
Before the proliferation of Pentecostal churches in Nigeria, Christian faithful worshipped in orthodox denominations, that had roots in the Roman Catholic Church. The names: Methodist, the Anglican and Baptist, among others, come to mind.
But with time, worshippers who probably felt the orthodox churches were not spiritually ‘hot’ enough, began a migration to Pentecostal folds. Such is the appeal of the contemporary group; many orthodox churches seem to be adopting the styles of the new entrant. This might not be unconnected with concerns about losing their members, especially the youths. Like them or not, the Pentecostals have come to stay, and so are their many idiosyncrasies.
It is now commonplace to find the signposts of Pentecostal churches adorned with pictures of the founders and their wives. Very few spot the images of the founders alone. Interestingly, a group, like the Celestial Church of Christ whose founder is known to have had many wives, would display only the picture of the man, Rev Samuel Oschoffa.
What do people make of the trend where the pictures of founders and their wives are boldly splashed on church signpost? Is the church family business or God’s property? The Guardian took these questions to the streets of Abuja.
Adegbemiro Jacob fingered desperation by people for solutions to problems. He said a lot of so-called pastors are leveraging on socio-economic challenges to milk money from people.
“Can you blame the pastors? Rather than being called by God, they are now the ones who call God. It is a shame. A man graduates at 30-years-old and hunts a job for the next five or more years; how would you tell such a person to marry? He sees his lack of a job and failure to get a wife as a spiritual problem whereas they are socio-economic. Another person who is jobless wakes up one day and says God has called him. This is what the society has become. For instance, if I were a pastor and I am able to gather 50 people who pay offerings and tithes, before long I will begin to ride a car and my picture and that of my wife will be on our signpost as further advertisement. It’s as simple as that.”
Priscilla Agui, a member of the Catholic Church, said nothing would make her decamp to any Pentecostal church. “There is no point running from pillar to post,” she said. “People are the ones that give fake pastors opportunity to cheat them. The only message in the Bible is: love others as you love yourself. For me, I cannot leave the Catholic Church for anywhere else. Everything depends on your personal relationship with God. And again, people should not be lazy; they should read the scriptures for themselves instead of allowing someone to tell them things that are not written.”
Adeseye Omisore said the government must discourage husband and wife portraits on church signposts. He called for a taxation of churches, saying they have become mere enterprises.
“Christ is the head and owner of the Church. It is unfortunate the way things are in the country today. In the days of our fathers, pastors ran away from the call of God because they knew it was not an easy task. It was not a tea party; it demanded consecration and holy living. Many of these so-called pastors are entangled with worldly things. We hear also about pastors who keep girlfriends outside matrimony. To be a pastor, now, all you require is eloquence, an average command of the English language and ability to do gymnastics on the altar.”
Some respondents, however, declined comment. They said it is unwise for people to criticise anyone who calls himself a man of God, describing it as sin.
The signpost trend is quite common in Mararaba, Idu Karimu and other Abuja suburbs. The city centre allows little room for religious excesses. A typical street in these suburbs may have as many as 10 to 15 signposts all heralding different churches.
Pastor Bolorunduro Josiah attributed the practice to self-aggrandizement, saying there is no reason for anyone who professes to be a pastor to display his picture and that of his wife on a signpost.
“Apart from the fact that Christ is the owner of the church, the essence of a signpost is to give direction to worshippers who might be going to a church for the first time, and of course announce that a church is near the area. So, who are they advertising: God or themselves? That is why you find people more or less worshipping their pastors. Everything is about the pastor. People steal in order to give fat offerings, so that the pastor would be pleased with them. It is a big issue and I think people should be wise and seek God rather than man.”