by Ogbeche Ohotuowo
22 Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ 23 And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’ (Matthew 7:22-23, NKJV)
By now, a good number of Nigerians would have been familiar with the name, Ikharo Attah, Chairman of the FCT COVID-19 taskforce charged with the enforcement of COVID-19 regulations in Abuja. Notable for dutifully, intelligently and fearlessly carrying out his mandate at both churches and mosques, the journalist may have met his match in Nigerian pastors.
When his task force first took up the assignment, it may have been surprising to see a public official quote portion of the Bible as it relates to respect for civic authority to an unyielding congregation as justification for their actions, we saw the task force storm many weddings and close down congregational services. However, not many may have envisaged a time when we would see acclaimed men of God vehemently deny their members in a bid to evade arrest. This was the case at a mountain in Lugbe, Abuja where prayer sessions were being held by some Pastors for their members.
While the past few months have proven that the Church is a worthy example of “the brother’s keeper” and “cheerful giver” even when as members are praying from their homes and services are being held seamlessly online, it would seem that some pastors are hell-bent on keeping the doors of their churches open, not minding the fact that, the more people gather, the greater the risk of spreading the coronavirus.
Clearly, these pastors were not among those just trying to provide palliatives for their members while praying on the mountain. In fact, one of the pastors was accused of hosting a birthday celebration for a retired Colonel, which infuriated the taskforce chairman. Really, can’t a birthday party wait till after the pandemic is over?
What is perhaps more baffling, is not just that the pastors broke the restriction rules. It is the irony that lies in their vehement denial of the crowd of worshippers, and even denying their office as pastors. One of the pastors reportedly went to the extent of trying to turn the story around, by complaining that the people have been trooping in on their own and disturbing the community.
Fortunately for members of the task force, a resident of the community had recorded one pastor, Joshua Olaniru of the Liberty Gate Ministry, leading his congregation in a worship session, which led the said pastor to have allegedly engage him in a fight upon noticing that he was recording the session. Shamelessly breaking God’s commandment to us not to lie, the pastors denied their identities to the end, even when their parishioners called out, pointed at them as their pastor.
Mr. Attah, expressing his disappointment, stated that all the lies were unnecessary, adding that it would have been better if the pastors had simply admitted their guilt upon which they would have been issued a warning not to hold congregational worship until after the restriction is lifted.
The three clerics: Ibitoye Kayode of the Liberty Faith Gospel Church, Vitalis Udeazi of Dominion Chapel and Joshua Olaniru of the Liberty Gate Ministry were eventually arraigned before a mobile court, according to the procedure. The presiding Magistrate found each of them guilty, fined them N5,000 each and sentenced them to three hours of community service.
In developed nations, majority of the clerics are complying with social/physical distancing regulations to the letter, even to the extent of a cleric using a water gun to spray holy water on his church members from the window of a car. It is a sad development that a few of our Nigerian clerics have earned themselves the toga of major defaulters of the restrictions on movement and religious gatherings.
As it is now common practice in Christianity, reading the report of these Pastors, one question comes to mind: “What would Jesus do, if there was a situation as this?” Without doubt, his words in Matthew 22:21 explains it clearly: “They say unto him, Caesar’s. Then saith he unto them, Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s.”
It all begs the question: what is the gospel for these ones; saving souls or ensuring that their churches run at all cost? Some Christians may find it easy to say that they are under grace and not the law but the words of Scriptures are clear on this matter.
So what do we do, then? Do we persist in sin so that God’s kindness and grace will increase? 2 What a terrible thought! We have died to sin once and for all, as a dead man passes away from this life. Romans 6:1-2 (TPT)