Ending SARS Pastors in Nigerian Churches
By: Deji Yesufu
I have had a few people request my opinion on the EndSARS protests that has enveloped most of Nigerian cities and even spilt over to Nigerians in diaspora; with youths calling for institutional reforms in the Nigerian Police and where, at the moment, the protest demands are ever increasing – and government, at Federal and State levels, are falling over themselves to meet the demands of the protesters; so as to, at the least, ease the burgeoning anarchy in the land. To be sincere, I lacked inspiration to write on the subject. Two or three times I began but never could conclude because the ideas I was sharing were not resonating with even me. I knew that there was a dimension to this protest that has not been touched. Today as I drove my children to school the idea came: what about the SARS in Nigerian churches? This idea came as I was ruminating over a thorny situation in my extended family that has been exacerbated by the doctrine and practices in a Nigerian church. The EndSARS protests offers me an opportunity to talk about “ending SARS pastors in Nigerian churches”.
The incident that precipitated the current EndSARS protest was the extra judicial killing of a Nigerian youth in an unnamed city in the country. Two youths had been arrested by SARS officials and with the incident captured on camera, a police officer drew out his weapon and blew out the brains of one of the boys. EndSARS therefore began on the whole premise of the extra judicial killings of young Nigerians by SARS officers. What many people do not realize is that in killing a man, the worst that can be done to him is to bring an end to his physical being; his soul is still alive. Those of us in Christian ministry, while we are concerned about the body, the souls of men is our chief concern. Our Lord Jesus said that we should not fear those that kill the body; rather, we should fear Him that can kill both the body and the soul (Matthew 10:28). My grouse with the manner Christian ministry is led in Nigeria is that the peculiar doctrine that is taught in many popular churches in this clime are doctrines that cannot save the souls of men when their physical bodies are dead. There are many churches in this country that preach doctrines that claim to offer some good to the physical bodies of men, but they are essentially ruining their souls.
This weekend I sat with my brother-in-law and he asked me point blank: What exactly are your issues with these churches? Why are you no longer a Pentecostal Christian? What is the heart of the Christian message? I responded by saying that my grouse with these churches is mainly on the matter of doctrines but that doctrines are not taught in isolation; doctrines lead ultimately to the way people live. If the way of life of a people is haphazard, ungodly and one that does not bring a good report to society, we have all the right to question the doctrine that these people are taught. One of the ways that you know that the doctrines these churches teach is not Christian is that these doctrines are damaging homes all around. So to respond directly to his question, I made the point that while historic Christianity has always taught that Christ died to save men from their sins alone (Matthew 1:21, Luke 24:47, Colossians 1:14), Pentecostal/Charismatic doctrines teach that Christ died to save men from sin and from sickness and poverty. This evil addition, “and”, is what renders the doctrines that these men teach as false and it is what is producing the false fruits that we see in the lives of professing Christians in this country. While SARS may be destroying the bodies of our young men in Nigeria, Pentecostal/Charismatic pastors are destroying their souls. This is essentially my argument in this piece.
Historic Christianity has always been concerned about family life. Christianity recognizes that the family is the smallest unit is any given society. A stable society exhumes essentially from stable family units. For this reason Christianity pays great premium on the matter of a godly marriage that should produce godly seeds. Christians are taught not to marry non-Christians. The matter of compatibility in fundamental beliefs is essential for a Christian family structure. When a Christian man leads a Christian woman to the altar, we rejoice at the prospect of a godly addition to society. The next thing that is essential is that a Christian home is led by a strong and godly father that is ably supported by a godly woman. The man must love his wife and the woman must be submissive to her husband – this is the gospel demand on the home. As Christian men endeavor to possess a single eye outside, work and provide for their homes, the wife must endeavor to be led by her husband. Unfortunately what we find in our churches are lopsided situations. While lip service may be given to godly marriages, emphases are not paid to the matter of a converted life among Christians in the congregation. Churches that teach people that health and wealth is the Christian goal will not have a place for the vital matter of the conversion of the souls of their congregants. This leads to young men and women getting married but where either the two parties are not converted or one party among the two has not met the risen Lord. Then we begin to have professing Christian men living like devils in their home: having concubines and beating their wives. The wife, on the other hand, may not know the virtue of the sanctity of her bed and be open to extra marital affairs. When there are crises in the home, the couples take their issues to pastors who themselves are either not trained in counselling or who are not converted themselves. As I write, there is a rising epidemic in family lives in Nigerian churches and many of them are covering up the situation with the cacophony from their music. But some of us who are still connected to these churches are seeing the effect of false doctrine ravaging many families. While family life may be disrupted, the worst is yet to be seen of these churches. If people are not converted they will die in their sin and they will live an eternity without God and without Christ. Now that is the worst case scenario.
There is that story in 1 King where Ahab asks a prophet who will lead the war against an enemy group and the prophet said the young men in the country (1 Kings 20:14). When a nation goes to war, it is young men that are deployed to the field to fight. When there is a need for change in society, it is young people that should lead the effort. We remember that the Arab Spring began with the self-immolation of a Tunisian Youth – who had become frustrated with happening in his country. What most Nigerians remember about the end of the first republic in this country was that the Prime Minister, Tafawa Balewa, and others were killed. They forget that it was young military officers that got frustrated with the way and manner governance was being run and they took laws into their hands and then executed the country’s leaders. The nation was plunged into a 30 month civil war, but we should always remind ourselves that it was young men that pulled the trigger that began the whole crisis. In other words a nation that takes it youth populace for granted does it at her own risk. The beauty of the EndSARS protest is the fact that it has been led, so far, by unknown faces and the systematic manner in which they are carrying out the protest show that the brains behind it are enlightened individuals who have capacity to lead the nation themselves. The Nigerian government will ignore these young people at their own risk.
When I criticize churches like this, I am asked to go and open my own church. Unfortunately the whole idea of “opening my own church” is the very thing that is ruining gospel preaching in this society. The church does not belong to one man; the church belongs to a people. These people at some point will covenant together to become a people of God. These people will then elect from among themselves a minister; or employ a minister to lead the congregation. But ultimately the church belongs to them and they will choose what direction they wish that church will go. The best a minister can do is to guide the direction the congregation will walk by his preaching from the pulpit.
In the last seven years, I have sought to raise such a congregation in the city of Ibadan. My efforts have failed twice now but I have not relented. Recently a group of six of us, young men and women, came together and decided to enact a gospel church in Ibadan. We are still in the throes of electing a name for this congregation and also finding a location for it. But when our effort come to fruition, it is going to be a gospel church where the truth of God’s word as stated in the Bible is taught faithfully. This idea is also being birth by young people – youths. It is our response to the phenomenon of SARS pastors in Nigerian churches. It is our way of bringing gospel life to society. Again, when God wishes to bring change to society, he employs the youths. While the EndSARS protests are seeking change in the political life in the country, my friends and I (young people) are pursuing to see change in the church. We are working at the moment at renting a place of worship and will soon begin a faithful proclamation of the word of God every Sunday. I use this medium to invite you to join the work if you are interested in seeing change come to gospel preaching in the Nigerian church environment.
The EndSARS protest is wisdom from God. I am totally confident that the Lord who has begun this good work will bring positive fruit out of it. We would see change come to our policing system in this country. We would see changes in our political life. Change will come to our nation Nigeria. May this youth inspired movement also inspire other youths in the Christian church in our nation to see change come to gospel life in their congregations. Amen.
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