By Chris Nwokocha

Since the announcement last Sunday, of Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor’s aircraft gift, the internet has been buzzing with angry reactions from concerned Nigerians, mostly directed at the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) President, but also at other men of God who are perceived by the public to be materialistic. As a trained minister of the gospel myself, I must say that although I appreciate the concerns of members of the public, I find some of the reactions quite appalling. In most cases, you find that several issues are jumbled together in a most confusing manner, and whenever emotions run high on a subject matter such as this, facts are ignored, and truth becomes the casualty. Let me however make it clear that I am not a pastor, nor do I aspire to be one. I write as a concerned Christian and as a practising journalist.

Now to the issues: 1) Are there fake men of God, that is, those who preach a gospel contrary to what Christ preached, or on the other hand, who preach one thing and practice another? Yes, even the Bible says they would abound [Matt 24:11, 1Tim 4:1]. 2) Are there real men of God? Obviously, because this would be our “standard” for determining who is fake. 3) Where a man of God is seen to be “fake”, would that suffice as “proof” that he was not called by God? The answer here is, No. Someone could be called of God and still go ahead to abuse their calling and their gifts. Gehazi was called [2 Kings 5:20-27]. 4) Does being “truly called” confer perfection on anyone and place them above sin and above mistakes? No. Those who are called could sometimes sin or make mistakes. Even Christ was tempted, though the Bible makes clear that He did not sin [Heb 4:15]. 5) How do we know who is called to be a pastor or a minister? Can you tell from their denomination, or their level of “success”, or maybe how well they preach or how many miracles they have done or how kind and generous they are? No you can’t because in principle, only God knows those whom He has called [2Tim 2:19]. Even the devil can perform miracles, and he can sometimes be very generous [2Thess 2:9]. 6) Does it follow that a man of God was not called, from the simple fact that he has acquired a taste for material things? No. Material acquisition by a man of God is not a sign that he has not been called or that he is fake; but it can SOMETIMES be a sign of derailment from his calling [1Tim 6:9-10]. 7) Finally, should a man of God be counted among those who could own private jets, whether given as a gift or acquired personally? This question takes us to the next section of this brief write up.

Several years ago in Bible College, we were taught that one reason the crowds flocked to Jesus was because he met both their physical and spiritual needs. As aspiring Ministers, we were enjoined to be of the same mind with Christ, being ready to treat those who would come to us as leaders in the church, the same way that Christ treated those who came to him. In my few years of active participation in church activities since then, I must attest to having seen a great many pastors who work full time in their various careers, and part time as pastors. They make enormous sacrifices for the running of the church, in terms of time and financial resources, receiving nothing in return. I am aware that members do sometimes give them gifts, and in fact, a day is usually set aside during the year for members to do this.

But let’s face it, there are fraudulent pastors who set out specifically to take advantage of those who come to them. The most vulnerable group here is made up of those who go around looking for “powerful men of God”. Many people have lost there fortunes to these fraudsters, and women have fallen into the hands of sexual perverts in the name of “deliverance”. The duty of a Christian here however, is to equip himself or herself with knowledge. What kind of knowledge? Knowledge of God’s word; what He has done before, how He does what He does; what His word says He would not do, what He has promised, how He relates with those who are His children, and what qualifies anyone to become a beneficiary of His promises. Those who “worship” God not necessarily because they love Him, but because of what they hope to gain from so doing, those are the people who are most easily deceived, not just by fraudulent pastors, but also by babalawos, spiritualists, prayer merchants, magicians, money-doublers, occult grand masters, etc. The key points here are greed and lack of knowledge.

So, was it “right” for Pastor Oritsejafor to accept an airplane gift? Well, on the face of it, he has broken no known law of the land in accepting this gift, provided that those who gave it did so freely, and there was nothing more to it than that. But yet, some ethical questions do arise. While I acknowledge that Oritsejafor’s members are entirely within their individual rights in terms of what they do with their money, one would have expected them to delay this gift for now, and wait until after the man of God has left the national stage as the Chairman of CAN, so as not to send the wrong signals to the those he represents and even to non-Christians, who may get the impression that he is using his high office to bully his members into servicing his appetite for luxury. Again, most of the criticisms have centred on the opportunity cost of acquiring such an aircraft that is estimated to be worth about five million dollars. When the annual costs of its maintenance are factored in, it is understandable that critics have wondered whether there are not people, both within and outside Pastor Oritsejafor’s congregation, whose lives could be bettered with even a fraction of this largesse. But while such reasoning is perfectly legitimate in a country where 65% of the people live below the poverty line, my response is that we should leave the matter to Oritsejafor and his congregation. The thing has been done in the name of God. Therefore, let God be the judge. And this is not a reminder of the “touch not my anointed” injunction, it is simple logic. If we say that some people should not fight for God over a video on their prophet, we should equally not fight for God over a gift given to another prophet. Fighting will achieve nothing here anyway. The gift has been given and received.

The underlying truth however, is that we have become a society of people who are pathologically selfish and rabidly individualistic. Those who give such gifts to the men of God of our day, whether real or fake, do not necessarily do so because they love the men of God, but because of what they hope to gain in return. Their expectation is that the “anointing” of these men of God would cause multiples of what they have given to flow back to them. Others take to more unholy schemes such as armed robbery, kidnapping, ritual murder, manufacturing of fake drugs, people in government stealing from the common till, etc. And all this in a bid for each person to better his own individual lot, regardless of what happens to others. In such a scenario life becomes cheap, as society becomes a jungle, and destructive competition takes the place of constructive co-operation. But such individualism and self centredness is not what will make us succeed as a society. Our common humanity derives from society. If there was only one person alive in the world, there would be no need for anyone to cultivate such humane attributes as love, compassion, generosity, and fairness. As such it is our being in society that both necessitates and validates our humanity. Therefore, rather than take to the futile and foolhardy approach of fighting for our individual selves, we all as a matter of necessity must begin to recognize the urgent need to join hands and fight for the good of our society. We must be prepared to make whatever sacrifices are needed for the purpose of building, upholding, and defending our society, and safeguarding those values that we hold dear. This is the only way we can free ourselves from cheats and fraudsters, whether in the form of crooked government people, or those who claim to be men of God but are not.

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