Is the church an enterprise? Yes. Is the church a place of spiritual alliance with the creator? Yes. Naturally, the church as an industry should be detached from incorporeal control. Both must not be conflated. There is the tabernacle of God, which no mundane or terrestrial order has power over, and there is the venture of mammon which must submit to the laws of the land. Caesar must be given his due. The righteous one, Jesus Christ, said so.
Bishop David Oyedepo, the redoubtable preacher, took umbrage against the government over a section of the recently signed Companies and Allied Matters Act (CAMA) which warrants the Corporate Affairs Commission to suspend the trustees of an association or a religious body and appoint an interim manager or managers to coordinate its affairs where it reasonably believes that there has been any misconduct or mismanagement, or where the affairs of the association are being run fraudulently or where it is necessary or desirable for the purpose of public interest. By implication, the law regulates religious and charity organisations.
Venting on the law, Oyedepo accused the government of jealousy. He said he knows the “prosperity of the church is making them jealous”. I think, this is mammon speaking.
Hear him: “The church is God’s heritage on earth. Molest the wife of somebody and you will see the anger of that person. The church is the bride of Christ. You know how a strong man is when you tamper with his wife. The church is the body of Christ. We are under obligation to give warnings to wicked rulers so we could be free from their blood.”
“The church works on the pattern delivered by God not the pattern of man. Government has no power to appoint people over churches. This is a secular nation. The church is the greatest asset of God in this country. Please be warned. Judgment is coming. The Lord says I have been still but now I will arise. Anybody that is in this deal is taking poison. This will never work. I am waiting for a day when anybody will appoint a trustee over this church… You can’t gag anybody. We own this country together.”
Nothing can prevail against the church of God – not even Hades.
But we must situate and contextualise the “church” in Oyedepo’s cadence. The “church” here according to Oyedepo is some behemoth or unwieldy corporation. I doubt if this is the church Jesus the Christ meant and established.
Over the years, the church industry in Nigeria has carried on as an agency defiant to secular laws despite earning its sustenance from worldly pursuits. Some barely even pay tax while running publishing firms, hospitals, schools, restaurants and other businesses. If I am not mistaken, Pastor Tunde Bakare is one of the few clerics who established businesses distinct from their spiritual vocation.
What is baffling is that these churches, which stand against laws seeking to enforce transparency in their business dealings in Nigeria, capitulate to similar regulations abroad. For example, in 2019, the UK Charities Commission appointed an interim manager for Mountain of Fire and Miracles International, the church founded by Daniel Olukoya. The commission hinged its decision on acts of fraud in the organisation.
It said: “The commission is concerned over the trustees’ unwillingness to report serious incidents. The inquiry found two alleged incidents of fraud by former employees involving significant sums, both of which were not reported until a number of years after the frauds were discovered.”
Also, in 2015, the UK Charities Commission probed Oyedepo’s Winners Chapel International over alleged misappropriation of 16 million pounds. Oyedepo did not rail against the regulatory commission. He surrendered his church to the investigation, and fortunately, his church was cleared of all allegations. No wrongdoing was found. But why is he up against similar regulatory process for the church industry in Nigeria?
In addition, in 2014, the commission appointed an interim manager for Christ Embassy International, the church founded by Chris Oyakhilome. It situated its decision on “serious misconduct and mismanagement in the church’s administration, inadequate recording of its decision-making processes and failure to comply with grant-making policy”.
As a matter of fact, the church industry in Nigeria has incurred lots of karmic debts over the years owing its trafficking in ”ungoverned” business pursuits. In 2017, the Financial Reporting Council (FRC) sought to bring transparency into the church business, but the agency’s noble endeavour was resisted and its boss sacked. Not that anyone is alleging that there is corruption in the church enterprise, but all proprietors of such businesses must submit their organisations to regulatory scrutiny.
We want a country where things work but we do not want to be governed by laws. We want to live by our own self-made canons. We conform to the standards abroad when we jet out, but we persist in our “quotidian Nigerian ways” when we are in the country. How do we make progress?
The church holds a formidable place in society. It must be not be found wanting before God and man.
Fredrick Nwabufo is a writer and journalist