Not many expected the sort of headline that arrested the front pages of the newspapers on Sunday. Pastor Enoch Adeboye retires. He seemed, for many, eternal on that holy couch. Every household has become accustomed to the even keel of his voice, his equable temperament, his resonance as a raconteur, his unruffled visage, his “let somebody shout hallelujah”…
For lay and faithful, Christian and Muslim, atheist and agnostics, it is first the surprise and later the why. The why because he did not step down of his own freewill. This is not the sort of retirement that swished the former Pope out of our holy ken. Or the sort that made Apostle Paul to declare to his mentee Timothy that he had finished his work and awaited the “crown of righteousness.” It is also not the example of Prophet Samuel who poked any of his flock to say it if he erred in any way during his stewardship or whether he gave or obtained bribe.
This was the case of a state coercing a bishop to step down. The state versus the church. Adeboye stepped down, but only in the Nigerian church. We are still left with a cloud of ambiguity. He becomes spiritual leader. Does it make him also the spiritual leader of his successor in Nigeria? The church will unfold that dynamic in due course, or it will unfold itself in the relations between the two persons.
The matter is just beginning to brew. How come a law comes into place to determine how spiritual authorities determine their leaders and how long they are permitted to lead the flock? The Financial Reporting Council (FRC) is the source of all this. It categorises churches with all non-profits and requires the leaders to stay in office for a specific period and step aside.
It is a case of man playing god with its institutions. It calls to mind the question asked by famous theologian and philosopher in the Medieval Age: “When did God become man?” Peter Abelard, the castrated upstart of that age, was not referring to the friction of church and state directly, but the echoes are not mistakable. The FRC may say an Adeboye, Oyedepo, Kumuyi, et al, have come to the end of the tether as leaders of the organisation they founded. But a feeling creeps in that the state is playing god over God.
The theory of the Two Luminaries in the Middle Ages bears example. The Catholic Church was the sun and the Holy Roman Empire was the moon, although it was cited then that the “holy Roman Empire was neither Roman nor Holy.” In our case, the church is the sun, the brighter light, and the Church the moon, the lower illumination.
But the Romish Church then abided in an era of ecclesiastical dominance. Today, the secular outweighs everything, including the spiritual. The church leaders have also quite often quoted Paul’s epistle to the Romans that everyone should be subjected to the “higher powers.” Even Jesus in addressing the question of loyalty to state asked his followers to see Caesar’s coin. But he said, rather enigmatically, “give unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s and unto God that which is God’s.” what is Caesar’s and what God’s?
I have also been rather uncomfortable when our pastors cite Paul almost uncritically. The same Paul asserted that we would rather obey God than man. So, if one of these mainstays says that they would not step down and God had not spoken to them, what shall we say? Some may want to wring their arms with their assertions about subjection to state.
But Christ was clear: “Give unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s and unto God that which is God’s.” Now, a conundrum brews. How that will play out is still in the womb.
But this FRC law seems peculiar to Nigeria. No one forces the Pope to step down. Nor any of the big church leaders in Europe or the United States. John Hagee has led his church for over 20 years. So did Graham, etc. The archbishop of Canterbury steps down at 70 years.
Some have argued that the problem with our churches is that they are run like monarchies. The overseer is the accountant, chief security officer, chief educationist, contractor, et al. His is part businessman, part prelate. When he sets up a board, it is no more than a sea of rubberstamp heads, eager to bow to the visions or orders of the leader.
This is different from the story of the counterparts in Europe or U.S. Even if they founded, they are subjected to a rule of law. And if they overplay their hands, they will face great revolt, even when they sin a sin unto death. The society also rises in righteous anger and the church leader cedes authority.
Those checks are not here in Nigeria. But is that the business of state? If the blind leads the blind, Jesus says, both shall fall into the ditch.
But when we look the Bible, not many of the men of God lived so long as stewards. Moses did, but he started late, and died with his vitals still intact. God took Enoch, ferreted Elijah away, allowed Paul, Peter and others to be killed in their prime.
These people were also working against the law of the land. Jesus was crucified because he was a revolutionary, calling his followers to place family lower than God’s people and naming himself the saviour with all its implication for revolution. Yet he declared that his kingdom is not of this world. If it were, his servants would have prevented him from the axe of the crucifixion.
So, the tension abounds. Where does the church fight and where obey?
That matter stands in the middle of the FRC rule. Many will miss these church leaders. The dapper Oyakhilome and his epistle of the sovereignty of grace. Part political, part evangelical Okotie. The prudish sobriety of Kumuyi. The apostolic brio of Oyedepo. The pugilist in Bakare. The genteel flow of Adeyemi’s sermons.
This will imply the birth of a new generation. Will they rise up to their founders? That is to be seen. On a secular plane, historians have said that the layer below the American founding fathers was peopled by far lesser men. They had nothing of sublimity and heroism of Adams, Washington, Jefferson, Henry, Madison, etc.
The classes of Adeboye have made their followers acclaim them, at times, like some followers said of Paul: “The gods have come down in the likeness of men.”
We look forward to whether and how the leaders comply with the FRC. Will they accept the church as the better luminary or the lower? Whatever the answer, they will be haunted by Abelard’s question: When did God become man to determine when a pastor should quit the pulpit. Or when did man become God to do same!