Oritsejafor and the spirit of Judas
In an interview with the Vanguard newspaper, Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor spoke mournfully of the spirit of Judas as a factor in church destabilisation and division. That spirit, which he reiterates does not die, predisposes its host to betrayal and suicide, and is clearly evident in the church in Nigeria. He also groaned about the contempt Christians have for one another in these parts, especially for their leaders in the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), and for him in particular. If an advertisement excoriating the Sultan of Sokoto were sent out to newspapers, he hypothesized, they would decline to publish it. Conversely, sneered Pastor Oritsejafor, if an advertisement lampooning the CAN leader were given to newspapers, most of which are owned by Christians, they would enthusiastically oblige publication on prominent pages. “We betray each other; we compete with one another; we will do anything to destroy each other; we are so individualistic in our thinking,” he wailed.
To illustrate very vividly how badly division among Christians has retarded church growth, Pastor Oritsejafor drew upon the lessons of history to justify his sweeping conclusions. Virtually the entire North Africa was at one time Christian, he reminded everyone. And Turkey, which is now essentially Muslim, was so Christian before Ottoman rule that the seven churches to which Jesus Christ addressed his seven letters were located in that geographic space. And Tarsus, famously Pauline, was also located in Turkey, not to talk of one of, if not the most, adorable and magnificent architectural pieces of those times built in Constantinople. Pastor Oritsejafor amply proved his point. Church division is doubtless a factor in the slowing of church expansion and growth, and few can question the CAN leader’s bona fides, nor his absolute commitment to the work of Christ.
The problem, however, is how conveniently he blames others while exculpating himself. He is right to identify division in the church, much of it needless and wasteful; and he is even righter to remark how easily and heedlessly Christians take one another to court, even before non-Christian judges, though the scriptures say they will judge the world. Few can question Pastor Oritsejafor’s exegesis, let alone his breathtaking familiarity with church history. But can the CAN president realistically exonerate himself from the morass that has overtaken the church specifically under his watch? Is it true that the media is needlessly harsher on him than it is on others, including the Sultan of Sokoto? Is the problem just a matter of petty division, acrimony and rivalry?
It does appear, however, that whatever divisions plagued the church were nothing out of the ordinary until the CAN presidency of Pastor Oritsejafor turned them into a spectre. There were divisions in the early church, but these did not bar the spread of the gospel, as the Book of Acts illustrated clearly, and Apostle Paul himself alluded to in some of his epistles. In those days, there were exegetical differences and methodological disagreements. Despite these abutments, the church expanded and flourished until, in particular, the Middle Ages, when complacency, doctrinal corruption, yoking with the state, and other distractions lured Christians into idolatry and bigotry. In like manner, what ails the church in Nigeria today is probably less the matter of division as it is evidently the Christian leaders’ quest for identification with the state and immersion in the pleasures and wealth of the times.
Let Pastor Oritsejafor carry out intense self-examination before he points fingers of guilt at other Christians. It is true division exists in the church, but there is no human organisation, not to talk of the highly subjective and emotive world of religion, where that problem does not fester. The unity the CAN leader craves is utopian. It is not evident among the hosts of heaven, and it will not be evident on earth until the end of days. The division Pastor Oritsejafor observes does not militate against church growth as much as the loss of focus of church leaders obliterates Christian influence in parts of the world, as the CAN leader himself observed of the Maghreb and Turkey. The early church grew despite apostasy, horrifying spectacles of persecution, and extreme deprivation. If the modern church is not growing in Nigeria as Pastor Oritsejafor hopes, he should locate the problem elsewhere. It is certainly not because those he expects to respect him and unite around his leadership instead fear the Sultan of Sokoto.
The CAN leader should ask himself what he did to advance the Christian principles and values he and other leaders like himself inherited from the early church. He should ask himself whether his closeness to the former president, Goodluck Jonathan, helped to preserve and advance the cause of the gospel both of them claim to be enamoured of, or whether that closeness did in fact constitute a hindrance and a drawback to promoting Christ in Nigeria. He must ask himself whether the controversies that swirled around him, including the commercialisation of his private/missionary jet, portrayed him and the gospel well. Reading the interview closely, it seemed more the remonstrances of a pastor needled by guilt, of a pastor unwilling to admit he should have done things differently, of a pastor who though brilliant and committed to the gospel nonetheless can’t bring himself to admit he did any wrong. His exculpation will, however, not be complete until he admits that his relationship with the former president went beyond the finest ideals enunciated by the early church.