By Jude Atupulazi
Some years ago in Awka Catholic Diocese, Bishop Paulinus Ezeokafor banned priests of the diocese from displaying their individual pictures at any crusade they organized but to use the pictures of Jesus or any member of the holy family. This, it was understood, was to discourage the faithful from putting their faith in man (priests) rather than in God. Years after this directive, we can all see why Bishop Ezeokafor took that precautionary measure.
Today, all over the place, we see men of God posing as demi-gods before their drooling congregation who place their faith in those men of God, rather than in God himself. The most worrying aspect of this is that such men of God do little or nothing to discourage their congregation from such a dangerous dimension. Hence, you often see such people wearing jackets with the images of their pastors as they move about. Some even believe that once they have those jackets on, no harm will befall them; even bullets.
Indeed, there was a story of one such person who wore such a jacket in a robbery attack and who kept shouting that the God of her pastor would not let the robbers harm her. Of course, she was shot and killed. The amazing thing is that such pastors who give out such jackets to their gullible followers move about with heavily armed policemen and soldiers. So who’s fooling who? But this is a story for another day.
Back to our topic, I’m beefed with men of God who encourage their followers to see them as God. To such followers, if it is not those pastors or priests, it is nobody. Hence you see them following such priests anywhere they go.
Now, I grew up hearing that the chapel was where we could go to pray in silence to God and get our prayers answered. I was also made to understand that we could pray in the comfort of our homes.I’m not aware that this has changed.
But how many people still believe in the efficacy of the chapel today? How many still believe that if they pray in their homes or chapel with faith their prayers will be answered? Rather, you find such people running from pillar to post in search of often elusive salvation. You find them at such places as Aokpe in Benue State, Umunya in Anambra and Adoration Ground in Enugu; often staying in those places for days. One will not fail to wonder if the God in Aokpe is different from the God in Arochukwu, or if the God at the Adoration Ground is different from the God in Umuchu.
But the simple reason for these peregrinations is misplaced faith. Without seeming to attack Fr Mbaka, it is clear that all who go to his Adoration Ground are going there because of him.
Thus, if tomorrow he is posted to Kano, you can bet everything you have that the pilgrimage to the Adoration Ground will stop, with Kano being the new ”Jerusalem”. The same applies to those going to crusades or services by such men of God as Pastor Chris, Bishop Oyedepo and Bishop Uma Ukpai.
This is very wrong in all ramifications. The people doing this need to be told the truth and that truth is that the men of God they are coming to see are not God but mere mortals on whom they should not place much hope, if at all.
Failure to do this means those men of God have a case against God who tells us in the Bible that he is a jealous God who is not ready to share his glory with anyone. This is where Bishop Ezeokafor saw tomorrow when he banned Catholic priests in Awka Diocese from advertising themselves.
But let me ask: why would a man of God advertise himself and not God? Why do we see ministers of God using their pictures and those of their spouses in banners? The funny thing is that some of them, especially Pentecostal pastors, who frown at some churches ”worshipping idol” go ahead to encourage the worship of themselves by putting up their pictures in banners and signboards. Who then is fooling who?
Such priests and men of God should start encouraging their followers to stay in the confines of their rooms or chapel to talk to God in faith. It is much better than travelling all the time to far off places in search of salvation that can be obtained in their rooms. It is all about faith.
Has anyone experienced the power of coming out in the dead of the night to pray, gazing at the night sky? The feeling is great. It feels like one is attracting the undivided attention of God. When you do this, with the moon and stars gazing down on you, you feel the power of God, the beauty of creation and, above all, you feel at peace with the world. Any wonder that even in those days, Jesus went into the wilderness to pray? He craved quietness and solitude, devoid of distractions. The apostles were doing that too.
Praying requires concentration and anything outside this amounts to a waste of time. Our men of God have a huge task in their hands to guide the flock aright. It is their sole duty.
Away from this, but still closely related, is the commercialization of religion which is further distancing the flock from God. In churches these days, it is all about money, projects, this and that. It is just the sober truth. It is becoming increasingly difficult these days for one to leave the church taking home any serious lesson. This is because of the usual Sunday show of money worship. All manner of people are wooed to donate money, regardless of their background. Those who know their background are always watching and believing that the end justifies the means. Thus, when they leave after service or mass, you hear young people saying, ‘Ukataa di egwu. One man mekasiriokpoko’.
Loosely put, what they say is, ‘Today’s service/mass was too much. One man spent real money’. Thus, you begin to wonder, if such is the lesson taken home by the young people, then we are in trouble. This was why in a much earlier piece I wrote before the synod, I suggested that we map out a three-year period during which we do away with any form of project and just kaaukaas in the days of old.
My argument was, and still is, that God would always prefer true piety to projects. A gigantic house of God without those with clean hearts is merely a pile of cement and iron. Worshipping God under a mango tree with a clean heart is far better than doing so in a giant structure built by evil men. The essence of religion remains to lead souls to salvation and this should not be lost sight of. There is just too much materialism in today’s church. Men of God are increasingly paying more attention to men of money and these men of money have virtually taken over the Church.
I suggested also that politicians should be barred from coming to the altar to speak; not even governors. The Church should remain a sacred place where all men are equal before God. Everyone should come, worship God and go. I wrote that if anyone wanted to talk to the congregation, that should be after mass and it should be done outside.
I remember also suggesting that open donations be banned in churches. After all, doesn’t the Holy Book say that our God who sees in secret will reward us in secret? People are certainly getting tired of men who come to church to display their wealth even when they refuse to help their poor neighbours. When therefore those poor neighbours see them donating hugely in church to projects, they tend to lose faith in humanity.
I may have written this close to two years ago but I still stand by those submissions. Allowing these things in the Church of God amounts to worshipping men and not God. It is the hard truth but someone has got to say it. The Church is losing her soul. Money is taking over and it should not be so.
It is time corrective action was taken or else we allow things to degenerate. We cannot allow men of money to take the front seat while God who owns the Church takes the back seat.
The Church is losing her hallowed solemnity very fast. This has got to be stopped!