In the early days of Christianity in Nigeria the church was at the forefront of society’s development building schools, hospitals, vocational skills acquisition centres, farms and cottage industries, among others.
They offered scholarships, gave free books and teaching aids, and gave food, clothing and shelter to those deprived of these necessities. Notwithstanding that the central theme of sermons was on preparing for the life after death, the church tried as much as possible to ensure that members and those who dared to come into God’s house had a good life before death.
The satisfaction of the church was the welfare of members and the success of the church was seen in the number of lives touched and it therefore offered safe haven to people in various distress situations such as those needing food, clothing, accommodation, financial relief, treatment of debilitating illnesses such as leprosy and mental disorders and several others.
As the church ministered to the needs of members and their lives got better they brought the proceeds of the works of their hands in form of tithes and offerings to God at Sunday services, thanksgiving and harvest ceremonies. With these, more cathedrals, mission schools, orphanages, maternity homes and farms were built.
Also more scholarships to even higher levels of education were awarded as the house of God indeed became the house of plenty. Pastors saved money for social development projects by living modest lives usually behind the church, riding bicycles and working their own farms in a clear example of storing up treasures in heaven as the Bible recommends.
Fast track to 2014, members minister to the needs of the church paying through the nose to fund broadcasts on television and chain of businesses including universities, publishing houses, nursery, primary/ post primary schools, as well as buy flashy cars and private jets. They are reminded daily that givers never lack.
In a bid to please “God” and achieve the elusive breakthrough parishioners squeeze themselves dry to contribute to various projects in the house of God. But surprisingly their situation never changes. The more they give the poorer they become and the richer the church.
Today’s church is an epitome of modernity operating from state–of-the–art, imposing edifices fully air-conditioned and complete with evolutionary camera, klieg light and other stage facilities for live broadcast from the pulpit. Yet poverty ravages the same establishment. Due to this religious paradox discerning Nigerians have begun to ask a pertinent question – has the modern church abandoned social service that the old church used so effectively to warm itself into the hearts of many?
Take this: July 6, 2014 in a church in Amuwo Odofin area of Lagos, a priest held the congregation spell-bound with his homily. His delivery was superb. Emphasis was to shift to appreciating what God has done for all by been generous in the Harvest contributions.
He started by calling on those who wanted to appreciate God with N200,000 to come forward for special blessing. From N200,000 it fell to N150,000, N100,000 and to N50,000 to N5,000 and below. Although nobody came out for a supposed N200,000 blessing, the priest at the end of the day asked the entire church to stand for general blessing.
To the conservative Catholics it was taking revenue drive too far. The scene at the Amuwo Odofin church is common in Catholic churches in the country now. Before now, the pentecostal churches appeared to enjoy the exclusivity of megabucks from members. Some church leaders even flaunt their wealth. Even in their jerry-curl hair style they defend their affluence on the grounds that “my God is not a poor God.”
The message is apparently for members to strive to be like them as they claim to enjoy the benevolence of God. And so the craze for miracles that could create rags to riches phenomenon is unabated in our churches. Although the pentecostal churches are in the lead for revenue drive that see churches embark on big projects only a few of them have programmes to help the poor. And it is in this area that the Catholic Church stands out.
The programmes of their Saint Vincent De Paul Society are geared towards alleviating problems of the poor in their various parishes. They visit, hospitals, prisons, charity homes to donate items to them. They identify with the poor in their parishes and lend a helping hand. The Church is known for their contributions in education and health care that is affordable by the poor. But unlike before, the Catholic church in Nigeria appears to have joined the race to grab and grab from church members or parishoners.
The harvest period in some churches last up to six months. The mass is usually longer for speeches and announcements that plead to members to appreciate God. Although members, in many cases, attest to what the church does with the money, the pressure on members to offer resources during harvest is unChatholic to many.
Mr. Gabriel Bolade, an accountant in a commercial bank who attends Baptist Church, Yaba believes the church has abandoned its members. He lamented that the church of today has abandoned the noble role of taking care of the weak and vulnerable in the society. His concern arose from the clear unwillingness to help enhance education in the country.
“Most of the private universities are owned by well established churches who charge fees far beyond the means of ordinary members who contributed to the establishment of these higher institutions. Fees in the region of N1.5 million to N3 million per session are charged which can only be afforded by the wealthy.
The ordinary members who helped in donating materials, cash, labour and even by praying and fasting for the universities cannot afford such fees for their children and wards.”