Poverty in Nigeria


Home Up WARC Dialogue Founding Vision or Visions Poverty in Nigeria




How Valid are the Emerging Responses from Three Selected Pentecostal Churches in Nigeria to Poverty?


By Dr. George O. Folarin




The experience of poverty, dependency and worthlessness is common and real in Nigeria. Governmental and Non-Governmental agencies are putting up efforts to remedy the overwhelming problem. And now that the United Nations has accepted that prosperity is not exclusively material thus the need to allow religious organizations to help others recover their holistic wellbeing is now imperative. The ways by which the Living Faith Church, the Laughter Bible Cathedral and the Mountain of fire and Miracles contribute in their special areas are the foci of this article. To many people their contributions are great but there are areas where they can still improve.

1.0 Introduction

Although the Old and the New Testaments of the Christian Bible say much on “Poverty,” there appear to be differences in their view of the concept. While comments on the subject in some texts appear negative (e.g. Prov. 30: 8, 9), those in some others seem neutral (e.g. Prov. 19: 1) and those in still other texts look positive (e.g. Mt. 5: 3). Of these biblical texts, the closest to defining “poverty” is Prov. 30: 8 where the writer distinguishes poverty from riches and from having one’s daily bread. This verse implies that living at daily “maintenance level” is neither poverty nor “prosperity.” Not all would however accept this position. There remains therefore the problem of a generally acceptable definition of poverty.

Some modern researchers define “poverty” as “deprivation of basic human needs to support life.” This implies destitution, defenselessness, affliction, oppression, lack, need, weakness, dependency, and social inferiority.[1] Wikipedia agrees with this definition when it states that it is “the lack of basic human needs, such as clean water, nutrition, health care, education, clothing and shelter, because of the inability to afford them.”[2] The main weakness of this definition is that it is too narrow.

Robert Chambers notices the ever broadening meaning of poverty to include lack of sufficient material need, physical weakness, lack of essential services and information, few buffers against emergencies or disaster, and lack of ability and knowledge to influence one’s environment.[3] But it is Jayakumar Christian that points back the attention of scholars to the spiritual dimension of poverty to involve spiritual deception and enslavement (Cf. 2 Cor. 4: 4; 2 Tim. 2: 26; and Gal. 4: 3).[4] His recall shows that while poverty could be politically motivated, there are times when poverty in particular instances could be a result of demonic attack and manipulation.

Even though the New Testament has long indicated that there is something called spiritual poverty (Mt. 5: 3), it is only recently that few scholars began to pay deserved attention to this aspect of poverty, and this appears to exclusively be by scholars of religion. In fact, it is more common to talk of psychological than spiritual poverty. The term, poverty, therefore covers something broader and more complex than material destitution. It has sociological, psychological, health and spiritual dimensions and a single method of tracking and tackling it is no longer adequate. It is needless to say that poverty is better observed or even experienced than just discussed to understand well.

Although Africans live in culturally diverse environments they generally share certain common views of life that are responsible for their Africanness and these include beliefs are the existence of many spirits, reality of attack from spiritual forces[5] with various levels of result. Since the worldviews of the Africans differ significantly from that of the Westerners, it is expected that Christianity in Africa would address particular crises situations of its audience without neglecting the need for deliverance from sin and its power. The Church in Africa is regularly confronted with its people’s problems to which it is called upon to proffer answers. Apart from ministering to the spiritual poverty brought upon them by sin, the church in Africa also needs to minister to their problems of poor health and infertility especially when they appear to defy orthodox medication, failure to find spouses to marry, and other mysterious encounters of members. The ways some selected Nigerian Pentecostal churches minister to these forms of poverty in Nigeria is the focus of this article.

2.0 Significance of the Subject

The subject of poverty and efforts to fight it in Africa is important first because poverty is common, notorious and dreadful in the continent. Second because certain types of suffering are linked to demonic attacks and manipulations that unaided human effort cannot contest with. Since spirits by definition are stronger than humans, many attend Christian ministrations for divine help to combat them especially when Orthodox solutions appear helpless and the victims no longer want to seek help from the traditional religions that they have already left. Next the subject is significant because the rate is staggering at which people run to religion and especially Christianity in search of solution. The subject is again important because there abound testimonies of deliverance that are difficult to ignore because they are given by the sophisticated and the simple, the young and the old, and the trustworthy and the dubious. And finally the rates at which many of the churches involved in ministering to this type of poverty are growing suggest that their services are recognized by the society as relevant.

Poverty is endemic in Africa and so in Nigeria even though the determinant indices for identifying this are often exclusively economic.[6] This has led many to subsume all other forms of poverty under economic as if life consists only in material wellbeing. But just as there are other aspects to human wellbeing than the economic so is poverty more than lack or insufficiency of material possession. This is the contention of the “Subjective Well Being” (SWB) approach which attempts to correct the extremity of the old analytic approach of objective wellbeing that concentrates only on economic indices. The SBW approach assesses human wellbeing with indices different from those employed in objective wellbeing approach. It studies poverty from the perspective of the research subjects.[7] In Nigerian this means that there could be other forms of poverty which may even be more fundamental to some people than financial buoyancy. Some of these are inability to find spouses to marry and infertility or delay of having children after marriage, and other mysterious sufferings of individuals and/or their families. While commenting that success theme is part of the prosperity gospel, Paul Gifford adds, ”The success motif fits very well with Africa's traditional religious imagination of fertility, abundance and wholeness. Amid poverty and marginalization, prosperity Pentecostalism is a thoroughly contextualized Christianity that directly addresses pressing needs.”[8]

Prov. 10: 15b crisply points to the danger of “poverty.” No matter the English version one reads the point appears to emerge from the verse that the effect of poverty is negative: It leads to destruction (The American Standard Version; the Darby Bible), ruin (English Standard Version; New American Standard Bible), undoing (New Jerusalem Bible), and calamity (New Living Translation). Poverty is therefore leads to servitude, slavery, oppression, pain, suffering, and frustration. To economists, it refers to a long time state of unavailability of total or inadequate funds for meaningful living, to psychologists it concerns hindrances to self-fulfillment, to sociologists, it consists in hindrances to good human relationships, to medical scientists, it refers to hindrances to good health care, but to scholars of religion, it primarily focuses on the spiritual.

It is good to make two other points. First, economically poverty and prosperity are relative. He who is poor in the West may be perceived as rich in Nigeria and he who is poor in Nigeria is sometimes seen as prosperous in some other African countries.[9] Second, while much focus has been on material poverty, spiritual poverty has remained largely neglected in scholarly study even though it is widely acknowledged among the Africa populace. From the critical point of view, spiritual poverty could be lack (deficiency or inadequacy) of certain spiritual qualities or relationships and/or could be lack brought about by malevolent spirits. The concern of this article is how three selected churches in Nigeria are dealing with some aspects of poverty that are regarded to be peculiarly spiritual although references would be made to other denominations in passing as deemed necessary. The churches selected are the Living Faith church, the Mountain of Fire and Miracles (MFM) church and the Laughter Bible Church.

3.0 New Responses to Poverty from some Pentecostal Denominations in Nigeria

3.1 Preamble: Gifford argues that certain new Pentecostal churches engender hope, impart vision, and awaken the sense of destiny through their success theology. He cites some of their names like “Victory Bible Church,” “Jesus Breakthrough Assembly,” and “Triumphant Christian Centre” to support the assertion He also points to the titles and themes of their conventions, crusades and conferences such as "Living a Life of Abundance," "Taking Your Territories," and "Stepping into Greatness" to support his contention.[10] With reservation he concluded that at least in that sense they are providing laudable services to Nigerians.

In line with the prospect in Ps. 34: 6 that the person who cries to the Lord would be saved from all his/her troubles, the mottos of several new Pentecostal churches in Nigeria reveal their focus to be on success.[11] For the Laughter Bible Church with headquarters in Lagos, it is “2010, my year of gladness;” for the Gospel Faith Mission founded by Pastor R.A. George and with headquarters in Ibadan, it is “2010 my year of divine solution;” and for the Blood of Jesus Evangelical Ministry with headquarters in Ikorodu, founded by Pastor John Adeniyi it is “2010 my year of Open door.” For the Throne of Grace and Miracle Ministries in Ipaja, Lagos founded by Pastor Samuel Olatubosun, it is “2010 my year of announcement;” for Jesus in His Mightiness Global Ministry with headquarters in Egbeda and founded by Rev. Ayo Oduntan, it is “2010, my year of distinction;” for Jesus Army Mission with headquarters in Egbeda and founded by Pastor Asaolu Emmanuel, it is “2010, our Year of Perfection;” for Onward Christian Church founded by Johnson Makanjuola and with headquarters in Abule Egba, it is “2010, :My year of divine help.” For the Shepherd House Ministry International founded by Pastor Joshua Talena with headquarters in Jos, the 2009 motto is “My year of divine favor;” for Mountain of Fire and Miracles founded by Pastor Daniel K. Olukoya, and with headquarters in Lagos the motto is “2010, my year of victory dance, new songs and glorious restoration;” while the 2010 motto of the Living Faith Church founded by Bishop David Oyedepo with headquarters in Ota is “My year of glory.” All the mottos are interpreted to address the problems of poverty with the promise of God’s intervention “at the people’s point of need.”

Apart from having annual mottos, many of these churches also have annual watch words which are promises taken from the Bible, sometimes out of context, and at times customized before appropriated. Ademiluka observes for example, how a church in Anyigba appropriates Ps. 23: 6, “Surely, goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever” as “Surely, goodness and mercy, long life and prosperity shall follow me all the days of my life.”[12] In Nigeria, both the customization and appropriation are tailored are framed in line with the gospel of prosperity.

3.2 The Living Faith Church:

The Living Faith Church also called the “Winners’ Chapel” was founded by David Oyedepo He puts his first call into the ministry thus

About twenty five years ago, precisely on May 2, 1981, at the end of a visionary encounter that lasted about eighteen hours, I saw a roll of afflicted, battered, beaten, tattered, deformed and all that one could ever imagine, groaning and agonizing, as a result of pains and pangs, crying as it were for rescue. I was so moved with compassion that I began sobbing profusely asking, "Why Lord?" I heard the Lord say to me, "But from the beginning it was not so." I questioned further, "But why Lord?" and then came the mandate,

"The hour has come to liberate the world from all oppressions of the devil through the preaching of the word of faith, and I am sending you to undertake this task."

This mandate was further confirmed from the epistle of Paul to the Ephesians where God Said, "Above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked" (Eph 6:16). This was the genesis of this global ministry today and according to this mandate, the Word of Faith is the key to triumphant living.[13]

The church for which Oyedepo got that mandate was established in 1983. In 1987 he claimed to receive another instruction from God to go and make his people ‘rich.’ Oyedepo however insists that his church continues with its other emphases.[14]

The church commissioned its Dominion Publishing House in Lagos on December 5 1992. In 1998, it established the Gilead Medical Centre at his headquarters in Lagos and two years later, it opened its branch in Kaduna, where his ministry began. In 1999, it built a 50,000 capacity worship centre known as Faith Tabernacle on a large piece of land called Canaanland in Otta, Ogun State. A graduate of Architecture, Oyedepo was listed among the 50 most powerful men of God in Nigeria in 2001.[15] The church has more than 50 nursery and primary schools called Kingdom Heritage Model Schools and more than 10 secondary institutions in Nigeria alone. Covenant University built in Ota, Ogun State is its highest institution.[16] The University was granted license by the Federal Government of Nigeria to operate in 2002. The church is listed in 2006 among the three richest in Nigeria.

While Oyedepo’s followers call him “papa,” a Kenyan commentator in 2009 calls him “prosperity … Czar.”[17] A banner advertising the church and placed along Road 7 in Ile-Ife clearly portrays the popular understanding of the church’s emphasis. It invites the public to worship at the “Winners’ Chapel, Lagere, Ile-Ife, where the poor are made rich …”[18] This shows that the Living Faith Church remains faithful to the commission to make others rich which its founder claims to have received in 1987.An earlier research found out that Nigerians overwhelmingly see the main emphasis of the church as deliverance from material poverty.[19]

“Winners’ Chapel’s” teaching on material prosperity is not necessarily representative of all the prosperity preaching churches in Nigeria. Oyedepo teaches that poverty is a sin. In interpreting 2 Cor. 8: 9, he teaches that sin brought material poverty, atonement restores material blessing, and the Christian that remains in material poverty is sinning against redemption.[20] Sunday Popoola of “Word Communication Ministries” is more cautious. He agrees that material poverty is a consequence of sin, that Jesus died to pay for human’s sin and its consequences, and that the Christian who fails to claim his/her material heritage in Christ would remain poor but would not be committing sin as Oyedepo alleges.[21]

The church generally employs three ways to minister to the needs of its audience: word of faith, white handkerchiefs, and anointing oil. First and foremost, the church holds to performative use of Bible texts. It quotes and claims them for miracles. Next is the use of blessed handkerchiefs for miracles. Once they are blessed for use they are called mantles. The church encourages members to use mantles to pray for their needs and the needs of others. Finally, the church promotes the use of anointing oil. Olive oil is used for this. Offices, houses, children, shops and nearly all other things are anointed for break-through in the church, and members believe that all these means are effective.

Testimonies of break-through abound in all “Winners Chapels’” services. The testimonies cover all aspects of life. Most of Winners Chapels run three services on Sundays. Usually the church operates only House Fellowship centers in Sunday evenings. There is a lot of “go-slow” on roads near Winners’ Chapels whenever they end service programs. This shows the rate at which people patronize the church and its acceptability. Its membership cuts across the economic and educational strata of the country.

3.3 The Mountain of Fire and Miracles: The Mountain of Fire and Miracles (MFM) was founded in Lagos Nigeria by Pastor (Dr.) Daniel K. Olukoya, a molecular geneticist and a former don in the University of Lagos. The prayer meeting that began in his flat in 1989 with 23 people as a non-denominational prayer meeting became a full fledge church with its first worship service on 24 April 1994.[22] The church has since become international with headquarters still in Lagos. Olukoya is also the head of “the Battle Cry Christian Ministries,” an offshoot of the MFM. He was listed in 2001 among the 50 most powerful men of God in Nigeria.[23]

The church claims to be committed to the “revival of apostolic signs, Holy Ghost fireworks and the unlimited demonstration of the power of God to deliver to the uttermost."[24] It focuses on deliverance of those possessed and oppressed by demons and their agents. This emphasis appears in its various ministries. Its Bible Colleges are called “War Colleges,” and its church groups include “Prayer Warriors,” “God’s Violent Army,” and “Territorial Intercessors.”[25] It built a “Prayer City” along Lagos-Ibadan Expressway where praying goes on 24 hours a day for 365 days each year and its “Mountain Top University” located besides its Prayer City is awaiting Federal Government of Nigeria’s approval.[26] The church’s publishing company is called “The Battle Cry Christian Ministries” and Olukoya is its President.[27] All these underscore the emphasis of the church.

The Nigerians populace has already recognized the emphasis of the church to be on deliverance from demonic oppression and possession. This is a finding from the empirical research I carried out between July and December in 2005 and reported in Asia Journal of Theology in 2007. I found that 71.88% non-Pentecostals and 93.75% Pentecostals hold that the primary emphasis of MFM is deliverance from demonic attack.[28] To confirm this is the fact that nearly all the books and sermons of Dr. Olukoya are on spiritual warfare. A friend of mine told me that he has at least 35 different books written on demon related themes by Odukoya. In Wealth must Change Hands, Olukoya refers to ‘the spirit of poverty’ in comments like this,

Some families are under a definite curse and each member is affected. When they get to the point of making it, something goes wrong, everything falls apart, and no one really gets anywhere. Until that curse of poverty is broken, the spirit of poverty would remain in operation. Any member of that family struggling to make it will just die, like a weak flame before a strong wind. But believers who are in this situation can do something about it.[29]

The title of this book resembles the name of the monthly deliverance program of the church, “Power must change Hands.”[30] Its September 2010 program theme is “Crushing the Power of the Fowlers,” while that of December 2010 is “Refreshing Fire.” The “Power must change Hands” program runs as presented below

7:00 am - 7.15 am       Opening prayer

7.15 am - 7.45 am       Praise worship

7.45 am – 7.50 am       Opening hymn

7.50 am – 8.05 am       Testimonies

8.05 am - 8.15 am       Hour of personal intercession

8.15 am -8.30 am        Choir ministration

8.30 am -10.30 am      Message and ministration

10.30 am – 11 am        Offering and closing

In Overpowering Witchcraft; Olukoya discusses “Disgracing the Ministry of Witchcraft,” “Christian Witches,” “Mr. Flesh must Die,” “Overpowering Household Witchcraft,” and “Prayer Warfare.”[31] In Prayers to Destroy Diseases and Infirmities, he lists prayers for spiritual sanitation; victory over satanic dreams; destruction of evil growth; defeat of Anti-conception forces; destruction of desert spirits, and deliverance from evil inheritance.[32] In Dealing with Local Satanic Technology the General Overseer of MFM includes chapters on, “Dealing with evil human altars,” “the mysteries of evil trees,” “destroying the caldron of darkness,” “assassinated by the month,” “their weapons shall not prosper,’ “disgracing the evil gates,” and “sending back evil arrows.”[33] His other books include Criminals in the House of God; Dealing with Hidden Curses; Dealing with Unprofitable Roots; Dealing with Witchcraft Barbers; and Deliverance from Spirit Husbands and Spirit Wives. The discussions above suggest that MFM poverty and suffering result from demonic activities and can be reversed through divine intervention and that the MFM is set up to provide that service.

 The multitudes of people attending the church’s programs testify to the acceptability of the church’s ministry to the oppressed.[34] One other writer comments,

Olukoya has been able to pull a large crowd of worshipers because of his power in effective prayers and spiritual warfare. He has inculcated in the minds of the worshippers that there is a demon or two to fight in every human problem on earth. To this end, he has de-emphasized the dependence on pastors by worshippers in preference for a "do-it-yourself-prayer sessions.”[35]

The observations above point to two other important things: just as in MFM, the most important persons in churches founded by prophetic figures in Nigeria are their General Overseers; and two, worshippers in MFM are taught to pray violently and corporately. Corporate and violent prayer is also characteristic of other Neo Pentecostal churches in Nigeria. MFM church in particular has grown greatly both numerically and geographically with branches in all the parts of Nigeria, other West African countries, and the Western nations. Its monthly fasting and prayer program called “Power must change hand” attracts huge audiences from other Christian denominations and religions both locally and internationally.

It is difficult to separate the view of the founder of MFM from that of his church. In Nigeria, founders of free churches claim authorities that are difficult to challenge. Olukoya asserts to be foremost a prophet, and then an evangelist, a teacher and a preacher. Being prophet allegedly confers on him the ability to receive direct revelations from God which allegedly confers on him “unquestionable” authority. My submission here is that Olukoya’s teaching is also his church’s teaching.

In its website, MFM lists 48 symptoms of demonic presence in one’s life. The list is comprehensive and not many would agree that the first 10 symptoms listed portray demonic presence. These are

if you were conceived in adultery or fornication; if your parents (have ever) contemplated aborting you; if you were abused as a child; if you have been raped or molested; if your mother had a difficult pregnancy; if you almost died during the first few years of life; if you had imaginary playmates in childhood; if you have been chronically ill all your life; if you grew up in a war zone; and if you have been ridiculed all your life.[36]

Of the more serious “symptoms” listed on its web page are prior involvement with the occult; consultation with palm readers, satanic advisors and psychics; operating under evil covenants and curses; and (feeling of) constant harassment from evil spirits. Other works of Olukoya explain in detail what the church means by these symptoms. Obviously all the items on the list are more of “demonic doorways” than symptoms of demonic attacks. [37]

The church has a better way to identifying demonic attack. The first is prayer by the person who suspects that s/he is spiritually oppressed for divine exposure of her/his problem.[38] The second is the prophetic diagnosis of the problem in which the man of God after praying reveals the nature of the attack.[39]

MFM offers nine steps to praying for deliverance. According to Olukoya, the first step is to repent from all known and unknown sins. The second is to renounce one’s ancestral sins. Next is the need to accept God’s forgiveness and forgive self. The fourth is to forgive all who have offended one. The fifth step is to renounce all contacts with demonic religions and objects. Next, one has to destroy the entire demonic objects in one’s possession including demonic music. Next is to break the curse in aggressive prayer. The eighth is to cast out every demon of curse. The final step is to claim God’s blessing of freedom.[40] Such prayers for deliverance are always held in conjunction with fasting.

Apart from using the word of God perfomatively in deliverance prayer, MFM uses anointing oil and blessed water for healing. Individual in need of divine intervention takes oil to the church’s programs where it is blessed for personal prayer at home. But the church’s deliverance group uses it to pray for others in deliverance prayer.

From my readings of the books and bulletins of other Christian demon exorcists[41] in Nigeria, I discover that the teachings of MFM follow the general format thus: Men are sinners; sin puts people under the bondage to demons; Jesus Christ died to set humans from sin and its liabilities; at conversion, Christians are set free from the guilt of and punishment for sin; and that Satan and demons however would continue to attack the bodies of some Christians for the following reasons if their parents got them from demons, if their parents had dedicated them at one time or the other to demons, and if they are under curses placed on them by the evil ones. The general pattern of the teaching states that such Christians need to be exorcised after conversion to overcome their liabilities; that deliverance should be in the name of Jesus Christ; and if such Christians continue to lay hands on sin, they could be re-infected and would need to undergo another process of deliverance.[42]

There are inherent problems in the position of the MFM. First the symptoms of demonic attack it lists are so general that every Christian would appear to be possessed by demons if applied wholly.[43] The second is that from reading the church’s other materials the MFM’s interpretations of Bible texts are often arbitrary and they do disregard the contexts of the texts. However since there are many testimonies of break-through,[44] honesty demands that the success of the church in dealing with that problem be acknowledged at least to certain degree.

3.4 The Laughter Bible Church: The Laughter Bible Church split from the Gospel Faith Mission International with headquarters in Ibadan, Nigeria in 2004. Its founder is Pastor Gbenga Osho, a graduate in accountancy and a former auditor of the Gospel Faith Mission International.[45] The problem that led to the split is outside the focus of this paper.

The founding of the church is linked with the personal experience of Pastor Gbenga Osho and his wife. After their marriage, they found it difficult to have children and were in fact “ruled out of parenthood by one of Nigeria's best gynecologists.”[46] They remained childless for about 10 years during which period the couple continued in serious prayer for divine intervention. Pastor Osho even claimed to have fasted for 250 days before God granted them the desired breakthrough.[47] It was after this encounter that Pastor Osho felt called to start a ministry to help others in similar situations, and he began the monthly program in the Gospel Faith Mission International headquarters in Ojoo, Ibadan. Today the couple has five children.

The primary focus of the Laughter Bible Church is ministering breakthrough to infertile men and barren women.[48] The problem of infertility appears to be common in Nigeria. Adeoye comments, “For over one decade, observers say the Laughter Foundation Cathedral has established itself as perhaps the world’s best known gynecological church which primary aim is to break the jinx of women held in awe by their inability to have children.”[49] It appears that the church has succeeded to a great extent in this mission in the eyes of many. Attendance at the church meetings for miracles of childbirth is compared to “termites and swarm of bees” as people “in their thousands” troop to the church, and the founder of the church is popularly called “The father of a million babies.”[50] Testimonies of success are many in the church. One unnamed lady from Sapele in Delta State gave birth to a baby after 8 years of marriage; Mrs. Stella Odion said that she had a child only after 10 years of marriage; Dr. & Mrs. Samuel Ojeir had a child only after 15 years of fruitless marriage; and Mr.  & Mrs. Kayode Komolafe gave birth after 22 years of fruitless marriage.[51] Not all these are illiterates or/and feeble-minded people. Some of them are highly educated, even with doctorate degrees, and some others are media executives. Of course there are illiterates among them. The point here is that it would not be “academic” to dismiss all the testimonies without discrimination. It is reasonable to suspect however that there are unresolved and unreported cases since testimony only implies success.

Pastor Osho’s message is that “Every human being, living on the surface of the earth is expected to be fruitful. If a human being is not fruitful, then something is wrong somewhere and that thing that is wrong somewhere is why we are in the ministry, to make sure that that thing that is wrong is put right,” and two of the texts he basis his conviction on are Gen 1:28 and Deut 7:14.[52] He uncompromisingly holds that no barren marriage is irredeemable.

Wilfred Jibril like others with this view argues that barrenness began with the first sin, and building on Ex 23: 26; Ps 37: 5; Jer. 32: 27; Heb 10: 38 and 12: 2, he argues further that God permits it so that his name would be glorified when the curse is removed in response to prayer of faith.[53] Several Old Testament characters are cited as beneficiaries of such reversal to fruitfulness. They include Sarah the wife of Abraham, Elizabeth the wife of Zacharias, and the family of Manoah. From such they conclude that barrenness is never the will of God for the faithful and ministries like the Laughter Bible Church arose because of this. This view appears to be an overstatement and would be addressed later.

The secondary focus of the church is ministering divine breakthrough to those seeking partners of opposite genders to marry. The numbers of people looking for spouses to marry are almost equally split along gender lines. Unfortunately, the traditional Aladura movements’ approach of randomly pairing them has largely failed and so has been discarded. The youth today are told to personally pray through for spouses and often revelation on who to marry are not forth coming. Those who believe that the problem to find spouses to marry result from demonic attack than sociological factors adopt going to churches where men of God would intercede for them.

There are testimonies of people who were hopeless found future partners after attending the prayer meetings of the church. Victor Odewale recalls the case of a blind lady of 48 yrs who came to the church for spouse and how God gave her one after attending the church for about two years. S.O. Olanisebe also remembers the celebration of a mass marriage in the ministry before it broke off from the GOFAMINT for those who came to pray for spouses. Odewale is currently an ordained Pastor of the Laughter Bible Church while Olanisebe still remains with the GOFAMINT.

4.0 Evaluation of the new Responses

Paul Gifford’s observation is correct,

The significant thing about the movement is the hope engendered, the vision imparted, the sense of destiny awakened. A relentless message of assurance is the distinguishing feature of these Pentecostal churches, a message delivered with eloquence and flair by enormously gifted and articulate preachers, often supported by superb soloists and choirs. To be told that you matter, that you belong at the top, that you will have what you desire, must provide incentives in circumstances in which it is all too easy to give up. A sufficient number must succeed for the movement not to be discredited. Whatever the tensions and inconsistencies, these churches are clearly developing a winning formula.[54]

That shows that despite their weaknesses these ministries do contribute positively in some ways to tackling the people’s sense of poverty. They communicate to their audience that God is interested in their affairs for if the Christian gospel fails to touch the problems of these Christians, the people risk returning to their former religions for help. The services of these churches and others like them thus prevent or reduce such drift and even attract many others to Christianity. Furthermore, neo-Pentecostal churches in Nigeria with messages that God is ready to deliver the oppressed in the here and now have brought about numerical and geographical growth to Christianity in Nigeria.

But the weaknesses of these ministries are also enormous. They range from theological to practicability and then to psychological. Theologically the teaching that things would be perfect here on earth for Christians does not conform to the general teaching of the Bible. It neglects passages on discipleship and tribulation. It over-estimates the devil and his power. Much of warfare prayers are product of fear. Some of these churches have even relaxed their messages on holiness. And it appears that many among their audiences only pretend in the church to be godly to get what they need. In an attempt to be relevant churches with emphases like these sometimes preach a simplistic gospel that is not faithful to the Bible.

Practically, it is impossible to have a problem free society in the now even for the righteous. One, prosperity is relative. Even a “rich” person in the Nigerian setting may be living under the fear of arm robbers because s/he knows well that security is poor in the country. Again, even the person already exorcised may continue to experience unexplainable things, although these may be at a lower level. With higher critical ability some of the apparent mysteries people complain of may be explained and the psychological trauma encountered by some “of the oppressed” can be treated with adequate medical provision. This is however not suggesting that demonic activities do not exist or that prayer cannot be used to combat them. But there often exists cases that are wrongly diagnosed as demonic.

Those that came to these churches for deliverance and do not get delivered after some time may become discouraged. And such situations become worst when the churches to blame the victims for their failure to receive deliverance. While these problems are not plan, they often appear as incidental.

5.0 Conclusion

A comparative study of the nature of these Nigerian Pentecostal emphases reveals to scholars of religions that they are rooted in the people’s cultural needs. These emphases on deliverance from sickness, poverty, demon possession, and barrenness bear unmistakable marks of the struggle that the society has engaged in for a very long time.[55] The churches are therefore justified to minister to the needs. If the Christian God cannot meet these needs, then he would be too small for these Africans. To deserve their worship, he needs to be greater than the gods and the evil forces that are toying with their destinies. These are the challenges to which the new churches are providing answers.

Though these churches are providing services in areas neglected by traditional churches, they need to re-work their theology to better conform it to the teaching of the Bible. They need to take into consideration that the Bible differentiates between the level of the blessings that are available to believers now and the level that would be available in the ‘yet to come.’ While God does bless believers today that blessing is only a foretaste of the fullness that would be available in the world to come. Standard theological training would be of help to these churches. And whereas the Winners Chapel and MFM have Bible schools, the standards of the schools are low, curricular weak, length of the study abnormally short, and their lecturers are not properly trained in theology. The Laughter Bible Church does not even have any Bible school. Standard Bible schools need to help them improve on the areas of their weaknesses that they may be able to serve the church and the society better.



[1]Cf. John W. Ritenbaugh, “Spiritual Poverty,” <http://www.bibletools.org/index.cfm/ fuseaction/Topical.show/RTD/cgg/ID/254/Spiritual-Poverty.htm>. Accessed on 24/10/2010.

[2] “Poverty,” <http://en.wikipedia. org/wiki/poverty>. Accessed on 24/10/2010.

[3] Robert Chambers in Bryant L. Myers, Walking with the Poor (Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 2006), 66-72. Myers agrees with Chambers that demonic possession is under the category of poverty, 67.

[4]  Jayakumar Christian, “A Different Way to Look at Poverty,” Body and Soul (London: World Vision, 1998).

[5]  Personal interview with Mr. S.A. Adekunle on 22 November 2010 in Ile Ife, Osun State, Nigeria. He is about 50 years old. He is a practicing Ifa cult priest, and a postgraduate student of religion in Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile Ife. He contents strongly that the Yoruba religion has no adversary like the biblical Satan and that the Yoruba’s religion has no concept of any spirit that is evil in itself but that many spirits have the potential to do evil when annoyed. When the spirits are on the loose, priests of other cults propitiate them.

[6] Tunde Oyesina, “60% Africans live in Poverty – ECOWAS,” Nigerian Tribune, October 12, 2010 <http://www.nigeriamasterweb.com/paperfrmes.html > . Accessed on 12 October 2010. The writer reports the worry of the heads of ECOWAS in its communiqué after its meeting held in Abuja, Nigeria on 11 October 2010.

[7] Mariano Rojas, “Well-being and the Complexity of Poverty A Subjective Well-being Approach,” 2004 < http://www.wider. unu.edu/publications/working-papers/research-papers/2004/enGB/rp2004-029/> Accessed on 24/10/2010.

[8] Paul Gifford, “Expecting Miracles: The Prosperity Gospel in Africa,” Feature article pasted on July 10, 2007 <http://www.christiancentury.org/article.lasso?id=3494> Accessed 7 December 2009. Italics added because the word italicized betrays Gifford’s bias.

[9] Cf. Victor E. Dike, “The Global Economy and Poverty in Nigeria,” <http://www.nigerdeltacongress.com/ garticles/global_economy_and_poverty_in_ni.htm>. Accessed 30 September 2010.

[10] Gifford.

[11] S.O. Ademiluka, Issues at Stake in the Contemporary Nigerian Church (Ilorin: Nathadex Publishers, 2007. Ademiluka observes, “The words ‘success’ and ‘breakthrough’ are often used as synonyms for ‘prosperity,’” 116. Cf. Gifford.

[12] Ademiluka, 116.

[13] “Manifestation 2009,” Living Faith Church: Winners Chapel, Port Harcourt <http://winnerschapel portharcourt.org/>. Accessed on 27 December 2010.

[14]Nigeria’s Three Richest Churches,” <http://www.elifeonline.net/elife7-july-august/richest-pastors. htm>. Accessed on 30 October 2010.

[15] “50 Most Powerful Men of God,” Online Nigeria Daily News <http://www.onlinenigeria.com/links/ adv.asp?blurb=110>. Accessed on 2 October 2010.

[16] “Winners Chapel,” <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Winners'_Chapel>. Accessed 12 December 2010.

[17] Kato Mivule, “Is Nigerian Bishop Oyedepo Bullying Ugandan Pastors?” <http://www.yesumulungi. com/index.php/apostasy-watch/330-is-nigerian-bishop-david-oyedepo-bullying-ugandan-pastors.html>. Accessed 12 December 2010.

[18] This banner was made by the church and so is official. I took a closer look at it on 11 December, 2010.

[19] George O. Folarin, “The Contemporary state of Prosperity Gospel in Nigeria,” Asia Journal of Theology, 21 (April 2007). The research shows that 82.81% of Pentecostal respondents and 71.87% of non-Pentecostal respondents hold material prosperity to be its main emphasis, , 1: 76, 78. This article was originally published in the Cyberjournal for Pentecostal-Charismatic Research #16 (January 2007).

[20] David Oyedepo, Covenant Wealth (Lagos: Dominion House, 1992).

[21] Sunday A. Popoola, Prosperity: God’s Will for You” (Ibadan: Word Communications Press, 1985). Cf. John Okwudiri Obineche, “The Growth of Charismatic Movements in Benin City: a Case Study of the Church of God Mission International,” Unpublished MTh Thesis submitted to the Nigerian Baptist Theological Seminary, Ogbomoso, Nigeria, 1996. In it Obineche writes that the Church of God Mission Int’l rejects that poverty is a sin, 73-74.

[22] “Mountain of Fire and Miracles,” <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mountain_of_Fire_and_Miracles#cite_ note-0> Cf. “History,” <http://www.mountainoffire.org/about/history.htm>. Both sites were accessed on 27 November 2010.

[23] “50 Most Powerful Men of God,” Online Nigeria Daily News.

[24] See “Mountain of Fire and Miracles” <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mountain_of_Fire_ and_Miracles#cite_note-0>. Accessed on 7 October 2010.

[25] See “25 MFM Ministry Groups” <http://www.mountainoffire.org/groups/index.htm>. Accessed on 15 November 2010.

[26] The agent saddled with this responsibility is the Nigerian University Commission.

[27] “About Dr. D.K. Olukoya” <http://www.mountainoffire.org/facilities/battlecry.htm>. Accessed on 25 December 2010.

[28] Folarin, 71-87.

[29] D.K. Olukoya, Wealth must Change Hands (Lagos: MFM Ministries, 1998), 17.

[30] “Power Must Change Hands” <http://www.mfmbowie.org/fire/pmch_monthly_program>. Accessed 7 November 2010. The program holds on every first Saturday of the month.

[31] D.K. Olukoya, Overpowering Witchcraft ((Lagos: MFM Press, 1999).

[32] D.K. Olukoya, Prayers to Destroy Diseases and Infirmities (Lagos: MFM Ministries, 2000).

[33] D.K. Olukoya, Dealing with Local Satanic Technology (Lagos: MFM Ministries, 2001).

[34] For example, at the back cover of D.K. Olukoya, Prayers to Destroy Diseases and Infirmities (Lagos: MFM Ministries, 2000) a statement appears “The Mountain of Fire and Ministries’ Headquarters is the largest single Christian congregation in Africa with attendance of over 100, 000 in single meetings.”

[35]  See “50 Most Powerful Men of God.” <http://www.onlinenigeria.com/links/adv.asp?blurb=110>

[36] Do I need Deliverance?” <http://www.mountainoffire.org/deliverance/index.htm> accessed on 27 November 2010.

[37] Vitus Ejiogu, “Turning away from God: a Demonic Doorway” <http://search.conduit.com/Results.aspx? q=demonic%20doorways&start=10&ctid=CT1142338&SearchSourceOrigin=10>. Accessed on 26 December 2010.

[38] D.K. Olukoya, Deliverance from Spirit Husband and Spirit Wife (Lagos: The Battle Cry Christian Ministries 1999, 2001), 176.

[39] D.K. Olukoya, Power against Marine Spirits (Lagos: The Battle Cry Christian Ministries, 1999), 32-33.

[40] D.K. Olukoya, “How to detect and destroy Curses,” <http://www.nextdaysite.net/mfm/ web/upload/1HOW TO DETECT AND DESTROY CURSES>. Accessed on 25 December 2010. Cf.. Olukoya, 1999, 2001199-122. In this second book, he includes restitution as a step in deliverance.

[41] I use exorcism as synonym of deliverance in this work. I have not found convincing  grammatical, theological or practical justification for distinguishing the two terms.

[42] Folarin, 87.

[43] See “The Deliverance Pathway: How can I obtain deliverance?” <http://www.mountainoffire.org/ deliverance/index.htm>. Accessed on 27 November 2010.

[44] See “Other Testimonies” <http://www.mountainoffire.org/news/2010/september/sun/testimony.htm> Accessed on 10 November 2010. Both video and written testimonies are on this site.

[45] Personal interview with Pastor. Victor Odewale on 10 July 2010 in Ile Ife, Osun State, Nigeria. He is a graduate of Religious Studies Department in Obafemi University, Ile Ife. He is slightly above 40 years old and a committed member of the Laughter Bible Church.

[46] Tajudeen Adebanjo, “Joy Unspeakable,” The Nation <http://thenationonlineng.net/web3/feed/sunday-magazine/glamour/15620.txt>  Accessed on 7 November 2010.

[47] Adewale Adeoye, “Father of a Million Babies,” The Nation, 7 November 2010, 21.

[48] Aramide Oikelome, “No one is Destined to die Childless,” <http://www.agapenigeria.com/xen/ threads/no-one-is-destined-to-die-childless-%E2%80%93-pastor-gbenga-osho.268/>. Accessed on 7 November 2010.

[49] Adeoye.

[50] Adeoye.

[51] Adeoye. Cf. Adebanjo.

[52] Cf. Aramide Oikelome.

[53] Wilfred Jibril, “What hope for Barren Women?” Daily Sun, 22 September 2010 <http://www.sunnewsonline.com/webpages/features/freekick/2010/sept/22/freekick-22-09-2010-001.htm> Accessed on 15 October 2010.

[54] Gifford.

[55] Ogbu Kalu, Power, Poverty and Prayer: the Challenges of Poverty and Pluralism in African Christianity, 1960-1996 (Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang, 2000), 104; Ogbu Kalu,  African Pentecostalism: an Introduction (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), 11- 22.



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