BY CHIBUZO UKAIBE
After a three- year leadership legal tussle, the 83- year- old Assemblies of God Church finds peace with the Supreme Court judgement.
For members of the Assemblies of God Church, Nigeria, friends and stakeholders, the era of crisis in the church is over; now is the time for unity and reconciliation after the leadership crisis that had rocked the church for a long time.
For three years, the church had been turned apart between the suspended general superintendent of the church, Reverend Paul Emeka, and the general council of the church represented by elected General Superintendent, Reverend Chidi Okoroafor a development which had pitched members loyal to both leaders among themselves.
But with the recent Supreme Court judgment which reportedly favoured Rev Chidi Okoroafor as the authentic leader of the 83-year- old denomination, members are now calling on the other group to put the past behind them and join the Reverend Chidi Okoroafor led- leadership to rebuild the church and take it to greater height
But how did the church get entangled in this web of crisis? It all started in March 2014, when the church’s highest authority, known as the General Committee suspended its then leader and General Superintendent, Reverend Paul Emeka over allegations of corruption, misconduct and financial impropriety in the administration of the church. Before long the matter took a life of its own. From the state High Court in Enugu State, it moved to the Supreme Court.
As the battle raged over who should be regarded as the authentic general superintendent between the erstwhile leader and Rev Okoroafor who was chosen to replace him, members of the church turned against one another with supporters of the two groups clashing on several occasions.
For instance, the Kaduna State Government in 2015, had to shut down two Assemblies of God Church branches and a Theological Seminary in a bid to stop the warring camps from engaging in violent actions which could cause a breach of peace in the state.
Clashes between supporters of the two groups were also reported in several other states, including Enugu, Plateau, Ebonyi with many taken to the hospitals as a result of injuries sustained.
Appeals by many prominent citizens, Christian organisations and corporate bodies for the two groups to show understanding and amicably resolve their differences fell on deaf ears.
This was considered strange in a church that had been at the forefront of leading people to heaven. However, with the recent Supreme Court judgment which recognised Reverend Chidi Okoroafor as the authentic general superintendent, many believe that a new era has set in for the church.
“We believe that what happened is an attack on the church by the enemy but the time for rebellion and confrontation is over. The enemy tried to destroy the church but God through the Supreme Court judgement has shown that His church shall continue to move forward and the gate of hell shall not prevail”, Rev. Godswill Israel, who is the Director of Education designate of the church told LEADERSHIP in Enugu.
The Sunday School National Director of the church added: “God does not forsake His own. He is full of compassion. Rather than forsake, He will carry them under His wings like a mother eagle carries her eaglets during a terrible storm. Even when we stray and then return to Him, God receives us in mercy because He is gracious and kind. That is the message of God to those who are fighting His church.”
Last week, the general council of the church held a national thanksgiving to celebrate the Supreme Court’s judgment and to thank God for what He has done. It was themed: ‘God of Great Wonders.”
As early as 6:am, worshippers from far and near as well as well wishers trooped into the venue to thank the Almighty God for what He had done for them and to show solidarity for the church.
The occasion slated to hold by 10: am could not start until about 11:45 am. The delay was to allow those who came from other states meet up with the event.
Stern looking security operatives were also stationed at different locations within the neighborhood to ward off trouble makers who had earlier attempted to disrupt the celebration without success.
Among those who graced the occasion were top government functionaries, including the Governor of Ebonyi State, David Umahi and his deputy, Kelechi Eric Igwe. They were accompanied by commissioners and a retinue of special advisers.
Other dignitaries who identified with the celebration included Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi of Enugu State, former governor of Abia State, Orji Uzor Kalu, former governor of Ebonyi State, Senator Sam Egwu, former General Superintendent, Rev. Charles Osueke as well as the Vice Chancellor of Evangel University, Prof Ikechukwu Umechuruba, among others.
The large crowd that gathered and the colourful display that accompanied the event was understandable given the enormity of the pain and heart aches which the crisis had inflicted on the church and its members.
But the members appeared determined to put the past behind them.
Speaking at the event, Ebonyi State governor, David Umahi commended the Supreme Court judgment in resolving the crisis in the household of God.
According to the governor, the occasion not only signaled the triumph of victory over the attack on the church but also a celebration of the solid foundation upon which the church was built.
His words: “First, I thank the church for going through this turbulence over the years and coming out stronger.
“When the church is in crisis, the leaders and those in government are greatly affected. And will there be a crisis in a society where there is no church; the society will be in perpetual crisis. It is in the light of this truth that the judgment of the Supreme Court in resolving the leadership crisis in Assemblies of God Church is highly commendable.”
The governor, who was represented at the occasion by his deputy, however, admonished the church leaders to take advantage of the court judgment in their favour and rebuild the church saying “When a father or son secures victory after a fight, it is not for either of them to go to the rostrum and be decorated for a job well done.”
According to him, “wisdom, reasonableness and principles of God demand that the father who defeated his son or that son who defeated his father should understand that greater responsibility has behold him at that point to ensure that his victory will last up till eternity because either of them will go to an island to have his peace. Assemblies of God is no man’s church but God’s own and with the victory at the Supreme Court, God gave us another opportunity to rebuild the church.”
Reverend Chidi Okoroafor, the General Superintendent, told the gathering that he had pledged to give God 100 cows should He secure victory to the church; a vow which was instantly redeemed by him and other members of the church at the celebration ground.
Emphasising the need for truthfulness, sincerity and love in serving God, the man of God said “We are open and our declaration is that Assemblies of God, Nigeria is not divided. We have repeatedly offered generous olive branches to those who fought against the church. The church has a mandate from heaven and a good future and by the grace of God, we are unstoppable.”
Continuing, the Abia State born clergyman added “Our hearts are thrilled to have respected, well meaning Nigerians who came to identify with us in this Thank You Service of Assemblies of God Nigeria under God.
He stressed that the church had come of age from a remarkable but insignificant beginning, spreading from 1934 till date and becoming not a mushroom church but a much room church to the glory of God.
According to him, the church emanated from old Umuahia in Abia State before spreading to every state in Nigeria. He pointed out that in the wisdom of the founding fathers, Enugu was selected as the national headquarters of the church with a system that is congregational and Presbyterian thus turning the coal city into Assemblies of God Pilgrimage centre.
He further noted that the church remains one of the few Pentecostal churches that is pro-democratic as positions both at the national and district levels are by elections and are tenured. He noted that where you come from does not determine your position provided you qualify by our constitution.
He said, “We have had our generals elected from the North, West, South-South and South-East and the church survived many general superintendents. It is not a one man show hinging on the president and founder. Let’s leave history on another day and remark that Assemblies of God worldwide parades a population of over 68 million members and remains the largest Pentecostal power all over the world”.