Pastor Josiah Bolarinwa is a theologian and was formerly the Provost of the Redeemed Christian Church of God Bible College. He is currently Director, Research and Development Unit in the church. He has known the General Overseer of RCCG, Pastor Enoch Adeboye since 1981.
His close walk with Pastor Adeboye who turns 80 on March 2 informed his latest book the, theology of Pastor Enoch Adejare Adeboye. The book will be presented to the public on March 1, 2022.
In this first part of the interview with Church Times Nigeria, Pastor Bolarinwa gives insight into the content of the book. Below are excerpts:
Why did you write the book, the theology of Pastor Adeboye.?
I wrote it to highlight what Adeboye himself said sometimes ago that when the God factor is removed from his life, the rest is an empty shell of a personality.
People have done so much on his upbringing, his school, his exploits. But as a theologian, there is a need to put in perspective the God factor that made him who he is.
I chose the title to inform the world of the secret of what makes him who he is. It is amazing that so much has been written about him but so little about his knowledge of God which is the very essence of his life.
At what point did you realise there is a need to put his theology in perspective?
I came in contact with Pastor Adeboye in 1981 and we have been together ever since. I have been observing the way he relates with God and has always been fascinated by his approach to spiritual things. He has taught me several things at a close range and I feel the world must also know what I know about his knowledge of God.
He taught some of us what many people may not have the privilege of hearing from him on the pulpit. Because of the vantage position I have had with him, I thought this knowledge should be exposed to the world.
From your findings what is peculiar about Adeboye’s understanding of God?
There are many things that are peculiar about him. First, you must understand that theology has many phases. But I took a holistic view of his knowledge of God, his Christology, his Haematology, and his understanding of the church. The content of the book has to do with his personal relationship with God.
I discovered that he believes the scripture dogmatically and at the same time in its simplicity. He combines intellectualism with spiritualism. He takes the Bible in its literal form.
For instance, the Bible says the Just shall live by faith. He believes the life of the just has to be by faith just like the Bible says. There is no ambiguity in his interpretation of the scriptures or trying to impose an extraneous meaning on it.
From your study of him then and now, will you agree that there has been a transition in his theology?
Pastor Adeboye amazingly has been consistent. He has not had any cause to change his doctrine. Because of the background, he was coming from, he asked so many questions during his early years as a Christian. He disagreed with so many things that leaders of the Church held unto in his early days. That almost put him in conflict with some of the elders of the church.
Today he is being vindicated. For example, he did not believe poverty is the jewelry that should be hung on Christians. He rode the best car in his time. He only did away with it when he needed money for God’s work. It is on record that when he joined the Pentecostal movement, it was taboo to play musical instruments in the RCCG and many other Pentecostal churches.
But he argued with the pastors then; quoting the book of Psalms that there was nothing wrong in playing musical instruments. So when he became the General Overseer of the RCCG, it was easy for him to carry out certain reforms. It probably would have been a different ball game if another person had been the leader of the church. But the good thing is that he was able to carry the founder of the church along on some of the changes he felt were necessary. As far as Adeboye is concerned, he has been consistent.
So in essence, his coming altered the theology of RCCG?
There is no argument about it. It is an open secret. There was a paradigm shift in how the RCCG is being run since he became the General Overseer.
But some people who studied under Pastor Adeboye in the Bible school believe his theology has changed. One of them told me he has Pastor Adeboye on tape telling them in those early days of the Redeemed Christian Bible College that any church where members keep referring to the god of the leader of the church, that such church is not toeing the line of the Bible. But in contemporary times, people pray in the name of the God of Adeboye. How will you react to this?
What you need to understand is that there are many church leaders who have taken some stance different from their followers. I can tell you that he is not the one who taught people to be praying in the name of the God of Adeboye. He never did. But people on their own do that maybe because of his life of impact.
But I have never heard him preach against it?
I am coming to that. There are many things that he does not approve of that people still keep doing. It may interest you that he has taught us that whenever he is entering the church people should not stand up for him.
He has preached that we should not make a god out of him. He has said time and time again that people should not stand up for him. A particular pastor was sanctioned for putting his picture on the billboard. But then there is nothing he could do if people continue to do what he does not approve of.
I was speaking for him in a book on the RCCG that even God does not force us to obey him, why should the church leader force members. For example, it was difficult for John Wesley to stop the Methodists from getting out of the Anglican Church. It is on record that Wesley died an Anglican. It was after he died that Methodists left Anglican.
Martin Luther had to go into hiding when his reformation was adulterated. There were times Pastor Adeboye would give certain instructions but people act differently.
I am aware there have been times in RCCG when people are sanctioned and punished for certain infractions. How do we reconcile these ends with your earlier position that he does not force people to obey him?
There is an aspect of Pastor Adeboye which I term un-intrusiveness. He does not coerce people to do the right thing. But when it comes to the fundamentals of the faith, he will not hesitate to wield the big stick. For example, it is automatic expulsion for a pastor who commits adultery in the RCCG.
Even at that, some will say he is playing God over the lives of those people?
No. He has a responsibility to God not to man. There are some essentials and non-essentials in the church. The issue of jewelry for instance is non-essential so it could be tolerated in the church. But then, Adeboye will always tell you the right thing. When you go beyond the fundamentals of the faith as a leader in the church, he will wield the big stick
But some RCCG pastors for instance are committing terrible crimes and yet they are still being tolerated in the church. Is it that the church is not aware of or feigning ignorance?
Of course, the church is not aware of such pastors. The day the church knows that day the person goes. The problem I think is that the church is becoming larger and larger by the day. We, his lieutenants ought to be his hands and mouth. But we keep mute. There is no way he can know everything going on in the church. He has delegated power to people to act on his behalf. Some of the provincial pastors are not representing him well. The truth is that he can’t be everywhere. You cant make a god out of Adeboye because he is not omnipresent. Even Jesus was not everywhere at the same time when he was physically on earth.
You said people do things he is not aware of. Are you insinuating that the mass of people around him has to a large extent given a wrong colouration to Pastor Adeboye?
Yes. There are things he will never do. The church has become so large. It could be overwhelming trying to put an eye on everything. That is why he appointed elders to go around to consolidate on the foundation he has laid. He envisaged there will come a time when the church would grow this large. But the truth is that some of us who are supposed to represent him in certain places are not doing it right.
Pastor Adeboye believes in the doctrine of the redemption of the firstborn with a price. How do we explain this since Christ has already redeemed the whole of humanity?
The book answers this question. Pastor Adeboye has not failed to establish for me what he has taught from the Bible. The colouration is the interpretation each individual puts on the Bible.
I wrote that the theology of Adeboye evolves out of his literal interpretation of the Bible. He follows Bible literally.
Even at that nobody argues with the result. if Adeboye says the Lord says I should touch this paper I am holding and I do, if I get results from touching it, it will be difficult for me to condemn the action.
You can only argue with the result that does not have validity in the scripture. Every action he takes is corroborated in the Bible. The apron of Paul for instance achieved great results.
Paul did not make handkerchief healing a tradition. Why for instance are we not doing shadow healing service since Peter’s shadow also healed people. Why the obsession with oil and handkerchief?
What you must appreciate is that many things happened in Church history that were not canonized. But those things have become a tradition. Adeboye is a scientist, philosopher, and academician. Science says you can’t establish anything except it has experimented on a couple of times. For instance, his wife gave birth to two children after the first three children against doctors’ counsel.
It was said that his wife could not have children naturally again. But she went ahead conceived and had natural birth against the doctor’s advice. Some said it was a coincidence. His wife still went ahead and have another child by natural birth again against the doctor’s advice. If this has happened consistently, it tells you that a principle is at work.
By the way, we can’t establish that the apron of Paul that was healing people was a one-off situation. You don’t change the winning team. What works for you today and works for you tomorrow is not something you want to change.
But then, God is dynamic. You can’t predict the way he heals and does his things. But we have made a religion out of mantle and oil. People are asked to bring handkerchiefs and oil every now and then?
If I may ask in return, why do you think there is anything wrong in repeating what works?
The danger is that it becomes an idol. Some people can’t pray again if they don’t see oil and handkerchief
The fact that some people abuse something does not mean it has to be canceled. You don’t say because a table knife was used wrongly you won’t use it again. The fact that some are idolizing handkerchiefs and oil does not make me idolize it. Sometimes you associate a reward with an act so that people will be encouraged.
Over time you can remove the reward and the people will still carry out the act. There are people who come from backgrounds where they have to hold onto something. People like to use the handkerchief when they pray. But when they grow in faith they do away with the handkerchief.
We are not the same in growth and understanding. It won’t be fair for us who have grown to now throw away what helped us build our faith.
The Bible encourages us to use oil for the sick in the book of James. So any time a person is sick he applies the oil. You can’t call that a needless tradition.
But some are not even growing out of it. They keep on carrying oil and handkerchief about. It seems the church is not teaching people rightly in this regard
That is why we have to look at the problem of the church holistically. It’s because some people are in the church who are not Christians. And they have attained leadership level. The Bible talks about Simon the sorcerer. He joined the church and he observed that when the apostles laid their hands on people they receive the baptism of the holy spirit. He now wanted to give money to get such power. Peter rebuked him.
We have such people today. If we had such infiltration in the first 50 years of the church what do you expect in 2000 years after? But we must be careful we don’t delegitimize what is legal. It’s like calling dog a bad name so we can hang it.
The devil knows through this tradition of the church people are being liberated. But he has planted his agents to do it wrongly. The devil will be happy if we stop the anointing service. We will think we are washing the church clean but end up giving up what is working for us. But then we must not hesitate to correct those doing it wrongly.
I guess we have the Bible to always go back to. But this craze for oil and mantle was not there in the early days of the church in Nigeria. Why should we accommodate it now?
There has always been a gradual revelation of God. You will agree with me that the knowledge of God in Moses was superior to that of Isaac and Jacob. When God appeared to Moses and he was asking God what he should tell the people of Israel, God told him to tell them “I am that I am”.
Obviously, the children of Israel don’t know this name. So God asked him to tell them the God of Abraham Isaac and Jacob sent me. In the 70s we knew in part. There were hidden truths we did not explore in the Bible. But the illumination of the holy spirit is helping us to see those truths now.
But that does not mean our fathers were less superior in spiritual things. They acted based on the knowledge they had. We are their products. If our fathers had known God through and through, God would not be God because His knowledge is unending. We won’t be behaving wisely if we discard this truth because it was hidden from our fathers.
When you say this truth, what exactly do you mean, is it something different from the basic truth of the gospel of salvation?
In the case of RCCG for example, in those days it was an act of exercise in futility to dance in the church or use instruments. We were content with the clapping of hands. That we are now using instruments, does that mean we have deviated? Should that also mean we are superior to our fathers?
God opened the eyes of Pastor Adeboye and he saw the need for us to use instruments. That is the example of the truth I am talking about. The use of instruments and dancing in the church is a truth we did not explore in the early days.
Does that mean we have to apologise to the orthodox churches that we criticised in those days for doing what we kicked against then which we are now doing?
We should prostrate full length and beg them if we meet them in heaven. What they did that we criticised is what we are now doing. In my church in the 70s, our elders brought a local drum to the church. We did not allow them to use the drum because we felt it was not right to use the drum in the church.
And they had to keep it in the store where it rot away. I think we were wrong on those things and we should apologise to those churches we criticized in those days.
Let’s go back to the issue of the firstborn son which we are yet to trash. How do we situate this doctrine in the light of the new testament?
In the first place, Pastor Adeboye is not enforcing the doctrine. If we have 500 people in the church and 400 does not carry out the practice, it tells you it is not something that is entrenched.
For him, that someone does not do it does not make the person a lesser Christian. And doing it does not make one a better Christian. He found it in the Bible and he feels he should share it with his people. That is why when he talks he says he is referring to his children.
There is a good number of RCCG members who may not be doing what he said. And there is no register to monitor that. Through eternity he will not do that.
What do you think about the doctrine?
I strongly believed him because he has convinced me from the scripture. The problem is that we are only fascinated by anything amiable to us in the Old Testament but if it does not appeal to our senses we discard it. The redemption of the firstborn is not even statutorily entrenched in the old testament.
Jesus was first born and he carried the sins of the whole world. That is the angle we are looking at it. There is an element of truth in the fact that first-born children normally have issues. There are many things we read with pleasure from the old testament but we don’t learn from it.
Naaman was healed after dipping himself into the River Jordan seven times. He probably would have given up after trying five times, but he continued. When I was doing Old Testament criticism as a student, many of the things I was told will make me backslide, strengthened me. I discovered that not all wars fought by the Israelites were fought by physical strength. Things of the spirit can’t be explained empirically.
The redemption of the firstborn is not a doctrine in the RCCG. It is just a counsel from the heart of a father who has observed the problem first-born children encounter. It is left for people to do it or leave it.