61-year-old Rev Dr. Cletus Chukwuemeka Orgu Provost, Life Theological Seminary in this interview with Church Times Nigeria gives insight into the Church in Nigeria declaring the need for the church to return to the Bible. Below are excerpts:
Life Theological Seminary seems so unknown yet it has produced so many Church leaders. What is the story of the institution?
It’s an old institution as you noted. It’s been on as far back as 1955. It was formerly known as LIFE Bible College. It started in Yaba. The first class held in a small garage on Herbert Macauley Street in Yaba, Lagos state in 1954/55. The courses were taught by Late Rev. and Mrs. Harold Curtis, Missionaries of the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel with headquarters in Los Angeles, California. They had experienced the revival associated with the ministry of Aimee Semple McPherson who founded the church. Having become Foursquare Ministers, they then determined to assist in the spreading of this outpouring of the Holy Spirit to Nigeria and beyond.
The term “Foursquare” refers to the fourfold ministry of Jesus Christ as Savior, Healer, Baptizer with Holy Spirit and soon Coming King. The extent of this ministry is international and interdenominational as believers heed Christ’s call. LIFE Theological Seminary Nigeria was named after L.I.F.E Bible College Los Angelos, established in 1923 with its initials representing Lighthouse of International Foursquare Evangelism. LIFE Theological Seminary is however open to all denominations.
The Seminary remains indebted to contributors and visionaries who have sacrificed their time, efforts and finances to allow the development and expansion of the college to become a recognized leader in Christian leadership development in West Africa.
So what is your own position in the hierarchy of the heads of the school and what has been the experience heading a school of this magnitude?
I am third in terms of African heads of the school. But when it comes to the head from inception, I can’t readily talk about the exact number off hand. In those early years the school was being headed by white missionaries. The school started in Yaba but moved to Ikorodu in 1958. The centre of activity is now here in Ikorodu from where we administer our satellite campuses. Heading a school of this magnitude for me is a privilege and a challenge. It comes with a lot of accountability and I think only God can supply the grace to excel and act accordingly.
How did you come about theological work?
I got born again at a crusade in my village in 1976. Then the term that was commonly used is, “have you repented” My conversion actually came about when a friend of mine invited me to the crusade. I listened to the good news being preached and I surrendered my life to Christ. I did not attend any church thereafter. But one day I sighted a church meeting in a small place and something impressed on me that I should be attending the church. To confirm what had been impressed in my heart, a brother came to minister to somebody around where I lived. When I asked him which church he was attending he told me Foursquare which happened to be the church I had seen earlier. That was how I started attending the church. As a young man I used to work in some organisations until I resigned from those work and took up ministry work. I used to be a worker in the church where I was worshiping and later came here as a student. I enrolled in the seminary in 1980 and graduated in 1982. Upon graduation I was privileged to assist in one of the parishes of the Foursquare Church in Shogunle. Lagos. Later I went to study Christian Religion at the University of Ibadan. I did my Masters programme in New Testament also at the UI and later my PhD at the Lagos State University. I was later transferred to a church in Ibadan where I served the Lord till 1995 when I was posted to Life Theological Seminary as a lecturer before I later became the provost of the school.
Looking back, what has theological training done to your understanding of God?
A lot. I know more about him, His nature and his works. The seminary gives one a balanced perspective of the Bible and helps to prevent one from slipping into error. Some people believe the seminary has capacity to alter one’s faith. This could be true in liberal seminaries but then we don’t expect that somebody who is not born again will come to the seminary. There could be some contentious issues but then the seminary gives explanations to many of the grey areas or perhaps help the believer to understand the Bible more. So the seminary has been a great place for me.
You are a New Testament scholar. Some go to the Old Testament and pick scriptures that appeal to their fancy especially scriptures that have to do with money. What should be our attitude to the Old Testament?
The Old Testament is a shadow of the New Testament. The New Testament is the real deal. It is the interpretation of the Old. We can’t appreciate the New Testament if we don’t understand the Old. So they run side by side. That said, there are things that have been discarded in the New because Jesus has come to fulfil the laws which is basically why he had to shed his blood. But talking about giving for instance the question we should ask ourselves is; Are the reasons people gave in the Old Testament still there? If yes then we should continue to give. But we are expected to give cheerfully and willingly. Nobody should be coerced into giving. God looks at our heart. When God asked Abraham to give his son he was watching out for his heart. Are we willing to give? That is the essence. The things we give to worship God are in turn used to meet our needs. The fact that you give somebody something does not mean the person is in dire need. It is only a means of appreciation. That is what is happening in some churches where people appreciate their pastors. But the first and best gift as Paul noted in Romans 12v1 is to give ourselves.
Some have equally said there is no need to place undue emphasis on building structures moreso that there was no visible church building in the first 300 years of the church. How will you react to this?
God is not in the building. Where two or three are gathered that is where God is. But the reality over the years is that we need a place of worship. There were temples in the New Testament. The apostles were using the temples. But they actually broke out because the Jews actually saw them as a sect. The idea of church building is traced back to Constantine the then Roman Emperor. The temple is supposed to be the symbol of God’s presence. I don’t see why we should say we don’t need a church building. It is for our convenience and modern reality supports the need for a building.
One of the issues against the New Testament is that the apostles wrote from different perspectives. How do we reconcile the gospels in the New Testament?
You understand that if we are addressing different subjects we have a purpose of addressing them. If you are preaching to a young convert you can’t use the material the same way you will use for somebody who have known Christ for many years. The gospel writers wrote under different situations. They could not have used the same method because their audiences were different. They made selection out of the many things that Jesus did and informed their readers based on the information they will cherish most. That accounts for the different perspectives.
What has been the experience dealing with pastors?
The experience is positive. When you see lives transformed and people coming to certain understanding it gives you great joy.
But some will argue that they do not need theological education that with the anointing one does not need any teacher again?
They always thought they don’t need theological education but their testimonies change when they get here. I just had a session with some of them who expressed great joy for coming to the seminary. By the time one is through with them in the seminary they often have changed minds. Many of them who said they have not been to seminary do self-study. They may say they did not go to a formal school but they get these teachings in their homes.
From your interactions with church leaders and pastors what would you consider the greatest challenge on ground?
My greatest concern is that many have left the Bible and are doing their own thing. I wish they do ministry as laid down in the Bible. We need to go back to Bible as our standard. What we practice now is not Biblical Christianity. We have pastors who are far from the Bible. This does not apply to all churches but what we see generally in Nigeria is not Biblical Christianity. An America was asking me if there is revival in Nigeria. I told him I do not believe there is revival in Nigeria. What we have is membership growth. People are not maturing. Their understanding of God is still very shallow. There is paucity of people that have genuinely come to know the Lord.
But what is your understanding of Biblical Christianity?
Biblical Christianity must change lives and society. But we are not having that. Many preach psychology, self-help principles, principles of management and motivational speaking to entertain people. Those messages have their place but those things are not the Bible. I tell some of those who subscribe to these motivational stuffs that if somebody tells you not to commit sin is that not motivational? Is it until somebody says I will see you on top that he is doing motivational speaking?
The life of the average pastor is also not near the Bible. Motive for ministry these days is not near the Bible. It’s either we had thrown the Bible away or some are completely ignorant of what they are supposed to preach. Many resort to the church when they have failed in their secular enterprise. Some make the church as a commercial platform. A lot of people see the church as a means of getting rich. When we started ministry nobody bothered about what comes in but we were concerned about service. People who are into it now have changed the parameter of judging success in ministry. They judge success in ministry by the kind of car, house and the things we use. When people don’t have those things we categorise those people as not being successful. That is where we got it wrong.
There is this burning issue about the NIV being seen as corrupted translation of the Bible. Some believe KJV is the authentic Bible version. How will you react to this?
Those who criticize NIV and other versions of the Bible are doing so out of ignorance. KJV is not a model Bible translation because of the achaic English used. For instance the word: Prevent as used in 1Thess 4v15 when Paul was saying those alive will not prevent those who are dead from ascending at the sound of the trumpet meant those who were alive will not be caught up before those who are dead. The word pre-event meant “to go before”. It meant the people who are alive will not go before those who are dead. But prevent in today’s English means to obstruct or to stop. When Paul says our conversation is in heaven in Philippians 3v20 the word conversation in the old English means citizenship. So when he said our conversation is in heaven he was saying our citizenship is in heaven.
Those who allege that some words have been removed in the NIV are only saying so out of ignorance. The NIV has footnotes and parenthesis where these things are explained. Textual criticism is a whole field in the seminary. We must appreciate that printing came as a result of the Bible. People were using their hands to copy the Bible before it was printed in mass. In the process of copying there were errors but these errors are not fundamental errors that distorted the core message of the gospel. At the time KJV was translated, the best manuscript were not discovered. But when we had the new translations they had access to better manuscripts that exposed the errors that crept into the Bible when the KJV was published. From my own understanding, NIV is closer to original manuscript than KJV.
So what has been your experience dealing with pastors who come for training on this issue?
A lot of them have such mindset but with more explanation they get understanding. The demon of ignorance would have been cast away from them when they go through some of the classes here. I think NKJV is even better because it uses modern English. But I have seen pastors insist on the KJV. Some of them say by the time demons hear “thou” they run away from their hosts but if you say “you” the demon will still be looking at you.
Interesting. But what is peculiar about Life Theological Seminary?
We emphasise the word here. We want to discover what the Bible is saying. We believe the word of God is final. We are evangelical and Pentecostal. Our emphasis is discovering what the Bible teaches. And we are glad about the results. Thousands have graduated from the seminary since inception. We are having more people from all over Africa. It’s an interdenominational school. We run diploma, degree and doctoral programmes. Basic qualification for admission is also what is required in secular institutions. But we also give certificate in Christian ministry to those who so desire that. But such people must be able to read and write. Our first degree programme is affiliated to the University of Ibadan.