Suddenly, on June 5, 2021, the bell tolled for Prophet Temitope Joshua, founder of Synagogue Church of All Nations. For critics who followed his trajectory; he was perhaps the ‘demon’ many charismatic leaders wanted ‘dead’. They could not just understand what they believed was his weird way of ministry.
The 90s were indeed the deciding years for him. That was when TB Joshua ought to have gone down. But criticisms and attacks turned out to be the fuel for the growth and global spread of his church. As the criticism mounted, the Synagogue Church unknown to Joshua’s traducers was growing.
Then, TB Joshua maintained a column in Sunday Punch. Those were the days The Punch Newspapers accommodated many church leaders and used their articles generously. The column served as an outlet to vent some of his views. But that did not make criticism against him abate.
Like any mortal, Prophet Joshua tried all he could surreptitiously to rewrite his image in the minds of people. He courted the media. Many journalists subsequently thronged his church to find out what the issue was with him.
TB Joshua’s church and others
Then, many of the perceived errors in TB Joshua’s church are things being practiced in some of other churches. He was criticized because his members were carrying his pictures about and sort of deifying him. That is not strange in some well-known assemblies. He allowed the use of all kinds of faith extenders such as water for healing purposes. That is another practice that began to gain ground in some charismatic circles.
They would tie the mantle on their doorpost and tie it on their neck. Members of the Synagogue church claim they see him in their dreams. Some Pentecostals also give testimonies of how they see their papas and mamas in their dream. So, what really was the difference?
It took the visit of Pastor Chris Oyakhilome to T.B Joshua for the Church community to stand against Oyakhilome. I recall, Pastor Chris was to feature in a programme organised by Pastor Paul Adefarasin.
But after the strategic visit of Oyakhilome to T.B. Joshua, the Pentecostal community turned against him too. Was it that the church was not discerning enough to see Oyakhilome on his own merit before his association with T. B. Joshua?
What TB Joshua did not have on his side was good communication skill. But there was a raw display of power. The miracles were both controversial and incredible. People vomiting all sorts of strange things and people vibrating as he points his hands to them. He operated at such a mystic level that it became really difficult for many Church folks to align with him.
His goatee beards and the flowing gown he wore then, gave him away as one strange fellow from another world. The persecution was intense. Nobody gave him a chance. All sorts of stories were paraded about him. He had no manhood. He used his manhood to secure power. He was appearing to people in dreams and giving them babies.
The stories were just endless. Yet, as these stories piled, people were besieging the Synagogue Church. They wanted to know more. Fortunately, or otherwise, some of those inquisitive folks got hooked to his church. That the church survived the attack is not only a miracle. It is a ‘divine’ statement.
As a correspondent with The Punch then, I had the onerous task of following up on one of the allegations against him. My editor asked me to do an interview with him and the question was to find out if truly he had sacrificed his manhood for power. How on earth would I ask that kind of question? But we needed to get his reactions to the allegation. I braced up and embarked on the historic journey to the synagogue church. This was around 1996 or thereabout.
I got there to meet scores of people waiting to see him as well. His disciples then, some young ladies and men attended to me and asked me to be patient. “The prophet would see you,” they said, reminding me however that I could wait the whole day because of the many people who were on the line.
How the church looked like in the 90s
Then, the Synagogue church was a makeshift building. It was a plank structure covered with corrugated iron sheets. As you enter the make-shift dome; an alluring but strange aroma welcomes you. Incense oozes out of some corners around the office area.
As I sat, waiting patiently to have my time with Joshua, the television right in front of me was relaying some of the testimonies of the previous Sunday service.
It was a long wait. At last, one of the disciples, a lady ran to me. “The prophet is ready to see you”, she said with some enthusiasm. I walked to his office and here was I face to face with Prophet Joshua, the man many loved to hate.
Strange stories about him
Then we had believed all kinds of stories. He had no wife. He was a recluse. He lived with snakes and all sorts. You actually don’t know what to believe or not to believe. So I began. The tape was rolling. I started with familiar questions and was bidding my time to ask the core question. I was also prepared for the worse.
After we had gotten along and he was so relaxed talking with me, I asked, “but we hear you have no wife and that you sacrificed your manhood for power. He looked at me and smiled. He was not offended. Rather, he joked and asked if I wanted him to demonstrate that he had a working manhood. He went on to explain he had a wife and a daughter then.
I can’t now recall all the follow-up questions. Even as I carried out the assignment, I was just wondering what manner of man he was. At the church premises, there were many sick and needy people. They all wanted to see him.
Then, he had a tradition, for all those who came to see him for prayers or otherwise, he gave them transport money back to their homes. He was that generous. And that was one of the things that perhaps made people gravitate towards him.
Some of his lieutenants left him
But then only those who had lived with him had a voice. Some shared stories of the strange experiences they had. Some of his lieutenants left him having seen the “light” and told horrible tales about him. Till he passed on, a lady was still on social media telling how she was manipulated by him.
On the surface, he had disciples who stayed with him and who were under strict rules. They were always on their feet. He carried an enigmatic aura that made people defer to him. He looked gentle, but he was stern.
I later met him on three other occasions. But I was not really enthusiastic about him. I knew something was fishy. But I could not place a finger around it.
As time went on, things began to change. First, he began to repackage himself. His goatee beards disappeared. His communication skill got better by the day. He began to command international attention. The church turned into a tourist attraction for foreigners.
Who was his father in faith?
The criticism from the Nigerian Church however did not abate. The argument of the average Pentecostal was: Who is his father in the Lord? That question kept coming. I had my reservation about that kind of question, I felt that was not the issue with TB Joshua because I think if we harp on that we would have put God in a box. That Timothy and Elisha had fathers in the faith does not mean all Bible characters had fathers in faith. Who was the father in faith of Elijah?
The average Pentecostal believes God had to work in certain ways. We have ended up making religion and a deity out of some practices in the church. If people don’t align with us, we crucify them.
In any case, rather than go down, the synagogue church was blossoming at least from the human stand point. But then criticism trailed T.B. Joshua till death.
His attitude to criticism
He however seemed wiser than many of those who hunted him. As I said, there were things around him that do not make him appeal to the generality of the church. But many of his actions make people ask: What are the “genuine” men of God doing to show the way?
For all the period TB Joshua was being maligned, he never engaged in a media war with any of his traducers. Rather, he consistently stated his position and tried within his power to counter the negative reports by providing information to the media.
Beyond the criticism, he lived a simple life. He did not amass wealth. Though he could afford a private jet, he had none. He lived among the people. He conducted his birthdays among the destitute. You only need to listen to what his members say about him to be convinced that he truly impacted them.
Joshua: A hypothetical conclusion
A hypothetical conclusion about him maybe that he was a man who really wanted supernatural power and was ready to pay any price for it. Anybody could access the spiritual space provided one can be involved in intense fasting and praying. But the challenge is usually the inability to match the spiritual experience with an understanding of God’s word for a balance. And that is where the error comes in. That is where extraneous forces take advantage of the person.
In the early years, TB Joshua was not versed in the word of God. He basically could not do any Bible exegesis. It was all manifestation of the miraculous. But as time went on, he began dissecting God’s word in an unusual way. His understanding of the word increased by the day.
What should be our concern
Whether he was fake or not, should really not be our cup of tea. We should do a retrospect and ask, how are we comporting ourselves? How is church money in our care being spent? To what level have we impacted lives? Beyond asking people to come experience Jesus, do we show the light?
Are the fathers in faith not being deified the way TB Joshua was deified by some of his followers? Have we not turned the attention of people away from Jesus? Those are the questions.
We can’t sit in judgment over a man that we did not call to ministry. But like I said, we are free to identify areas he erred and point them out for others to learn. In the case of TB Joshua, he did not get it right in some areas of ministry just like many of the known fathers in faith are erring. It is time we all repent!!!
By Gbenga Osinaike