He is 60 today 22nd of February 2022. His age notwithstanding, Simeon Afolabi, Senior Pastor of First Love Assembly has been there right from the early days of the revival in Nigeria. He saw how the church was run. He saw the zeal and how believers comported themselves.
His romance with the church began when he was 12. His uncle, now a retired professor led him to Christ. Since then, he has carried on still unwavering in faith, holding to the old tradition. “I still consider myself an SU,” he said in a recent media chat where Church Times was represented.
His life’s journey seems to have been well cut out by God Himself. Afolabi recounted that his mother had come down with a strange ailment after he gave birth to his immediate elder brother.
Because of the sickness, it took seven years before she could conceive again. It was in the course of running around praying and trusting God for healing that his mother encountered a prophet who told her she would be healed of her illness and thereafter give birth to a son that would serve God.
And that was what happened. Shortly after the prophecy, his mother conceived and gave birth to him. Another pastor was again to save him from being confined to village life.
Afolabi said he would have ended up a palm wine tapper in the village but for the counsel of a pastor to his grandmother whom he was living with.
“I was made to live with my grandmother to run errands for her. It was the pastor who pleaded with her to allow me to go to school and that when I come back from school I could still help with house chores. If not, I would probably have ended in the village as a palm wine tapper.”
Afolabi’s educational voyage
By the time he enrolled in school, his brilliance was evident to the world. From secondary school to a higher school and then the University of Ibadan where he studied Political Science. He earned both first and secondary degrees in political science. He had the second-best result in the master’s class of his set.
Afolabi was going to pursue a Ph.D. when God by some divine orchestration stopped him.
A one-time pastor in Winners’ Chapel, Afolabi has been at the vanguard of campaigning for an encore of the revival of the early days in Nigeria when people cared little about material wealth.
From Winners Chapel to First Love Assembly
By the time he left Winners Chapel to start his ministry; revival was on his mind. His church was first named Revival People’s Church. But he had to change the name to First Love Assembly to give a fillip to his campaign for Christians to go back to the pristine state of the church.
He said, “I am a revival person. My concern is how we can get the Love we had in the 70s back to the church. My ultimate goal is that we can have the church of the Acts of Apostles.”
The Kwara-born preacher said he had always known he would be a preacher of the word. He observed that the Body of Christ has gone through a pathetic transition that has led it to where it is today.
“There has been so much transition. The problem is that instead of the transitions in the church we should have been having consolidation.
“In the 70s we had a basic understanding about faith. It was only about salvation. We preached the simple gospel and were set to go to heaven. In those days, when someone says he is born again, the person’s parents would be mourning as if the person has died. They believed the person would never do well. Then, we had little regard for the things of the world. We were saved and then set to go to heaven.
“The faith teaching crept in. Prosperity message climbed on the faith teaching. When the faith and prosperity teachings came, we dropped the holiness teaching. We should have consolidated, that way we would have had a true apostolic Church. What we have today is a generation that wants to be prosperous without holiness.”
We have the revival of number not impact
Making a comparison between then and now, he said, “We had no car, no fanciful church buildings, we slept on benches, on the sand, but the joy of salvation was real. Now we have all the comfort, we have the number but we don’t have the impact. What we have is a revival of number, not impact.”
While declaring that he is still more of a conservative preacher, he said, “There are many things I question in the church today. When they are doing praise worship, they put on this lighting effect. I ask, what is the essence of the light?
“I still regard myself as SU, I try to take advantage of what technology has to offer to push the gospel. But there are things I don’t condone. For instance, you can’t be playing the keyboard in the background while I am preaching. You can’t try that with me.”He said.
Beyond that, Afolabi says he tries to keep it as real as possible. “I still drive myself most times. There are some things that don’t sit well with me. Forget about a designer pastor who has no problem. When I am tired and sick I tell people I am sick. When I am hungry I tell them I am hungry.”
Pentecostals doing worse than churches they condemned
He says the church needs to go back to the foundation adding, “The bulk of what we call Pentecostals today walked out on the Orthodox churches. We derided them, condemned and say they were worldly. We condemned the whte garment churches. Pentecostals say they were occult people. But today the Pentecostals are doing worse than the churches they condemned in the past. Tell me what they are doing that most Pentecostals don’t do? ”
Afolabi whose ministry started off in Portharcourt until a few years ago when he came to Lagos to set up a branch; said “the dominant way disciples were made in those days was through Bible study. That is what produced sound solid believers. Not if you can say amen louder than your neighbour you will collect your neighbour’s blessings.”
Sin and success are deceitful
He reasoned that Sin and success are deceitful. “ People ask, if he is wrong why is he successful? They say, if it is good it is God. But that is not always true. Moses brought out water from the rock. He did it in disobedience.
“By human standard, Moses was successful because water came out of the rock, but before God, he was disobedient. And that even cost him the promised land. Any preacher who tells you to take whatever he says as a final authority without sound biblical reference may be far from the truth.
“There are some things God will do independent of the minister. That does not mean he is putting his stamp on the minister’s lifestyle or methodology.”
Anointing service and oil
One of the things that keep Afolabi going is his ability to search the scriptures with a probing mind. “The Bible encourages us to search the truth and prove all things. The teacher wants to probe all things.
“I usually say, if what I preach can’t help you then I am not sent to you. I won’t bring extra-biblical things to bear on my teachings in the name of trying to impact people or wanting to be successful,” he said.
For instance, he does not believe in the indiscriminate use of the oil and all kinds of practices that are common in the church like holding anointing service since all services are supposed to be anointed.
“I don’t use oil indiscriminately. I only use oil to anoint the sick as instructed by James. After that any other thing is extra-biblical. I don’t do anointing service.” he quipped.
Redemption of the firstborn son, not for me
He also took a swipe on those who preach the redemption of the firstborn son with money.
Describing the doctrine as outlandish, Afolabi says, “It is strange that people build a doctrine around the firstborn. When people build up such doctrine, just one line of scripture is enough to destroy it.
“When they say firstborn normally has issues, you ask them, what family do they belong to? Because the firstborn in my family does not have issue. Jesus is the firstborn. The Bible called him the first among many brethren, He did not have any issue.”
He asked further, “What kind of ransom can you pay for a life. The life of a man is precious, nothing can be paid for it other than the blood of Jesus that has been shed for it. These are ways of collecting money.”
While agreeing that money is needed to drive the ministry, he says, “I don’t believe in manipulating people to get money from them. Let people know the value of stewardship. Don’t give a promise you can’t keep. By saying if you give N1m today you will get N10M tomorrow is fraudulent. When it comes to money, I don’t dwell on it. If it is God, he will get the job done. I hate to manipulate people.”
People are gullible
Afolabi says God’s mercy has helped him to stay away from what many pastors do. “My objective is to bring my life and ministry as close as possible to the Bible. I love to probe my life in line with scriptures. I don’t want to have a part in what can’t be proved in scripture.
People are gullible. If you are able to build your case, you will make money out of them. For instance, you tell them, “This cloth, someone just brought it from Japan. He gave it to me. That is the kind of favour I enjoy. Anybody who wants to enjoy that kind of favour should sow into this. And you will see people coming to drop money.”
Bishop Oyedepo taught me many things
On how the transition in the church has affected his personal life and ministry given the fact that he was once a pastor in Winners Chapel, he said, “Not much has changed about me. Let me say I learned a lot from Winners Chapel. You can never hear me speak negatively about the ministry. Bishop David Oyedepo taught me many things which I can’t forget.
“I give him that credit. But the line of departure is, can we justify some practices from the scripture apart from personal revelation? And when we talk of personal revelation, we need to realise that the church is over 2000 years old.
“There is hardly any personal revelation God will give to you that can’t be traced in 2000 years of Church history. The moment I come to you and say I have this revelation from God. And since I have it from God, you can’t subject it to biblical discussion; it’s already a problem. This is one of the things killing Christianity.”
We need Jerusalem council
The First Love Pastor who came into full-time ministry in 1988 after God botched his quest for a Ph.D. programme said the undoing of today’s church is the lack of a “Jerusalem Council”
“When the apostles had issues with circumcision or no circumcision, they came to Jerusalem to meet the church elders where the issues were discussed and resolved.
“Today, there is a lot of human invention in the church. For instance, I saw the video of a pastor who asked people to come to church with a cutlass to pray. How does that affect the devil in any way?”
Pastors also have challenges
He noted that no servant of God is spared of the vicissitude of life. “We have all had our own pain and challenges in life. But then we have to trudge on. One of the biggest challenges you might have is when your faith is tried on many grounds. “
He recalled how his wife lost eight-month pregnancy and they still had to go to church the following Sunday. “for us then, it was devastating. A thousand things were going on in my mind. I thought of what people will say since I preached faith. We went to church the following Sunday it happened. I preached that day. But before they could collect offering I dragged my wife out and went home.
“In every trial of our lives, there is something hidden in a book that helps us. Oral Robert told a story about how he lost his daughter and her husband in a crash. The devil taunted him and said that was the breakthrough he was preaching.”
Patience and compound interest
60 years down the line, Afolabi says, “I am a fulfilled person. Not in terms of material acquisition. But in terms of the impact, the Lord has used me to make. It’s amazing to see children you carried on the shoulder now doing great.”
One of the virtues in life that the younger generation must learn according to him is Patience. “We need a lot of patience in this journey of life. The principle of compound interest works. At a time in your life, things begin to compound if you have laboured hard in the past.
Relationships that you have built in the time past will begin to pay back. Anything that is worthwhile takes time. He who is hasty to be wealthy or successful will not be innocent. Don’t seek to get in one day what our forbears got in 40 years, you will end in trouble.”
My mentors and why Christians should play politics
On who are his mentors, he says, “Bishop Oyedepo has been a mentor to me. Pastor Tunde Bakare has been mentoring me for several years now. I got to know him through Bishop Oyedepo. There is this black American preacher, Clement Kevin. He is a man of terrific wisdom. He has been a great mentor too.”
Afolabi who said he would have also loved to be a journalist or a lawyer said Christian participation in politics is a task that must be done.
“In those days we went into the extreme. One of the reasons I did not study law was because in those days we believed all lawyers were liars. The same thing we were told about politics. We left politics to unbelievers. It takes power to change policies. There have been a series of crises in Kwara. Because there is a Muslim person in power, he says Muslims have the right to wear hijab in a Christian school. That is what being in power can do.
“This idea of Christians being part of the political process is not negotiable. Every aspect of the nation is crying for change.”
He identified the tripartite problem with Nigeria namely, Flamboyance, flattery, and fast-track life.
“We don’t believe in a simple lifestyle. It has been so with us. There was this minister in the second republic whose train dress was almost half a football field. We love flattery. Nigerians can flatter people to their graves. We also like to fast-track things. We don’t want to follow procedure.”
Story by Gbenga Osinaike