Dr. Peter Ozodo is one of the earliest born again believers in Nigeria having surrendered his life to Christ in the late sixties during his lower sixth form.
The dramatic change in his life which took place after God miraculously saved him from the war where he sustained gun shots injuries spurred him to commit his entirely life to the preaching of the gospel. Recently, he was at the West Africa Theological Seminary where he ministered at the two-day glorious freedom assembly meeting with the theme Highway to Holiness. Our reporter caught up with him at the meeting. Below are excerpts from the encounter
You are doing missions work in the UK. Why leave Nigeria for the UK when evidently Nigeria needs more help?
Our going to the UK was informed by a burden God laid on the hearts of my wife and me. About nine years ago we felt that strong calling to go to the UK for missions because we had been exposed to Europe and we found that the church in that continent has suffered a great setback. By then only about 6 percent of the population go to church and most of those who go were older people. It now dawned on us that something had to be done urgently if not the church will completely go into extinction in that part of the world.
We reasoned that there is a need to give back to the continent that had been so much of a blessing to Africa. By the time our continent was in the situation they were in, their people had come here to preach the gospel. Some died here. So, we felt we owe them something. We termed our effort reversed mission. We felt it is our turn to go there and evangelise them and bring them to the knowledge of the truth.
In our case, we never heard the gospel, but they had a long history of Christianity.
The truth is that the generation that heard the gospel in Europe had passed. The current generation has simply not heard. I was talking with a 15-year-old the other day and he told me he had never been to church. His parents never took him to church. That is the sad reality. So those who have this understanding have to do something fast as God gives them the grace to rescue the dying generation.
Then there must have been a disconnect. From your interaction with the Europeans, how did that happen?
A country gets to a point where the people reject the message. And this could be due to several reasons. We are approaching that time now. A time will come when the ordinary man will reject the gospel because we have not been preaching the truth. A church gets to a point where it loses credibility when the truth of the gospel is not being preached and when those who preach it are not living the life. The sad dimension is that when people reject the gospel we come up with all forms of funny things so as to get them to embrace it by all means.
When society talks about women’s rights we try to look at it and see how we can accommodate it so we can be seen to go along with them. When they talk about homosexuality we look into it and see how we can reason along with them. The point I am making is that when we lose our effectiveness we try to be politically correct and thereby mess up the salvation message. That is what we have today in Nigeria. Because people want to hear the prosperity gospel we give it to them. We are no longer bold to declare the gospel the way it is.
Was the UK preaching the wrong gospel at a time?
The church in Europe got to a point when it was no longer preaching the gospel. They were preaching the humanistic gospel. The mainstream of society felt they did not need the gospel. They had no message for the educated folks. It was thought that the church was only meant for the poor and the downtrodden. I remember when we first went to the UK and the immigration man asked for my profession and I said I’m a missionary he was surprised because he felt the UK did not need missionaries. I think the UK missed it when they thought missions and gospel is for social work.
We hear stories that cathedrals in Europe are being taken over by clubhouses and mosques.
Islam is not taking over the UK in the sense of converting the people. But in terms of growth the population of Muslims, is growing. They are procreating more. Even with the influx of Muslims, the UK is still more Christianized than any other European country.
So, what specifically do you do as a missionary in the UK?
I write books and organize seminars. We organize discipleship programmes. I do work with established churches. We are working with former drug addicts who have given their lives to Christ.
Christianity is not old in Nigeria and yet it has begun to have these challenges. What do you see of Church in Nigeria in years to come?
Nigeria has a lot of potential to be great. We have a growing Christian population. But we are in danger of getting to where the UK is because the church in Nigeria is also trying to be politically correct. Our drive is to increase our membership and we tell people what they want and like to hear and not what they should hear.
Our teaching is more on materialism and not on eternal life. We are not teaching our members the core of the gospel. We are not teaching about the second coming and we are not emphasising the cross. We are teaching them to excel and make materialize possession whereas the Bible says the life of a man does not consist in the abundance of the things he has.
You are a first-generation born-again believer I suppose?
No there have been believers in Nigeria as far back as 1904 in Nigeria. Pentecostalism began in Nigeria at the same time as the Azusa revival in the US. The wave was a global one. But the growth was chequered until the late 60s when some of us came to know the Lord.
An Anglican in Rivers State stirred the revival. The ministry of the missionary was very successful here in Nigeria. But the problem the missionaries had was that their work was not properly contextualized. It was not situated within the African culture.
Our people were struggling to assimilate the lifestyle of the Europeans alongside the gospel. The missionaries could not cope with believing in God for the now. So, the coming of the Cherubim Church seem to answer that challenge but then it also went to the extreme of deeply Africanising the church.
When the church began to grow and when Archbishop Benson Idahosa came back in 1972 and came with the gospel of the now, it resonated with what the Aladura movement was preaching. When the Aladuras saw that the Pentecostals were singing like them and clapping with them and they also had the same focus they pulled off the white garment and joined with the Pentecostals. So there is perhaps no difference between the Pentecostals and the Aladuras to a large extent safe for the white garment.
You talked about situating the gospel in the African context and also about the extreme of Africanising the gospel. Where then lies the balance?
A proper understanding of the Bible and also a thorough understanding of culture are important to synergise the two. The critical question the African man would ask is: How will my needs be met? Then the preacher must appreciate this fact and make him understand that God wants to meet our needs but such needs would only be met the Jesus the Jesus way. We have to interrogate the Bible to be able to arrive at a synergy.
What I have discovered is that there is no serious effort to come up with a theology that will guide us in Africa. Since what is happening now is bringing results pastors feel it is the way. I was going to begin the research and create a curriculum for the WATS that will have some Aficanese when I was the provost but the effort was truncated because of some other challenges. We need a theology that will address the African understanding of God that is well grounded in the scripture.
But it seems to me that some of your generation who know the truth are the ones perpetrating this mixed gospel.
It is true but not completely true. There are people like Prof Mike Oye, Prof Duro Adegboye, and Evang. Mathew Owojaiye who are sounding the alarm and saying we need to go back to the ancient landmark.
In fact, we have a concerned ministers forum that is championing a return to the original gospel. What happened was that when this new message came a lot of people embraced it. Before the wrong gospel came there was an earlier message that came which tended towards an ascetic lifestyle. Christians were supposed not to change their clothes or shoes because the Israelites did not change their clothes in the wilderness.
They practice rapture and all kinds of things. So that was the gospel that first came and then this mixed gospel. There had been a long contention for the truth in Nigeria. The irony is that when we criticize what is going on now they say we are wrong for criticizing them. We are seen as the ones not doing it right while they believe they are the ones doing it right. It is a sad scenario.
You were in IFE with the likes of Apostle Numbere who has now gone to be with the Lord. The story is that people abandoned their studies for the gospel. What could have informed that? Do you think that was right?
Apostles Numbere and I were classmates. He did biological sciences. He abandoned his progamme when he was in part 1. He just walked out of the classroom and from there went to Port Harcourt and began a massive evangelism work in the South-South. His conviction then was that souls were perishing and there was a need to rescue people fast before they slide into hell.
The gospel was preached and we were made to understand that we had to look unto Jesus. We focused on heaven and the reward awaiting us so we did not really care about the material world. There is a tendency to think he took a wrong decision but I do not think so.
From the impact he made in his life before he went to be with the Lord a few years ago, Numbere was genuinely called by God. He single-handedly moved through the south-south region of Nigeria preaching the gospel. Today the fruits of his labour are there for all to see.