Gabriel Osamwonyi OmozuwaSunday, August 3, 2014
[email protected]




iven the fact that many Nigerian pastors are title-maniacs, it is surprising that no religious emperor from their league has officially designated himself a pope. Well, none may have arrogated the title, but many act like popes. One of the dictionary meanings of a pope that is applicable to this discourse is "a person with great authority and status." Within the context of this article, pope-like pastors or tongue-speaking popes refer to a fringe class of Pentecostal leaders in Nigeria who have power over people as opposed to power with people. They promote counterfeit forms of spiritual authority, which are hinged on tyrannical antics that negate the principles of connect-and-collaborate and account-giving behaviours of leadership.

Pope-like pastors generally act as if suppression is the soul of leadership. Being unfamiliar with the dynamics of love-based leadership, they treat flock-empowerment schemes as a death knell of effective leadership. They do well in the art of emotional blackmail, intimidation-induced obedience and domination. Many of them are card-carrying members of the school that claims equality in brotherhood is Satan-inspired doctrine.

The foregoing helps to explain why the notion that you cannot be effective as a leader, if you are not a manipulate-and-rule tactician has gained footing in the public mind. It is wrong. Love-based leadership wins. It is superior to all other leadership models. A leader's power is measured by the degree to which he empowers people, not how people idolise him or how he controls them.

Idolised pope-like pastors often practice charismatic witchcraft, which is about controlling people for personal gains. When a pastor utilises his intellect, prophecies, gifts or scripture to violate the free will of people, it is a proof that he has crossed the line of a benevolent shepherd to that of wolfish empire-builder, or amatory adventurer. At that point, using prophecies as instrument of control become a norm. For example, he may start practising spouse selection for his members. If he picks your would-be spouse for you by prophesy, and you fail to acquiesce, he would threaten hell on earth. Or before you embark on a journey, he would "pray" to ascertain that your proposed trip has divine approval.

There are certain doctrines and practices that turn pastors to tongue-speaking popes. Prior to the Christian Reformation led by Martin Luther in the 16th Century, the doctrine of "No salvation outside the Church" was well entrenched. It was largely used to tie European secular rulers to the apron strings of the Holy See. Members of the Greek Church were considered doomed to eternal damnation.

Today, pope-like pastors canvass rehashed versions of the "No salvation outside the Church" doctrine. If a pastor keeps speaking about people who left "his church" and disaster dogged them, he is using ethically detestable control tactics to forge long-lasting subservient relationships, not mutually empowering pastor-flock relationship. A pope-like pastor is likely to order his members to shun and treat as unsaved heretic, anyone who left his church. Please note, he is setting up a cabbalistic Christian cult, if he conveys the notion that membership of "his church" is the instrumental cause of regeneration, material flourishing, and eternal salvation.

Commercialisation of spiritual gifts is the mainstay of the ministry of tongue-speaking popes. In the middle Ages, popes and catholic rulers sold indulgence to generate funds for capital intensive church projects. Some pastors in Nigeria, for economic gains, readily brandish mutated doctrines of indulgence, like deliverance consultation fees, pay as you hear prophesy. Some pray over Ribena and sell it as the blood of Jesus. Others market olive oil as the power of God. There are those who sell salts and mustard seeds from Holy Land under the pretext that they activate supernatural increase and preservation.

Tongue-speaking popes put pressure on people's psyche to make do things against their will. The use of psychological force is very effective in promoting uniformity of conducts and habits of the mind in religious communities. Reverend Jim Jones mastered it. His mind-bending skills made many to embrace embellished craps, which led to their doom. It is good for a pastor to be able to persuade, motivate and influence people. But it is objectionable for him to manipulate their emotions and mind by exploiting their deepest fears. "Reject it" if he says, "you will soak garri on Christmas Day, if you don't empty your pocket." Christ-like leaders don't say such things. It is an expression of ravening wolves in garb of shepherds.

Religious Emperors are like Lot, the nephew of Abraham. In various ways, and at varying degrees, they are veils. Their auras of authority and splendour blur people's vision of God's glory. They cause spiritual eclipse. For them, religion is essentially a means of creating special effects. Their mission statement may be to make God known, but closeness to them makes God shadowy. If you see God around them, it may be because of dark adaption. Just like Lot, their motto is, "if it is good, it is of God." They like and live in lush places; preferring to luxuriate in the thriving outpost of Sodom than allowing God to make them lie in green pastures.

A tongue-speaking pope is averse to being asked probing questions. He likes the shrouds of secrecy, and hates peer-to-peer scrutiny of his espoused theology. If there is something esoteric or aporia about his "fresh revelation," he would not subject it to scriptural scrutiny, peer reviews and trusted theological authorities, which is one way to avoid unintentional and incremental apostasy. The more aware we are of our proneness to error, the more we are likely to surround ourselves with people of profound insight who can lovingly draw our attention to our mistakes and foibles. The exception is true only if we are lovers of delusion and are not opened to enjoying the ministry of the Spirit of truth, because of knowledge-based pride.

Very likely, a pastor is a tongue-speaking pope, if he entrenches a legalistic system that tames the Spirit of liberty. Religious emperors derive their power from enslaving people to the spirit of legality. Legalism is anti grace. It is pro fables, amenable to cultural assumptions, and promotes a worldview that is at variance with scripture-revealed mind of God for created order.

It is a form of extremism that thrives on thou shall not. Thou shall not visit your mother in law while pregnant. Thou shall not give money to your uncle in the village. Thou shall not view television. Thou shall not eat snail. Thou shall not sit with the opposite sex. Thou shall not wear gender neutral clothes. Thou shall not travel in ember months. Thou shall not speak to your would-be spouse alone. These are products of controlling leaders seeking personal gains.

A pastor is a tongue-speaking pope, if he uses undue public humiliation as an instrument of enforcing order and control. Pastors by reason of their calling are privileged to know the moral failings and Achilles' heels of their flock. It is an unethical gambit of control if privileged information is used as pellets of open castigation, not as nuggets of edification or correction. Such hampers authentic Christianity hinged on transparency and account-giving relationships. It makes wounded soldiers of faith to mask their scars, struggle in the dark, and thereby, give the devil a foothold in their lives.

If a pastor must be a pope, let him be like Pope Francis, glean wisdom from his humility and anti-materialistic inclination. Despite papal protocol and tight schedule, he makes private calls to strengthen the weak. Please, dear pope-like pastor stop keeping people waiting, feigning busyness, when they seek pastoral care. Freely and promptly aid the weary help seeker. It is time for paradigm shift, since it is clear that a good pastor is not a spiritual predator or an ever-monitoring jailor.