Pastor Simeon Afolabi is the Serving Overseer of the First Love Assembly, Lagos, a ministry whose passion is to see Christianity practiced exactly the way it was handed down over 2000 years ago and to see the lives of God’s people restored to the way God intended it to be. In this interview facilitated by the Revival Promotion Partners, an interdenominational group that supports Afolabi’s ministry and organizes quarterly Ministers Conference, the cleric talked about the RPP, his passion and general issues in the body of Christ. He also advised the Nigerian government. DAYO EMMANUEL here reports.
How do you intend the Revival Promotion Partners and your ministry could foster unity in the body of Christ?
This is a vital issue you raised. We had a prayer meeting sometimes ago and I told them the strength of Islamic religion lies in their oneness. If the Sultan who is the supreme head of all Muslims in Nigeria says tomorrow is the new moon and Ramadan starts on Sunday that cuts across every state. There are denominations in Islam as well, but it doesn’t matter what denomination you belong to, once the supreme head speaks that settles it. That privilege we don’t have in Christiandom. And it is global. No matter what denomination you belong to, once the Sultan speaks they follow it. The Pope is the head of the Christians in some quarters, even if he does make a decree, does it cut across? Back home we have the Christian Association of Nigeria, the Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria and the heads of these groups don’t have a binding authority over the subjects in quote. Sometimes we have used the liberty of the spirit, everyone is led by the spirit. I believe if we are able to gather ministers together and we get scriptures and see as it is written in the gospel of Luke ‘the things that are most certainly believed among us…’ We don’t seem to have a consensus, one man removes his shoes because the Lord told Moses to remove his shoes, some believe in sprinkling the anointing oil. If we have 50 pastors with 100 members each, if are able to influence their perspectives, you have influenced the minds of 5,000 people and it would go a long way to bring about the unity issue you have raised.
As a man of God where lies your passion?
Personally I hate people suffer, I can’t just see people in need. I can’t. Whether it’s a security man, whether a driver, someone around me in need even if I can’t meet that need I will try. I think I have a soft spot for people’s welfare generally. I’m not having a utopian dream, I just know what God put within my power to do. A neighbour at hand is better than a family member afar off. That’s my mindset, you can’t touch the whole world but if everybody can take care of his immediate environment, you take care of your immediate environment, I take care of mine, at the end of the day nothing is left to take care of. The society is being impacted. My idea is this if someone comes around me as a security man today, in one year or two years at least he should become a driver. If someone comes as a driver, in two years at least he should become an office assistance. Just don’t leave anybody’s life the same way that’s what comes through my mind, even if someone comes around me for one month there should be a difference, that’s the way I’m wired.
You talk about minister’s conference, who is qualified to be a minister? There are lot of ‘fakes.’ Though I won’t want to call anyone fake but there are lot who are not even meant to be in the ministry and what they propagate is different. Many even go into the occult for power to gather crowd, how does a lay Christian for instance identify a minister?
On a general note when you talk about minister it would include all. The idea of minister is that, you don’t have to mount the pulpit to be called a minister. I mentioned about having to be in the hospital in recent time, a nurse had to report to the boss, the Medical Director because of a report. A patient called throughout the night and the nurse on duty was asleep all through. When you call a nurse and she hisses, that one is in a wrong profession. It is a calling. For you to carry someone’s urine, it is a service or what else do you call service? For me I can’t stand blood, so if I go into nursing or medicine it is a wrong profession, while some carry bedsheets just stained with blood, that is service. Someone would carry someone’s urine that is service. On the day or reckoning, those who have carried out such services faithfully would be more rewarded than a pastor. If someone’s job here is to sweep this floor wash the toilet that is a kind of service. When you talk of a minister you always talk in terms of Bishops, Deacons, Cardinals, Pastors, Primates, Apostles, Evangelists, that’s what comes to us. Is it all those who minister are ministers? No. Jesus said not all who call me Lord Lord would see the kingdom of God. He said on the last day people would say did we not preach in your name? Then he would tell them depart from me ye workers of iniquity. So what happens to those titles? The Bible gives us an acid test, he said by their fruits we shall know them and character is like smoke you can’t hide it for too long. If you get into an environment you’ll know. I just came into the town a while ago I learnt there was going to be a vigil, I wanted to take a cup of tea and I had to ask is fasting is attached to the vigil? So that others won’t be fasting and I’ll be feasting. That would be hypocrisy. If you sit around a place, one two months, there would be some fruits for you to know. I’m not talking about perfection here but you’ll be able to see if there is genuineness in the spirit behind these things.
Can we say Christianity is having a problem because in some places it is all preaching of prosperity as if it is the core of Christianity?
Christianity has no problem. It is the practitioners that have the problem. Those who profess it are the people that have problems. Problems essentially are traceable to the fact that people are not following the full counsel of the scriptures. You mentioned prosperity, it is a subject in the Bible but the Greek word for heresy is to choose and pick. For instance I have something on prayer, holiness, faithfulness, faith, love, prosperity, if I just look at the array of God’s banquet hall and I pick prosperity, before long, I would fall into heresy because I have dethatched from every other teachings.
We have zeal, we say God has called us and we throw ourselves into the ministry and we just teach anything. You just see people teach anything. There are people like me who did not go to theological school but I have taken a whole lot of time over the years to self-schooled myself. So I can tell what a balanced message is. When a preacher takes a subject and talks about that over the years, there is no way he would not get into error. The way to do it is to sit with the Bible and teach a book chapter by chapter. When you get to chapter one and it talks about prayer, teach prayer, when you get to chapter two and it’s taking about discipline, teach discipline and so on.
Going by what you just explained, which one should come first?
This is a personal perspective about life and ministry and it would be different from what other people have. I think the subject of the Bible should be received holistically. I have heard occasion where people say God has called me to preach faith, God has called me to preach prosperity or holiness. I receive that with a pinch of salt. Paul said to the leaders in Ephesus “…for the space of two years I have not ceased to declare the full counsel of God…” We import idea from the world, we import ideas from the corporate establishment. If we press that too long, there would be problem because in the business world, the corporate world, you must have a vision. This company, this is what they do, that company, that is what they do, if you bring that to ministry and say God cannot call me to preach the entire Bible, He has not called me to preach the whole Bible, you might run into trouble, because you will never be able to preach a balanced message. Part of the problems I always mentioned is that a lot of people in the ministry today including myself did not have the opportunity or we did not take the opportunity to be groomed theologically.
How do you think the church should take care of the needy for instance people not well clothed, people in IDP camps etc?
The issue of welfare cannot be separated from the gospel of Jesus. As a matter of fact if you read the gospel and Paul’s account, he enjoined the people to remember the poor. You cannot separate the gospel of Jesus from the issue of welfare, whether IDPs, those who are poorly clothed, people struggling with education, these are parts of where the gospel of Jesus should touch.
Having come this far what do you suggest for somebody who has gone through all the classes; foundation, intermediate, advance, school of ministry and all that, what would you suggest?
For me anyone who want to go into the ministry should be a life student. I tell people to be a medical doctor in Nigeria you go to the university for six to seven years, one year of residency then NYSC before you can be a medical doctor. You are talking about eight to ten years before you can be certified to practice. As a lawyer you study for four years, attend law school, complete youth service and you are attached to a chamber before you can to be a certified lawyer. You are talking about seven to eight years, but to be a pastor, something that concerns the eternal destiny of man, it is what you can go to one month Bible school and ‘open shop.’ This is part of the problem and some of these things are as a result of our mind set. We used to think theological school is for drop out, a waste of time, a thing for drop outs. Growing up we thought going to theology school, they would think you have failed your WAEC. But all the years I have seen in different light. There are things you learn in the theological school, things like church hymns, how the Bible was put together. There are standard seminaries like the Baptist seminary. Before you can have the Bachelor of Theology, you put in about four years. It is like a standard degree. You’ll learn a lot of things there. All these foundation, intermediate, advanced studies are one month each, or one month foundation, three months intermediate, all are still under one year. Men are not just equipped to take care of eternal destiny, it is a general problem in our society. You don’t need to go to a school before opening a barber’s shop. You just practice with someone’s hair until you get it. You can’t open a barber shop in America without going to school, you can’t open a restaurant, or be a vulcanizer without going to school. Here there is no regulation, no standard to meet. You can open anything, some of these are the problems. Here you can open just about anything including hospital or church. We were in Europe last year and the brother that took us round said you can’t cut a tree in your premises without official permit. Here you just take your cutlass and start cutting trees. You can’t just do anything but here you can do anything, you can open anything including hospital, including churches without any regulation. You can’t turn a door to a window to a door or a door to a window in a civilized country, an official of the department will come and inspect it. We need a total overhaul.
I like you to advise the government of the day, if the president was here and you have to advise him, what exactly are you going to tell him?
I would say let there be clarity of purpose, clarity of intention. In recent times some segments of the society have raised a cry. When you look at the recent appointments, it looks lopsided, it seems like favouring a segment, a religious group. This make a lot of people question the integrity of any reform, if I may advise I would advise there has to be clarity of purpose, clarity of intention. I was reading on my way here and I read the government is trying to borrow about $29bn, where are you borrowing from? If you borrow from an Islamic nation, it would come with certain conditions that may favour Islam. Of course the creditor, the Bible says, a borrower is servant of the lender. Then we must know the source where we are we borrowing from. Again we have to know the projects we want to tie this money to otherwise the same corruption we are crying about in the society is still there. If you bring in $30bn it would filter away into some people’s pockets. When I say I’m going to advise the government or anyone in government, let there be clarity of purpose and clarity of intention so people won’t begin to question your intentions, question your body language.
*First Love Assembly’s National Convention holds in Port Harcourt between 4th and 6th November 2016. Venue: 457 Ikwerre road, Opposite Sobaz filling station, Rumuokwuta, Port Harcourt. There shall be a live telecast of the convention for Lagos viewers 9am and 5:30pm at 30b Adekunle Fajuyi Way, GRA., Ikeja, Lagos.
*Last edition of the Ministers Conference and Restoration Seminar organised by the Revival Promotion Partners holds 19th November 2016 at The Jevinik Place, Isaac John street, GRA., Ikeja, Lagos State.