April 19, 2024
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TB Joshua and the theology of long life

By Theophilus Abbah

A wave of power swept past my face like a solid wind. The sensation that reverberated in my physique felt like simmering water in a fire-powered stove. The atmosphere was charged, spiritually, emotionally, and physically,  as Prophet Temitope Joshua moved around the large open space. The auditorium was covered with a corrugated iron sheet and filled with hundreds of long wooden bench where a sea of heads, the congregation, waited to be visited with inexplicable, supernatural power.   The mystery,  the extraordinary presence, and the incomprehensible aura around him held me spellbound. In my years as an orthodox church-goer, tongue-speaking Pentecostal church member, and enigmatic president of the Nigerian Fellowship of Evangelical Students (NIFES) on campus, I had never experienced such an overwhelming miraculous presence.

The atmosphere turned rapturous, and the sound of ‘daddy!’ ‘father!’ ‘prophet!’ rented the air, not exactly in hypocritical praise-singing, but like voices that welled from the inner-most chamber in the hearts of the people.  Calling youthful TB Joshua ‘papa!’ was odd to me, but that was definitely a semantic extension of the meaning of ‘papa’ or ‘father,’ from the man who literally begat the speaker to the man who provides rare assistance and delivers the people out of the miry clay, or multi-facet predicaments, through extraordinary power.

A file photo of the congregation at the Synagogue in Lagos

Looking at no one in particular, but his eyes blazing and darting from North to West to East to South of the auditorium in no definite order as if listening to a superior or higher intelligence who commanded his steps, TB Joshua moved unpredictably, and then stood still at a spot, knelt, murmured few words, laid down flat on the sharp sand for some indeterminable minutes, then turned and jumped up, making haste in another direction of the open auditorium. Swiftly, hundreds of persons dashed to the ground, where TB Joshua had rolled his body in spoken inaudible words,  bathing in the sand, scooping and throwing dust and whatever was found on the space all over their body, affirming divine healing in the name of the God of Temitope Joshua.

Beyond the divine atmosphere around him in those hours he ministered healing, deliverance, and the Word to his congregation, TB Joshua was down-to-earth, funny and full of emotions.

That was in 1996, twenty-five years before TB Joshua would sneak out of Mother Earth at the age of 57. In those 25 years, my ears overflowed with negative prophetic declarations, that TB Joshua would be disgraced by God for using mystical powers and attributing them to God. However, instead of diminishing, TB Joshua and the Synagogue, Church of All Nations (SCOAN) waxed stronger, attracted unprecedented large crowd, the high and mighty from diverse countries, and tourists or pilgrims from many nations of the world. There are countless testimonies of how God visited the lives of those who attended his services with healing and favor. A friend of mine who claimed to have dreamed of being handed a golden bowl by TB Joshua told me he landed a great job that enhanced his career thereafter. He did not engage in any occult practice when he attended The Synagogue in Lagos.

The few times I had had to travel overseas, when I introduced myself as a Nigerian, the next question I would expect was ‘do you know TB Joshua?’ Stories about divine and miraculous healing received through the ministration of TB Joshua abound all over the world, and these stories have changed the church environment. Ikotun Egbe in Lagos, a neighborhood that was like a slum, was transformed by the presence of the Synagogue, with reports saying many buildings in that environment were renovated and remodeled to hotels for tourists. The only word that describes TB Joshua’s ministry is ‘mystery’ with outpouring and overflow of divine healing beyond explication. Mystery is defined as ‘something unexplained, or secret.’ Until his demise, TB Joshua was not unraveled; his ministry remained a mystery, dotted with scandals, suspicions, controversies, and his failed attempts to be integrated into the mainstream of Pentecostal  Christianity in Nigeria. The unanswered question is, ‘what’s the source of TB Joshua’s power?’ Was it his acclaimed ‘divine anointing’ by God in 1987? The answer to this question is clouded. But it seemed TB Joshua left the scene when the ovation was high, his Emmanuel TV daily reaching millions of people worldwide.

The assumption among Nigerians that a genuine ‘man of God’ must earn a certificate of long life, or should have known and forestalled his early death, is not supported by historical evidence.

On few occasions, as a journalist, I met him for interviews and discovered that beyond the divine atmosphere around him in those hours he ministered healing, deliverance, and the Word to his congregation, TB Joshua was down-to-earth, funny and full of emotions. On learning that I had sampled his services in the late 1990s, TB Joshua pestered me to know why I didn’t make the Synagogue my regular place of worship. I parried his questions and changed the subject as I was not prepared to tell him the truth about how gossips about him had polluted my impression of him as a prophet of God. Even the interview session with him may have provided him the answer to the question he asked me –  my team went to his office for an interview to ‘balance our story.’

TB Joshua’s demise at a relatively young age of  57 has set tongue waging, as many would ask why, if he were a genuine prophet of God, he didn’t experience long life promised in The Bible. Psalm 96:16, says: “With long life, I will satisfy him and show him my salvation.” Genesis 25:8 says of Abraham: “Then Abraham gave up the ghost, and died in a good old age, an old man, and full of years; and was gathered to his people.” Also, Job 5:26, promises that: “Thou shalt come to thy grave in a full age, like as a shock of corn cometh in in his season.” Psalm 21:4 says, “He asked life of thee, and thou gavest it him, even length of days forever and ever.” Despite copious biblical references to long life, there is enough empirical evidence to prove that many pastors, evangelists, prophets, and apostles accomplished huge tasks and left indelible marks in Christendom, some of which older preachers have not matched. Perhaps, it is necessary to make recourse to few examples.

The world would continue to reckon with the fact that for over thirty years a man called TB Joshua walked on the sand of Nigeria.

The great reformer John Huss, who preached the gospel with impact in the Czech Republic, and challenged the Catholic establishment to earn a place as one of the fathers of reforms in the Christian faith did not die at an advanced age. Apart from translating and revising The Bible for Czech readers, Hus impacted the future church by preaching righteousness and standing against indulgences in the Catholic church to the point that he was burnt at stake in 1415. John Huss did not attain the centenarian age of 100 to achieve this feat. No. At the age of 46, when he was burnt alive at stake, he had completed his assignment, and the seed he planted grew to what became the Hussite movement, the forerunners of Protestant Christianity and Czech nationalism.

In the same manner, Charles Fox Parham, regarded as the father of Pentecost, did not live to the age of biblical Methuselah to leave his name in the sand of time. Famous for excavating the doctrine of ‘speaking in tongues’ from antiquity and insisting, in 1901, that ‘speaking in tongues was the evidence of a Christian being filled with the Power of the Holy Ghost, Parham preached the truth of divine healing at a time when Christians thought it to be an ancient and foregone manifestation of the power God. To his credit, speaking in tongues, the power of the Holy Ghost, and divine healing was pursued from the heart and made central to modern Pentecostal preaching. Charles Parham died before he attained the age of TB Joshua; Parham died at 56.

For those who would want the Holy Ghost energy on Azuza Street to be replicated in today’s Christianity, they may be shocked to learn that William Seymour, the man God used to found that movement, did not live to what we would consider the ripe old age. To understand the kind of passion and zeal that ran through Azuza Street, a writer said, “Sometimes, the services ran continuously for ten to twelve hours. Sometimes they ran for several days and nights. Many said the congregation was never tired because they were energized by the power of the Holy Ghost.” From 1906 to 1936, Azuza Street church, led by Seymour, an African-American, had the trademark of power, which can be termed as its legacy for the future Pentecostal movements. At the age of 52, Seymour had fulfilled his purpose on earth and gone to be with the Lord.

Also, Sister Aimee Semple MacPherson, the woman on whose vision and commitment the Foursquare Church was founded, died in 1944 at the age of 53. Aimee was not just your run-of-the-mill woman-preacher who stepped into the shoes of a late husband. She occupied the driver’s seat of the Pentecost Movement that established Foursquare Church. She composed 175 songs and hymns, preached thousands of sermons, graduated over 8,000 preachers from Foursquare Bible College, provided food aid to over 1.5 million persons during the Great Depression in America, and saw to the expansion of Foursquare Church in America and all over the world. Sister Aimee did not need to live for 100 years to achieve this litany of impacts in the Christian world.

Also, John Calvin modernized the Church by organizing it in the way we know it today.  His teachings about transparency, accountability, justice, human rights, and righteousness in politics and leadership impacted society and laid the foundation for the growth of most Scandinavian countries. His zealous campaign for a system of righteousness in Switzerland earned Geneva the name ‘city of the Gospel.’ We owe much of the modern educational system to his inspiration, ingenuity, and deep research.  Calvin did not live for 99 years, like Billy Graham. This reformer died at the age of  54. Even Martin Luther who fought a one-man battle against the Catholic system and opened to door for Protestantism with his 95 theses against erroneous, false teachings and practices in the church, did not live forever. He died at 62, not exactly a very gray age.

A file image of the Synagogue Church of all Nations 

The assumption among Nigerians that a genuine ‘man of God’ must earn a certificate of long life, or should have known and forestalled his early death, is not supported by historical evidence. When the wife of Pastor William Kumuyi, Abiodun Kumuyi, died on 11 April 2009, some Nigerians asked cynically why the miracle-working preacher could not withstand the dagger of death from stabbing and snuffing life out of his wife. Had Kumuyi not prayed for the dead to return to the land of the living at his numerous charismatic/evangelistic crusades? Also, when death, like a thief in the night, sneaked into the household of the General Overseer of the Redeemed Christian Church of God, Pastor Enoch Adeboye, and stole life out of his son,  Pastor Oluwadamilare Temitayo Adeboye, on Tuesday, May 4, 2021, some mockers asked why Adeboye lost his gift of clairvoyance at such a crucial, delicate and poisonous moment, when he could access the Throne of Mercy to receive prophetic word for Nigeria and other nations every January.  The derision and scoffing sounded louder with the sudden demise of  Prophet TB Joshua on June 5, 2021.  Some discounted the power of God in his ministry because he died at an unripe age of 57. Such simplistic qualitative evaluation of the power of God among renowned preachers is a byproduct of absolute ignorance.

The taste and test of a meaningful life is in the open bracket of identifying one’s purpose in this dangerous space called Earth, and the closing bracket of successfully walking the tight road of the vision to accomplish it. Yes, it is not about how long one lived. Jesus Christ lived for less than 34 years, but His mission influences the world today, over two thousand years after He departed from this earth. For several decades after he died, the world would continue to reckon with the fact that for over thirty years a man called TB Joshua walked on the sand of Nigeria. I think that man – TB Joshua – fulfilled his mission. He was used by God, through the power of the Highest, to heal and bring hope to millions of persons across the world.

Glory be to God.



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