analysisBy Tiko Emmanuel Okoye
Prophet Temitope Balogun Joshua (more popularly known as T.B. Joshua) is arguably the most contentious religious leader in the nation today. There's no fence-sitting; it's either you love him or you hate him with a passion - and there's no shortage of numbers on either side. Born on Wednesday, June 12, 1963, in the sleepy village of Arigidi in present-day Ondo State, T.B. Joshua (TBJ) once led the Scripture Union (SU) at St. Stephen's Anglican Primary School in Ikare-Akoko, Ondo State, where the gifts of healing and prophecy began to manifest themselves at a very early age.
After dropping out of secondary school in his first year, the young TBJ eked a living washing dusty feet on the streets of Lagos, prior to landing the job of evacuating chicken waste in a poultry farm. Married to the delectable Evelyn, TBJ founded the Synagogue Church of All Nations (SCOAN) in 1987. His ministry broadcasts Christian televangelism both through a Christian television outfit called Emmanuel TV and the Internet via The Streaming Faith portal.
Is TBJ a saint or sinner? Not a few people are ready to swear that he's an agent of the Devil, if not the Antichrist himself. His critics aver that he employs a demonic healing technique they dub "remote control." TBJ usually stands several feet away from the person in the healing line. Whenever he scoots his hand or finger in a particular direction, the person seems irresistibly drawn to that same direction. Sometimes, he can send the person into a spin simply by circling his hand, until he or she spirals out of control, crumpling into a dazed heap on the floor.
But as unorthodox as this may appear, I don't see anything significantly different between it and, say, Jesus spitting into wed mud and pasting it on a blind man's eye for his sight to be restored, or sick people scrambling to fall under Apostle Peter's shadow, or handkerchiefs distributed to the sick after touching Apostle Paul's body, or present-day ministers waving their hands or shooting breeze through pouted lips in fixed directions to make people fall 'under the anointing.' My take on the matter is that critics are wrong in placing more emphasis on the methods than the source; the message is more important than the messenger.
The Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria (PFN) seems to have weighed in on one side of the divide by insisting that TBJ must furnish it with details of his conversion experience, the preparatory Bible schools he attended, and the identity of his pastor/mentor, prior to being accorded official recognition - and TBJ has absolutely refused to comply. I can understand the desire by PFN to curb the rising incidence of impostors fleecing and misleading worshippers. But in the final analysis it is God's approval, and not man's, that matters. If PFN's conditionalities were the litmus test for ministry work, great men of God like Moses and Apostle Paul would've been disqualified outright!
Before misconceptions crystallize and insinuations and speculations run riot, let me hasten to state that I am not a member of SCOAN. I've neither met TBJ in person nor participated in any of SCOAN's activities. I must confess that my initial alienation had a lot to do with the obnoxious tales about him swirling in Christian circles. When I read the bit about Nicodemus faulting the Jews seeking to kill Jesus for unfairly rushing to judgment, I concluded that it was wrong to judge any man on hearsay, just as it is inappropriate to judge a book simply by its cover.
When the Jews accused Jesus of being a blasphemer, for 'desecrating' the Sabbath and claiming equality with God, He countered by outlining four witnesses authenticating his ministry: John the Baptist, the miracles He was performing, the Father who sent Him, and the Scriptures. Amazingly, there are very close parallels between the testimony of TBJ and that of Jesus. One Prophet Akin Adewole reportedly prophesied in 1995 that "a young man from Nigeria would be highly anointed, such that all the nations of the world would embrace the mighty God through him." He later affirmed that he was speaking about TBJ. During ministrations by TBJ both at home and abroad, the blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised. The importance of 'signs and wonder' in ministry work is underscored not only by the fact that Jesus said that "By their fruits you shall know them," but also by His appeal to disbelieving Jews to take the works (miracles) He was performing as a necessary and sufficient condition for confirming his calling (John 10:38).
For every one person that questions the genuineness of the man at the Synagogue there are ten or more - including the likes of Goodwill Zwelithini kaBhekuzulu, king of the Zulu tribe in South Africa, whose daughter was healed of epilepsy, ex-Zambian President Frederick Chiluba, Ghanaian President John Evans Attah Mills, Botswana Justice and Security minister and South African Rugby star Jaco van der Westhuyzer - holding true to their convictions that TBJ is a saint whose prayers are always answered by God.
While we need to checkmate false prophets by testing the spirits, we know that no one can pray in the name of Jesus or acknowledge Him as having come in the flesh unless the Spirit of God resides in such a person. The few times I've watched TBJ preach on Emmanuel TV he's done exactly that, so what else can be said? Yes, not all who say "Lord! Lord!!" will enter heaven, but it's for God to decide on Judgment Day. None of us is called into a ministry of criticism. This is why there's a great need for closing of ranks among Christian ministers; an overwhelming sectarian tendency currently exists in the Church, contrary to God's plan.
Some have said that TBJ is like the proverbial prophet - widely acclaimed abroad and demeaned within. His ongoing Haiti earthquake relief operations are doing more to positively polish Nigeria's image than the government can ever hope to achieve with its extravagantly expensive re-branding projects. This nation is yet to fully come to grips with exploiting the huge nation-building potentials of her heroes in all walks of life.
Here's wishing T.B. Joshua - great man of God, a meek and humble man in the mold of Moses, a philanthropist per excellence, an author and media guru - happy birthday wishes as he turns 47 in a couple of days. As his years increase, so shall his strength, and the anointing of God upon his life. May he continue to discountenance distractions from professional critics while remaining focused on the vision God has given him.