By Simon Ateba
Revelations that worshippers at the headquarters of Christ Embassy Church in Lagos had to pay N1,000 each as gate fee to attend a New Year’s Eve service presided over by Pastor Chris Oyakhilome have shocked many Nigerians and infuriated others.
Worshippers who wanted to attend the crossover service at Christ Embassy’s headquarters on Billings Way in Oregun Area of Lagos on 31 December, 2014, were made to obtain gate passes that sold for N1,000 each.
Those who could not afford such passes were turned back and told that they could go elsewhere to worship or watch the service online for free.
While the practice is not new in Christ Embassy Church, it led to an uproar in January 2011 after it was first introduced on 31 December, 2010.
Many people described it then as extortion, abuse of ‘Jesus’ teachings and another confirmation that some Nigerian churches and pastors are more interested in making money than winning souls for God.
But the church explained, though informally, that it was a way of controlling the crowd and discouraging thousands of people who come to church once a year on 31 December and prevent “real worshippers” from securing seats at the headquarters on that important night.
The argument did not win many fans and under a barrage of criticisms, the church prayed the matter would be forgotten. Nigerians also hoped gate fee collection would stop.
But the practice has continued and is now seen as routine with those who cannot afford the money being turned back on 31 December of every year.
With a sitting capacity of roughly 20,000 seats, Christ Embassy might have made at least N20 million from the sale of gate passes used for the crossover service.
Worshippers in Christ Embassy and former staff have complained in the past that the emphasis was often too much on money in the church rather than on spiritual things Jesus Christ taught his disciples.
While virtually all prosperity churches in Nigeria apply the principles of “giving to the church to receive from God”, many say the level of financial demands and pressures in Christ Embassy Church is unusually high.
Since the revelations about the gate fees collection at Christ Embassy Church were made public last week, Nigerians have continued to express shock, outrage and indignation with many finding it hard to believe it.
Many Nigerians expressed their indignation on the social media, especially Facebook.
”Gate fee collection appears good for crowd control in a theatre or secular concert, but not sound enough in the house of God where Christ the head of the church bids everyone to come, even when they only respond once in a year,” said Femi Olulowo on Facebook.
He said the church should rather see their once in a year response as an opportunity to reach out to the loss (non regular attendees) and make disciple of them as Christ commanded.
“Even if the church prefers his already saved members to partake in a particular service, gate pass should have been given to them at no cost and they will have the privilege of going in first.
“The crowd control rationale for gate fee collection in church in my opinion is world based,” he said.
According to Onyeka Daisy Okochi, salvation doesn’t come at a cost.
Daisy said in the Bible, a man who wanted to pay for salvation was refused.
To Oyagha Anthony, Nigerian worshippers are gullible. “Did God come down through him (the pastor) that day?,” he asked.
“I have watched the man preach severally and I don’t know the magic in his sermon and anointing that keeps making people fall for his tricks and gimmicks.
“He quotes one Bible reference and shouts as if he just revealed what no man had ever read or seen in that passage before and then takes a run front and back and they all starts shouting. Just disgusting most times,” he said.
To Clement Ali, “does it mean if I don’t have N1000, I won’t be allowed into the service?
In that case, his intentions is the money.”
“Let them continue to pile up riches for themselves here on earth where moths will eat up and where thieves will break through,” Ali said.
He added: “SALVATION IS FREE and cannot be bought with money. Jesus said, freely l gave you, so also, freely ye shall give.”
According to Erijery Reuben Mateta, some people are born spiritually blind, deaf and dumb.
“However you preach to them they will never hear and understand,” Mateta said.
Eyitope Akeju could not believe that gate fees were collected at Christ Embassy Church on 31 December. “Somebody should please tell me this is not true. If it is true it means corruption is now everywhere,” Akeju said.
Patrick Orkuma asked sarcastically; ”Are you people just realising now that most of these so called Men of God are con men? People have been paying for prayers, so why can’t they pay for venue?”
To Aderibigbe Oluwasanmi; “Why are we going to blame a business name for doing his business, he is bussines man not a Pastor for real”.
Many others who commented on the social media were critical of Oyakhilome and Christ Embassy Church, urging the church to stop the practice.
Others even asked for tax officials to step in.
With over 70 per cent of Nigerians living in abject poverty and on less than two dollars a day, many believe that demons are responsible for their financial, physical and emotional problems.
They run to pastors for healing, miracles, blessing and protection.
But once in church, pastors often tell worshippers that to prosper and be blessed by God, they need to give ten per cent of all their income as tithe to God. Some also say they need to give ten percent of all their increases.
By giving to God, they mean, they need to “sow a seed in the church”. When they give money to the church, worshippers are told, the “money goes into their future” to transform their lives.
To refuse “to sow a seed” is “to condemn oneself to a life of hardship and misery”, pastors say.
But while few worshippers eventually prosper, it is the pastors who end up becoming extremely rich.
Many Nigerians pastors now own businesses, cars, houses, and investments within and outside the country. Some even own private jets.
Many say with his business model and financial strategies in the church, Oyakhilome was named by Forbes as one of the richest pastors in Nigeria.
He travels around the world in a jet and moves around Lagos with bodyguards and heavily armed policemen.