Bishop Tunji Odeleye is an Evangelist, a God-fearing Apostle and the General Overseer, All Nations Evangelical Church with International headquarters in Ibadan, Oyo State, Nigeria. In this interview with ‘Gbenga Adeleye and Faithful Iyobosa, Bishop Odeleye open up on the challenges confronting the Church today, the responsibilities of the church to the nation and what young people in this generation should do differently to encounter God. Excerpts:
Sir, you're called into evangelical ministry, why evangelical?
That was the assignment God gave unto me; it was God who gave me the name of the church. When God calls you, he gives you a specific assignment.
While growing up or while you were starting up the ministry, did you encounter any challenge?
There are lots of challenges. I had minister's challenges; some of them betrayed me, some created problems for the church. But because God is on our side, we were able to overcome. Then we have financial constraints as well, because we had a lot to do with money but the money was not forthcoming. But all thanks unto God for He’s so much faithful to His word, and He's seeing us through. Then there are problems from neighbourhood as well, but thank God, God is on our side.
Sir, in the midst of all these challenges, how did you actually overcome?
I have strong faith in God and I believe in my calling, because I had the conviction that it was God who called me. And the one who called me is able to scale me through.
Sir, you are one of the few ministers of the old order, talking about your belief in old time religion. What has happened to Christianity of today, and why do people always refer to old time religion? What has changed?
Many things have changed. In my days, when I got born again, we so much have belief in whatever teaching we were taught. We had that very strong belief in Jesus who called us, so that fear is in us; for us to commit sin, to us then, it was very difficult; we find it very difficult to fall into sin. And many other people made such a mistake, when they tried it they prayed unto God for forgiveness immediately. But not these days that people are wallowing in sin, they don't care about the word of God, the fear of God is not there, people even believe that the grace is so cheap, so by the time you get born again you can still continue to commit sin, that the grace is covering you, which is not so.
The grace is more expensive than that, it's not just a cheap grace; the grace that cost God His only begotten Son, and the grace that cost Jesus Himself His life, so it's not a cheap grace at all, but people are taking it to be cheap. They have abuse the grace that God has given unto us; people are just playing it the way they want to play it, not according to the will of God.
Secondly, there is the problem of background and upbringing; some of the ministers haven't got any training, they haven't any mentor - nobody to mentor them, so they leave their business and come to the pulpit and as soon as they get to the pulpit, they start their own church, they become the overall boss, and that's another problem for the church. There are no checks and balances at all. There are many things that are going wrong in Christianity today which is very disheartening and it's a very sorry case. I know heaven is not as cheap as people are taking it; it's more than that. God will never swallow His Word; He has stated everything in the Bible; the way to Heaven and the way of Christianity, so it's not as cheap as people are taking it.
Sir, what's your take on the belief that says ‘once saved, forever saved’?
I don't believe in that; I don't believe in once saved and you're forever saved, it's a heresy. When you are saved, you must always try as much as possible to develop yourself, you're expected to be like Christ, to be a matured Christian. You cannot compare a babe to an adult, it's not possible. When you got born again, you're yet to start the journey of Christianity, so because you're immature and undeveloped. You're bound to develop yourself and become matured; it is a process not a one day exercise. So it's not in the Bible that once you're saved, you're saved forever. There's need to develop yourself and get matured. The God we're serving is a holy God, so if you want to serve him, you have to be holy. Paul the Apostle says old things are passed away, everything is become new, it's not a one day business, and it's a gradual process. To be perfect is a gradual process, not a day’s business at all.
Are you saying Christ is coming back just for the matured Christians?
Of course, yes! He's coming back to rapture the matured Christians; if you are not matured you are going nowhere. He said it in the book of Ephesians 5:27, “That he might present to himself a glorious church, not having spots or wrinkle or any such thing, but that it should be holy and without blemish.” So if you're not a matured Christian you cannot get to heaven. And before you can become a matured Christian you have to take that process; there's a process you have to take.
Sir, how do we solve the problem of disloyalty among church leaders?
We are called by God, but we don't have the same focus, we don't have the same set minds. Some have commercialized their callings; they don't see the business as God's business, they see it as their own personal business. So they're doing it to accumulate wealth, become famous and popular and to get rich. So they're not working for God, they're working for themselves and their bellies. So anybody who has that mindset cannot in any way be loyal to his master, and they cannot be committed to that cause, so that's just the problem.
Christianity and religion, is there a meeting point? What's the difference between Christianity and religion?
To me, I don't see any meeting point. Although Christianity is a religion, because religion is the belief in and worship of a super human especially a personal god or gods, so that shows that Christianity is a religion. But the difference is very clear; Christianity is a grace-based relationship between God and man, which is the foundation of Christianity. While religion is a work-based which eliminated people from God? So the difference is very clear. Bible made us to know that no one can work for his salvation, you cannot earn it; it's just by the grace of God. That's why Jesus came and died, resurrected and ascended to heaven. So, the Bible says for all have sinned and come short of the glory of God, but the only gift we have is eternal life in Christ Jesus. So I cannot see any meeting point in religion and Christianity
Is there a word for the church?
I want us to look back on how we're called: to look back and think very deeply about that calling. The assignment that God has given to us, we should remember that we're here as stewards, so the Day will come that we'll stand before the master who called us and render account of our stewardship, and this is someone that is not partial , he's going to judge you, judge me according to my dealings, according to your dealings. So I want us, including my very self and the younger people that are coming to make sure that they're playing the rule according to the tenets of the game. The Word of God which is the Bible has never changed, one can twist it to suit his purpose but the substance in the word of God remain the same, no one can change it. So I want us to adhere strictly to the word of God and do His work according to the principles laid down by God.
Sir, talking about Nigeria, has the church failed in its duties to the development of the country?
The only problem I see is that some of us , especially we the elderly ministers of God are found wanting in some areas, we are yet to say the truth, we are yet to preach the truth and stand by the truth. So it is our duty to preach Christ which is the truth, even in the midst of persecution, we are expected to speak the truth. But people are lobbying for money these days; people are lobbying for fame and popularity which are temporal. So if I look at it from that perspective I'll say the church has failed to play their role as it ought to be played.
That means you align yourself with that of Pastor Adeboye who recently said the worst of leadership is in the church? How can we then correct leadership irresponsibility in the church and society?
Yes, I agree with the man of God, that's Baba Adeboye, of what he said. He said the truth, you know I said I had challenges with the ministers of God, it's because of what we want to become, not what God wants us to be. We want to become something that God has not purposed or intended us to be, so that's the problem of the church. Some are after money and not God; some are after name and cheap popularity. Some don't want to submit to anybody at all, they want to be all in all. So for them to be under someone is a problem, they will create problems later, because they will not see the way the leader sees, they will not even have the same set mind with the leader, they will not have the same goal, they will not be able to follow their leader. So that's the problem we're having in ministry, in Christianity today, it's a very big problem. And then the background and upbringing of some leaders of today, because some have no experience at all, it's like the blind that's leading the blind which is a very sorry case for Christendom. So the only thing I can say is just for us to continue to pray to God, it is His business, for him to intervene. I believe if God intervenes, it's going to make an impact.
Sir, your advice for the young generation out there. What should they do differently so as to experience God in their generation?
They have to go into the Word of God, search for the truth and hold on to the truth, they preach the truth, stand by the truth and apply the truth to their lives. Before you can change anybody, you must first of all change yourself; if you don't change you cannot change anybody. So I'm employing the youth, to first of all make sure that they change to the will of God, they should search for the will of God, know the will of God, do the will of God, apply the will of God and teach others the will of God.