By Banji Ojewale
To be honest, I think we failed (William Folorunsho) Kumuyi when he was so serious about Bible Study—Primate Joseph Abiodun Adetilo-ye (1929-2012)
GOD planted Deeper Life Bible Church and asked William Folorunsho Kumuyi to tend it. Very much like the Edenic story: God organized a garden and put Adam in charge.
The young evangelist and Mathematics lecturer at the University of Lagos insisted that God sent him to deliver nothing but the face value of the Bible he held as his authority. Few people took him seriously.
God broke the deadlock in August 1973 when Kumuyi, still teaching, started a Bible Study Group in his official Flat 2 residence at Unilag. The 15-member team met every Monday under the leadership of William Folorunsho Kumuyi. Here, he sowed the seed of what God has turned into a huge church straddling all of Nigeria and reaching outwards across Africa and to several dozens of nations all over Planet Earth.
What he taught principally on Day One – holiness without which no man shall see the Lord, consistent Christian living with moment-by-moment victory over temptation and sin, opposition to worldliness, absolute trust in God’s promises in the Bible no matter the spiritual or physical challenges, humility (inward and outward), the infallibility of the Bible – is still what Deeper Life Bible Church stands for four decades after it broke into existence.
Kumuyi stormed the scene at age 32 with a new distinctive and radical face of evangelism. He did this mainly through two approaches: First, in his preaching, he rejected the formalism he met on the ground. Secondly, he added a simplicity, humility and a practicality of the gospel. Those 15 who started with him perceived a fresh liberating breath and spread the news of the man in Flat 2.
Pastor Philip Oluwi, now among the pillars of DLBC, says: “I was anxious to have a deeper knowledge of God. All along I wasn’t satisfied with what I was receiving from the churches. A friend told me about the Deeper Life Bible Study…so in January 1975, we went together to Flat 2. After the Bible Study that night, I knew I had arrived at where I really wanted to be.”
That same year, membership of the Bible Study Group had jumped to over 1,500, emboldening Kumuyi to organize the first Deeper Life Retreat in December 1975. It was only a few months after the members had thanked God for the second anniversary of the “church”. It was held at the Federal College of Education (Technical), Akoka, Lagos. Free food along with accommodation was provided by members of the DLBC. Kumuyi wasn’t married so he pumped in a large chunk of his salary as a lecturer into the till of the Study Group. He encouraged the others to do likewise “so that nobody missed an opportunity of hearing the gospel because of financial hardship.”
In 1979, Kumuyi was invited to lead a crusade in Ghana. The trip gave birth to a Deeper Life Bible Study Fellowship in Kumasi, Ghana’s second largest city with about 30 members. Here in the church’s incipient years, Kumuyi sold his car to help the church in Ghana grow.
Following those spurts of internal and external expansion of DLBC, there arose a conflict between Kumuyi’s followers and the formal churches. After receiving their teaching at Flat 2 and other cells that had emerged, Deeper Life members would head back to their churches on Sunday since the Study Group did not have such Sunday worship. His own church ex-communicated him in 1977 because it did not accept the way his Study Group carried out personal evangelism. The same (or worse) fate was the lot of several others who attended the Study Group. In the case of a couple the pastor of their church slapped the husband after failing to convince them that Deeper Life “was not good and the (Kumuyi) people were fanatical.”
That was how in November 1982, the Study Group began the Sunday worship service.
DLBC has over the years brushed aside criticisms to emerge a focused church. Flat 2 has given way to sprawling worldwide headquarters at Gbagada, Lagos. It is costing some N3 billion.
The recent years have seen DLBC beckon on internet technology to support the spread of the gospel. Many have criticized Deeper Life for its use of the TV system and internet for transmitting its programs especially the Monday Bible Study, saying Kumuyi is back-pedaling on his alleged hostility to members watching TV or owning a TV set at home. I do not think Pastor Kumuyi ever sweepingly denounced the TV as evil on its own. But he has warned of the danger of watching its programmes indiscriminately. I still have in my possession the recording of a 1999 TV interview where he spoke of his position on the matter.
If Pastor Kumuyi has given so much to Deeper Life Bible Church, it would be inconceivable and a run against healthy relationships that his brothers and sisters in the church have not in return given him some treasurable heritage. They have offered him the dominant grey hair that is his trademark now.
For me, the white strands constitute an adumbration of the crown waiting for him hereafter by the Mercy of God.
Long before Nigeria arrived at the present impasse, DLBC had set forth a way of escape from the doom. Kumuyi declared: “When we started the Bible Study, for me it was strange—women wearing slacks and using jewelry and lipstick. So I would teach them that a born-again Christian sister does not dress that way. Being born-again affects everything that you do in life. Then you have seen the lifestyle in Nigeria: the bribery, corruption, unpunctuality, falsifying accounts (when you get to a place of work at 8.00 a.m., you write that you got there at 7:30 a.m.). Now the only way to correct all these things was to say; ‘If you say you are a Christian, indicate the exact time you get to the office…If you get there at 9.00, put 9.00. If you resume at 9.00 and you put 8.00, you are lying and a Christian should not lie’; that way the lives of the people became changed…if you were cheating your employers before you will restore…At the bus-stop or anywhere people in Nigeria normally wouldn’t queue but just push…But we w
ould teach our own members that if you say you are a Christian, take your place, do unto others as you want them do unto you. Somebody got there before you therefore queue up.”
This is the pith of the spiritual revolution DLBC brought.
The church has helped the people conquer evil habits like prostitution, gangsterism, drug abuse, alcoholism, corruption, spousal infidelity, embezzlement, juvenal delinquency, workplace misdemeanors etc.
The implacable atheist and social critic, late Dr. Tai Solarin, whose Mayflower School, Kumuyi attended, visited the evangelist and applauded him for his steadfast stand on morality and exemplary leadership as a pastor.
DLBC has been unrelenting in its drive for building sound doctrine and a life of righteousness in its members despite a series of severe setbacks.
Pastor Kumuyi still preaches in his now familiar style of deliberately delivering a concatenation of alliterations. He is such a delight to listen to or watch that most times you are in quandary what to concentrate on: the alliteration or the message!
In his book, Discourse, Politics and the 1993 Presidential Election Campaigns in Nigeria, Dr. Tunde Opeibi submits that the use of alliteration is a powerful “stylistic device” of language.
It is impossible for such a pastor and his flock not to engender a web of myths as it is with all great men and institutions. A sister in the church said Pastor Kumuyi is Jesus Christ who has come back and that he is only pretending to be man! Another has surmised that Pastor Kumuyi was there when God was writing the Bible!
To bring Kumuyi closer to his brothers and sisters, DLBC has lately begun a programme (every third weekend of the month) where the pastor delivers multiple breakthrough sermons from Saturday evening through Sunday morning. It’s a menu of miracles. I believe this programme, combining at a go all what DLBC has stood for in 40 years—personal conviction of salvation, inward and outward holiness, revival, a heavenly focus, divine healing and provision—presages a future driven by the foundation of the past. What does this mean? Simply, it says that while Deeper Life may have undertaken some tactical concessions it has not and does not plan to yield strategic ground.
Pastor Kumuyi himself has considered the matter. He once told a Ghanaian journalist: “…In Deeper Life we do have a united voice…After I leave, the way Deeper Life is…it will stand. And even if I were not there, things would still go on. That’s the way the Lord has built us.”