…Pastors Bakare, Okotie disagree with fellow clerics, govt
…Guideline on aged people merely advisory —Bishop Ighele
By Sam Eyoboka
Churches in Lagos State are reopening today after four and a half weeks of lockdown occasioned by the coronavirus pandemic.
But while Catholics, Methodists, Anglicans and the leadership of Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria, PFN, in the state are resuming services, two senior clerics, Pastors Tunde Bakare and Chris Okotie, are asking their members to continue to worship from home.
The Federal Government had, on March 30, directed the cessation of all movements in Lagos and Ogun States as well as the FCT as part of the measures to curb coronavirus escalation in Lagos.
Since then, worship centers in the two states have remained shut.
Gov. Babajide Sanwo-Olu, penultimate Saturday, announced the reopening of worship centres in Lagos with effect from today but at 50 per cent capacity.
Lagos CAN Chairman, Apostle Alex Bamgbola, in a statement on behalf of heads of the five blocs of CAN, said the reopening was a loud testimony to the prayers of church leaders.
Also reacting in a telephone chat, Prelate of Methodist Church Nigeria, Most Reverend Samuel Kanu Uche, expressed delight on the reopening of worship centers, describing the gesture as heart-warming.
In a similar development, General Overseer of the Redeemed Christian Church of God, Pastor Enoch Adeboye, called on all members of the church to begin attending service today.
Adeboye said although some services will continue to hold online, congregants must be physically present in church as it attracts more blessings.
The cleric spoke in a video message titled, ‘From Lockdown to Leaping Up’, saying people should not be deceived into thinking that attending service at home had become a permanent thing.
On his part, the Serving Overseer of the Citadel Global Community Church, formerly known as Latter Rain Assembly, Pastor Tunde Bakare, directed members of his church to ignore the directive of the Lagos government on the reopening of worship centres.
Bakare faulted the decision to reopen worship centers when the Nigerian Center for Disease Control, NCDC, projected that COVID-19 may reach its peak this month (August), advising worshippers not to be “deceived by government or religious leaders”.
“I have to appeal to you once again, please keep safe and do your best to stay alive. Do not let anyone, whether religious leader or governmental leader, to drive you like a sheep to the slaughter,” Bakare said.
“If they (government and the authorities) said that the month of August is going to be the peak of the infection, why should they ask people to rush in (re-open churches) again?
“Please keep safe and do your best to keep alive by keeping all the necessary rules. We know that by the grace of God this pandemic, like the others before it, has an expiry date. It shall not see our end. We shall see its end in the mighty name of Jesus.”
Earlier in June, the pastor had said his church will remain closed “until the coast is clear”.
Also sharing his perspective, Okotie, who is Founder/Senior Pastor of the Household of God Church International Ministries, and who has accused Microsoft founder, Bill Gates, of playing a role in the spread of COVID-19, argued that going to church in veiled faces or masks amounts to mocking God.
In a statement titled: ‘WHY WE CAN’T WEAR MASK IN CHURCH’, urged members of the Household of God Church not to resume service today.
According to the superintendent of the Oregun, Lagos-based church in a 28-minute voice recording sent via WhatsApp to his church members, wearing of masks or face shield was unacceptable.
Citing Bible references, the pastor said “for Christians to wear any type of mask or face shield to church is to reintroduce the veil which was torn the moment Jesus died on the cross.”
He said with the tearing of the veil, there is no longer separation between God and His people, warning that wearing of masks would reverse the order.
According to him, he didn’t initially discuss the mask in his earlier broadcast on the Covid-19 mystery because he was waiting for its full manifestation.
Okotie said he decided to speak out now because mask is now graduating into a face shield which is a veil.
“When a man is standing before God in church wearing a shield or mask, he is denying the finished work of the Cross”, he said, adding that most Christians do not understand the implications, thinking it is just a medical requirement.
He added that we can’t rush to God just because we love to worship.
“We must only follow the protocols outlined in the Bible, not any directive that violates the basic tenets of our faith,” the pastor insisted.
The televangelist took his audience through a theological voyage, saying: “If you look at the progression of the evolution of mask, you will notice that it progressed from just being a mask covering your nose, mouth and the area to becoming a face shield which is what a veil is.
“Why that is relevant is because the veil is found in the scripture and it represents something very profound and that is what I want to mention.
“The veil was first introduced by Moses when he came down from the mountain and the glory of God was upon his face and then he covered his face with a veil because he did not want Israel to see that glory.
“Later on, when the law was established, we find in the temple, two veils: One in the holy place and one in the holy of holies.
“In the case of Moses, his face is covered with one veil and in the case of God, in the temple, it is covered by two veils.
“If you were trying to approach God from the outer court, the more you go closer to Him, the darker it became because you couldn’t see His face.
“The first veil made it impossible; the second veil made it absolutely impossible to see His face.
“We find that the veil represents barrier between God and man. We are told in the scripture that when the Old Testament is read today, the veil that was on the face of Moses has moved into the heart of the Jewish person who is under the law, he can no longer understand the word of God when it is read to him because of that veil.
“When Jesus went to the cross, we read it in the scripture that when the sacrifice took place, the first sign of the approval of the acceptance of that sacrifice was that the veil of the temple, that is, the second veil was split into two.
“So man has access to God and God has access to man, so there is a rapproachment based on the blood of the Lord Jesus.
“When man stands in the presence of Almighty God wearing a veil or what you might call a face mask or shield or evening mask, what you are saying to Him is that you are denying the efficacy of the blood sacrifice. You are denying the finished work of the cross”.
Meanwhile, the General Superintendent, Holy Spirit Mission (Happy Family Centre), Bishop Charles Ighele, has described the reopening of worship centers in Lagos as a welcome development.
The cleric, who is also a presenter of the marriage and family intimacy television programme ‘THE LOVE ARENA’, stated that churches shouldn’t have been closed in the first place, but noted that the genuine body of Christ will remain the same despite the lockdown.
He also urged the faithful to observe the set rules and maintain hygienic lifestyle.
“I am one of those with the view that churches ought not to have been locked down in the first place”, Ighele told Sunday Vanguard.
“A genuine church of God is a sacred place which men should handle with care. Unfortunately, a number of churches are not genuine.
“They are either churches set up by men to fulfill their personal ambitions or churches powered by demonic forces.
“All these have made the church to lose a lot of respect before the media, the government and the public.
“In the process of closing down all churches, the good, the bad, the ugly and the wicked were all affected but all that is now over”.
On the regulations, he said, “Lagos State government has announced that churches should operate at 50 % sitting capacity.
“This has reduced the anger of some pastors who were not happy with the lockdown.
“We are going to improve on that and still maintain the two meters sitting and standing distance originally approved by the government.
“We shall insist that only family members sit together including children.
“The governor was very wise in not excluding those who are above 65 years of age from going to worship their God through the avenue of congregational worship.
“He merely advised them to stay at home. No compulsion about it. It is now left for them to decide on what to do.
“The Church will be the same again. Coronavirus is not the worst plague in human history.
“The Bubonic plague which also came from China about seven hundred years ago and led to the death of over half of the population of England, the Netherlands and other countries it unleashed itself on, was by far worse than the coronavirus.
“Covid-19 is one the mildest pandemics. If the world came back to normalcy after those horrible plagues, the church and the world will also come out of this.
“For now, the culture of hugging can be suspended because culture is dynamic. “Pastors should educate worshippers that the virus is mostly contacted from loved ones and people you know or sit with or relate with.
“They should therefore introduce a new but temporary culture of social distancing and a permanent culture of constant hand washing and general hygiene”.