Rev. Dr. Israel Kristilere, Senior Pastor of Shepherdhill Baptist Church Obanikoro, Lagos has stressed the importance of eternity message in this End-time. Recently the Baptist cleric urged Church leaders to prepare their members for heaven. In this concluding part of his interview with Christian Benefits magazine, Dr. Kristilere notes that some of the lessons from the COVID-19 pandemic are that the global scourge has rendered the messages of prosperity and healing by preachers less significant, and stirs the need for preachers to focus on eternity messages. Excerpt.
Sir, in your recent on-line lecture organized by the West African College of Missionary Bishops (WACOMBS), you urged church leaders to prepare their members for heaven. In your view, does the message of eternity in heaven still appeal to people in this modern day Christianity faith and practices?
On whether the message of eternity in heaven appeals to modern day Christians, I agree that the message of eternity in heaven is not appealing to the generality. But the truth is that it is appealing to genuine children of God. The message of Christ is not about whether it appeals to people or not. It is the message that we must preach. We should not preach messages on the basis of whether they will appeal to men. It is about whether they appeal to God. That is what God expects us to do. And those who belong to him; who are meant to be saved will listen and they will be blessed and their lives would be changed. So, I still maintain that we must go ahead and preach messages of eternity; messages that will make people focus on heaven by making them realize that this world is only but for a short time. And the event of this period actually enables us to focus on eternity message. Everybody, except those who do not want to really listen, has realized that we cannot do but follow God and walk with him at this time. It has been a very tough time. It has been a very difficult time. So, we actually need to understand that. We have seen that the message of prosperity is affected by the pandemic. The message of healing is also affected by the pandemic. Some preachers would say I can heal all manners of sickness but such claims have been rendered ineffectual by the pandemic. Of course the healing power is there but it is now glaring to people that if you say you have all the powers, this is not the time to mention that. One thing that is clear is that everybody will leave this earth someday. Even the preacher and the healer himself, the miracle worker, the man who claims he has all the gifts, will all have to leave this world one day. And where do we go from here? It is either heaven or hell! So, the message of eternity will actually appeal to those whom God has prepared to save. Preachers must focus on eternity message at such a time as this.
The Church, specifically in Nigeria, is bedeviled with so many challenges such as disunity, leadership crisis, charlatan preachers, compromised messages and materialism etc. Where and when exactly did the Church in Nigeria get it wrong, and how can these above challenges be overcome by the Church?
I will say that getting it wrong may not really be our doing. It is the plan of the devil. The Bible says when the farmer planted a seed the wicked one planted weed. That has always been the case. I must confess that it is not just Nigeria’s problem. It is a worldwide problem. You will find charlatan preachers everywhere in the world. You will find people who are not genuinely saved. But the Nigeria’s case may be unique because there is so much gullibility in the country. As long as you can make some noise; as long as you can fly up and down and you can do a make believe miracles people can easily fall for you. I think those of us who have the true gospel are also guilty in the sense that rather stick to the true gospel, because of the so-called successes of charlatan preachers we are also trying to be like them instead of remaining where God has placed us. That has been a challenge. I think it is high time those of us who know that we are genuine preachers of the gospel to stand with the message of righteousness. We should stand with the message of the Bible. We should stand with the true Word of God, and those charlatans will soon be out of business because the events now will show who they are; that they are just business men. They are just hirelings. They are not true shepherds. So, we got it wrong because most people will love to listen to charlatan messages and those of us who are genuine preachers have not also stood our ground in declaring the genuine message of God. That has been a challenge. But now with the COVID-19 pandemic exposure of dishonest preachers we shall be back to the true gospel, and those charlatans will be out of business in a short while.
There is a discordant tune among Nigerian church leaders on the lifting of lockdown on churches due to COVID-19. What is your view on the lifting?
I was able to express my view on this issue recently in the Vanguard newspaper. And my view is that the governments cannot continue to lockdown churches. It is not right. Whether we like it or not this pandemic will not just disappear like that. It has come. And it will take some time to leave. We will need to live with it, and be COVID-19 control measures compliant for some time. Therefore, I just believe that the best way we can deal with this is to let churches reopen. The markets are opened. But let churches have rules on reopening. Let churches maintain social distancing, washing of hands, using of hand sanitizers and using of face masks. These are measures that we can also practice in churches, and not make it looks as if it is only in churches that COVID-19 would flourish more. Actually, I believe with God’s power we can overcome. So, my point is that those states, including Lagos state, who have yet to reopen the churches in their states should please go ahead and reopen the churches in their respective states on time before it becomes too late (Editor’s note: This interview was conducted before the reopening of churches by the Lagos state government). We need God to help us. We cannot say the house of God should be deserted. It is true that God can be worshipped everywhere, but God knows why he dedicated a place for his worship. So, churches and mosques should be reopened, and that should be done on time though with some rules and regulations that will make that reopening more feasible and meaningful.
Sir, in your own assessment have CAN, PFN and other Christian bodies in Nigeria been able to handle the issue of churches lock down properly, and if not, how best do you think they can handle the issue?
I must confess to you that our leaders cannot do better than what they have done. I must confess that they have done their honest best. The way we operate in our country and the current challenge demands that they also need to tread the paths of wisdom and cautions. I have no blames for anyone in CAN, PFN or other Christian body in Nigeria for the seeming wrong handling of the lockdown of churches. They have all done well. They have engaged the governments. They understand the challenges, and they are doing their best. But I think it is high time they now speak to the governments on the need to change their position. It is high time Lagos CAN speak to the state governor that we cannot continue to be in lock down. It is not good for our spiritual well-being. We need to actually go back to what the governor had said earlier before he rescinded his decision. The question when he rescinded that decision has there been any change in the numbers of COVID-19 cases? There is none! So, I think it is better that our leaders speak with the Lagos state governor so that he can actually reopen the churches in the state. There are times you have to go the extra miles to get things done. So, my challenge to our leaders is that they should go back and engage the government so that we can go back to worship the living God in his house. That is another step of faith; honoring God and knowing full well this pandemic is beyond us and we need God to help us. I have no doubt the Lord himself will help us in the name of Jesus Christ.
What is the official position of the Nigerian Baptist Convention you belong on the lockdown of churches in Nigeria by the Nigerian government over the COVID-19 pandemic?
I am not the official mouthpiece for the Nigerian Baptist Convention. I am just one pastor out of several thousands of pastors in the convention, and our leader is Rev. Dr. Supo Ayokunle, who also happens to be the National President of Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN). Nevertheless, I can give you the position of the convention based on what our leader (Rev. Ayokunle) has said and the letter he has addressed to us in all our churches. First, the position of the Nigerian Baptist Convention is that churches should be reopened with laid down rules and regulations but excluding the one that the elderly people should not come to church because they are more vulnerable and also children. I think that aspect of the regulations is not right. It was like what happened in the scriptures when the Israelites were to leave Egypt and Pharaoh said they must not leave with their children and their elderly ones. I believed that those who are vulnerable and those who have health challenges should be advised. You cannot force it on them. If they choose to come to church, that is their lots. But we need to advise them. And for the elderly ones they can also have a place where they sit in the church. The issue is that we should not mingle. The elderly ones are allowed to go to banks. They are allowed to go to the markets but they don’t have to come to church. I think that is not right. I also want to advise that children should be allowed to come to church. The only thing is that they should sit with their parents. There should be no several services such as children service separately and teenage service separately among other services. All members of the church; young and old must worship God in the church together. Families should sit together in the church to worship God. Some other states have done this and they are actually doing it very well. So, the official position of the convention is that this lock down be removed and churches should be allowed to worship, and that has been circulated to all of us, and we are waiting for the Lagos state government to please act on this as quick as possible.
What are some the lessons the Church should learn from the COVID-19 pandemic?
The first lesson that churches should learn is that God is sovereign and God is still in charge. Like I said COVID-19 is God’s own messenger, God’s own servant and God’s own revivalist to revive us. We must confess that many of us; even preachers and churches have gone wrong in pursuing so much of materialism, not following the dictates of the gospel. Now, I think this pandemic is calling us to repentance and we should learn that lesson of repentance. We should allow that message of repentance flow and achieve its purpose in our midst. It is helping us to realize that building empires for ourselves is unreasonable. Let us begin to build God’s kingdom. Many of our leaders are building empires. It’s time to build God’s kingdom. And let there be revival at this time. So, the church should be ready to get people ready for heaven. And that is the main purpose for which the Lord has established his church.
Lastly, what do you foresee becoming the state of the Church after the COVID-19 pandemic crisis is over?
I see a better future for the Church after the COVID-19 pandemic is over. I have no doubt that the Church will be stronger and better. I mean genuine churches; the real churches of Christ; those churches that are built on the foundation of Jesus Christ will become stronger and better. They will have more ministries. They will have more opportunities to reach out to more people. More souls will be won into God’s kingdom. More people will come to the house of God. You will find people who never cared about God now coming to say I want to know more about God. So, the Church should only be ready to absolve such people, and to teach them messages of truth and righteousness that can make their lives better. The Church will be better after the pandemic. The Church will be stronger and the Church will be more holy. And righteousness will fill our country. Thank you so much Christian Benefits magazine for this privilege. May God bless you, amen and amen!
(#Editor’s note: This interview was conducted before the reopening of churches by the Lagos state government).