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:
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.
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.
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 alientated 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.
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.