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There Was A Man, S. G. Elton: There Is A Church Uncertain Of Her True Identity And Mandate By Olugu Olugu Orji mnia

February 12, 2014

If you studied in the University of Ife before 1987 and you were an active Christian, you would certainly have been impacted by the ministry of a man named S. G. Elton; especially if you were also part of the Evangelical Christian Union.

If you studied in the University of Ife before 1987 and you were an active Christian, you would certainly have been impacted by the ministry of a man named S. G. Elton; especially if you were also part of the Evangelical Christian Union.

Twice in each yearly cycle, he would attend the meeting of ECU in the company of his wife and sometimes, their daughter, Ruth. The first event was the inauguration of the new leadership of the Union that usually happened during the Harmattan Semester and coincided with the end of a calendar year. The second, and in my opinion, the more critical meeting took place in the Rain Semester during the valedictory service (send-forth) of the graduating set. In was in those meetings I discovered the true essence of the prophetic and apostolic ministry.

Maybe I need to back-track a little to throw light on what a British family was doing in the cradle of Yoruba civilization. Pa Elton – as he was fondly addressed – had arrived Nigeria in 1937 with a clear mandate to raise a new breed of leadership in the Nigerian Church, who, powered by the Holy Spirit, will take the message of God’s kingdom and the all-conquering King to the very ends of the earth. He lived in Ilesa (about 30km from Ile-Ife) from where he undertook those momentous missionary assignments. He is undoubtedly the father of the Pentecostal Revival Movement in Nigeria. 

In Ile-Ife, he found a potent platform to impact and disciple young men and women who continue to be in the forefront of genuine Pentecostal revival and missionary enterprise in Nigeria. 

“But you shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and you shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.” These were the very last words Jesus uttered before his translation. They were the first and the strongest impetus for all that Pa Elton achieved in 50 fruitful years as the untiring avatar of a spiritual movement that was steeped as much in prayer as it was in prayer-inspired action.

The saintly Joseph Ayo Babalola and the gregarious Benson Idahosa are just two of the legion he mentored. Under his inspirational tutelage, young men like Emeka Nwankpa, Steve Olumuyiwa (Okitika), Austin Ukachi, John Okposio formed the core of what used to be the Christian Students Social Movement that led a massive crusade that recruited young people for focused kingdom service. Reuben Ezemadu of Christian Missionary Foundation and Egbuna Offodile of Children Evangelism Ministry trace their ministerial roots to this blessed man. Geoffrey Dabibi Numbere of the Greater Evangelism World Crusade, the foremost apostle of the creeks, received his marching orders while studying at the University of Ife. Even Francis Wale Oke of the Sword of The Spirit Ministries and Moses Aransiola of Gethsemane Prayer Ministries, though not ordinarily denizens of the Ife sheepfold, could not escape his vast apostolic influence.

In academia as in the corporate world are men and women who, as direct or indirect beneficiaries of Pa Elton’s ministry, continue to hold the fort; shinning the light in a world increasingly under threat of darkness. There are many more in public service who by their exemplary commitment and conduct not only amplify the merits of union with Christ, but also point to the good seed faithfully planted by one British many years back. Current Minister of Agriculture, Akinwumi Adesina operates with an evangelical zeal and unwavering focus that one can now properly place. His path once crossed with Pa Elton’s.

After 50 years of a remarkably eventful ministry, Pa Elton passed on and was buried in Ilesa as was his wife who had preceded him. Ruth is now about 80 and still deeply involved in the ministry right here in Nigeria. Each time I recall his successful and most sacrificial life and ministry, I can only exclaim, “What a life, and what a legacy!” and I am happy and saddened all at once. Happy because I was privileged to drink from his wealth of prophetic insight; saddened as I behold the caricature currently making out as the bride of Christ.

Don’t be fooled by the expansive, expensive auditoria and the endless stream of trendily-attired worshippers. Take no census of the posh cars and the palaces from which their owners rolled out. That the noble in the world also now double as the pillars of the Church should confuse no one. What is playing out is simply the nurturing and maturation of a ministry relinquished by the apostles two thousand years ago. 

A controversy had arisen in the early church when Greek-speaking widows complained of being discriminated in favour of Jewish-speaking widows in the daily distribution of food. Being leaders, the apostles were trying to resolve this knotty matter but had to restrain their deepening involvement. Here is my paraphrase of their dilemma. “It is not right for us as apostles to abandon the teaching of the word of God, and serve tables.” Corrective action was immediately inaugurated, freeing the apostles to attend to their primary concern; “…we will give ourselves to prayer, and the ministry of the word.”

Most of what is happening in our overflowing temples is simply ‘serving tables:’ a euphemism for attending to endless, temporal human needs. Very few disciples are being made and even fewer are committing to taking the message of the kingdom to the ends of the earth. We delude ourselves when we assume obedience to the eternal command by bequeathing one man with our resources to do the work on our behalf. So he tools around at breakneck speed and in unimaginable comfort purporting to perform the tasks divinely assigned to all of us. At the end of the day, because we lack accurate knowledge of the demands of the kingdom of God and our inalienable part in it, we remain as spiritual toddlers minded by those who have falsely assumed the position of our sole spiritual nannies.

Nigeria may host the world’s largest, single Christian congregation, she might be one of the world’s most religious enclaves, but she ranks dubiously as one of the most corrupt and lawless. The clue to unravelling this dilemma is not far-fetched: majority of the millions who purport to profess Christ are mere tots tied to the apron strings of those either ignorant of the truth or unwilling to expose the people to it; and by extension, to freedom. So the nation languishes, and the ends of the earth pine away awaiting the manifestation of God’s true sons; not this immature, carousing and lecherous lot. 

It is nearly thirty years since this exemplar of missionary statesmanship concluded his earthly race survived by an illustrious company of fire-begotten men and women consumed by the eternal agenda of demolishing hell’s gate and extending the frontiers of the kingdom of the Christ.

But while Pa Elton sought painstakingly to define the criteria for the man that God uses, another company, in dubious mimicry, has been studiously moulding the image of the ‘God that man uses.’  That ‘God’ is equally touted as infinitely good, loving and merciful. The sole purpose of his being is to make his children happy by giving them designer spouses, children, wealth and every other thing their eyes and imagination can conceive. It is for their sake he runs a celestial supermarket where all they will ever crave for is stocked. So if they don’t possess it, they probably forgot to order it. Littered all over the landscape are these diaper-donning disciples of swanky apostles of conspicuous consumption enabled by their unfettered access to filthy lucre. This emerging scenario is still supremely perplexing to so many.

So while our cities and urban areas are crawling with these preachers and prophets peddling all manner of self-serving messages to undernourished spiritual babes, our villages and rural areas desperately await the arrival of the likes of Pa Elton who will give their life so they can obtain something infinitely better. It is like the timeless wisdom encapsulated in the celebrated saying: “He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep so he can gain what he cannot lose.” Sadly, most of what these so-called leaders currently consider as assets can be destroyed in a moment.

Ordinarily I should be despondent, but I’m not. I have hope – fervent hope – that either from within or from external prompting, this charade in the guise Pentecostal fervour will cease. Maybe we will call it a revival or a revolution: for me, it matters little. All I am assured is that once more, light and salt will be used in rightly describing the bride of Christ in Nigeria.

That is what S.G. Elton laboured so long to actualize. That is exactly what I fervently hope and pray will shortly materialize. 

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