EMBATTLED Christ Embassy Church founder Pastor Chris Oyakhilome is under fire again after it emerged that he charged parishioners a N1,000 (£3.60) gate fee to attend a New Year’s Eve service in Lagos. On April 9 last year, Pastor Oyakhilome’s wife Anita filed for a divorce citing unreasonable behaviour and adultery as her grounds for seeking a separation. Since then, he and his wife have been involved in a high-profile exchange of words in the media, with each of them accusing the others of all forms of impropriety. To add to his headaches, Pastor Oyakhilome has come under fierce criticism for charging worshippers tom attend his New Years Eve service at Christ Embassy’s headquarters in the Oregun area of Lagos on December 31.
Those who could not afford the N1,000 passes were turned back and told that they could go elsewhere to worship or watch the service online for free. Many people described it as extortion and abuse of Jesus’ teachings and another confirmation that some Nigerian churches and pastors are more interested in making money than winning souls for God. However, the church explained that it was a way of controlling the crowd and discouraging thousands of people who come to church once a year on December 31 and prevent real worshippers from securing seats on that important night. With a seating capacity of roughly 20,000 seats, Christ Embassy might have made at least N20m (£71,500) from the sale of gate passes used for the crossover service.
Worshippers and former staff have complained in the past that the emphasis was often too much on money in the church rather than on spiritual things Jesus Christ taught his disciples.
Since the revelations about the gate fees collection at Christ Embassy Church were made public last week, Nigerians have continued to express shock, outrage and indignation with many finding it hard to believe it. Many worshippers expressed their indignation on the social media, especially Facebook. Femi Olulowo said: “Gate fee collection appears good for crowd control in a theatre or secular concert but not sound enough in the house of God where Christ the head of the church bids everyone to come, even when they only respond once in a year. Even if the church prefers its already saved members to partake in a particular service, gate pass should have been given to them at no cost and they will have the privilege of going in first.” Onyeka Okochi added: “Salvation doesn’t come at a cost.
In the Bible, a man who wanted to pay for salvation was refused.” Pastor Oyakhilome’s congregation is reported to be 40,000 strong and Forbes estimated his net worth, which includes diversified interests such as newspapers, magazines, a local television station, a record label, satellite TV, hotels and extensive real estate, at $50m. He travels around the world in a jet and moves around Lagos with bodyguards and heavily armed policemen.