Ebenezer Oschoffa is the scion of the late founder of the CCC. He spoke with Church Times’ Gbenga Osinaike and Sanmi Falobi on the church and some of the misgivings about CCC. Below are excerpts:
How do we address you sir? Are you prophet Ebenezer or pastor?
I am just Ebenezer Oshoffa. I don’t believe in titles. For me it is nothing. It is just a label. It does not represent the content of a person. What is inside you is more important than the title you carry. I have a son who also bears my name. He loves God. He is on fire for God in London. He is the last born of the family and very energetic. Just call me Ebenezer Oshoffa.
Take us back to the beginning of the celestial church?
The church had been founded before I was born. There is a book on the history of the church. But I can remember vividly that I have been active in the church as far back as the 70s. I was in Ikenne, Shagamu, Tejuosho and so many places to shepherd parishes.
But some believe Celestial Church had a faulty background?
Celestial church is a Christian church. People are entitled to their opinion. Until you move close to a person, you will not understand what the person stands for. There are bad elements in the church and in many other churches too. The challenges we have are not peculiar to us.
So what exactly was the commission God gave to Pa Oshoffa?
Well, the Lord commissioned Oshoffa as a tool to liberate Christians from satanic bondage and make them appreciate that what they are looking for in the home of the herbalist is available in the church in a better and safer way.
In those days many Christians were still patronizing herbalists. That was the situation of the church when God called him to ministry. God spoke to him that many people had satanic marks on them because of their contacts with herbalists and so cannot make heaven. But the Lord commissioned him to evangelise and bring the gospel to people and make them realize that deliverance is available in the church. God told him that without the power and manifestation of the Holy Spirit in his life people would not believe in him. That is why his ministry was marked with signs and wonders.
We hear stories that animals like snake, monkey bird appeared to him when he received the call to start ministry. Some have inferred that it gives credence to the occult background of celestials. How will you react to this?
That is not strange. Moses the prince of Egypt had strange visitation from God. God appeared to him in the form of fire. The creatures God showed Papa OShoffa then were symbolic of what can happen in the society. The snake is symbolic, the monkey is symbolic and the peacock is symbolic. I think they represent the pride of life, lust of the flesh and lust of the eye. They were warning symbols for papa so that those things will not obstruct his ministry.
What was he doing when he had the encounter?
He was born and bred in the Methodist church. He was taken to a reverend at a time. His father was a converted Methodist Christian he was named Samuel because he was the only surviving boy of the father. Before him all the other children of his father had died. The father named him Samuel because he made vow to God that he would give him back to Him for His service. He was also named Bilewu (bi ile aye bawu) meaning, if he finds pleasure in the world. Let him live. The father was skeptical about his survival. That was why he gave him that name.
Did his encounter with God happen in the bush?
Yes. He was not going for any missionary work when God visited him. He was just going to buy wooden items in the bush when he had that encounter. It’s a long story. He was staying with a priest who kicked him out at a time after a minor skirmish and he returned to his father’s carpentry job. He went to the bush with his Bible. But he did not go there to pray or meet God. He did not set out for anything before he had the encounter. As a Methodist boy he always liked to pray.
Did he start the church immediately?
He did not start immediately. He was transformed. He started the church in 1947. He had so many angelic visitations and they were giving him specific instructions on what to do.
How did he get the inspiration for white garment?
The garment is just a uniform. It is a leveler. Anybody can afford it.
Why not brown?
What is common is white. I think it is just a way of making us feel a sense of oneness and nothing more. With the white garment you don’t have to bother on what to wear to church on Sunday. You also don’t have to fear that you will be inferior to some other people in church. It is the instruction from God to Pa Oshoffa. In Israel they have their Shawl to pray with. It is just a cloth. He did not borrow the idea from anybody. Imagine people looking for clothes to wear because they want to serve God?
You also go Barefooted. If I wear shoes does that make me a sinner?
It is the anointing of God in you that empowers you. Wearing the shoes or not is not the issue.
But some believe it is an occult practice?
Why don’t we say that Moses was an occult person when the Lord asked him to remove his shoes? Moses was asked to do that. For us not wearing shoes is symbolic. There is nothing to it. It is a representation of the fact that there is nothing in this world. And it also removes the craze for material things.
But Moses’ case was a one off situation?
Yes. But for us it is a tradition that has come to stay. And that does not mean there is something extra-ordinary about it. As I said, it is symbolic. Going barefooted has helped us to appreciate the vanity of life. It helps us to know that man without God is nothing. It is a way of humbling ourselves before God.
You have travelled wide I suppose?
Yes. I was outside the country for a long while. Just came back to Nigeria a couple of years ago. I was all over Europe and the US.
Have you always been in Cele?
I have always been in the church. But at a point I moved out and became a born again Christian. But I will not like to talk about that. I am born again. But it is an issue I don’t want to dwell on for now because some people may not understand.
Which church did you attend when you moved out?
I was with Pastor Mathew Ashimolowo’s KICC in London at the early stage of his ministry. I never knew Pastor Mathew before I joined his ministry. It was the situation in the CCC that led me to the church. The Holy Spirit led me to the church. I was trained in KICC. I know Pastor Mathew very well. Thank God for somebody like him. But I don’t want to dwell on that now. There are certain things people will do now and it means nothing to them. But I cannot do it.
How did papa come about the worship mode of CCC?
He got the mode through revelation. Our worship mode is not peculiar. The Catholic Church for instance also uses water the way we use it.
What about candle, binding candles using it to pray and several other ritualistic practices?
What we find out in the church is that those who attended over time brought their religious exposure into the church. People were used to using elements when they consult herbalists. So this idea of having something in their hand was brought into the church. And instead of them using it negatively, we convert it to something positive. The Yoruba man for instance believes in holding on to something to strengthen his faith. It is not a ritual in that sense. Sometimes we cannot understand the ways of God. It is like saying what was practiced in the Old Testament is occult practice.
But the Old Testament is supposed to be the shadow of the new?
Yes. You are right. But the truth is that we are not following the Old Testament as such. If we are, the whole of our church premises will be full of blood.
How do you explain the special work prayer sessions in the church that makes it look as if there is something beyond prayers that are being done?
The fact that some of the things we do are couched in strange terms and methods does not mean they are strange. When we do special prayers for people, it is like what you call intercessory prayers. In such case the issue is taken up by a group of people and they are asked to fervently stand in the gap praying for the person. It could require that the person will be in the church or under the watch of a shepherd.
But you use the name of angels to pray?
We don’t do that. Those who do that are acting in ignorance. We pray in the name of Jesus. But we do not worship angels. We are forbidden to do that. Whenever we mention the name of Jesus we bow. When it comes to Michael and other angels they all have their roles in actualizing the prayers. They are ministering spirits. They minister to us who are heirs of salvation.
I saw a building in your compound called White Angel. What does that mean?
The white angel house is just a name given to a building. I met it on ground. It was built for people who want to seek the face of God. It could have been any name.
You mystify a lot of things in the church?
The fact that we name some of these things does not make it bad. It is for our own convenience.
Using coconut to pray? What does that mean?
I think it has to do with the faith of the people. It is not easy to take such practice from them.
But who introduced it to them? Is it not the church?
Many things in the church were brought into the church by those who joined.
Are you saying there was no structure when the church started?
Nobody was controlling anybody. People were acting as they were being led and according to their faith. It is the faith of the people. It is difficult to remove from them what they believe. But God has used us to make them use those belief systems positively.
Oshoffa’s style was like that I suppose?
He prayed in the name of Jesus. And he prayed as he was led. There were times he asked for water or some other things just like Jesus did.
But what were the things you can recall about your father?
God used him to raise many dead people and also used him to heal many sick folks. His exit has left a vacuum in the church. He did not pay attention to some of the rituals you mentioned. He prayed simple prayers and God answered and things happened.
Why then was he controversial? He was a polygamist, he had a big foot and people say that is why he did not allow his members to wear shoes since his legs could not fit into a shoe?
Spiritual things are spiritually discerned. Don’t forget that Moses in his old age married an Ethiopian woman. The people quarreled with him and God judged them. I cannot quarrel with any man of God for his preferences. I won’t do that. That is between him and God.
But you are not into that?
I am not.
But some of your pastors are also into it?
Don’t mind those pastors who have many wives. They will tell you that it is because Oshoffa had many wives. But the truth is that they are adulterous. The adulterous spirit is already in them they just used Pa Oshoffa to cover up. In the case of Oshoffa God knew he had three wives before he was called to ministry. If God saw that he was unusable he would not have used him. I cannot vilify him for that.
The CCC seems not to have a structure?
Somebody came here and she did not believe what she saw. She said the way the church is being labeled outside is not what she experienced. The lady came and I did not ask her to bring anything and I prayed for her. Some people from the mainline Pentecostal churches come to celestial church when they have challenges and they get solution to their problems but they go back to their churches.
Maybe it’s because of your own peculiar experience that is why you seem not to look like the typical celestial pastor?
Yes. When God wants to do something in a person’s life he does it His own way. When God took me away from the church I was transformed. I had the privilege of interacting with men of God who worked on me. My exposure transformed me. You could be going to church for donkey years without encounter with God.
What is your background?
I was already a district evangelist by the time my father died. I had been married with children at that time. After the death of my father, I travelled abroad. I had a bit of my education here before I travelled. I had also worked in the bank. I did A/Levels. I was also at the University of Ibadan and then travelled abroad. While abroad I did a lot of courses in Information Technology. For me acquiring degrees does not matter.
We heard that your father never travelled by air. People said he had known he would die by accident. He believe dying in the air would make it impossible for his remains to be gathered?
These are mere speculations. He did not travel by air. I don’t know why. But there are people who have flight phobia. Travelling by air always can affect one’s health. It could be that he had phobia for height. Sometimes constant travelling by air could affect one’s health. He just did not like travelling by air. But people who travelled out of the country started the church abroad.
The way Celestial is run here is not the same with what you have abroad?
The culture of a place to a large extent affects the worship mode. That is what we are experiencing in the church. In the UK the way of doing things is different. The Yoruba man has a way of worshipping God which is different from the white man.
30 years after Oshoffa. What is your observation since he left?
There is a vacuum. I don’t want to talk more than that because doing that will lead us to talk about the crisis in the church which I don’t want to dwell on.
We hear that he prophesied that there will be crisis in the church for 30 years?
He said so. But if that is what is happening how come we are still in crisis after 30 years because it is already 30 years since he died.
Still on your father, what fond memory do you have of him?
He was unassuming. He was humble. He had relationship with other church leaders. He never criticized any church. He believed churches are like schools. One day they will sit in an exam hall and God will examine them.
What is the message of the Celestial Church?
It is to preach the gospel to the lost. It is to reach out to Christians who still run after fetish things and assure them there is power in the church. God commissioned Papa Oshoffa to preach the one true God. The mission of the church is to cleanse the world. Celestial Church people are trained to challenge powers of darkness.
But you mystify some of the things you do?
Every house has its own rules which some may not understand. I must confess that crisis have threatened the church.
Oshoffa died in 1985 about 40 years after the ministry began. One would have thought he would have put a structure down?
He would have put a structure down. What happened is that his death was sudden. As a matter of fact he did not die in the accident. After the accident we took him to First Shadrach hospital in Surulere and he was responding to treatment. There was no cut on his body. He was recuperating from the shock of the accident. We registered him as Mr. X in the hospital because we did not want people to flood the hospital. But my sister and I had access to him. I used to park my car far away from the hospital so that people would not trace me to the place. We were not wearing white garment to visit him. Many people thought he was dead. But on Sept 8, 1985 I brought Archbishop George Amu who was then a shepherd in the church to see him. Then, Papa Banjo and Papa Owodunni who had misunderstanding also came to see him that same day. There was a crisis in National Bank and Papa Banjo was in detention. Papa was asking Owodunni if he paid a visit to the man while he was in detention. He said, No, that even Thomas who had died… (Thomas was one of the aides of papa in the vehicle when the vehicle had accident. Papa Oshoffa did not know he had died.)
He was still talking when papa cut in. He was shocked to hear that Thomas had died. Papa Owodunni could not conclude his statement. When he saw that the piece of information did not go down well with Pa Oshoffa, he tried to rephrase what he said about the death of the aide but it was too late. Papa got the message.
Just to be double sure he told me to go and look for Thomas and one other person. I knew Thomas had died. I came back to him on Monday evening pretending to have travelled to Ibadan to bring Thomas. But the news had triggered so many things in him. I am sure he prayed that God should take his life away. If he did not die, I am sure people would have read meaning to the incident. He was okay and was cracking joke with us but the shock of the news of Thomas led to his death.