(On the day before he died, Sir John Tavener complained that there was “a notable lack of joy in modern art” Photo: REX)

“In the midst of life, we are in death”

“Life is a creeping tragedy.That’s why we must be cheerful.”

“Our glory lies where we cease to exist.”

Sir John Tavener’s final broadcast on the BBC’s Today programme brought home with force the truths of faith.

“In the midst of life, we are in death” it says in the funeral service. In modern conditions, we are often made to feel that this is not true. The great event with which every life must end is concealed by our culture. Up go the curtains round the hospital bed and we all talk about something else.

So I listened with unusual interest to Start the Week (Radio 4) on Monday. In January, the programme’s presenter, Andrew Marr, though only in his early fifties, suffered a stroke. He has recently returned to broadcasting. His post-stroke speech has the vocal equivalent of a very slight limp. On Monday, this made what he had to say the more affecting.

Marr told his audience that he is not religious but that, as he has convalesced, he has found himself reading religious poetry and listening to religious music. He has encountered “the possibility of sudden death”, and it has changed him. He reads the 17th-century poems of George Herbert and listens to the cantatas of JS Bach. Why might this be, he wanted to know. Why, in a culture which seems less and less interested in the formal teachings of religion, do many people feel that religious poetry and religious music matter more than ever?

Sir John explained that he had recently had a near-death experience. Since he had been ill, he had been looking back on his life a lot. Although he had moved from the Presbyterianism of his childhood, through Roman Catholicism, to a rather unorthodox version of eastern Orthodoxy, he remembered fondly a Protestant pastor of his youth. “Life is a creeping tragedy,” the minister used to say. “That’s why we must be cheerful.”

At first, Sir John’s illness had “shut everything down. God seemed to have vanished”; but then, as he recovered strength, his belief in God and his capacity to compose music – which, he said, had always gone together – returned. Now his music had become “more essential; more terse”.

The next day, Sir John Tavener died. He had Started the Week, but he didn’t finish it. In the midst of life, we were in death.

I listened to the programme again on iPlayer. Now it was charged with greater meaning by the circumstances. Its themes, sometimes apparently disparate, seemed to resolve themselves, as in music. Tavener complained that there was “a notable lack of joy in modern art”. He had just set three of Herbert’s poems to music (they will be performed for the first time next year). He quoted Dante: “All my thoughts speak of love.”

John Drury read out one of Herbert’s most famous poems, Love (III). It takes the form of a dialogue between the unworthy soul and Love (who is God, though not so named). The soul is inclined to refuse Love’s invitation to sit at his table, but Love, the perfect host, persuades him. In the dialogue, said Dr Drury, “Love has fewer words, but they are sprightly. In the end, it is Love that matters.” On Tuesday, the end came for John Tavener.

Being no musician, or even a serious appreciator of music, I cannot judge Tavener’s work, beyond saying how I have always found it – in the literal sense of the word – entrancing. One gets caught up in it. To use a phrase of St John of the Cross, one “dies to oneself”. The concept of dying to oneself makes actual, physical death less terrible.

With his long hair and his almost hippy appearance, his incongruous love of fast, expensive cars and his weakness for the pow-wow drum or a Tibetan temple bowl, Sir John sometimes resembled what, as schoolboys, we called a “pseud”. Like Sir Laurens van der Post (another favourite of the Prince of Wales) or the travel writer Bruce Chatwin, he appeared to tread a fine line between mage and poseur. But if you follow his career, you can see the consistency of a quest which was both spiritual and musical. In his creativity, he may have been restlessly egotistical, yet his beliefs turned egotism into almost its opposite. As he put it, referring to the requiem mass: “Our glory lies where we cease to exist.”

George Herbert, though high-born and ambitious, eventually chose the simple life of a parish priest. He wrote his poems, but never attempted to publish them in life. As he was dying, he asked them to be given to a trusted friend, saying that they were “a picture of the many spiritual conflicts which have passed between God and my soul, before I could subject mine to the will of Jesus my Master”. He asked him to read the book and “if it may turn to the advantage of any poor dejected soul, let it be made public”; if not, he should burn it.

Luckily, the friend published, to the advantage of thousands of poor dejected souls ever since, up to and including Andrew Marr. Herbert’s glory lies where he ceased to exist.

For Herbert, that dejection he referred to was important. It was a horrible thing, but also a grace. In one of his most famous and beautiful poems, The Flower, Herbert compares his formerly depressed self to the plant that seems to die, but doesn’t: “And now in age I bud again,/After so many deaths I live and write;/I once more smell the dew and rain,/And relish versing: /Oh my only light,/ It cannot be/That I am he/On whom thy tempests fell all night.”

On Start the Week, Jeanette Winterson quoted Seamus Heaney: “Poetry should be strong enough to help.” “Strong” wouldn’t be the first adjective one would associate with George Herbert’s refined and gentle spirit, but it turns out to be the right one. His poetry helps.

I should have liked to ask Andrew Marr for his own answers to his own questions. What is it that he, an unreligious person, finds valuable in Herbert, the most truly religious of all English religious poets, or in a religious composer like Sir John Tavener?

On air, Marr asked if it were true, as some have said, that only a good Christian could read Herbert correctly. The panel were indignant at the idea, no doubt rightly so, since Herbert wrote for any human being who might need it. But the broader question stands: if people do not believe what religion says, why do they turn to its utterances when sick or dying or in fear?

The obvious, cynical, but not completely wrong answer is “Any port in a storm”. But I would argue that something else is going on, too. The chief message of 21st-century Western culture is one of self-empowerment. With technology, money, know-how, rights, medicine, problems can be solved: “You can do it!” Often this is true. But an encounter with really serious things – and nothing is more serious than death – tells you that ultimately you cannot. When you realise this, the paradoxes that are central to the great religions (especially to Christianity, which is the most paradoxical) come home with unique force. When I am weak, then am I strong; you must die to live.

In our culture, millions of people only think about these things too late, if at all. So the people who think about them all the time are helpful – and brave. Which is good reason to give thanks for the life and work of Sir John Tavener.

Source: Why does a brush with death make people turn to religion? – Telegraph



Kingsway International Christian Centre, a 12,000-member megachurch in Britain headed by Nigeria’s Pastor Mathew Ashimolowo, lost $4.8 million to a Ponzi scheme after trustees carelessly invested money in it.

The scam was the brainchild of former Premier League soccer player, Richard Rufus, who used to be a defender for Charlton Athletic. He promised investors along with the church a return as high as 55 per cent.

The Christian Post reporting the findings of an inquiry published 14 December by the Charity Commission for England and Wales revealed that the Kent-based 12,000 members Christian Centre suffered a net loss of about $4.8 million (£3.9 million) after its trustees invested over $6.1 million (£5 million) in four installments between June 2009 and June 2010 . Mr. Rufus was a member and former trustee of the church.

Mr. Rufus had guaranteed that the investments would earn a sizable return totaling about 55 percent in a year.He was last year found guilty of defrauding about 100 investors out of a total of $10,731,159 (£8,682,343) in the £16-million investing scheme.

Kingsway International Christian Centre was the single largest investor in the scheme.

The Charity Commission said in the report that the church’s trustees handed over an initial investment and entered into an agreement in which they were guaranteed that investment would earn a profit of about five percent per month, with the exception of August and December when they were guaranteed profits of about 2.5 percent.

“The inquiry established that in practice, however, the investments resulted in a net loss of £3.9 million to the charity,” the report explains.
The report states that the church’s trustees who handed over the funds were guilty of “mismanagement.”

The commission found that the church’s trustees did not “exercise sufficient care when making the decisions to invest £5 million of the charity’s funds through the ex-trustee’s investment scheme.”

“They did not follow all the principles expected of trustees to ensure they comply with their trustee duties under charity law when making those decisions,” the report said.

The Charity Commission was first alerted to the church’s investment when it found that the church made £3 million of investments with a “qualified independent trader” who was “in a position to provide the services of an investment manager by investing in financial markets.”

After the commission contacted the Financial Services Authority to verify the trustee’s status as a trader, it found that the trustee in question was not, nor had he ever been, licensed to “carry on regulated activities in a personal capacity.”

The commission also found that the investments were paid to the trustee’s personal bank accounts. Additionally, the commission found that the investments “appeared to be speculative and high risk in nature.”

As a result of the commission’s inquiry, an interim manager was appointed to review the trustees’ decisions to invest the £5 million and to decide whether any of the trustees should be held personally liable.

The interim manager found that the trustees did not do enough to investigate whether or not the rate of return they were promised was realistic and put too much trust in the trustee’s good standing with the church and community.

“The interim manager found that conflicts of interest were not managed properly by the decision-making trustees when making the decision to invest.
There was too much reliance on the expertise of the ex‑trustee when he was personally interested and conflicted,” the report states.

“The interim manager found that insufficient consideration was given by the decision-making trustees as to whether the guaranteed rate of return was unrealistically high, or to the potential for fraud.”

After the church entered into an Individual voluntary agreement with the ex-trustee in hopes he could pay back the money lost, the ex-trustee filed for bankruptcy and was declared bankrupt in 2013.

The interim manager also encouraged the church’s current trustees to bring a legal claim against the trustees who decided to invest the money.
Read the full report by the Charity Commission here: Inquiry Report
Read more about Richard’s scam In the Telegraph: Richard Rufu

Source: Pastor Ashimolowo Loses $5million To Ponzi scheme | Sahara Reporters



Dear Pastor Adeyemi,

With due respect sir, your public assertion that mental health problems are caused by supernatural forces is completely false and misleading to the public as well as those who respect you and take your public utterances to heart. Sir, I suggest you seek the help of mental health practitioners for advice and guidance before speaking publicly about mental health issues so that you do not cause great public harm.

As of the moment I type these words, we have zero evidence that witches and wizards or evil spirits cause mental illness. Accumulated research over hundreds of years which have consumed billions of man-hours tells us that mental illnesses are caused by biological, psychological and social factors that often interact in a complex manner. It is the effects of these factors on the brain, which is the centre of mental functions, that lead to mental illness.

The biological factors include inherited conditions from our parents’ genes, maternal infections from the womb, maternal consumption of unprescribed drugs and illicit drugs, infections in childhood that are untreated or poorly treated, dangerous drug use and so on. Psychological causes include child abuse, sexual abuse, domestic violence, bullying and so on. Social conditions that can contribute to mental illness causation include poverty and unemployment. Treatments that have been developed according to this model of disease causation have been hugely successful, telling us further that the model is sound.

When uninformed persons attribute mental illnesses to supernatural causes, not only are they misleading the public, they are also inducing unnecessary fear in the public leading to stigmatisation and maltreatment of the mentally ill.

Up to 80% percent of Nigerians with diagnosable mental illnesses do not seek treatment for them. One of the main reasons for this derives directly from statements like yours. Your statement prevents mentally ill persons from seeking help, it makes them feel ashamed and takes away their dignity. It predisposes them to human right abuse by equally uninformed members of the public. It makes them seek help at the wrong places and delays the start of efficacious and effective Orthodox treatment thereby worsening their long term clinical and social outcomes.

Dear Pastor Adeyemi, your church and other churches can help mental health practitioners and the clients they see by referring to proper hospitals, persons with abnormalities in thought, perception, emotion and behaviour that cause them and their families distress, as well as prevent them from functioning optimally at home, work and society.

Also, your church and other churches can help by providing financial and social support to those who suffer from mental illnesses. You can create a mental health fund from your resources for the hospital care of the mentally ill. Humane treatment and respect for the dignity of all, including the mentally ill is something that should be preached from the pulpit.

Mental illness prevention begins from proper care of the developing brain from conception, meaning that women should have adequate care in pregnancy, the home environment should be conducive for the growth and development of children and the thriving of women, and maintenance of loving marital relationships. These can be preached from the pulpit.

Finally, Pastor, mental illnesses are not rare. 1 in 7 Nigerians will have one in their lifetimes. They also do not respect persons. They could happen to you or me or those we know. The overall principle then is this: how do you or I want to be treated when we have a mental illness?

I shall be glad to hear that you passed this message to your brethren and the entire faith community. You have a role to play in the spread of knowledge, in uplifting mankind and preserving the dignity of all men, especially those who are ill or weak and those without a voice.

Thank you for your time.

Dr. Olayinka Olatunde Ayinde

Dr. Ayinde is a psychiatrist based in Ibadan.








Nigerian pastor T.B. Joshua speaks during a New Year’s memorial service for the South African relatives of those killed in a building collapse at his Lagos megachurch.

Worshipers at Joshua’s New Year’s memorial service in Lagos.

Pentecostalism is booming all over the globe, but especially in Nigeria. Meet the man responsible for its rise.

Rows of sick people queue up one afternoon in downtown Lagos. There are people with crutches, mothers with crying babies, a couple of wheelchair-bound people and several with bad coughs. This is not a hospital; it’s a sports center. And they are not waiting to see a doctor; they are here to see a priest.

T.B. Joshua is one of Nigeria’s most controversial clergymen. Besides claiming to have a direct line to God, this 52-year-old has been performing so-called “healing miracles” for 20 years. Call him the Oprah of evangelism, the African case study in the kind of mass preaching that much of America is so famous for; he has his own TV shows, two million Facebook fans, sold-out events and branded merchandise. And like Oprah, he’s rich as hell. The latest estimates put his wealth at about $150 million. His church has branches all over the world, from the U.K. to Australia. He often goes on what he calls “Miracle Crusades” to other nations, and he claims that more than a million people have paid to attend his Tony Robbins–style seminars worldwide.

“I have nothing to say,” says one follower, asked about Joshua’s critics. “The Holy Book teaches us to love even our enemies.” 

Joshua is certainly not the only millionaire priest in Nigeria. Over the past 15 years, televangelism has taken over the country, and Pentecostalism — a Christian renewal movement that emphasizes a direct, personal experience of God — is booming across the entire African continent, as well as in Latin America. The first Pentecostal missions arrived in Nigeria in 1910. By 1970, there were an estimated 300,000 converts, and by the turn of the century, 30 to 40 million, according to Ruth Marshall, professor at the University of Toronto’s Departments for the Study of Religion and Political Science and author of Political Spiritualities: The Pentecostal Revolution in Nigeria.  According to the World Christian Database, some 12 percent of Africans are Pentecostals.

His pastoral style is sui generis. Joshua, who didn’t respond to OZY’s requests for comment, doesn’t preach that much. Rather, for a few minutes, he screams into the microphone, often prophesying what is to come — wisdom garnered from the latest chat with God. (He claims he foresaw the September 11 terrorist attacks.) Then, he takes his powers away from the mic and toward the sick, praying over the bodies of the afflicted and asking God to release the object of his prayer from cancer, syphilis, whatever disease it may be.

Chimbiebere Stanley Okah, 42, one of Joshua’s followers, tells us that he found the preacher through TV and was convinced when he saw one of Joshua’s “miracles” — healing a man from baldness with a sip of water. “I’ve seen countless miracles,” Okah says. “His preaching is flawless.” As for Joshua’s critics? “I have nothing to say,” Okah tells us. “The Holy Book teaches us to love even our enemies.”

For many followers, wealth enhances their pastor’s credibility and their own faith, rather than sullying them. Indeed, it’s not his money so much as his power that pisses off his preacher peers. The Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria, the country’s association of leading Pentecostal churches, has denied Joshua membership because, it says, he hasn’t provided proof of ordination. A few years ago, some preachers gathered to warn followers about Joshua, calling him an agent of the devil, arguing his curing powers had a dark source.

Such earthly demands for proof don’t trouble Joshua, who dismisses them as quack talk. Joshua claims his birth was prophesied a century earlier and that he spent 15 months in his mother’s womb before being born into a small Western Nigerian village. There, he attended primary school and worked odd jobs before starting to organize his first Bible groups.

He’s extremely charismatic, says Rene Peters, a Rwandan student whose mother took him to one of Joshua’s events. Joshua, Peters recalls, yelled at a woman who tried to stand up and leave during an event, and made her sit back down. “He exploits the naïveté or desperation of his followers with no accountability,” says Pradip Thomas, a scholar at the University of Queensland and co-editor of the book Global and Local Televangelism. A dozen people died last year when one of his event venues collapsed. Joshua has not been held legally accountable for the incident — yet.

It would be churlish to paint all of Joshua’s followers as naive or wooden-headed. “It’s hard to believe you can run on empty claims for over 20 years,” Marshall says. Those who come to Joshua are, after all, seekers; many have prayed and dreamed for years on end. Like Paul Ighodaro, 37, a Nigerian living in Greece. A composer, singer and writer, Ighodaro tells us about a vision he had: A son of God would appear in Nigeria. Ighodaro himself began to spread this word, which brought him to Emmanuel TV and Joshua. “I know the signature of God when I see one,” he writes. Ighodaro doesn’t even need to go to Joshua’s church, he says — he never has attended. He’s seen himself in Joshua’s congregation in a dream, wearing the choir garment. But don’t think he’s just relying on visions to connect with Joshua. Ighodaro credits the internet most of all.

J.Y. Lee contributed reporting.

Source: The Millionaire on God’s Payroll



Modern Miracles—True or False?

Some years ago I prepared an essay titled: A Study of Divine Providence. In that piece I pointed out, among other things, that although God is providentially working in today’s world through his natural laws, the Lord is not performing “miracles” in this age.

In response to that article, I received an irate letter from a Pentecostal reader who characterized the study as a “non-scriptural, non-edifying” exercise that denies the power of God.

We do not question the sincerity of most critics, but the letter reflected a type of uninformed emotionalism that unfortunately is common. The following statement from his note is typically “Pentecostal.”

The miracle power of Christ was at work when my friend was healed instantly of terminal cancer, including the scar tissue from the radiation.

He then declared: “The proof is in the pudding.”

All we ask is: “Let us see the evidence that there was any pudding!”

Does the gentleman actually expect anyone to believe that story in the absence of any objective evidence whatever? Were there before-and-after x-rays that document the “miracle”? Is there written testimony from competent physicians regarding the instantaneous disappearance of the “terminal cancer”—scar tissue and all? If so, where is it? And if the Lord miraculously healed the cancer victim, why was radiation necessary?

I have been investigating these miracle claims for half a century, and not one time have I ever seen anything that even remotely resembles the type of miracles that adorn the pages of the Bible.

Where is the modern instant restoration of a severed ear? Where is the Pentecostal minister who can walk on water? Where is the corpse that was four days in the grave, and walked out? Those who contend for modern miracles simply have not studied the issue sufficiently to identify the nature of a genuine miracle.

Many years ago, Oral Roberts came to our city with his “miracle working” campaign. We ran a newspaper advertisement offering a $1,000 reward for medical proof of a single miracle. Roberts never sought to claim the reward. He subsequently went back to Tulsa and established a hospital in which to treat the sick!

When the late Ronald Coyne, a small-time “healer” from Oklahoma, came to our community, claiming that he could miraculously see through a “plastic eye,” we offered to pay all expenses if he would submit to testing administered by a qualified ophthalmologist. He declined the offer and threatened to sue me. I urged him to do so, for the courtroom is a real arena for the examination of evidence. He took his “magic eye” con game and left town.

When another “miracle-worker” came to our city, claiming he could raise the dead, I offered to accompany him to a nearby cemetery. I suggested that he could pray for a corpse to “come up,” and I would pray for it to “stay down”—thus, we could demonstrate who had the greater power!

I have seen witch-doctors in Africa who claimed they could mutter incantations over a chicken gizzard and miracles would result, but there was no proof. In spite of the lack of any credible evidence, the poor and ignorant people of the village were offering the same kind of unsubstantiated testimony as do our Pentecostal critics.

This issue is not one to be decided by the subjective testimony of those who “feel” that God is working signs today; rather, it turns upon the critical examination of the facts in the light of plain Bible teaching.

The New Testament teaches that miracles occupied a special place in God’s redemptive plan, and they have not been extended throughout the Christian dispensation. See the article, Miracles on this website.

Some have sought to argue that miracles have continued beyond the apostolic age, but Dr. A. P. Waterson responds:

It has also been shown that the frequently quoted passages in Irenaeus, Tertullian, and Justin Martyr which purport to show that miracles of healing continued well into the 3rd century will not in fact bear that testimony (318).

Jackson, Wayne. “Modern Miracles–True or False?” ChristianCourier.com. Access date: September 4, 2016. https://www.christiancourier.com/articles/1421-modern-miracles-true-or-false