WHEN OBEDIENCE TO GOD TRUMPED DOCTRINES: HOW DEEPER LIFE CHRISTIAN MINISTRY ACTUALLY STARTED
A Tale of Two Churches (From Azusa Stables and Portland, Oregon to Gbagada, Lagos).
By Leke Beecroft
‘Then Peter and the other apostles answered and said, We ought to obey God rather than men’.
‘You know what you are doing’? You want to have a church within a church’ the elderly man, Rev Timothy lashed out.
‘Excuse sir, what does that mean-Church within a Church’? Did I create any Church? Replied the younger Williams.
‘You are preaching and going out everywhere. Telling people to preach in the bus and preach everywhere’ said Timothy.
‘Yes sir’ Williams responded.
‘We don’t accept that here, you are not licensed to do that sort of thing on your own. Invite them here instead’ stated Timothy.
‘So you don’t accept the whole Bible here’? asked Williams with an air of curiousity and stubbornness.
‘That is not our doctrine’ Reverend Gbadebo insisted
Williams paused …“but look at the Bible sir, ‘Go into the world and preach the gospel to every creature.” He said, remaining adamant.
Exasperated, Reverend Gbadebo said with a tone of finality “This is no play. Listen to me; if you continue, and you do this which I have told you not to do; and you are quoting Bible to me, we will cast you out of our church.”
This brief conversation between Reverend Timothy Gbadebo Oshokoya and Brother William Folorunso Kumuyi inadvertently led to the creation of one of the largest Christian ministries in Africa and probably the world today, the Deeper Christian Life Ministry. Deeper Life as a church became a brand in the early 1980s, a product of a vision and movement led by William F Kumuyi. Apart from the individuality of Idahosa and his Idahosa World Outreach, Deeper Life Christian Ministry was the first widely known pentecostal brand outside Nigeria.
Many may not know however that Pastor Kumuyi was an offshoot of the Apostolic Faith Mission with roots in the USA. The Apostolic Faith Church was founded by Florence Crawford. Crawford was a participant in the Azusa Street Revival which began in 1906 at the Apostolic Faith Mission of the famous Seymour led ‘Azusa Stables’ in Los Angeles. Azusa soon became the center of the Apostolic Faith movement. Later, Seymour appointed Crawford to help other missions and churches join the movement; however, she left Seymour in 1911 to begin an independent work in Portland, Oregon. Many churches under her supervision followed her, weakening the position of Seymour and subsequently Portland became the headquarters of the Apostolic Faith Mission.
The Mission soon spread to Africa between 1920 and 1940 through American Missionary, Frank E. Hein. By 1942 Brother Timothy Gbadebo Oshokoya received the first parcel of Gospel tracts from Portland, Oregon and soon after in October 1944, Oshokoya, Obakoya and others met and adopted the doctrines of The Apostolic Faith, thus The Apostolic Faith began as an Organisation in Nigeria with meetings in Mushin. In 1946, the Church moved to 26, Little Road, Yaba. Brothers Oshokoya and Obakoya were later ordained as ministers in 1949 and Oshokoya attended the Camp meeting in Portland, Oregon, for the first time in 1951.
Apostolic Faith Mission was growing steadily and by 1957 a 3-acre piece of land for a campground at Onigbongbo (Anthony Village) was purchased. By 1959, attendance at Lagos camp meeting had risen to 1,500.
In 1963, a group of singers and preachers from Apostolic Faith Mission got permission to come to Mayflower, Kumuyi’s Alma Mater where he had started teaching a year earlier.
Earlier, Kumuyi who had grown up as an Anglican boy had lost interest in church activities when he got into secondary school because the principal, one Tai Solarin taught atheism. After a while, Kumuyi resolved to start going to various churches in the town. He soon gained a first-class degree in Mathematics at the University of Ibadan; then went back to Mayflower School to teach. After five years he went to the University of Lagos to do a Postgraduate Certificate in Education and became a lecturer there in 1973; that was when he started a small Bible Study group of about 15 persons.
Kumuyi finally left for the Apostolic Faith Mission while teaching in Mayflower. It was there that he got introduced to the Mission and heard about the change that Christ could make to lives when turned from sins. There, he gave his life to Christ He became a born-again Christian at the age of 23, on 5th April 1964 in Ijebu-Ode in Ogun State, Nigeria. He read books of the likes of John Wesley, Charles Finney, Spurgeon, Dwight L Moody and others. He also got involved with the Scripture Union and developed as a Christian.
By 1966, The Wooden Tabernacle on the Campground, Anthony Village was dedicated and in March 1972, the foundation of the Great Tabernacle on the grounds was laid; two memorable events Brother Kumuyi witnessed.
However, as William grew in the Faith and his zeal for God increased and he began to witness for Christ in a manner that was not agreeable to church doctrine. He was soon cautioned; however, he continued reaching out and even teaching students and staff at his Flat 2 Apartment at the University of Lagos until the church finally excommunicated him in 1975.
This action as disappointing as it was, coupled with the yearnings of growing numbers in the university campus to be taught led to the birth of the Deeper Christian Life Ministry. The university quarters soon became too small to host the gatherings and opposition to the meetings grew. Soon the fellowship relocated and was accommodated briefly at Ebute Meta, a distance of about 20 minutes drive from the university by an illiterate head of a small but growing church, Pastor Josiah Akindayomi, General Superintendent of the Redeemed Christian Church of God.
The budding fellowship grew stronger thus leading to another relocation to their present headquarters in Gbagada, Lagos, some 5 kilometres away from the Campground at Anthony Village. The peculiar name of the ministry came from the people who thronged the fellowship. As they began to receive the articles prepared for them at the Bible studies, they said: “We’ve been Christians before, but this one is deeper than what we used to know.” So they used the name Deeper Life. Through that, the group’s articles became Deeper Christian Life Articles and the group became known as the Deeper Christian Life Ministry.
On August 1, 1981, the Great Tabernacle of The Apostolic Faith on Anthony village campground was dedicated after 9 years of construction and soon after, on November 16 1983, Rev. T.G. Oshokoya, the first Africa Overseer, passed on to Glory and was succeeded by Rev. J. O. Soyinka.
On the other hand, Kumuyi’s small band had grown to several thousands, at which time Deeper Life Bible Church was formally established in 1983. By 1990, it became the most attended single church in Africa with a 50,000 attendance at the Gbagada headquarter church and also the third largest church in the world.
The Apostolic Faith Mission, steadfastly focussed as always experienced another change of baton with the passing on of Brother Soyinka and assumption of office on October 3, 1999 of Rev. Paul Akazue who was designated as the new Africa Overseer. On January 28, 2002 the foundation of the 75,000 capacity International Worship Centre was laid at Igbesa campground by Brother Darrell Lee. A few years later, Crawford University, a private Christian university in Igbesa, Ogun State, was also established by the Apostolic Faith Mission in 2005 by Paul Akazue. Rev. Paul Akazue was the Proprietor and the first installed Chancellor of the Crawford University, before his death in 2010, succeeded by Rev Emmanuel Adebayo Adeniran as the new District Superintendent, West and Central Africa (WECA).
Deeper Life presently holds a single service which starts by 8am at its headquarters and this is also simultaneously done in its branches. During the visit of late Charles Peter Wagner, a church historian in 2004, he counted close to 124,000 adults and kids on a Sunday service at Ayobo. The women section formerly coordinated by his late wife, Esther Kumuyi is now coordinated by Mrs Folashade Blaize Kumuyi who married him in 2010.
Deeper Life today has its branches known as districts in all the 774 local governments in Nigeria and is among the 4 most widely spread church organisations in Nigeria. The church has spread throughout sub-Saharan Africa and then to the United Kingdom, from where branches were developed in western Europe, Russia, India, and North America and by 2011 numbered about 1 million members worldwide.
Deeper Life Bible Church has also planted 500 churches in Lagos, 5,000 in the rest of Nigeria and 3,000 elsewhere (with missionaries to 40 countries of Africa). The Church also runs 16 Secondary Schools (Deeper Life High Schools) presently.” The school has campuses in Lagos, the national administrative headquarters, Port Harcourt, Benin, Oshogbo, Ibadan, Ilorin, Akure, Abeokuta, Yola, Onitsha, Abuja, Ado-Ekiti, Enugu, Calabar, Kaduna and Warri in Delta State.
The idea of a ministry owned university soon came up. Thus, Anchor University, was founded at Ayobo, Ipaja, Lagos State, Nigeria with plans to relocate to the 900 acre Deeper Life Conference Centre which hosts the new Bible Training Centre as well as the makeshift 130,000 capacity auditorium. Construction of the University began in 2013 while the University was named in 2014. It was licensed on Wednesday, 2nd of November, 2016. The 30,000 capacity Headquarters auditorium constructed between 2003 and 2016 was also dedicated early in 2018. Services began in 2018, after she had completed the new Gbagada Flyover Bridge in order to curb incessant church traffic in the Gbagada community.
The Apostolic Faith Mission continues to reach out to the lost in leaps and bounds and teaching the need to be prepared for the second coming of Christ. Presently, she awaits completion of the gigantic 75,000 capacity International Worship Center, Faith City, Igbesa with about 600 branches in Nigeria alone, the largest number of Apostolic Faith Churches in one nation apart from the USA . Papa Kumuyi, the Apostolic offshoot has also continued to labour in obedience to his calling and according to him, the time left is shorter than the time already spent. He will be 78 on June 6 and it is my hope that what God has started through him will be continued as he prepares to pass on the baton.
‘And John answered and said, Master, we saw one casting out devils in thy name, and we forbad him, because he followeth not with us.
And Jesus said unto him, Forbid him not: for he that is not against us is for us.’