"Every Knee Shall Bow To: Olumba Olumba Obu" ???
As seminary professors, Aίda and I are the target of a lot of interesting and - let’s face it – bizarre emails. Over the thirty years we’ve been teaching at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, we received mail from a self-styled prophet who just got out of jail and who claimed God had told him that we should donate to him, another prophet, this one from Africa, who told my wife God wanted her to adopt him (he sent us a picture of himself reclining on a brand new car – we’ve only owned second-hand cars, so we wondered if he got the message wrong – maybe God wanted him to adopt us!), various iron-clad messages about the end of the world from the USA (but…uh…we’re still here…), news of a perfect man running around China, and so on. These remind me that, when I was still a seminary student myself, a newspaper used to come rocketing under my door, expertly tossed by a factory worker who claimed he was God. One day, I scurried out into the hallway and there he was – a large, rough man, with a commanding gaze, and a fist full of self-printed newspapers claiming that the measurement numbers of the distances in the factory where he worked demonstrated he was indeed God. He fixed his penetrating gaze on me and announced that “none – no, not one” had ever taken him seriously. I wasn’t buying either, but, in the decades between, I’ve discovered there’s been a lot of competition for Supreme Ruler of the universe.
The latest bombardment just flew in from Olumba Olumba Obu, founder of the Brotherhood of the Cross and Star in Calabar, Nigeria, who, unlike the factory worker, has many followers worldwide and claims to be “The Great ‘I Am’, the cosmic teacher, the word of God and the Holy Spirit personified, [who] arrived on earth in 1918.” “The Great ‘I Am’” would make him God the Father, “the word of God” God the Son, and he adds the Holy Spirit. However, at the age of three, he is reported to have spoken his first words: “Call me Teacher, Master…I am the universal Teacher I have come to reveal my Father to the world.”[i] Despite this announcement, a current video on YouTube states he is himself the Father, suggesting the confusion remains over whether he is claiming to be the Father or proclaiming the Father, as he announced at age three...
Confusing also was the explosion reported in January, 2003 when the bishops of his church divided over which of his children was to be his successor (making the office of Holy Spirit appear to be a kind of franchise). Some (and reportedly Olumba himself) favored his daughter Ibum, others his son Rowland. Ibum ran into opposition by those objecting to a woman becoming the leader of the church, while others accused Rowland of introducing “‘unwholesome’ practices and teachings in the church,” such as “sacrifices” of “goats, fowls and other animals,” which were “now being slaughtered on regular basis in the church premises for ritual purposes,” a practice “not in consonance with Olumba’s teachings.”[ii] Since Olumba keys off the Bible, and the book of Hebrews in the New Testament is very clear that, because Jesus sacrificed for human sin, no one else needs to sacrifice or be sacrificed, it is not clear why Rowland does.
A fourth confusion is that, simultaneously, son Rowland began calling himself “Olumba Olumba Obu,” answering now to “king of kings and lord of lords.” (Ibum has settled for “Queen Mother,” another child Ajah has opted for “Supreme Mother,” and a third daughter for “Blessed Mother.”) [iii] This has made difficult verifying the report that Olumba Olumba Obu, Sr. died in December 2002 at 84 years old. On August 6th, 2012, Olumba reportedly delivered an address entitled, “Leader Olumba Obu Never Fails.”[iv] Whether the 94 (or so) year old Olumba has indeed failed and son Rowland is now writing the messages under the trade name “Olumba Olumba Obu,” or whether the original Olumba is still operating as the Holy Spirit, is still unclear.
So what are we to make of “Leader” Olumba Olumba Obu’s claim that he (or his son or daughter) is “GOD IN HUMAN FORM HIDING IN AFRICA,” and that, “EVEN IF YOU KEEP THE PORTRAIT OF OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST IN YOUR HOUSE, AND YOU KEEP WATCHING OR OBSERVING IT ALL THE TIME, IT WILL NEVER AVAIL YOU ANY GOOD. THIS IS THE ERA OF THE HOLY SPIRIT?”[v] (The capitals are all his)?
Frankly, the idea that the Holy Spirit has suddenly become corporeal is not a new one. In the early church, Simon Magus claimed he was “The Great Power of God,” that is to say the Holy Spirit (his story is told in chapter 8 of the book of Acts). That he still needed to offer the disciples money to try to buy the anointing of the real Holy Spirit shows how mistaken he was. Though he had repented and been baptized, the lure of simulating power was too great, and the early church theologian Irenaeus tells us he soon returned to his masquerade and eventually impressed Emperor Claudius into making a stature of him in the form of a god and his followers of him in the form of Jupiter.[vi]
Simon set a trend, for a century later, in A.D. 156 in Phrygia (today’s Turkey), where the 7 churches of the book of Revelation were located, another heterodox teacher Montanus, claiming he was the mouthpiece of the Holy Spirit, split and almost destroyed the early church.
So, claimed appearances of God are not new. But what they are are not biblical. The entire book of Hebrews in the New Testament is all about how a Person of God appeared only once in human form to redeem us. The key word is found in Hebrews 10:10 (as well as in 7:27, 9:12, and also in Paul’s writing in Rom 6:10 and, on a resurrection appearance of Christ in 1 Cor 15:6) and it is ephapax, meaning “once for all time; at one time.”[vii] The way the book of Hebrews explains it is “we have been made holy through the sacrifice [or offering, or gift] of the body of Jesus Christ once for all time.”[viii]
So, if we have been made acceptable to God through Jesus’ sacrifice for all time, then we don’t need the Holy Spirit suddenly incarnating and telling us “Our Lord Jesus Christ did not say that another prophet or pastor shall come, but He declared that God shall come by Himself. GOD IS RIGHT IN YOUR MIDST TODAY. THUS, ONCE YOU PURIFY YOURSELF, HE WILL COME AND ABIDE WITH YOU FOREVER.”[ix] Hebrews, as we just saw, has already told us that we don’t purify ourselves, that that is the gift of Jesus Christ’s sacrifice, and it was done for us once and for all times. What we need to do, rather than seek a new revelation, and chase after newly claimed “appearances” of the Persons of the Trinity here and there around the globe, is follow the Bible’s already completed revelation in our own lives, in our own neighborhoods. The gift of salvation has been given by God to those of us who will take the rulership of Christ into our lives and confess that God raised Jesus in victory from death (Rom. 10:9-10). Having done that, as Paul told the Philippians, what is up to us is to work out the implications of this great gift to us with “reverence and trembling” (Phil 2:12), hurting no one, but following our Lord Jesus Christ in all our thoughts and actions by extending to others God’s gifts of love and a new life and that more abundantly (John 10:10).
[i] “Who is Olumba Olumba Obu,” http://www.ooo.org.uk/index.php/publications/94-who-is-olumba-olum..., p. 1, accessed November 8, 2012.
[ii] Bishop Ekanem argues “Leader O.O. Obu is the only “king of kings’ and “lord of lords” that we know. The father, son and the holy spirit are all in him.” Such bishops opposing Rowland contend “as sole spiritual head of BCS, Olumba cannot have a deputy or successor during his lifetime,” Obong Akpackong, “Bishops Fight Olumba,” Newswatch Online, January 14, 2003, http://www.newswatchngr.com/editorial/allaccess/2002/26082002/sr1... , p. 5, accessed November 8, 2012.
[iii]Ibid., pp. 1-2.
[iv] “Leader Olumba Obu Never Fails,” http://www.ooo.org.uk/index.php/everlasting-gospel/200-leader-olumb..., p. 1, accessed November 8, 2012.
[v] Leader Olumba Olumba Obu, “GOD IN HUMAN FORM HIDING IN AFRICA: The Holy Spirit in Africa,” email@example.com, pp. 1, 2.
[vi] Irenaeus’ Against the Heresies, Book 1, trans. Dominic J. Unger, rev. John J. Dillon (New York: Paulist, 1992), 1.23.1,4, pp. 82-83.
[vii] “Ephapax” in Barclay M. Newman, Jr., A Concise Greek-English Dictionary of the New Testament (Stuttgart: German Bible Society, 1993), 77.
[viii] All translations of Bible texts by the present author.
[ix] Leader Olumba Olumba Obu, “The Revealed Christ: Is The World Ready For Him?” firstname.lastname@example.org, p. 2.