Prominent Nigerian church leaders have labeled T.B. Joshua a fraud, but that has not stopped Christians in South Africa, Europe and the United States from continuing to support the controversial faith healer.
Joshua, 39, hosts daily services that attract thousands of visitors to his Synagogue Church of All Nations in Lagos. Pilgrims flock to the sprawling compound seeking cures from terminal diseases, infertility and other ailments. Reports of alleged healings from cancer, AIDS and multiple sclerosis have circulated widely through videotaped testimonies.
Pastors of Nigeria's largest churches say Joshua mixes Christianity with occult practices. During a leadership summit held near Lagos in July, they firmly denounced him while discussing the issue with a group of Americans that included theologian C. Peter Wagner, Colorado pastor Ted Haggard and prayer leader Chuck Pierce.
"Without exception the Nigerian leaders said they believe [T.B. Joshua] is not a legitimate minister of the gospel. There was no debate about it," said Haggard, pastor of New Life Church in Colorado Springs.
The summit was held at the world's largest church building, Winner's Chapel in Ota, pastored by Bishop David Oyedepo. At one point the pastors joined hands and prayed that God would prevent Joshua from deceiving Christians with false miracles.
"T.B. Joshua is dangerous to the body of Christ, both in Nigeria and globally," said Joseph Thompson, a facilitator of the summit who is an associate pastor at Haggard's church. A Nigerian himself, Thompson said he is concerned that some charismatics who tend to "chase after miracles" will be duped by Joshua's use of Christian terminology. "Americans don't realize that witchdoctors have healed many people" in Nigeria, he said.
Although Joshua prays in the name of Jesus, many of his methods are unorthodox. He converses with angels during sermons, speaks of traveling to other places in the spirit realm and has been known to ask people to walk through the audience naked to prove their healings.
Some Nigerian leaders claim animal sacrifices have been performed in Joshua's church to generate a source for occult power. The pastors contend that is why Joshua does not travel to other countries to conduct meetings.
Yet several prominent charismatic leaders have visited Joshua's compound and returned with favorable impressions. These include Canadian renewal leader John Arnott, Pittsburgh pastor Joseph Garlington, Louisiana evangelist Marvin Gorman and New Zealand minister Bill Subritzky.
Arnott said that although Joshua is "secretive and mystical," and his Nigerian followers seem "zombielike," he is not ready to denounce him as a false prophet. "Lots of desperately ill people have been healed there," Arnott said, noting that he met a woman during his visit to Lagos in 2000 who was healed of three types of cancer in Joshua's meetings. "There seemed to be definite miracles going on, and they were done in the name of Jesus."
Peter Vandenberg, executive vice president of Christ for All Nations (CFAN), the ministry of evangelist Reinhard Bonnke, said that none of the 2,000 churches involved in a huge CFAN outreach in Lagos two years ago endorsed Joshua. "Every one of them said that Joshua does things that are occultic and that what he is doing is not doctrinally correct," he added.
Although Bonnke's organization has not condemned Joshua publicly, CFAN has adopted a firm stance and will not work with Joshua in Nigeria. Added Vandenberg: "We stand with the majority of Christians there who have denounced him. Our brothers in Nigeria are on the ground there, and they know best."