Classic DACB Collection

All articles created or submitted in the first twenty years of the project, from 1995 to 2015.

Oshitelu, Josiah Olunowo (D)

1900-1966
Church of the Lord (Aladura)
Nigeria

Multiple versions are available: (A)(B)(C)

Introduction

Primate Josiah Olunowo Ositelu (Psy.D) is the most prestigious and the first transnational head of an African Indigenous Church (AIC) in Nigeria.[1] His most popular portrait, which shows him dressed in the full regalia of a church primate, betrays his Anglican roots and his ambition to become head of an equivalent church—an aspiration that was fulfilled. Ositelu’s TCLAW was officially inaugurated in his hometown of Ogere in southwestern Nigeria on July 27, 1930 [2], with ten members. It became one of the fastest growing AICs soon after its establishment. The Church rapidly started branches in towns in western, northern, and eastern Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Ghana, and the United Kingdom. [3]**

His Birth and Spiritual Development

Josiah Ositelu was born in Ogere on May 15, 1900. [4] Like other legendary prophetic figures and religious leaders, countless mysteries were woven around his birth and ministry. It is claimed that when he was born his parents consulted diviners to ascertain the fate of their baby. The diviners assured the parents that the baby would not only live but would be an unusual child. It was further predicted that he would be spiritually powerful, influential, and wise—a trailblazer and a guide of both Europeans and Africans showing them the ways of the Lord. [5] As he grew up, he demonstrated much zeal for the supernatural. It was reported that he prophesied about the future; revealed unknown secrets from the past; read signs in the sky; detected witches; and had unusual dreams in which he was taught by holy beings. [6]**

His Call

Ositelu received his elementary education from 1913-1919 in Ogere and Ijebu-Ode, in the present Ogun State of Nigeria, After his elementary education, he served in the Anglican Church as a catechist and pupil teacher. He was preparing for admission into St. Andrew’s College, Oyo to become a trained teacher when, on the night of May 17, 1925, he had a strange visionary experience which troubled and left him agitated. [7] He saw a large eye as big as the head of a cow “reflecting as a great orbit of the sun.” [8] On enquiry, an old prophet named Samuel Somoye explained these encounters to mean “a call to service.” Prophet Somoye counseled Ositelu on how to overcome the spiritual warfare through the medium of prayer and fasting. [9]

The authorities of the Anglican Church soon noticed Ositelu’s activities and frowned on them. They reprimanded him and strongly advised him to desist from his “hyper-spiritual” practices since they were at variance with those of the church. When Ositelu adamantly refused to comply, he was initially suspended but later dismissed by the Abeokuta District Council of the Anglican Church. After his dismissal, he worked briefly as a clerk for one of his aunts, but he spent most of the time there in prayer and fasting.[10] By August 31, 1926, Ositelu felt fully convinced, after many visionary experiences that he had been commissioned to propagate the gospel and needed to warm up for the great assignment ahead. [11] In 1927, he submitted himself to spiritual discipleship under Prophet Somoye. He developed his spiritual gifts and after two years he emerged as a prophetic preacher and public crusader with the mandate to “give the water of life to the thirsty.”

**Expansion of His Ministry

**

Ositelu conducted his first open air revival on the June 9, 1929. From that moment, the fame of his open air services spread like wild fire. During his revivals there were many miracles and acts of healing; people renounced idols, charms, and Egungun *apparels, which they usually surrendered to him for destruction. People came from the farthest reaches of Nigeria to visit Ogere-Remo, his headquarters, and to witness the marvelous manifestations of the power of God. Before the advent of Christianity, medicine-men popularly referred to as *Babalawo were the homegrown healers and therapist of the time. However, with the advent of Aladura movements, prophets like Ositelu claimed to possess and exercise divine powers and the ability to deal with witches, wizards, evil spirits, and ill-wishers who were a major source of fear and anxiety in the society. He inaugurated his Church with only ten members hoping to entice more to join.

TCLAW’s Unique Ministry

Ositelu operated with undaunted spiritual power, majoring in deliverance exercises. As a result, soon other AIC leaders regarded his ministry favorably and his fame spread quickly. Even though Ositelu seems to have recognized the relevance of the African worldview and culture in energizing the Christian faith in his society, he censured the babalawo, and expressed his disapproval of idolatry, native charms, and traditional medicine. He practiced faith healing that sometimes required the use of elements such as olive oil, sanctified water, honey, incense, and coconut oil. Like other Aladura movements, TCLAW always emphasized the dual efficacy of prayer and fasting. However, TCLAW has unique practices that include the celebration of a spiritual festival called Tabieorar, the use of holy words and names, engagement in spiritual exercises like rolling on the ground, jumping, clapping, and laughing hilariously when giving testimonies as well as the toleration and baptism of polygamists.**

Succession in the TCLAW

Today, TCLAW is a worldwide organization with 3,800 parishes, 100 dioceses, and twelve provinces spread throughout Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Ghana, Togo, Ivory Coast, Benin, the United Kingdom, Germany, Luxembourg, Spain, Australia, New Zealand, and the United States. TCLAW is also a member of prominent diverse organizations that include the World Council of Churches (WCC), the All Africa Council of Churches (AACC), Global Christian Forum (GCF), and the Christian Council of Nigeria (CCN).

Since Josiah Oshitelu died on the July 12, 1966, TCLAW has witnessed three successful successions: Emmanuel Adeleke Adejobi (1967-1991); Gabriel Olusegun Oshitelu (1991-1998), and Rufus Okikiola Ositelu (1999-). TCLAW is (1) biblical in pattern, (2) Pentecostal in power, (3) evangelical in mission,(4), ecumenical in outlook,(5) prophetic in ministry and (6) social in responsibility. [12] With these enticing tenets and mission TCLAW will continue to flourish.

Michael Adeleke Ogunewu


Notes:

  1. He was awarded a Doctorate of Psychology by the National Union of Spiritualists of Nigeria in 1948.

  2. R. O. O. Ositelu, Christianity: Inside Story from an African Perspective (Shagamu: TCLAW Publications 2016), 492.

  3. Deji Ayegboyin and S. Ademola Ishola, African Indigenous Churches (Lagos: Greater Heights Publications, 1997), 90.

  4. While H. W. Turner quoted 1902 (See African Independent Church: The Church of the Lord (Aladura), Oxford: OUP, 1967), the Church chronicles reinforced by the family declared 1900 as his date of birth. See R. O. O. Ositelu, *Christianity: Inside Story, *493.

  5. Ibid.

  6. Ibid.

  7. Ayegboyin and Ishola, 91.

  8. Akin Omoyajowo, N. C. Adiele and M. A. Akinwumi, “Josiah Ositelu (1902-1966)” in J. A. Omoyajowo (ed) Makers of the Church in Nigeria (Lagos: CSS Bookshops Ltd (Publishing Units) 1995), 153.

  9. Ayegboyin and Ishola, 91.

  10. Omoyajowo, Adiele and Akinwumi 156.

  11. Ibid, 157.

  12. R. Ositelu. Christianity, 490.


This article, received in 2017, was written by Dr. Michael Adeleke Ogunewu of Nigerian Baptist Theological Seminary in Ogbomoso in association with Dr. Deji Ayegboyin, DACB Advisory Council member.