THESE are trying times for the Church of Jesus Christ in Nigeria and heaven demands of leaders, to provide sound and credible spiritual leadership for the church. The final outcome of the present crisis confronting the church shall be determined by the decisions that leaders of the church take.
A lot is expected of us, primarily by the Lord who called us and gave us grace to represent Him before His people. In addition, every Christian in Nigeria is looking up to us to chart a way out for the Church from the present quagmire in which we have found ourselves.
The Nigerian church is under an intense attack by forces that are clearly opposed to Christ, and the intensity of the attack does not seem to be abating. Rather there seems to be an ever increasing tempo of the persecution of Christians in Nigeria.
In the northern parts of this nation, churches are burnt, Christians are killed, and the business locations of our brethren are willfully and ruthlessly destroyed, while all sorts of discrimination and intimidation are unleashed on followers of Christ in the northern zones.
In the southern parts of the nation, we are beginning to witness subtle, but consistent discrimination against Christians by the existing government structures. While human lives are not yet lost in the South, it is clear that Christians are deliberately discriminated against and more pressure is being brought on churches and on Christians.
The most glaring example in recent times is the unwarranted demolition of the premises of Word of Life Bible Ministry in Victoria Island, Lagos. A number of reasons make the demolition of the premises significant.
1.It was carried out about a week after we convened a Press Conference on 13th January, 2014, in Lagos, protesting the persecution of Christians in Nigeria. At the Press Conference, we also canvassed a shift in the political structure of Lagos State to accommodate more Christian participation in governance.
2.The ministry that was affected in that exercise belongs to the President of Christian Association of Nigeria, CAN. The significance of that act and its timing should not be lost on us.
3.There was no justifiable reason for the Lagos State Government to have carried out that demolition exercise, since it was clear that the State Government was in the breach, and not the ministry.
4.If the ministry of the leader of the church in the country is demolished in a questionable manner, which ministry is safe in Nigeria?
Whether in the North or South, we keep receiving confirmed signals that the church is under attack. Our conscience is clear, we are not the aggressors; neither have we done anything to precipitate these unwarranted attacks on us and on our places of worship. However, one thing is certain–we are under attack. The question now is, are we going to fold our arms and wait for the church to be destroyed, or we are going to arise and “contend for the faith that was once delivered to the Saints”.
There is need to point out right from the onset that I am not afraid of Islam. Even though, I do not for a moment underestimate the capacity and ruthlessness of Islam to inflict maximum damage on the Nigerian Church, my primary fear is what Islam can do. I am not afraid of what Islam can do; my main fear is what the church will not do. If we fail as the church to take the right steps, we shall unwittingly guarantee the success of Islam in its conspiracy against the church.
1.I am afraid that the Church in Nigeria may not genuinely repent before God and return to the narrow path.
2.I am afraid that the Church in Nigeria may not unite. The division within the house of God is unimaginable.
3.I am afraid that the Church in Nigeria may not become militant in spiritual prayers to drive back the forces of hell that have risen against the Church of Jesus Christ.
The leaders of the church should therefore agree on a responsive and practicable agenda that will ensure the survival and well-being of the Church. For those who are not aware, a lot of work has been done by those opposed to Christ to marginalise and eradicate the church in the nation to the extent that the Constitution of Nigeria has been skewed in favour of Islam and the total exclusion of the church. The worrisome implication is that constitutionally, the church does not exist in Nigeria.
In view of the foregoing:
1.The leaders of the church need to agree on a course of responsive action to the present challenges. We should be able to articulate clear steps and directions for the entire body of Christ in Nigeria. The stamp of authority and veracity of these proposals to the church should not be difficult to convey to the Christians in Nigeria.
2. We need as leaders of the church, to call for prayers of repentance and revival all over the land. Our nation has the unenviable record of being one of the most corrupt and lawless nations on earth.
3. The Church in Nigeria can no longer afford to stand aloof from governance. For years, the attitude of Christians have been that politics is a dirty game and Christians should not get involved. However, the reality of the present situation demands that if politics is a dirty game, Christians should enter and clean it up. The easiest way to ensure that the machinery of governance is not utilized to destroy the church is for credible Christians to get involved in governance.
There must be mass mobilization of Christians all over the country to register for election and ensure that they exercise their constitutional right of voting on Election Day. The prevailing attitude of Christians is to stay at home on Election Days in the nation. That attitude must change. Not only must Christians vote, but they must be trained to vote for those who will protect the church and ensure justice, fairness and equity in the nation.
Christians must consciously begin to think of dominating the Seven mountains of Influence that govern the human society. These are Government, Education, Economy, Family, Media, Arts and Culture, and Religion. Apart from the mountain of religion, Christian influence is no longer felt in the other six mountains.
Even in the families, the traditional Christian values that used to run homes are fast eroded in our societies.
To achieve the point above, there is the need for the church to commence intentional and deliberate training and discipleship programmes for Christians to understand what is expected of them in whatever sphere that God has placed them. It is very unfortunate that the few Christians who have been given opportunities to serve in government have not been fully reflective of the nature and standard of Christ.
We need to train our people to occupy the mountains of influence in the nation. At every level in the Church, emphasis must be on raising genuine DISCIPLES.
We must commence practical steps to foster unity in the body of Christ. Even though our mode of worship may differ, the fact remains that we have the same Lord and the same Bible. Therefore, let us rally ourselves on the consent. It is my hope that Christian leaders would come up with credible suggestions and proposal that would repair and enhance the unity of the body of Christ in Nigeria.
It is crucial that all Christian delegates at the National Conference be sympathetic to the cause of the Church. Since every Christian at the Conference belongs to either a denomination or a ministry, we need the valuable assistance of the various denominations and ministries to get them to support the Christian agenda at the Conference.
As I mentioned earlier, the Nigeria church is in a state of war. Therefore, we must have a war chest. It is not possible for us to handle the present situation without adequate funding of CAN. Besides, we must evolve means of channeling funds to our brethren in the North. At the level of Christians Welfare Initiative, we have set in motion a Commission to raise funds for CAN.
The proposal is not to levy any denomination or ministry, but to appeal to individual Christians nationwide to contribute a token amount to CAN monthly. If we could get Christians to contribute 500.00 monthly to CAN, it would enable our umbrella organization to operate independently of government support, gather intelligence, set up a virile media and information department, rebuild critical Christian infrastructure in the North, support our brethren facing persecution, and so on. If we do not fund CAN adequately, we may not be able to win this war. We should not forget that the only platform that we have to confront this onslaught is the Christian Association of Nigeria.
While we expect Christian delegates at the National Conference to raise the need for the nation to include ethnicity and religion in the census, we should consider the possibility of conducting an exercise to determine how many Christians are in Nigeria.
This information shall be of immense value as we approach the general elections coming up in 2015. One fact that is incontrovertible is that Christians must be mobilized to use their voting power to produce a government of their choice.
As leaders, there is the need for us to ensure that moral lessons on integrity, diligence, contentment and fear of God are resumed in all our churches. Our nation has grossly derailed from the track of integrity and the church must be in the vanguard of the restoration of Godly values in the land. We are the salt of the earth.
Finally, we need to engage Christian professionals to come forth and take a stand on issues that affect Christianity in the land. It is on record that Christians have the highest population of lawyers, media practitioners, doctors, and even civil rights activities. All these professional bodies have been uncomfortably quiet on issues that affect the church. As part of our tactical moves, we need to identify and engage in dialogue, Christians in relevant professions and government agencies, including the security outfits to ensure that the interest of the church is protected at all times.
Archbishop ADEYEMI ATILADE is Chairman, CAN South West zone.