By Sam Diala
THE recent enthronement of Most Rev Nicholas Dikenriehi Okoh as Primate of Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion) and Bishop of Abuja Diocese is a notable landmark in the history of the church. The new Primate took over from Most Rev Peter Jasper Akinola who was in the saddle for about a decade before he retired earlier this year.
Akinolaâ€™s tenure is reputed for its significant impact on the development of the church in terms of numerical and material growth. For instance, the church grew from 76 dioceses to 161, to become the second largest province in the Anglican Communion worldwide with a population of 20 million.
Akinolaâ€™s tenure also coincided with the period of intense political and economic distress to which the country was exposed. This trend tasked the patience and integrity of prominent Nigerian Christian leaders because of the role they are expected to play in nation-building. I must say that Akinola played his role well in this regard. He also played an excellent role in shielding the Anglican Church in Nigeria from the satanic injury ofÂ sodommy which the Whites inflicted on the body of Christ with impunity.
Today, Gene Robinson, the openly gay American bishop whose consecration in 2003 plunged The Anglican Church into crisis, is living with Mark Andrew, a fellow man with whom he â€œweddedâ€ in a New Hampshire church. According to The Economist magazine, the ceremony was said to be â€œabsolutely joyfulâ€. The Anglican Church in Africa, under Akinlolaâ€™s leadership, dissociated itself from this handiwork of Satan.
The question now is: What are the expectations of Nigerian Anglicans from their new Primate, Most Rev. Nicholas Okoh?Â How would this reverend gentleman navigate the ship of the church in the stormy weather of moral decay, spiritual despondency, collapsing ethical values and suffocating quest for materialism among the members and their leaders? What will Okoh do different? What shape will he give the church of God at a time no one is bothered about evangelism and revival in the church? In short, how will Okoh significantly convince the members of the church that majority of them are in the church, yet far from God; hence the need to begin the arduous task of bringing men (in the church) back to God?
These questions may sound arguable if not rhetoric to most people, considering that we are in an era of what I may call â€œderegulated Christianityâ€ – a time people want to practise what Reinhard Bonke describes as â€œminimum effort Christianityâ€ or, put in another way, Christianity of convenience. A time people who call themselves Christians behave otherwise. It is also a time the gospel of Christ which fundamental aim is to make people followers of Christ and suitable, qualified candidates of the positive side of eternity, has been diluted. It is diluted with evil juice of unrighteousness which leaves the church a mere ceremonial gathering of people without conscience.Â And everybody appears comfortable.
In my opinion, there are two major areas that should task Okohâ€™s attention for the 13 years, or thereabout, he has to pilot the affairs of the Anglican Communion in Nigeria. They are evangelism and revival. Unfortunately, these are not the aspects that concern todayâ€™s Christian who wants to see â€œphysicalâ€ achievements to believe that the Church is making progress. Todayâ€™s Christian wants to see gigantic edifice, church premises littered with motor cars on a Sunday worship, large population of expensively dressed worshippers, wealthy men and women with fame and authority, etc. I do not think this was the aim of the early missionaries who laboured to bring the gospel to us in those dark, dangerous days.
The Anglican Church is not good at evangelism – preaching the Gospel to the outside world and telling people about Christ for the purpose of converting souls. When we commend the numerical growth of the Church under Akinola, it is pertinent to note that this is largely made up of infants baptized in the Church and â€œinitiatedâ€ into the body of Christ. It does not tell us anything about those who have left the Church. In other words, the numerical growth was not achieved through converting people which is the essence of evangelism – making people aware of the Gospel and bringing them into the Christian fold. Compare this with the fact supplied by The Economist magazine that officially, the Church of England (Anglican Church in England) has 26 million baptized, only 1.7 million practise the Anglican faith.
The next challenge for Okoh and, perhaps the most important, is revival. By revival, I mean constantly and consciously reviving the consciousness of eternity among the members of the Church.
Revival will correct a lot of ills in the Church. How do we explain these: A youth would boldly put on the robe to sing in the choir after committing fornication? A Christian , an ordained man of God, presides over a â€œholyâ€ matrimony between a pregnant bride and a playboy bridegroom to the admiration of an unperturbed congregation?
Mr. Diala, a public affairs analyst, writes from Lagos.