May 21, 2017

Contemporary Christianity in Nigeria and inherent challenges

T is interesting to reason how dynamic Christianity has evolved in the last 100 years in Africa. Nigeria has a population of 170 million people and circa 60 per cent are Christians—25 per cent of this number are nominal Christians. It is therefore not misplaced to use Nigeria as a case study.

At inception of the last century, the colonization of Africa was followed by the introduction of Christianity (Catholics, Angli-cans, Methodists, Baptists etc). It is on record that Christianity (Catholic) was introduced to South/South region of Nigeria as early as the 15th century by the Portuguese. The emergence of slave trade distorted its spread.

The slave trade era witnessed an increase in African practised religion—the African was seek-ing for a true God and ended up taking and accepting the rivers, seas, trees, animals (Snakes, Lions, Elephants, Dogs) as gods.

They worshipped them with great passion and the spirits of these animals possessed them and continued to possess and torment their offsprings even onto the fifth, sixth generations down the family linage.

The missionaries that came to evangelize Africans came along with soldiers and traders: soldiers to protect the administrators and give cover to the traders and missionaries. These clergymen were all from Europe.

The Americans about this period of massive church planting in Africa, were witnessing a fire-brand version of evangelism, spreading the gospel from California to New York, from Houston to Fargo (North Dakota). Robert Liardon who did a thorough documentary on all the great men and women that he tagged The God’s General, said these men and women endowed with stranger than fiction like miracles literally recreated Christianity, the type practiced in the days of Jesus Christ.

The American pastors continually reminded their congregants that Jesus Christ never said ‘Good bye’ to anyone at the end of his earthly ministries. John 14,12-21; “verily verily I say unto you, he that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he also, and greater works than these shall he do because I go unto my father”. In verse 21; “He that hath my commandments and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me shall be loved of my father, and I will love him and will manifest myself to him.“

The verses tell us unequivocally that Christ’s promise to abide in those that are Christ like, love him and obey the stipulated commandments and above all accept love as the greatest of them all”.

In Nigeria, by the 70s Christianity as was shown to us was going down the drains. Attendance at churches was minimal, pastors had no answer to what was happening and couldn’t do much to salvage the situation.

American pastors sensing a decline in Christianity in the most populous black nation and realizing the impact such a downward trend will have on Christendom and the Afro-Americans (who had commenced changing to other religions) came in strong into Africa. A vibrant form of evangelism came into existence. Bright young African pastors were sent to America to study the act of contemporary Christian religion, they had intensive exposure in America.

On their return to Nigeria a more aggressive form of Christianity came into existence. The recept-ion was incredible and the new brand of worship took all by storm, kick-started a seemingly dying Christian religion.

Pentecostalism was born and they preferred to be called Pentecost-als; what the Americans refer to as ‘evangelicals’.

Benson Idahosa (may his soul rest in peace) was the most outstand-ing of all. He was, to say the least, vibrant in all ramifications. He planted many churches within a very short time which attracted enormous envy among the docile pastors of the conventional churches. The attack came from all angles and different dimensions.

Archbishop Idahosa remained focused, opened several churches that spread all over the south and north central states, trained many pastors and assumed the mentor-ship position. To many Pentecost-al pastors of today, Archbishop Idahosa’s doctrine favored healing, teaching and spreading the gospel.

The vibrant nature of spreading the word and healing which was prominent with Archbishop Idahosa’s followers were absent amongst the conventional pastors. Close to the period following the demise of the Archbishop another dimension was added to the ministry, “deliverance”—this is the act of casting out demons from a possessed body or place and consequently freeing the individ-ual from danger of inherent obstacles that could impede growth in the physical existence.

There appeared to be a clash of doctrine here between the deliverance pastors and the Pentecostals who believed that once a Christian is born again and accepts Jesus Christ as Lord and personal savior, the individual is instantly accepted into the king-dom of God and does not need any deliverance. (John 3:3).

The deliverance pastors insist that until a deliverance is conducted on an individual, no true accept-ance and cleansing can be said to have taken place. They argue that most misfortune ranging from all sorts of ailments, divorce, abort-ions, untimely death, destiny distortions and all manner of manipulations are all conse-quences of inherent unclean spirit that were acquired as a result of association with ungodly things (shrines, idols, etc) and dedicating births of a baby, pregnancies to marine world and sinful lifestyle.

Mark 5:2-13 is very explicit on this issue: A man of unclean spirit approached Jesus Christ, hitherto he was known to be mad and cutting himself with stones. Jesus commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man, and Jesus went further to ask him his name and he answered: “My name is Legion for we are many.” Jesus cast out the unclean spirit which went out and entered into the swine.

My understanding of this pass-age, therefore, is that the madman was possessed by an unclean spirit “evil spirit” contrary to the Holy Spirit. Jesus rebuked the spirit and cast them out. The Legion inside the madman spoke out and answered Jesus. He was instantly delivered from that spirit that tormented him for a long time. The fact remains that there was an evil spirit in him which put him under bondage. He was released and even the unclean spirit spoke to Jesus and not the mad man per se.

The pastors that preached to their congregants that no human being can be possessed by an evil spirit and a situation where someone professes to be evil or has confessed to have acted in an evil way doesn’t exist, and that any such utterance is an aftermath of hypnotism by the deliverance pastor. This assertion has been preached to innocent congregants in most churches where the pastors envy the anointing bestowed on true deliverance pastors.

Ignorance indeed is bliss, for if the so called pastors had an indepth knowledge of the Bible they would have perceived differ-ently. The question in this, in time of great men of God like; John Lake, Smith Wigglesworth, A.A. Allen, William Branham and a host of others, great miracles happened, incredible casting out of demons and deliverances took place in America.

Why didn’t the Nigerian pastors that travelled to USA pick the entire act of evangelism line, sinker and hook. Make no mistake about it, the presence of Holy Spirit that manifests in healing and deliver-ances attract unbelievers to Christ more than any form of induce-ment.

They may have observed quite correctly too that deliverance ministry is the toughest and most intricate of them all and therefore cleverly left it off. The blessing from God bestowed on pastors is multi-faceted. It’s only God Almighty that knows it all and therefore there is need for pastors to share their blessings amongst themselves.

When the congregants they are  supposed to reach see the enorm-ous envy and bickering going on in God’s house; they wonder if the objective in evangelism is actually to win souls to the kingdom of God or to fill and line their pockets and wardrobes with money.

Certain turn of events have commenced: issues that led to the observation of empty pews and churches in Europe are being observed. The youth in their large numbers have commenced ask-ing several questions:

  • Are churches set up to satisfy the families of the founder or have they turned into commercial enterprise?
  • Where is the power that was so eminent in the Bible through Jesus Christ? According to St. Paul (I Corinthians 4:20-21); The word and the manifestation of the Holy Spirit go together.
  • The enormous display of wealth by some pastors is frightening.
  • The youth whose presence clearly portray tomorrow’s state of the Church are increasingly becoming apprehensive of the Church’s ability to give all that they desire.
  • The power and the manifestation of God’s presence appear non-existent anymore in most churches.
  • Questions continuously are asked – when will the promises as relayed in the Bible come to pass.
  • Love that remains the bedrock of early churches or even the evangelical period in America has faded off and are almost non-existent these days in churches or amongst pastors.
  • There appears to be ominous signs, the advanced technology has created access view. Live broadcast of church proceedings on Sundays. Christians prefer to sit in the comfort of their living rooms to listen to sermons, they believe that distance can’t form a barrier against keeping in touch with their faith.
  • Pastors mount the pulpit and openly call fellow pastors un-printable names, arrogate them-selves as if they dine with Al-mighty God, and apparently place themselves as immortals.

True servant of GOD ought to im-bibe completely St. Paul’s advice to the Ephesians and indeed to the entire Christendom (Ephes-ians 4:7-16). “Christians seek not yet repose”.