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How the Church evolved in Nigeria

How the Church evolved in Nigeria

1910s-1920s: Around 1910, an Anglican deacon launches an indigenous prophetic movement that later becomes the Christ Army Church. Following an influenza epidemic in 1918, revivals flare within the mission churches and the Christ Army Church. Spirit-filled groups also expand, including those known by the Yoruba word Aladura (“praying people”). Early Aladura churches include the Eternal Sacred Order of the Cherubim and Seraphim Society, founded in 1925, and the Church of the Lord (Aladura), founded in 1930. Around 1918, an Anglican forms a prayer group known as the Precious Stone (Diamond) Society to heal influenza victims. The group leaves the Anglican Church in the early 1920s and affiliates with Faith Tabernacle, a church based in Philadelphia (Anderson 2001: 80-82; Gaiya 2002: 5).

1930s-1940s: During the 1930s, Joseph Babalola of Faith Tabernacle leads a revival that converts thousands. In 1932, his movement initiates ties with the pentecostal Apostolic Church of Great Britain after coming into conflict with colonial authorities, but the association dissolves over the use of modern medicine. In 1941, Babalola founds the independent Christ Apostolic Church, which is estimated to have over a million members by 1990 (Anderson 2001: 86-87). Foreign pentecostal denominations such as the Welsh Apostolic Church (1931), the Assemblies of God (1939) and the Foursquare Gospel Church (1954) are also introduced during this period.

1950s: In the 1950s the Celestial Church of Christ arrives in western Nigeria from Benin. The church rapidly expands into northern Nigeria and becomes one of Africa’s largest Aladura churches. In 1952, a former member of the Cherubim and Seraphim society, Pa Josiah Akindayomi, founds the Redeemed Christian Church of God. Under Enoch Adejare Adeboye, the church becomes increasingly pentecostal in theology and practice and grows from an estimated 42 congregations in 1980 to around 7,000 in 2004, with followers in more than 90 countries, including the U.S. (Anderson 2001: 85: Murphy, March 25, 2006; Mahtani, April 26, 2005; Ojo 2004: 4).

1960s-1970s: Originating in evangelical student revivals, a wave of pentecostal expansion spawns new churches in the 1960s and 1970s. A leader of this expansion is Benson Idahosa, one of Africa’s most influential pentecostal preachers. Idahosa establishes the Church of God Mission International in 1972. In 1974, the pentecostal umbrella organization Grace of God ministry is founded in eastern Nigeria. The Deeper Life Bible Church is founded in 1975, and soon becomes one of Nigeria’s largest neo-pentecostal churches, with an estimated 350,000 members by 1993 (Ojo 2004: 3; Olupona 2003: 16; Gaiya 2002: 15).

1980s-present: New charismatic churches grow throughout the 1980s and 1990s. In 1986, David Oyedepo founds Living Faith Outreach Worldwide, popularly known as “Winners’ Chapel.” It opens a “Faith Tabernacle” in the suburbs of Lagos in 1999 that seats 50,000 people (Phillips, Nov. 30, 1999; Ojo 2004: 4).

As a country, Nigeria can be said to be a religiously diverse society. Christianity and Islam are the two major religions practiced in Africa’s most populous nation. Demographics show that Nigeria is sharply divided along religious lines with a Muslim dominated north and a Christian dominated south. Recent estimates put the percentage of Nigeria’s population that practice Christianity between 40% – 49.3%. Of that percentage, about 74% are Protestants, 25% Roman Catholic, while the rest are split among other Christian denominations. Over the years, the number of Christians in Nigeria has grown significantly from about 21.4% in 1953 to about

49.3% in 2010. Today, there are over 75 million Christians in Nigeria.

Brief History

The history of Christianity in Nigeria can be traced back to the 15th century, when the Portuguese were the first Europeans to arrive the shores of the region via the Atlantic. The Portuguese brought Christianity with them but were unable to successfully plant Christianity because of their involvement in slave trade. It can be argued that the actual intent behind their voyage was more in the interest of slave business, than it was for missionary goals and objectives. Most of the Portuguese slave traders took Nigerian slaves to be resold in the Americas and parts of Europe. Hence, they were not committed to missionary work.

In the 17th century, attempts were again made to establish Christianity in the region through Roman Catholic missionaries. Just

Nigeria, a former destination for foreign church missionaries now exports Christianity back to the West and other parts of the globe. Religious activities thrive and every corner of the country sees the emergence of a new church every the Portuguese, the Roman Catholic missionaries also arrived as merchants. They journeyed into the hinterlands to do trade with locals and preach to them and even visited the cities of Benin and Warri. However, many of the kings and traditional rulers took more interest in the guns and mirrors the Europeans had brought with them to do trade, and barely showed an interest in the new religion being introduced to them.

After the abolition of the slave trade in the British Empire in 1833, things took an interesting turn. Slaves captured by European masters were freed and sent to Freetown in Sierra Leone. These slaves had lived with their masters in Europe and America, and many had accepted Christianity at the time they were freed. In 1841, freed slaves arrived in Sierra Leone and gradual changes began in British policies. Slavery was frowned upon, and the British government took it upon itself to enforce new laws and policies, in a bid to stop trading and owning slaves.

Towards the end of the 19th century, some of the freed slaves began to retrace their ways back home. Freed slaves from Nigeria sailed from Sierra Leone to Lagos and Badagry on vessels acquired from slave courts in Freetown. Some of the freed slaves settled in Abeokuta (capital of Ogun State) and other cities in western Nigeria. They also had opportunities to acquire education offered by the Church Missionary Society (CMS). They practiced Christianity and preached the gospel to their family and kinsmen. Over time, a good number of former slaves converted to Christianity. One of those slaves worthy of mention was Samuel Ajayi Crowther. He was captured at age 12 by Fulani slave raiders and sold to Portuguese slave traders. He later regained his freedom and went on to become the first African to be ordained bishop by the Christian Missionary Society (CMS) in addition to his consecration as bishop of the Niger territory. Samuel was one of the pioneers of local Christian missionary work in Nigeria and contributed to the translation of the Bible into Yoruba language.

Influence on Culture

The growth of Christianity in Nigeria has had significant impact on culture, education, politics and many other facets of social life. As the predominant religion before the advent of Christianity, African traditional religion faced stiff opposition and criticism from

Over the years, the number of Christians in Nigeria has grown significantly from about 21.4% in 1953 to about 49.3% in 2010. Today, there are over 75 million Christians in Nigeria.Christian missionaries. A lot of traditional practices were declared taboos and irreverent by Christian missionaries. Polygamy, which had been an integral part of traditional heritage, was prohibited by Christianity while monogamy was encouraged and upheld. Christian doctrines frowned upon meticulous traditional practices such as blood pacts, oath swearing, oracles, vows, divination, and secret societies amongst others. Many traditional practices which were integral parts of African culture were stopped, although now in modern time, we can point at several acts which were outrageous and inhumane at the time of nascent Christianity in Nigeria. An example of such influence was exerted by Mary Slessor; a Scottish missionary who worked tirelessly for women and children’s rights, and halted the practice of killing twins among the Efik people in southern Nigeria.

Besides ending barbaric practices, Christianity began to be deeply engrained in the way of life of Nigerians after obtaining independence from Britain. Family names, similar to those of former missionaries became common amongst Nigerians and many opted for Biblical names more often than before. These Christian names are more common in southern Nigeria where Christianity is the dominant religion. Day-to-day lives of most Nigerian Christians aren’t devoid of religious references from exchange of pleasantries to business names. Official gatherings sometimes begin and are rounded off by short prayers, whether in private or public sector.

Influence on Education

Christianity also provided a platform for the establishment of western education in Nigeria. Western ideas of individualism and rationalism began to replace traditional values of communal living and existence. In schools, people were introduced to new ideologies, which spanned across different areas of human existence. Many of these ideologies portrayed African traditions as backward and uncivilized. It can be argued that a couple of traditional practices may have been barbaric; however, the introduction of Christianity and subsequently western education, did set biased standards that overshadowed some rich cultural practices.

Impact on Nigerians

After the turn of the century, Nigeria has seen remarkable change in many areas of life. A large percentage of Nigeria’s population are religious and in religion, they have found succor from economic hardship and failure of government systems. Christianity has contributed to the formation of customary laws. The impact of Christianity on culture continues to deepen till today. Also, Christianity is fast becoming one of Nigeria’s biggest export as Nigerian pastors and preachers are planting large churches in Europe, Asia and the Americas. This prevalent trend continues to put Nigeria on the global map.

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