Denominationalism in Nigeria’s Christendom: From the past to the present | By Ogungbile Emmanuel Oludotun

Conceivably, I was embarrassed and pushed to a rabbit hole some weeks back when an atheist friend of mine tossed some exacting questions of at me; the catechizing queries of the reasons for denominationalism in my chosen religion, which is apparently Christianity.

He enthusedly inquired me to telling him a definite reason why there is a need for denominationalism in Christianity, and if the need be, he questioned and criticized the reasons why the religion cannot maintain the common unity that Jesus, our leader required of us.

He demanded that I refer him from our holy book where the scheme denominationalism had emerged from, asking me to depict the messages of 1 Corinthians 1:10-16; Romans 16:17; Galatians 5:19—I was startled, shocked and disappointed, I felt some compunctions from his inquiries, which stank me to addressing the scheme of denominationalism in Nigeria, tracing it from the history, causes, effect and down with some recommendations.

Hence, from this definition, it’s evident that some religious excrescences will need to prompt the creation of any denomination in Christendom. A denomination is created when part of a church no longer feels they can accept the leadership of the church due to their new inspired views of doctrinal differences.

Thus, denominationalism tends to focus more upon the tradition and preferential values than the demands of the holy Scripture, when the purpose for which the Christian churches are founded is to worship God, evangelize, teach and instruct, witness constantly, and fellowship with other Christian as one body, I wonder where and why Christians need to divide or discriminate themselves in order to communicate to God.

History and research have unveiled the church growth and development in Nigeria can be divided into five periods; which includes the period of Latin Christianity in the 15th and 16th Centuries, the period of denominationalism and missionary activities in the 19th Century, the period of evolution of independent churches, the period of indigenous African churches and the period of the birth of the present-day Charismatic and Pentecostal Churches.

It is believed that the Roman Catholic church was the first church in Nigeria, arriving with it European traditions and the good news of Jesus Christ to the ‘unbelieved occupants’. After two centuries of Catholicism arrival, the Anglican Church first unfurled in 1841 but failed before they later found orchestration under the leadership of Samuel Ajayi Crowther, becoming the first African bishop.

Then many years after, the Baptist and Methodist church came into existence in 1850 and 1893 respectively. However, into the century, a protest against the denial of self-government, and colour prejudice was plagued in the Christianity scene.

Thus, the period formed the evolution of African Independent churches and made protest movements against the marginalization of the indigenes within the foreign mission.

Hence there were the formation of the United African Church (UNA) in Lagos in 1891, the United African Methodist Church in 1917. Moreover, this move further created the ground for the establishment of many Nigerian indigenous churches, such as the Aladura Movement in the 1920s and below.

This was a period of the Christian faith as practiced in Nigeria by Nigerians was attributed to the diversified and cumulative cultural and geographical interface of Nigerians. Many other individual founders such as David Odubanjo, I.B. Akinyele, and Joseph Ayodele Babalola first initiated the formation of Christ Apostolic Church (CAC) in 1940.

Also about the same time, Joseph Osintelu commenced the Church of the Lord (Ijo Aladura), and in 1932, Major Lawrence established the Holy Flock of churches, after resigning his membership of the Cherubim and Seraphim.

Consequently, the emergency of charismatic evangelical churches and missions upgraded in the early ’90s. The gradual uptick in the population of Christians in the country up till 1935 metamorphosed the church interface.

As recorded from theological research, some Christians slipped from the traditional network of pastoral oversight, care and discipline and re-grouped themselves into religious societies as evangelical Christian groups or churches. Many Pentecostal churches came into being, few of which include the Redeem Christian Church of God, Deeper Life Bible Church, Mission Agape Church, End-Time Evangelical Ministry, Christian Charismatic Ministries (CCM) and many others.

All churches established for different reasons known to their different religious leaders. Christian brethren will, however, testify that the early Christian believers formed a United body and had things in common, but today, the reverse is the case.

There is division all over the churches, misplacing the inspired vision of their founders. Thus, I wonder why denominationalism is necessary, what are the causes for the incessant formation of denomination, most especially in an unstructured country like Nigeria— I found few to discuss.

Ostensively, these dominations were established for different reasons, and a particular factor might have prompted the cause for its establishment. First of them all is the leadership and authority struggles of Christian leaders.

Take, for instance, the pastor and the non-yielding elders of the church had been at odds for quite a while. The pastor has been trying to lead the church in the direction that he feels God wants it to go, and then, elders are determined to hold onto all the power that he could in the church.

Consequently, he would oppose the pastor’s desires for change, as well as, any suggestions he makes to elect new people into leadership positions. If he couldn’t reach his mission, then he will lead out some members of the church who are with him to laying off the pastor or moving out of the church, establishing their own denomination.

Another popular stimulus of denominationalism amongst churches in Nigeria is the newfound modern inspired way of Christianity which is quite different from the ones the missionaries brought, in a desire for a purer form of Christianity.

We can trace this to the period when some members of the independent African churches rejected the introduction of African practices, such as the use of native medicine to cure various ailments. It’s not far from today, many new dominations break out for many ‘inconsequential’ reasons such as the availability of their former leaders not to be able to see with the ‘eyes of the spirit’ to do things, inventing their own creative way of leadership.

Furthermore, another determinant for denominationalism is doctrinal issues. According to Johannah Reardon in his article for Christian today, he highlighted the problem of doctrines as a factor for denominationalism.

He explained strongly about the mode of baptism or the meaning of communion which are variant to some individuals. Some liturgies and more formal worship while others have a more relaxed approach. Consequently, in another book titled ‘Ecumenism and Inter-religious dialogue,’ the writers suggested that doctrinal problems among Christians include divine healing, prayer, speaking in tongues, miracles, liturgy and worship services.

Little did we phantom the reasons to believe the gossips that the Nigeria Baptist church is now of three main divisions, the Nigeria baptist convention, the Gospel baptist church, and Evangelical baptist church.

Withal, many denominations today were also established because of commercial reasons albeit we don’t have any facts to back the claim. It’s evident that many church founders dabbled into the church business as a means of liberating their financial situation, in which the sole leader has access to the church’s purse.

This can be traced to the beginning of the establishment of present independent churches, whereby founders just spring up churches without a cogent reason. However, there are the mushroom churches springing up here and there without any root or base usually end up winding up or maybe motivating others for the same reasons of separation, even without the foresight to establish more.

Today, there are more than a hundred consequential and inconsequential reasons for the establishment, but I won’t fail to mention persecution as a reason. It was believed that the dispute among the leaders in the Presbyterian Church of Nigeria led to the founding of the Qua-Iboe Church.

Also, the proliferation of churches led to the existence of churches everywhere in Nigerian society, especially in Southern Nigeria. Other causes of denominationalism might include personal clashes within church leaders, rivalry against cooperation, traditions, and lot more.

It’s also obvious that all these Churches have brought about development to the country, both morally and economically. The social-economic effect of this growth is evident in the increase of the number of churches all over the country, establishing nursery and primary schools, secondary schools, and universities that provide job opportunities for many people.

Some of such Universities established by these denomination includes Redeemers University by RCCG, Babcock University by Seventh Day Adventist, Bowen University by the Baptist Church, Joseph Ayo Babalola University by CAC Worldwide, Methodist University, Covenant University, and Catholic University, Precious corner Stone, Dominican University and many others. Not only that, these denominations have brought about relief for the government by subsidizing the weights through the creation of teaching hospitals, the building of roads, and all.

In light of this, the Christian faith must thus find herself the truth by condemning her false teachers of doom. Pastors and religious leaders must layoff their interests and put in interest in the edification of the church.

The Christian Association of Nigeria should not be a political body, but a religious body to seek after the unity of these denominations as they run after the meaning and growth of Christendom.

Ogungbile Emmanuel Oludotun

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