(Continued from Part 1)
From Ethiopianism to Independentism
he main outlines of the dismantling of the Niger Mission and the collapse of Bishop Crowther's Episcopate need hardly be rehearsed. However, it is necessary to highlight that the ignominious treatment of Bishop Crowther was interpreted as an insult on the whole Negro race. It leaves little to the imagination, therefore, that even Muslim leaders, traditional chiefs, and the Nigerian newspapers were unanimous in their outburst of ill-treatment (Ayandele 1967:217). Consequently, the controversy that ensued over the reassertion of white control by the CMS acquired a racial tinge. It also generated a reservoir of separatist sentiment of the "Africa for the Africans" nationalism of James Johnson and his followers. The determination to establish an independent African church turned "Ethiopians" into "Independents," altering the basis of the Nigerian church in the process.
It is not surprising that the slighted labors of African agency in the denationalization of the Niger Mission provided the context for increased agitations for ecclesiastical independency. It is important, therefore, to recognize that the crude manner in which paternalism was allowed to overwhelm ecclesiastical convention challenges the argument that "the clamor for an independent African church was premature and ill-fated" (Jehu Hanciles 1997:163). The clamor for independency, however ill conceived it may have been, was not so much about the innovation of doctrine as none of the blazing torchbearers of independency stepped over into doctrinal schism.
The more important thing for the Africans was the compelling mandate to repair the rent fabric of African hope in their call for administrative autonomy. In the words of James Johnson, the most learned and respected of the African Anglican clergy, "there are times when it is more helpful that a people should be called upon to take up their responsibilities, struggle with and conquer their difficulty than that they should be in the position of vessels taken in tow, and that for West African Christianity, this is the time" (19 July, 1892). With a declaration as clear as this, it is important that we distinguish between the religious factor and the quasi-political agitations of Edward Blyden, James Johnson, and M?j?la Agbebi, the model participants in the independence crusade.
Edward Blyden, James Johnson, and M?j?la Agbebi
Animated by the spirit of the slogan, "Africa for the Africans," these three can best be described as the apostles of cultural nationalism. Although united in their policy of Africanization, each exerted peculiar sphere of influence in the overall campaign for independence. Edward Blyden, for example, was an erudite Pan-Africanist from Liberia who was criticizing the church from without with his vitriolic pamphlets, books, lectures and correspondence. His visit to Lagos in December 1890 fuelled the smoldering forces that had been gathering over the Niger Mission. His campaign was not merely to extol African identity. Equally important to him was the need to make church liturgy and canons culturally relevant to the African culture. According to him, Africa was "the first home of God," hence "the Christ we worship must be African…for the Christ revealed in the Bible is far more African than anything else" (1903:361). Unfortunately, Blyden's vision of a West African church was seriously hampered by hints of doctrinal schism (Sanneh 1989:140).
Johnson and Agbebi, on the other hand, were "reformers" within the C.M.S. Anglican and the American Baptist Mission respectively. Considered to be the "pioneer of African nationalism" and "the leading figure in the agitation for ecclesiastical independence," Johnson was no less equivocal in his claims. In a declaration characteristic of his grievances with the Niger Mission, he declares, "the desire to have an independent church closely follows the knowledge that we are a distinct race, existing under peculiar circumstances and possessing peculiar characteristics…and that the arrangement of foreign churches made to suit their own local circumstances can hardly be expected to suit our own in all their details" (Letter to M. Taylor and others, April 19, 1873; CMS CA1/0123). Compelling as he was in the wave of African counter-assertion, James Johnson's Ethiopian rhetoric remained ambiguous and his clamor for ecclesiastical independence stifled by an unwavering loyalty to the CMS.
Spiked on the twin prongs of Blyden's numerous writings and the sensational speeches of Johnson, M?j?la Agbebi, for his part, embodied a sharpened articulation of the spirit of cultural nationalism. "To render Christianity indigenous to Africa," he declared, "it must be watered by native hands, pruned with the native hatchet, and tended with native earth….It is a curse if we intend for ever to hold at the apron strings of foreign teachers, doing the baby for aye" (D.B. Vincent 1889).
Herein lies the importance of Agbebi's brand of independency than is appreciated in Nigerian church history. He is not only to be recognized as merely taking the decisions which the other nationalists advocated. Even more important was his extending the issue beyond a narrow call for ecclesiastical independence into a much larger question of the appropriation of Christianity by indigenous criteria. In an almost reckless zeal to indigenize worship forms, he wrote in Africa and the Gospel: "To be successful [as missionaries] we have to study the names, designs, and influences of the stone and wooden gods of our fathers…. The lives and doings of our heathen sages, the origin of the several gods of whom our brethren worship will be useful instruments in the hands of the aggressive missionary" (6 Nov., 1897).
M?j?la Agbebi demonstrated through practical purposes his cultural nationalism. In 1894 he abandoned all his Western names, David Brown Vincent, and also rejected European dress. In both actions, he was endeavoring to symbolize the underlying motivation of the African Church movement, escape from the culturally Westernized model of Christianity. His strongest achievement, without doubt, was made by fusing local (Yoruba) forms within his church to the extent that he became "recognized as the voice of the African churches in Lagos, in Britain, and in the United States" (J.B. Webster 1964:52).
In a statement which can only be interpreted as being complimentary, Webster compares him to "the Anglican converts of the Keswick revivals in Lagos in his enthusiasm for a national Yoruba Christianity" (1964:52). We should not be too surprised, then, that he emerged as the leading figure in the 1888 secession from the Baptist mission that gave birth to The Native Baptist Church. This was a catalyzing event from which "independency was to gush forth in bursts of quick succession" (Lamin Sanneh 1983:169).
Ethiopian/African Churches: Precursors of Independency
Scholars of African church history have long realized that the complexity of African Christianity cannot be comprehended adequately through the categories and typologies per se. This approach undermines the particularities of Africa's historical and cultural realities. Even accepted terminologies such as "Ethiopian," "African," and "Independent" do not usually share in certain features commonly found in different parts of Africa.
In the midst of this complexity and limitation, perhaps it is best to follow Turner's advice to think of a typology of "tendencies and emphases rather than of individual religious bodies and movements." This way we will be able to construct an African typology based on the ways in which the phenomena tend to be grouped.
The different expressions of church in Nigeria can fit into Turner's typology of "tendencies and emphases" without much complication. The Ethiopian/African churches in Nigeria, for example, can be understood as an anthropological rather than a theological classification. This is because their Africanness is characterized by the interesting ambivalence formed by a secessionist sentiment and fidelity to a particular missionary tradition. In other words, they seek to commit to their slogan "Africa for Africans" while upholding certain ecclesiastical and theological remains of an "older" tradition.
The first of these Ethiopian-type churches in Nigeria was the establishment in Lagos of the Native Baptist Church in March 1888 by a group of disaffected Baptists unimpressed with missionary high-handedness (Hastings 1994:493-497). Following this was the launching of the non-denominational United Native African Church. Established in August 1891 in response to the CMS's shabby handling of the Niger Mission, it had as its raison d'être the evangelization of Africa by Africans (Sanneh 1983:175-6). The sacking of James Johnson from his church in Lagos in July 1901 occasioned the third secession, the independent Bethel African Church (Ayandele 1970:318-325).
These Ethiopian-type "African" churches, without doubt, are abstractions from the "mainline" churches and are therefore indistinguishable in doctrine, rituals, and hierarchical structure. Their "newness" can only be conceived "in a historical and [not] in a qualitative sense" (Walls 1996:114). Nevertheless, they constitute an insuppressible widening of the rift with the missionaries and an attempt to seek a measure of response to European racial attitudes and ecclesiastical subjugation.
Prophetic Aladura Churches
What constituted the policy of Africanization in the first wave of indigenous reaction epitomized by the mission-derived Ethiopian/African churches found its full expression in the second, internal wave of Christian independency. The prophetic Christianity of the Aladura movement rose from the initiatives of Nigerians who found calls to separate from older mission churches. Although linked in some way to the "Ethiopian" ideology, this group has much wider focus on the reconceptualization of Christianity than the narrow issue of institutional and administrative reforms of their predecessors.
Described rather cursorily, the prophetic Christianity of the Aladura churches represents a demonstration model of a contextualized ecclesiology. Decisively developed by Nigerians and shaped by the concerns and aspirations of Nigerians, Aladura Christianity is a complex confluence of cultural signification, ritual adaptation, and Christian self-confidence. For the church in Nigeria, the advent of these churches into the religious space early in the twentieth century was a phenomenon with very distinctive characteristics.
Grouped under the aegis of a common type, the more important aspect of their ecclesiology is the retention of traditional African cultural heritage as the hermeneutical bridge in the transmission and deepening of the Christian faith. This interface is most noticeable in the adoption of African symbolism and ritual in matters of faith and religious life. By adapting Christianity to African taste and sensibility, the Aladura churches continue to provide theological framework that combines fundamental elements of Christianity and African culture in a way that did not devalue the distinctive credentials of each. It is through this resilient and dynamic form of Christianity that the church gained its initial momentum and maintained its plausibility among the Nigerian people.
The earliest in this new spate of independency was the Prophet Garrick Braide, a man that was nurtured in the "tense and fraught atmosphere of the Niger Delta Pastorate" (Sanneh 1983:180-184). Unfortunately, his ministry was chocked by the restrictive measures of officialdom, lasting only from 1914-1918. Unlike the work of Garrick Braide, the Aladura churches were undeterred but broke into the religious space of Nigeria "with the intensity of a raging fire" (Sanneh 1983:180). These Aladura churches comprise of four main subtypes and many splinter groups. The four main subtypes, all formed between 1918 and 1930 out of the existing Anglican churches, include The Apostolic Church (named 1932) and Christ Apostolic Church (named 1941). Both churches emerged as splinter groups out of the Precious Stone Society-a prayer group that also broke out of the Anglican Church in 1918. The third, the Cherubim and Seraphim Society, became a separate church about 1927 while the fourth, the Church of the Lord (Aladura), became an independent church in 1930.
"Aladura," a Yoruba word standing for "praying people," was constructed on a model arising from an indigenous reading of the Scriptures. Aladura meant no more than a number of small praying groups of committed Christians functioning on the fringes of mission churches. Their emphasis on the efficacy of prayers in matters of spiritual healing, and on the significance of dreams and visions for prophetic guidance, was to offer an explicit appeal to the priorities of many Nigerian people.
It needs to be mentioned, however, that because the Yoruba of Southwestern Nigeria provided the major initial impetus does not categorize the Aladura churches an essentially Yoruba phenomenon. The rapid spread of these churches to other parts of Nigeria and Africa, and presently overseas, disallows such narrowness. Rather, they provide an index into a systematic description of a religious phenomenon. Such a vantage point reveals a unique synthesis of Christian liturgical forms and African religious and ritual concepts in shaping a new version of Christianity.
The New Charismatic/Pentecostal Movements
The emergence of the new Charismatic/Pentecostal churches represents a novel, radical form of independency in Nigerian Christianity. The Charismatic/Pentecostal movements are a dynamic and reconstructionist group that gathers its force at the point where previous ecclesiastical efforts have failed. This point is the crossroad where liturgy and proclamation provide adherents with the strategy for survival in a hostile socio-political environment.
The prime appeal of the Charismatic/Pentecostal movements is the reinvention of identity through the lens of a spiritual understanding of the self. The individual is provided with a theology of life that disconnects persons from sinful and inhibiting practices of the past and brings them under the redeeming power of God for upward mobility and freedom. By constructing "a redemptive and empowering theology," the Charismatic/Pentecostal movements attempt to reconceptualize the significance of Christianity as an invitation to renewed lives with its reward of a potent power to resolve spiritual and material problems (Ruth Marshall 1995:239-60).
Beginning in the 1970s, the Charismatic/Pentecostal movements embody a new epoch in Nigerian Christianity that undercuts the earlier streams of Ethiopian/African and the prophetic Aladura churches. The phenomenal growth and the reshaping of the religious landscape in contemporary Nigeria are without doubt attributable to their contextualization of the faith into the prevailing socio-economic milieu (Matthews Ojo 1998:25; Ogbu Kalu 2002). It can be argued, therefore, that these Charismatic/Pentecostal churches constitute a continuum where the past, with its older traditions, flows together with the contemporary in various combinations.
The Charismatic/Pentecostal Churches in Nigeria vary in size, doctrine and emphasis. While the earliest maintain a fundamentalist/holiness, anti-materialistic ethic, the newer "churches" are more preoccupied with the "doctrine of prosperity" almost to a total exclusion of other biblical teachings. Among the earliest types are the Redeemed Christian Church of God (dating back precisely to the emergence of Pastor Adeboye as leader in 1980) and Deeper Life Bible Church from 1982. These two churches continue to occupy a center stage in the explosion that has become characteristic of Nigerian Christianity.
To be continued.
S. 'Jide Komolafe, Ph.D. is Professor of Intercultural Studies. He has taught African Languages and Cultures at The University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). He is Adjunct Professor of World Religious Traditions at The University of Phoenix, Southern California Campus. He is Executive Director, Christian Research Institute, Lagos - Nigeria.