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Missionary Spotlight – The ‘Christian’ scene in S. E. Nigeria

November 2000 | by Martin Bussey

‘The New Jerusalem Hairdresser’s’, ‘The Heavenly Bakeries’, ‘The Mount Zion Hotel’ — everywhere you see evidence of a past influence of Christianity. ‘The Lord is my Shepherd’ or ‘I’m covered by the blood’ is often painted on the front of lorries, while on the back is painted some Muslim slogan! It seems that whatever helps, goes.

There are thousands and thousands of ‘churches’ — perhaps a small village will have nine or ten different ones. Within five miles of the centre of a nearby town, there are estimated to be 500 churches. These churches divide roughly into two different kinds, independent and Western-type churches.

Independent churches

Independent churches delight in such names as ‘The full Gospel Lighthouse Church’, ‘The Cherubim and Seraphim Church’ and ‘The Fully Redeemed Sabbath Day Congregation’.

They are independent because they are not part of a Western-founded denomination. In fact, many of them are breakaways from the Qua Iboe Church.

A typical story is that there might once have been just one Qua Iboe Church in a community. Then one of the important men in the village ‘became a Christian’ and expected to be made an elder. But because he was polygamous he was not allowed to be one. So off he went, and set up his own rival church. Then, perhaps, someone in the new congregation is suspended for something, so off he goes and starts his own congregation. And so on!

Such churches may be referred to as ‘spiritual churches’ because they put much stress on the supernatural. They talk a lot about demons, the need for protection against sickness, and the danger of people putting ‘evil medicine’ in your farm or compound which will cause the death of someone in your family.

To combat these things, they engage in prophecies, exorcisms, and ecstatic trances, often accompanied by shakings, shoutings, and ‘holy rolling sessions’. They look to Jesus for healing and protection from the things that oppose and oppress them. But at the same time, they might offer sacrifices and consult the local witch-doctor! And for all the noise and excitement, there is very little about a holy God, sin, grace, repentance and faith.

Denominational churches

The names of the denominational churches in Nigeria are, of course, more familiar: Anglican, Methodist, Lutheran and Presbyterian (not to mention the Roman Catholics, Mormons and large numbers of Jehovah’s Witnesses). Regardless of the official stance of all these, they are characterised in the vast majority of cases by three false emphases.

Health and wealth teaching

Many teach that if you are a committed Christian, you will never be sick; or if you do happen to fall sick, then all you have to do is to trust God hard enough, and you will be healed straight away.

Similarly, if you are lacking money, then simply trust the Lord, and if your faith is strong enough the money will roll in. Constant good health and plenty of cash is the right of every truly spiritual Christian, it would seem!

Perfectionism

‘Real Christians never sin’ is the view of many. So, if a person ‘sins’ (that is, lies, steals, cheats, or commits adultery) it proves he is not a Christian. ‘Real Christians’ are sinless, and no longer need to grow in holiness.

This view stems from a defective understanding of sin, failing to see that in the Bible’s teaching sin is rooted in the heart, in pride, lust, selfishness and wrong motives.

Salvation by works

In many churches the message is ‘Try hard enough, and God will be pleased with you and forgive you’. So the majority of people calling themselves Christians are basically trusting in their own good works to save them.

As long as they do good deeds — like going to church, giving to the poor, saying their prayers, reading the Bible — they think that is enough.

The truth they have not grasped is that ‘our righteousness is like filthy rags’. Even our best deeds, when not done out of love for God, are detestable in his sight. Salvation comes not by trying to live a good life, but as a result of the new birth.

True churches

While, thankfully, the above description is not universally true of Nigerian churches, it demonstrates the difficulties facing all true Christians in African nations. Let us remember our Nigerian brothers and sisters, as they struggle to make known the gospel of grace, a gospel so different from all false gospels