I hereby express my gratitude to the Primate of All Nigeria, His Grace, Most Rev. Dr. Henry Ndukuba and Mama Nigeria, Mrs Angela Ndukuba for this opportunity given me to make this presentation on an issue that is top priority for our national Church. We are the ‘Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion), the official Church of this country, by colonial heritage. We are bound together as one ‘Body of Christ’ spread across every geo-political part of Nigeria. Historically, missionaries of our Church Pioneered Christian evangelism, education, healthcare, social welfare, independence struggles and development of the elite leaders in this country.
Being the state church, we hold the covenant with God as the voice of Christianity in Nigeria.
Beyond this, the Church of Nigeria has emerged, by divine providence as the vanguard for the survival of orthodox faith in the global Anglican Communion. The recent spiritual collapse of the Church of England by their open declaration of support for church’s blessing of homosexual marriages and the Archbishop of Canterbury’s confession that he was threatened by British Parliament to jettison Bible ethics, Christ’s commands and time-cherished moral traditions of the Church on marriage and family puts our Nigerian Church as the leader of the genuine and faithful global Anglicanism. We initiated GAFCON under Primate Peter Akinola; this gave birth to the only viable alternative to the dying conventional leadership of Canterbury and Lambeth. Many partners in GAFCON have compromised and run back to the west for crumbs that fall from their ungodly master’s tables. These facts compel that Nigeria will be the target of the entire Mad West who are ferociously fighting to hijack the church of Christ for the devil by making the church and the gospel to succumb to the anti-Christ culture of the world.
Nigeria is at its worst state ever today. Mass killings by terrorists, compromised security sector, Nepotism in government dominated by Muslims of Hausa -Fulani extraction, a damaged economy , massive Brain Drain of youths and professionals, scarcity of currency, hyper inflation of our God- given petroleum and other resources , terrible debt burden running into over 77 Trillion Naira amidst uncertainties and apprehensions of the future of the country, these also demand that the official Church of Nigeria mend her fences and brace up for tough fights at all fronts : social, political , economic, moral and spiritual. ‘United we stand; divided, we fall’.
Like courageous African Theologians and Church Fathers of the early church, who saved the theology and spirituality of the church in times of persecution and heresies, this is the time to put our house in order, be united in all manners and at all fronts in order to brace up for the battles and missionary works ahead under the able leadership of our charismatic and courageous Primate Henry.
THE BIBLICAL AND EARLY CHURCH MANDATE
True unity exists in the relationship between the Holy Trinity. Jesus’ prayer in John 17 was for the Church to “be one, as The Father, The Son and The Holy Spirit are one”. The Athanasian Creed explains the intrinsic unity and inter-relationship of the Holy Trinity. At Creation, through the Old Testament, at baptism of Jesus Christ and on Pentecost Day, the Trinity featured together. Even at creation of man, this was done as a conference – “COME, let US make man in OUR own image” (emphasis mine).
The prayer of Our Lord Jesus Christ (John 17) at the concluding part of his ministry was for the Unity of the church. The Discipleship of the Twelve under Jesus Christ was characterised by oneness and likeness except for Judas the betrayer who departed from this norm. Our Lord must have foreseen the mess that denominationalism has brought to oneness of the Body of Christ, hence His passionate appeal for unity. After the Lutheran Reformation and break away from Roman Catholic Church, various strands of Christian denominations emerged: Lutheran, Anglican, Presbyterian, Methodist, Baptist, etc., each of these emphasize particular doctrines and liturgies upon which they base their points of departure from their parent churches. One of the many areas where liturgical disunity is manifest is the Holy Eucharist. Children of God sitting at the table with their Lord Jesus (Lord’s Supper) cannot eat together without man-made restrictions. Take for instance a wedding ceremony between a Roman Catholic lady and a Protestant Man; as soon as they are wedded in the church and the priest pronounces that “what God has joined together, let no man put asunder”, the same priest there and then will serve the Catholic lady (wife) the Holy Communion elements and exclude the Non- Catholic husband. He has just put asunder the oneness of the couple he had just joined together!
During his tenure as Chairman of the Christian Association of Nigeria, our former Primate, Most Rev. Dr. Peter Akinola (who designed and supervised the National Christian Center Abuja) attended a national service to celebrate Nigeria’s independence. At the Inter-denominational service, the then Roman Catholic Archbishop of Abuja, Most Rev. (now Cardinal) John Onaiyekan refused to serve our Anglican Primate the Holy Communion while he knelt at the Altar along with other worshippers. He whispered to Primate Akinola that “ we will admit you to communion when Anglicans repent of their errors following the Martin Luther’s breakaway from the Roman Catholic Church”. This contradiction is one of the reasons for the ecumenical Movement. We Anglicans allow for communion, Methodists, African Church and Presbyterians; definitely not Pentecostals unless they had been confirmed at one point or the other prior to their veering into New Generation churches.
The Ideal unity of the church in the spiritual sense is influenced also by the five solas of the Reformation namely,
- Sola scriptura: “Scripture alone”
- Sola fide: “faith alone”
- Sola gratia: “grace alone”
- Solo Christo: “Christ alone”
- Soli Deo gloria: “to the glory of God alone”
Ephesians 4:5-6 states that “we have : one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all”.
The above understanding must have informed the Koinonia in the early church where the members lived as one Community; all were treated and catered for equally from the common purse. Paul further discouraged all forms of discrimination in the church. There should be ‘no Jew nor Gentile; no male nor female, no slave nor master’ ; all disciples of Christ should normally be one.
Disunity is borne out of discord, envy, competitive spirit, selfishness, nepotism, greed, over-ambition and schism. Disunity breeds failure and lack of strength to achieve feats that a collective should achieve easily.
It is natural that there will be quarrels and divisions as long as we are human beings. The Christian spirit however gives us supernatural capacity to overcome tendencies and issues that could let disunity fester to the point of becoming conflicts. Jacob and Esau as well as Joseph and his jealous and wicked brothers are cases in point on how even in families, disunity do occur.
The different perception of the promised land by the Twelve spies, who were disunited, led to the Israelites grumbling against God and Moses. This brought God’s wrath upon the people to the extent that an entire generation numbering over a million people were deprived from entering into the Promised land of Canaan. Their journey of forty days duration was elongated to forty years during which their lives were wasted in the wilderness. Apart from Joshua and Caleb, only the children of the original freed Israelites entered the land of Canaan. Pitifully even Moses their leader was provoked to anger and his over action cost him entering into Canaan. Disunity destroys the peace, focus, cooperation of the people and may threaten the life, ministry, and success of the leader himself.
The early church experienced crisis due to heretical teachings such as Donatism, Marcionism, Arianism and Montanism. These divided the church bitterly, but thanks to God for good Christian Apologists and theologians such as Athanasius, Irenaeus,
Tertullian and St. Augustine who defended biblical orthodoxy and forged unity of the Church.
In the African context, the missionaries established evangelical Anglican churches and made good impact through church plants, gospel proclamation, education and health care, etc. they worked, lived and some of them died serving their Master Jesus Christ as His Ambassadors. White and Blacks were together on the mission fields. Today, Protestant churches, such as Anglicans, Baptists, Presbyterians, Pentecostals and Indigenous Pentecostal Churches stand and run independently of each other. Rather than cooperate and collaborate, we compete, criticize and rob each other by sheep-stealing especially, from the evangelical missionary churches. The common associations like ‘Christian Association of Nigeria’ have been put in place to forge unity among the churches, even though they have not been successful in stemming the tide of proliferation, commercialization, adulteration, heretical teachings and general indiscipline and lack of accountability in the contemporary church.
Disunity among the various church denominations in Nigeria has brought Christian position and influence upon modern society, to a great decline. As we face a national election in Nigeria this month, the candidates positioned to run are mostly non-Christians. The two major political parties are led by muslims. Yet the church has no unified voice to challenge this inequity and turn the tide.
The breakaway of the African Church from the Anglican church in Lagos happened over issues of gospel and culture.
The ecumenical experiment of Church Union between Anglican and Methodist Churches did not fully succeed. Only few of the cooperating churches and institutions maintain this arrangement, for example, Immanuel College of Theology Ibadan (that of Trinity College Umuahia was terminated ), Chapel of Healing Cross , Lagos University Teaching Hospital, Idi Araba, Lagos and All Saints Church Jericho Ibadan, etc. But in India, the experiment succeeded, as Anglican and Methodist churches fused into United Churches of North India and South India.
The common hostilities between Anglicans and Roman Catholics in the Eastern part of Nigeria is so deep that it affects even the social cohesion and political governance.
UNITY OF THE ANGLICAN COMMUNION AND THE CHURCH OF NIGERIA.
The Anglican Communion is at the moment fractured by disunity over the revisionist agenda and rebellious actions of some western churches. Just few days ago, we were awoken to a rude shock of the Church of England’s approval of church blessing of homosexual marriages. The crisis over human sexuality led to the boycott of two Lambeth conferences by faithful Anglicans worldwide, the creation of GAFCON and the eventual organs of alternative and Orthodox Anglican Church provinces in North America and England.
The original strength of the Anglican church was derived from her status as a state church. Just like the Church of England, Anglican Churches established during the colonial era remain the state churches of the countries where they were established. Originally, they were an extension of the colonial British Empire. This advantage enabled the missionaries to penetrate the nooks and crannies of the African countries. The very structure of the state government is replicated in the Anglican structure. The three-tier system of democratic government found its counterpart in the episcopal, synodical and judicial sectors, except that in a way, the Bishop still presides over the executive administration, he is president of Synod and also Chair of the Bishop’s Court. In the same vein, the Structure of Diocese, Archdeaconries and parish can be likened to the Federal, state and Local governments. This factor enhances administrative progress .
However, the system of autonomy granted each dioceses to the extent that they have autonomous Constitutions, legislative synods etc can sometimes be exploited to engender disunity in the Anglican communion. Unfortunately, the Anglican system is porous to disunity so much unlike the Unitary line of command of the Ronan Catholic Church. The national Constitution of the Church of Nigeria has been able to make diocesan constitutions subservient to the National Constitution. This needs to be further strengthened.
The following elements of Anglicanism have worked for us as factor of unity.
- We have one Anglican Heritage, One Book of Common Prayer, one Liturgy of the Eucharist, One major order for Morning and Evening Prayers, one 39 Articles of Religion, one Ordinal, One heritage of Hymnody and one national Constitution. The structure of all Anglican church worship places are the same: Chancel, Choir area and Nave (the general sitting area).
- At inception, the church was non- tribal. The best example was Bishop Samuel Ajayi Crowther. Anglican churches and indeed Christianity in Yorubaland, Igboland, Niger Delta and the North owe their existence and development partly the ministry of this great father of faith. Our church originally did not discriminate based on the ethnic identity of the priests and Bishops appointed to minister in parts of the country. In fact, the CMS mission that came to Nigeria had a German missionary, Rev. C.A. Gollmer on the team. But today, can a priest of one ethnic group become bishop in another part of the country? We have lost grounds of unity in this area. It is even worse now that even within the same ethnic groups, agitations and preference for priests of particular sub- ethnic groups are demanded for, by their people. Sentiments and politics of the world have infiltrated the church.
- The Office of the Primate, Metropolitan and Archbishop of the Church of Nigeria is major Instrument of Unity for the National Church. He is the visible human symbol of the Anglican Church and he presides over the national church meetings (General Synod and Standing Committee). He exercises rule over the national secretariat as well as represent the national church internationally, especially on the Primates’ council of the Anglican Communion and at GAFCON Primates Council, etc.
- Another unifying factor among us is in theological education. The National Church regulates all Theological Colleges and Seminaries. Their curriculum are centrally moderated, the Church of Nigeria ‘Joint Entrance Examination ‘(CONJEE) is designed like the Joint Examinations board as entrance examination into the various Theological Colleges. Postulants while in Seminary, are mandated to study the three major languages spoken in Nigeria. This is followed by Acculturation exercise, where postulants whose place of origin is from one part of the country are made to spend some period (three months) of acculturation with Anglican churches in other ethnic areas of the country. This is similar to the NYSC scheme in Nigeria. Unfortunately, the ‘Crowther Graduate Theological seminary ‘Abeokuta which is the only seminary jointly -owned by the Church of Nigeria, has had its study programmes decentralised . A place where Bishops, priests and laity from all over Nigeria did meet, interact, bond, live and study together for one year or more has become less patronised. Instead, theological colleges owned by supra dioceses in West, East and North are running programmes which erstwhile were the exclusive preserve of Crowther seminary. Ironically pastors of other churches especially Baptists, African church and Pentecostals are more in population than Anglicans studying at the seminary. CGTS was designed to forge unity among Bishops, Clergy and Laity in training. Not less thirty and over three thousand clergy are alumni of CGTS. The language school was initiated during the tenure of Primate Joseph Abiodun Adetiloye as a unifying institution for Church of Nigeria. This school was actualized during the tenure of Primate Peter Jasper Akinola. The Church hoped that by exposing our clergy to various languages, a priest of a particular place of origin should be able to work in other geographical areas. more so, that migration of people from one end of the country to another makes everywhere a mission field to reach out to people of other nationalities. We in Ilesa Diocese recently established a Hausa Church in Ilesa. We must be proactive in our modern approach to missions and pastoral ministry due to changing social dynamics, else, our church shall be left behind or dwindle in membership.
- National associations of the church have forged unity among us. These include: Boys Brigade, Girls Guild, Clergy Conference, Prayer Convocation, Evangelical Fellowship in the Anglican Communion, Anglican Children Ministry, Anglican Students Fellowship, Joshua Generation, etc. the programmes are rotated from one geographical area of the country to another, giving our Anglican members national cultural exposure. Same applies to the regular meetings of Synod, Standing Committee, episcopal synod and consecration services.
DEALING WITH DISCORDS AND DISUNITY IN THE CHURCH OF NIGERIA
The Church has fared well as a cohesive body since its inception. We are known to be a church of order. Anglican polity is well-organized and there is common sentimental love and attachment which Anglicans have for their churches. However, there are some lapses which fundamentally affect our unity and the propensity for crisis and disunity. Some of these factors are as follows:
- Lack of deep training to build conviction, indoctrination and lifelong discipleship and commitment of our members. Roman Catholics have a curriculum and catechism which are strongly emphasized and inculcated into children and youths such that their members are committed to the church. They do not suffer youth flight as much as we do. Indoctrination of key, muslims also do same, enforcing their children to memorize Quran at childhood. Our Sunday school curriculum is not strongly designed to indoctrinate Anglican children. This we must do. We must focus on the children and youths.
- Democratization of the Anglican church selection of workers and leaders can sometimes work against the progress and unity of the church if wrong people are. Democratic election makes the person with higher votes to be elected into Parish Church Council, Bishopric, etc, but really as a Church, we must seek a subtle theocratic approach where we allow the Holy Spirit to prophetically choose people with proven new birth experience, integrity and commitment. Else, the church will outvote good people who will take over leadership and destroy the church from within. This is the unfortunate lot of the Western Anglican churches who are dying off gradually. We need strong and committed members to function in strategic positions. Ideally, holders of positions in churches must have met biblically prescribed qualifications before they are appointed. Even when Deacons were appointed in the Early church, they were men of sound faith, moral probity, filled with the Holy Spirit. Our members at Parish Church councils, are sometimes not thoroughly screened and trained before election; these are decision takers for the church. This is why in most cases; Anglican members lose no sleep when they sell -off church landed properties for their selfish benefits. In some of our churches, we have lost a large chunk of our landed properties due to this nonchalance and in discipline. The same trend is observable among some clergy and Bishops. Some have to fear of God and they indulge in stealing and diverting offerings and tithes, etc.,
- The Autonomy of Dioceses mentioned earlier is a major factor. This has its advantages but there are some disadvantages as well. Constitutionally, each diocese is autonomous as each Bishop is a monarch enthroned to govern a given territory, jurisdiction or See. There were cases where a diocese, for instance, the old Kwara Diocese under Bishop Herbert Haruna, stood against the National church over ordination of women. We must strengthen the national church to keep us together.
- The abuse of Translation by Bishops encourage disunity and clamoring for juicier dioceses. In the past, a lid was placed on translations, but this lid was lifted during the past ten years. Constitutionally, a bishop is elected, enthroned to a See and he remains there until he retires or dies. The episcopal ring he wears is a marriage ring to the church. Other monarchs in civil society do not change thrones. Our constitution does not give bishops the right to voluntarily contest for elections when there is an opening. It is the national church that should initiate translation based on very rare, peculiar problems in a particular Diocese that warrants moving one bishop by force to another. There is currently chaos in our church on this matter. It now appears that love of money, material acquisition and pleasure is dictating Bishops’ campaign to move from their God- appointed thrones to other dioceses. We have never seen a bishop struggling to translate from a rich Diocese to a poor one or to a diocese located in a dangerous terrain. When translation and bishopric election become a do-or- die matter, it breeds disunity, loss of credibility and spirituality. I must advise our church to remember that we are called to be ministers after the example and commands of our Lord Jesus Christ. His lifestyle, teachings, passion, missions, humility and general lifestyle must be our model. The pectoral cross we wear is not a decorative ornament but a symbolic reminder that our calling could bring with it, suffering and even death. We voluntarily signed up for this commitment. Materialism must be tamed in our church. The gap between rich dioceses and poor ones could be bridged. We must commend our dear Primate Most Rev. Dr. Henry Ndukuba for the courageous decision he took by placing a moratorium on translations. It will restore confidence of the generality of the people in our Church.
- Lack of fear of God and readiness to obey the injunctions of the Holy Bible on unity.
- The Lord Jesus Christ commanded that we must be United. Some Christian denominations have little respect for the Bible nor for the Lord Jesus Christ. The effects of liberal theology on our society has manifested in unreadiness of our Anglican members to pursue the path of peace.
The following teachings of the Bible are to be noted:
“if it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men”. (Romans 12:18).
“Dare any of you, having a matter against another, go to law before the unjust, and not before the saints?
Do ye not know that the saints shall judge the world? and if the world shall be judged by you, are ye unworthy to judge the smallest matters? Know ye not that we shall judge angels? how much more things that pertain to this life? If then ye have judgments of things pertaining to this life, set them to judge who are least esteemed in the church.
I speak to your shame. Is it so, that there is not a wise man among you? no, not one that shall be able to judge between his brethren?
But brother goeth to law with brother, and that before the unbelievers.
Now therefore there is utterly a fault among you, because ye go to law one with another. Why do ye not rather take wrong? why do ye not rather suffer yourselves to be defrauded.
Nay, ye do wrong, and defraud, and that your brethren”. (1 Corinthians 6:1-6).
“Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment”. (1 Corinthians 1:10).
DISUNITY AND CRISIS IN OUR CHURCH
There have been a number of conflicts and divisions within our church. Some dioceses have been in perennial crisis for various reasons. Some have been in the law court for a long period of time.
Despite several reconciliatory efforts, some old crises have not yet been resolved. Some are still in the law courts; Some cases are handled by non-Christian judges. Some Parishes also have long unresolved internal conflicts. Some of such churches have been graciously put under Primatial oversight. Some, despite this, refuse to subject themselves to constituted authority and have refused to resolve their crisis. Impunity must be checked in our church.
We in Ilesa Diocese also had conflict with sister dioceses that were created out of the diocese. Two of the dioceses were in court for about thirteen years. We thank God that prayerfully, the crisis has been resolved without external involvement. The four dioceses organized a unity convention to effect spiritual reconciliation. This involves the spirit of ‘give and take’. It cost us a lot to take the sacrificial decision, but God has repaid us with better facilities and He raised helpers who are sponsoring the development of an alternative camp ground. “God’s work, done in God’s way will not lack God’s resources”. Perhaps this can be an example to other dioceses that are still in crisis and disunity. Let them behave like genuine Christians, reconcile and we would not need external arbitrators to resolve our differences as children of Christ. It is a shame to fester divisions, for churches to take one another to Court, sometimes before Non- Christian judges. Divisions hinder the presence and move of God among our churches, and it hinders the community’s receiving our evangelistic ministry.
- We need to develop teaching manuals and theologies that will deepen our Anglican members’ commitment to the Word of God, and the fear of God which engenders obedience of the Bible.
- We need to re-orientate our members on faith and order of the church and the need to be committed to the church and obey the traditions and doctrines of the church.
- We must build stronger respect of our members for Bishops and clergy. Our members do not respect us the way Roman Catholics respect their priests and Bishops.
- Bishop’s courts in all dioceses should begin to effectively function as places of adjudication according to Canon Law or its semblance, following the dictates and laws of the Holy Bible. Muslims have their Sharia, Obas have their Customary laws; we should activate our canon law at local diocesan levels. Our lawyers and theologians can work to develop this to make it compliant with modern justice system.
- The Alternative Dispute Resolution group set up by the Primate should be respected, strengthened and enabled to settle all outstanding church cases out of court. Dioceses should also set up their own local Alternative Dispute Resolution Groups. This should be made functional.
- Provincial ecclesiastical courts should be set up to handle appeal cases from the Diocesan courts. We really must actively engage our various lawyers in church to participate in the ecclesiastical courts. Their original functions as officers of the church goes beyond the formalities of their robing during diocesan events and administering oaths.
- A law should be enacted that when there is any conflict over landed properties within a diocese, if the diocesan apparatuses do not resolve it within six months, such properties should be forfeited to the National church. This will enable dioceses to go to extra miles to dissolve their crisis.
- We must show Christian love and charity towards one another. This will prevent crisis rather than allow problems to occur, then we start running around for solutions and resolutions.
- Teach members to Repent. Some members think it is their right to fight, cause divisions and have their way despite doing wrong. Such are people who have entitlement mentality because of their privileged positions or history of their ancestry in the membership of the church. Some members are a thorn in the flesh of clergy and Bishops. They often hold the church to ransom. We must teach them on the need to repent, else they risk the anger of God. “In meekness instructing those that oppose themselves; if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth; And that they may recover themselves out of the snare of the devil, who are taken captive by him at his will”. (Timothy 2: 25-26).
- Rebuke with Authority. and remove if they’re unrepentant (Ex-Communication).
“Put them in mind to be subject to principalities and powers, to obey magistrates, to be ready to every good work” (Titus 3:1).
“Put them in mind to be subject to principalities and powers, to obey magistrates, to be ready to every good work,
A man that is an heretic after the first and second admonition reject; Knowing that he that is such is subverted, and sinneth, being condemned of himself”. (Titus 3:10-11).
- Bring the Gospel into every conflict.
“When Christians are into conflict, our tendency is to resort to the Law. This approach only drives us farther apart. You can show them a better way. Instead of bringing the law to others, bring them the gospel. Model Christ who taught us to love enemies, doing good to those who hate us blessing those who curse us; this is supernatural counter-culture”. (Rick Warren).
- Conflict Prevention is better than resolution. We must nip in the bud, issues that may escalate into divisions by taking prompt preventive measures.
- Prayer. And fasting can cause God to change the heart of men to agree to resolution of conflicts and heed the counsel to be united and peaceful.
- Genuine conversion and sanctification. When the Fruit of Spirit (Galatians 5:22) manifest in the life of a genuinely ‘Born Again ‘ Believer, he must seek sanctification of the heart. This will be imbued with the fear of God not to do anything that can cause disunity in the House of God because he knows that God will judge all actions of men, whether good or evil.
- We may consider mandatory exchange of pulpits across dioceses, along with practical acculturation by priests who should be made to live and work in dioceses in other parts of the country for three months every five years.
- Training of priests in Seminaries should be done with national spread. When candidates apply, they should be admitted to seminaries and theological colleges located across the nation. A candidate from the West could be admitted to Trinity College Umuahia while candidate from the East could go to Immanuel College Ibadan, etc. the system we operate at moment entrenched ethnic attachment because most candidates are admitted into Seminaries locates in their own region and upon completion of study, they are listed to and work only in their region till they retire. This is not how to build national church. The Roman Catholics can be trained anywhere including overseas and they can be posted to work anywhere. Until recently when they too started to request for priests and bishops from their indigenous community, it wasn’t so before.
We pray that God will keep our Anglican Church United, peaceful, loyal, committed, holy and more evangelistic in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Thank you for your attention.
The Rt Rev’d Dapo F. Asaju
Bishop Theologian And Bishop Of Ilesa. Presented At The Standing Committee Of The Church Of Nigeria, At St Bartholomew Cathedral, Kubwa, On 16th February 2023.