Is Nigeria Experiencing a Christian Revival?
ABSTRACT: A number of commentators have described Nigeria as one of the most religious countries in the world. It is also one of the most densely churched countries in the world. One can hardly drive in a car for five minutes or walk for fifteen minutes in many parts of the country without seeing a church. Nigeria is home to
some of the most ‘anointed men and women of God’ in the world. Many church leaders have assumed cult or celebrity status and rank among the most influential people in the country. A few of them rank as some of the most influential people in the African continent, while one or two rank as some of the most influential people in the whole world. Church leaders have the ears of prominent political leaders in the country, with some political leaders seeking the blessings, approval and prayers of some of these men and women of God before and after seeking political office. This influence is not only restricted to Nigeria. Some political leaders within the African continent have sought the blessings of these Nigerian church leaders. Furthermore, the influence of the church also extends to business. A number of senior executives in some listed companies are pastors while some churches are involved in a range of business activities including publishing, education, eateries and real estate.
Revival |riˈvīvəl|: an improvement in the condition or strength of something - Extract from dictionary
You are the light of the world….let your light shine before people, so that they can see your good deeds and give honor to your Father in heaven. - Matthew 5: 14; 16
My Father is honored by this, that you bear much fruit and show that you are my disciples. - John 15:8
“To the angel of the church in Laodicea write the following: “This is the solemn pronouncement of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the originator of God’s creation: ‘I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either cold or hot! So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I am going to vomit you out of my mouth! Because you say, “I am rich and have acquired great wealth, and need nothing,” but do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind, and naked, take my advice and buy gold from me refined by fire so you can become rich! Buy from me white clothing so you can be clothed and your shameful nakedness will not be exposed, and buy eye salve to put on your eyes so you can see! - Revelation 3:14-18
It is six thirty am in the morning and the sun has just risen in the direction of 69° East-Northeast. At the same time, somewhere close to latitude 6° 25′ 10″ North and longitude 3° 27′ 43″ East, millions of us get up have our bath, brush our teeth and get our families ready. We put on our good clothes, as we have to look good on this special day of the week. Some of us will wear suits, some of us will wear dresses with a nice hat to match, or some of us may decide to wear more traditional outfits. We then leave our houses and use various means of transport to take us to these special places. Some of us will get into our cars, some of us will use public transport and some of us will walk to get to these special places.
As we leave our houses on this special day of the week to go to these special places, millions of other people throughout the country will go through the same weekly routine. Along the way, we see cars with stickers at the boot of the cars inscribed with uplifting messages, positive messages and encouraging messages. We hear voices from the various loud speakers located in front of some of the buildings along the road. We see signboards and billboards, which advertise the venues where we should spend this special day of the week. Very often, each of these billboards is 20 percent filled with the details of the venue and the remaining 80 percent filled with an image of a well-fed man in a suit along with his beautiful well-fed wife. Eventually, we then arrive at our point of destination.
As we come out of our means of transport, we enter into the sanctuary where we will spend the next couple of hours worshiping and praying to God and listening to a sermon by the Minister, pastor, bishop or reverend. After we have worshipped, prayed, listened to the sermon, some of us will then leave the church while some of us will stay behind for further prayers or church meetings.
In case you are wondering what this is all about, you do not need to wonder any longer. The above-mentioned scenario describes a typical Sunday in the life of an average Christian based in Nigeria. It is important to note that Sunday is not the only day of the week that the typical Nigerian Christian is engaged with the church. Very often, church visitations could be a whole week engagement in which: Monday is devoted to prayer clinic, Tuesday is devoted to bible study, Wednesday is devoted to attending deliverance services, Thursday is devoted to house or cell fellowship and Friday is devoted to night vigil. Then once a month, a special service is conducted in which tens of millions of us go to various prayer grounds around the country to have a divine encounter with our God.
Welcome to 21st century Nigeria, where Christianity is experiencing a great revival. A number of commentators from around the world have described the Nigerian revival as one of the greatest revivals in recent history. Tens of millions of people have been touched by the life-changing message of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. Thousands of people have experienced signs and wonder in which the deaf hear, the blind see and the lame walk.
Tens of millions of people have been called out of darkness into the marvelous light of the Master. Evangelism is on the ascendency, with millions of people preaching the good news to the lost. The radio and television have been used as effective mediums to relay the good news to millions of Nigerians throughout the country. Church branches are being opened on a weekly basis both within and without Nigeria. Every Sunday, major roads throughout the country are emptied as millions of Nigerians attend church services.
Former factory warehouses have been converted from manufacturing edifices into ecclesiastical edifices. Prominent roads have been transformed from a highway of houses and shops into a highway of churches. For instance Kudirat Abiola Road, which runs between Ojota and Alausa plays host to some of the biggest churches in the country and can be described as one of the ‘most churched roads’ in Nigeria. The Lagos-Ibadan expressway plays host to the prayer grounds of some of the largest churches in the country, which accommodates millions of people who flock to these grounds on a monthly basis.
According to the 2011 Global Christianity Report produced by Pew Research, the total population of Christians in Nigeria is currently eighty million, which makes Nigeria the country with the largest Christian population in Africa. The same report notes that there are more Christians in Nigeria than in any single nation in traditionally Christian Western Europe. The number of Christians in Nigeria is more than the total population of the United Kingdom, the country that brought Christianity to Nigeria. Nigeria has the world’s second largest protestant population (second only to the USA). It is also ranks sixth in the global list of countries with the largest number of Christians.
A number of commentators have described Nigeria as one of the most religious countries in the world. It is also one of the most densely churched countries in the world. One can hardly drive in a car for five minutes or walk for fifteen minutes in many parts of the country without seeing a church. Nigeria is home to some of the most ‘anointed men and women of God’ in the world. Many church leaders have assumed cult or celebrity status and rank among the most influential people in the country. A few of them rank as some of the most influential people in the African continent, while one or two rank as some of the most influential people in the whole world. Church leaders have the ears of prominent political leaders in the country, with some political leaders seeking the blessings, approval and prayers of some of these men and women of God before and after seeking political office. This influence is not only restricted to Nigeria. Some political leaders within the African continent have sought the blessings of these Nigerian church leaders. Furthermore, the influence of the church also extends to business. A number of senior executives in some listed companies are pastors while some churches are involved in a range of business activities including publishing, education, eateries and real estate.
Nigeria also plays host to some of the most exotic-named churches that one can find in the world. For instance it is not unusual to come across churches with names such as Elshaddai Shall Not Die Ministries, Guided Missiles Church, Satan in Trouble Ministry, Ministry Of The Naked Wire, Jehovah Sharp Sharp Ministry, Healing Tsunami Ministry, Seven Thunders of Jesus and Go and Tell Ahab That Elijah Is Here Ministries.
The Nigerian Christian revival is often used as a benchmark for other countries both within and without the African continent. The Nigerian Christian revival is often described in similar terms as another revival that took place over a hundred years ago in Wales.
The Welsh revival took place in 1904 in Wales. During the revival nearly one hundred thousand people made a commitment to accept Jesus Christ as their Lord and personal saviour. In the course of the revival, the churches were not only fully occupied, but they were overflowing. Church meetings, in which the gospel was preached, occurred on a daily basis. The revival, which started in Wales, spread to different parts of the world including England and Ireland. People were filled with the Holy Ghost and there was significant interest in the things of God. Thousands of people were convicted of sin and there was a thirst for the cleansing power of Jesus. Hymns became the music of the day.
Is it therefore justifiable to liken the Welsh revival of a century ago with the current Nigerian revival? Is the current Nigerian revival truly similar to the Welsh revival of 1904? To what extent do the two revivals converge and to what extent do the two revivals diverge? To the extent that regular church meetings occur frequently in Nigeria, the Nigerian and Welsh revivals share common grounds; to the extent that people are convicted of sins and accept Jesus as their Lord and personal saviour in Nigeria, the Nigerian and Welsh revivals share common grounds; to the extent that evangelism is on the increase and the gospel message is preached in Nigeria, the Nigerian and Welsh revivals share common grounds; to the extent that signs and wonder occur and people are filled with the Holy Spirit in Nigeria, the Nigerian and Welsh revivals share common grounds; to the extent that places of trade are being converted to churches in Nigeria, the Nigerian and Welsh revivals share common grounds. However when it comes to changed lives, changed heart and a changed society, the Nigerian and Welsh revivals begin to diverge.
Revival is a derivative of the word revive, which means to restore to life or consciousness. When Jesus walked the surface of the earth, nobody who had an encounter with the Master remained the same. Lives were changed as a result of the encounter with the Master. When the disciples carried their ‘thus saith the Lord’ message to the utmost parts of the world, lives were transformed and societies were turned upside down as evidenced in the book of Acts of the Apostles. If the Nigerian revival is actually effective, then one has to critically examine if as Christians, we are being the light of the world and if our lights are shining before the people.
In the course of the Welsh revival, not only were individual lives transformed, but also the society as a whole was transformed. Jesus light shone on the converted Christians and their light shone so bright that those in the wider society saw the reflection of the Master on these Christians and had no choice but to change. When people changed, they stopped conforming to the old ways of doing things and were transformed to the new way of doing things.
As a consequence of the Welsh revival, crime rate in the country reduced by almost 100 percent. The rate of criminal convictions reduced to almost zero. The police became idle and rather than being preoccupied with chasing and catching criminals, they became preoccupied with supervising the human traffic of people attending and leaving church services. It was reported that during court sessions, the magistrates showed up in court only to find out that there were no criminal cases to try. The judges were given white gloves, which signified that there were no court cases to be tried. The alcohol industry almost went extinct because people stopped drinking alcohol and many pubs had to close because people were attending church meetings instead. Drunkenness also reduced significantly. Men became responsible and rather than wasting their money on various vices, they brought their money home and provided for their families needs. According to a report at the time: “Men who had not taken one penny home in 17 years now took all home.” Furthermore, husbands became more loving, while broken friendships were restored. The use of foul words reduced as people opted for uncorrupted words. For instance, people who used to deface bridges and walls with obscene words replaced these words with quotes from the bible and hymnbooks. In short, the Welsh revival resulted in an internal transformation for the people and the society.
The Nigerian revival in contrast has resulted more in the external transformation of church buildings, church attendance and church collections rather than an internal transformation of a changed society, a changed life and a changed heart. Despite the fact that millions of us attend church services regularly, despite the fact that we have some of the most anointed and most influential men and women of God in Nigerian church history, despite the fact that Nigeria is the most churched nation and despite the fact that Nigeria is one of the most religious nation in the world, Nigeria is an untransformed society. Since a society is a collection of individuals, the moral fibre of the society is dependent on the moral fibre of the individuals that make up the society. We cannot have a transformed Nigeria if we do not have transformed Nigerians and we cannot have transformed Nigerians, if we cannot have transformed Nigerian Christians.
The wickedness in the land is at historic proportion. A number of Christians who should be the light of the nation are involved in criminal activities. We hear, read and witness instances of Christians defrauding their employers and other people to the tune of millions of Naira only to give the whole proceeds to the church as tithe and offerings. In some of these instances, the pastors collecting the criminal proceeds write personal letters to the criminals thanking them for their generosity. A number of influential Christians who are pastors and head financial institutions have been arrested and charged for siphoning depositors and shareholders funds running into billions of Naira. Corruption in Nigeria is at an all time high, with Nigeria ranking 143rd out of 183 countries in Transparency International’s 2011 Corruption Perception Index.
Despite the prevalence of Christianity in Nigeria, money is gradually usurping Christianity as one of the major religions in Nigeria. The god of money is worshipped in the country and people will do anything to get money. One can hardly have a conversation with many Nigerians without the discussion focusing on money or the acquisition of wealth. Psalm 23 has been rephrased to emphasize riches rather than God: “The Naira is my shepherd, I shall not want. It makes me to be happy and leads me to sleep in my houses in Dubai, London and New York. It restores my bank account, dignity and connections. It guides me in the path of selfishness, vanity and ignorance. Though I walk through the valley of EFCC and the court I will not fear for thou art with me. I shall dwell in the house of Naira, Dollar and Sterling forever and ever. Amen.”
Materialism, classism and tribalism are prevalent in the country. We have become very class conscious and rather than treating the less fortunate as fellow human beings, we treat and describe them as things. In short, those who do not meet our so-called social status are ‘thingified’. A number of our churches are not immune from the plague of tribalism. Furthermore, churches have played a key role in the maltreatment of young people accused of witchcraft. Senior ministers in some of our churches have been involved in beating and torturing young people who have been accused of witchcraft. The breakdown of marriages has been on the ascendency with couples becoming less tolerant of each other. As more people attend churches and church meetings nationwide, the level of immorality in the land is also on the ascendency.
Despite the influence and access that the anointed men and women of God have on the political class, they have refused to use their influence to demand the required dividends of democracy from the political leaders. Rather than use their clout to demand positive change for the country, the theological elite have endorsed some of the government’s unjust policies, which have impoverished millions of Nigerians. Due to the apathy of the theological elite, Nigeria has become hell on earth rather than heaven on earth for many Nigerians.
Many Christians have become cold-blooded and insensitive. Christians who should follow Jesus mission statement of proclaiming good news to the poor, healing to the broken hearted and declaring the acceptable year of the Lord are in many instances guilty of doing the reverse. The widows, the unmarried, the barren and the poor are often ridiculed and mocked by we Christians.
Over a century ago, in a country with a population of almost two million, a minority of one hundred thousand converted and committed Welsh Christians positively transformed Wales during a revival. If over a hundred years ago, five percent of Wales’s total population could positively transform Wales inside out and upside down, why can’t eighty million Nigerian Christians who account for almost fifty percent of the Nigerian population positively transform Nigeria inside out and upside down today? There are two possible reasons for the inability of the current Nigerian revival to effect positive change in the country:
a) What is preached is not practiced or
b) What should be practiced is not preached.
What is preached is not practiced: Perhaps the reason why the country is the way it is could be because we are not practicing what is being preached on the pulpit every Sunday and other days when we go to the sanctuary. Could it be that by the time the church service ends, the message we hear in our left ear has gone out through our right ear rather than being processed and stored in our brains? Admittedly, man is fallible and imperfect and we are all sinners, however based on the number of sermons we hear in a year and the hours we spend in church, if we can apply even a small percentage of what we are instructed to do in the Word of God, Nigeria would surely be a better place. It is time for us to follow the instructions of Brother James by becoming ‘doers of the Word and not just hearers of the Word’. Afterall, James was right when he said: “a person who merely listens to the message and does not live it out, is like someone who gazes at his own face in a mirror. For he gazes at himself and then goes out and immediately forgets what sort of person he was.”
Another reason why what is preached is not practiced could be because the church has allowed cultural influences to infiltrate and overshadow some key aspects of the Gospel message. As a consequence, many of us have ‘Nigerised’ the Gospel message and this has been reflected in our deeds.
The responsibility for practicing what is preached lies with the congregation. It is therefore up to us the congregation to put into practice what is preached provided what is preached is in line with the Scriptures.
What should be practiced is not preached: The major culprits here are the many men and women who stand in front of the congregation and preach the Word of God. Ministers who are truly called by God should preach what is in accordance with the Scriptures. Unfortunately, several of our ministers have strayed away from the teachings of the Master and have introduced another gospel that has the unintended consequence of allowing the Nigerian society to negatively transform the Nigerian church rather than allow the Nigerian church to positively transform the Nigerian society.
The Nigerian church leadership has to a large extent placed significant attention and focus on the prosperity, which has resulted in an increase in materialism among Christians. As a result, many Christians have become so money focused, money conscious and money crazy. Money is now seen as an end to a means rather than a means to an end, hence, people are willing to do anything necessary to justify the end (money). It should therefore be of no surprise that very often, when the roll call of people involved in corrupt activities in the country is read out, the names of devoted Christians are often included on the first page of that list.
Almost a generation ago, there was a group of Christians that swarmed the Nigerian Christian space. They were called “SU” which is an acronym for Scripture Union. They were devoted Christians who were known for their strict adherence to holiness. Although this group of Christians often took their religiosity to the extreme by focusing on the ‘Law’ while downplaying the concept of Grace, one thing that we could not take from them was there integrity and desire to obey the Lord. They feared the Lord and this translated in their deeds. Companies that employed them were confident that due to the firmness of their faith they would not compromise. Once you had these so-called SU’s in your company, you knew that they would not steal, they would not cheat, and they would not lie. The so-called SU’s were taught by ministers who instilled integrity and the fear of God into their mental sheets. Unfortunately, many church leaders of this current revival preach little about integrity and the fear of the Lord. Yes Grace is important, but as Apostle said many centuries ago: “Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? God forbid.”
Another area were preachers are not preaching what should be practiced is in relation to how Christians should deal with evil powers and principalities. Many Christians have been programmed by their church leaders to be suspicious of their family members, friends or co-workers, as their pastors tell them that these people are instigators of their misfortunes. This has resulted in instances whereby children accused of witchcraft are physically and mentally assaulted. Even church leaders have been known to assault children all in the name of establishing the supremacy of the kingdom of light over the kingdom of darkness.
Several church leaders are guilty of prostituting themselves with the corrupt political class thereby indirectly contributing in the current state Nigeria finds itself. They fail to speak truth to power. Rather than crying out like Prophet Amos and screaming: “Promote justice at the city gate!” our church leaders have become like the prophets of Israel that God spoke about to Ezekiel when he said: “My hand will be against the prophets who see delusion… because they have led my people astray saying, ‘All is well,’ when things are not well.” Rather than speak God’s truth and judgment to the political class, many of our church leaders have chosen at best to be apathetic and at worst to be wining and dining with them while endorsing the unjust policies of the political class.
In conclusion, for the Nigerian revival to be truly regarded as a revival, for the Nigerian revival to positively transform the Nigerian society and for the Nigerian revival to be taken seriously, the solution will lie not solely in the thesis of the church practicing what is preached or solely in the antithesis of the church preaching what should be practiced, but rather, the solution will be found in a synthesis that merges both truths.
If a revival that took place over a century ago in Wales is still used as a reference point for revival in our contemporary world, it should not be out of place for today’s Nigerian Christians to ponder over what would be the legacy of the current Nigerian revival. How would Christians want the legacy of the Nigerian revival to be remembered one hundred years from now when the history pages are read? Would we want it to be remembered as a revival that sparked a flame that swept throughout Nigeria and brought healing, restoration and the Kingdom of God to the land or would we want the revival to be dismissed as a jamboree that was hijacked by selfishness, kidnapped by materialism and blindfolded by wickedness.
Let he or she that has ears…
Ahmed Olayinka Sule, CFA