Friday, September 08, 2006


The fever that is religion grips no other country in Africa as it does Nigeria. Nigeria arguably boasts the highest percentage of population affiliated with one religion or the other. But there is an unsettling wave spreading across the country. Everywhere you look there are references to religion. Religious leaders are portrayed in the same vein as pop stars. They have their own spots on TV. They write, direct and feature in their own music videos. To put it another way, being a religious leader is a key to wealth and prosperity. It is the fashionable thing to do, the dish of the day. Religion in Nigeria is a business idea. God is being sold out, held to ransom and used for man’s business gains.

On one particular main street on a new, developing city in Nigeria, I counted up to 20 churches, as many churches as there were residential homes. In one street! There is a sense that as long as you have a room in your house, big enough to accommodate ten or more people, then you can start up a church. Church is seen as a business, and business is all about money, capital gains. But the church is not, and shouldn’t be, about money. Now this is not a problem in every single church in Nigeria, don’t get me wrong. There are powerful, anointed men of God who are genuine and who perform miracles and wonders and transform lives. But the grass root foundations of the church are not solid. There is no sense of a calling to serve God, or to lead and inspire people, which, I believe, is what Christianity is about. The church in Nigeria has got it all wrong. There is no emphasis to help transform the lives of the people around you: The poor and the needy, the homeless and the helpless. These are all issues that Jesus Christ focused on the most during his ministry. What the modern church is focused on is profit. Most of the leaders merely do it because it represents a source of income for them. They might do useful things with it afterwards, but they are coming from the wrong angle. The bible says to ‘seek first the kingdom of God…and all will be given to you’. Our church leaders seem to be seeking all the riches before they seek the kingdom.

Religious 419 is the order of the day. 419 (a term derived from the constitution rule invoking it) is the most common word for corruption in Nigeria. This can be any form of corruption but the wave at the moment is in the property sales industry. This is a subtle business, as most corruption is, and its characteristics are like that of a cancer. It finds it way into the system, unannounced, and slowly begins to destroy the foundations of life and, by the time it is discovered the damage it has done is irreparable, barring a total reconstruction.

The disease, which is 419, seems to be establishing its ways in the church. Not in the guise most notable with its predecessors in politics, or business, or property, or even in sport. It is done in a way that the people do not -and will not- see it, until they themselves have their eyes opened. In all the occasions I went to church, I noticed that there was a heavy emphasis on ‘praise and worship’ and ‘thanksgiving’, and not much given to ‘the word’. To explain to those not familiar with these terms: ‘praise and worship’ are a way of giving thanks to God for all He has done in our lives, whilst acknowledging that there are less fortunate people suffering in the world. ‘Thanksgiving’ is our way of putting our faith in God, submitting to His ways (even though we might not understand how/ why he does certain things) and believing in him to improve our lives. It is also a way of helping the church (God’s body) to do things in His name, to change our world for the better, to help the helpless, feed the hungry. Thanksgiving is usually done by giving money to the church and there is no rule as to what you have to give, as long as you’re giving from your heart.

‘The word’ teaches about God, inspires us, fills us with the spirit of God and the character of Jesus. Now all these are important for the church to function successfully, but I believe that ‘the word’ is the most important. Simply because if we do not know God, if we do not have total belief in him, we cannot be totally confident in praising him and giving him thanks. We would not be doing it from the heart, and that is what God is most interested in, our hearts. Giving a present to someone you like is not the same as giving to someone you love. In the churches I went to ‘praise and worship’ is always followed by ‘thanksgiving’, that is the norm for most churches. But in Nigeria, I noticed an added variety to this theme. During every song sang in praise, there was thanksgiving. Members would file in the line, dancing and praising in a designated route around the church before placing their ‘thanks’ in a box. This custom would happen about 4, maybe 5 times in a church service. Now, this being alien to me (I was more accustomed to giving thanks once maybe twice in a service) I started asking questions why. Why do you have to give 4 different offerings? Why can’t you put it all in one basket and give that? After all, its not how many times you give, it’s the fact that you give from your heart. But initially, I put my thoughts aside because it was their culture, and who was I to impose my ideals on them? Regardless of this, my mum and I decided to stick with what we were comfortable with and gave our thanks in one. So for the second, third and forth songs, we didn’t follow the line of dancers around the church. This was when I felt the conviction. I noticed that people were staring at us, obviously thinking we didn’t have any money to give. At one point, a sweet old lady offered to give my mum some money to take up to the altar. Mum politely declined. It was also at this point that I realised that something was missing from the church, and as a result the people were being led astray. There is a sense of ‘showing’ that you are giving abundantly, whether you are or not. People who didn’t have enough money to survive the next day were forced in a position to give more, and more, and more. Now I know that as Christians we have to live by faith but sometimes we can spend all our time being heavenly bound that we become earthly useless. People were being forced into a corner, in church. I could see the following situation rising up constantly with the people thinking ‘I can only afford so much, so I will divide my money by four, for each thanksgiving, but what if they decide to have more than four thanksgiving today? What do I do?’ All this before they enter the church…

Jeremiah 23: 1-4

I will send disaster upon the leaders of my people--the shepherds of my sheep--for they have destroyed and scattered the very ones they were expected to care for," says the LORD.

This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says to these shepherds: "Instead of leading my flock to safety, you have deserted them and driven them to destruction. Now I will pour out judgment on you for the evil you have done to them.

But I will gather together the remnant of my flock from wherever I have driven them. I will bring them back into their own fold, and they will be fruitful and increase in number.

Then I will appoint responsible shepherds to care for them, and they will never be afraid again. Not a single one of them will be lost or missing," says the LORD.


Blogger Marin said...

I agree with your expressed opinion in toto. Modern Nigerian christianity is a bit warped. I also had a case of someone offering me money to drop in the offering basket.

What I particularly dislike about this so called christianity is that it does not allow criticism. If you attempt to critisize things that are obviously backsliden or cold in faith, you get "bound and cast away", or are challenged as to your faith. Nowadays, you do not see any transformation in the lives of so called born again people, its all money, money money. My God is a good God etc, and blaming the devil for every thing, or even worse, claming the result of our incompetence is God's will- like Aborishade.

11:13 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree with you in totality. This is something that has been weighing me down for sometime now and I do have a lot of questions but God save me if I should ask them. Like Marin said, "bound and cast away", or are challenged as to your faith". I attended church only this Sunday and the amount of time we spent in singing and dancing alone? Oh my! We seem to have lost our course for salvation and it's now all about Prosperity, prosperity and more prosperity.

12:13 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I taught in a church school in Southern Nigeria during the 80's and I feel that your description is a fair one.
The denomination I was working with could be described as conservative evangelical but within its churches there was a variety of services. I attended churches where I was spiritually uplifted and also churches where there was an emphasis on "thanksgiving" as you described. In some services I noticed men going around giving change so that people could give more than once.
I was interested to read your comments made by a Nigerian.

8:50 AM  

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