Pentecostal churches have come a long way in the Christian faith of the Africans and Nigerians. The name Pentecostal derives from the day of Pentecost as recorded in the Book of Acts of the Apostles 2:1 – 4;
The presumption is that Pentecostal churches are churches that are led by the Holy Spirit. As a result, they are also called living churches because they depend on the ministry of the Holy Spirit.
The Pentecostal churches also believed in the presence of the gifts of the Holy Spirit among members of the church. Some of the gifts include speaking in tongues, prophecy, healing, faith, word of knowledge, discernment of the spirit, etc.
This is because God wants man to walk with Him to fulfill His agenda on earth. Man also does not have eternity to fulfill this call, hence, the Book of Ecclesiastics 3:11 said;
Furthermore, in Acts 2:4 the scripture said, “And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance”.
The scripture made us understand that those outside the fold were amazed as they were understanding what the disciples were saying in their native language. Yet one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit is the gift of the interpretation of tongues.
Today, many men of God live in porch houses and the exclusive parts of the cities. They are not interested in taking the gospel to remote places. The puzzle is, is it where the Holy Spirit has placed them? Or is the special gift of the Holy Spirit lacking in all the Pentecostal churches today?
In this brief article, we shall look at the trend of Pentecostal churches in Nigeria. How it all started, and where it has taken the church of God today.
Trends Of Pentecostal Churches In Nigeria
The proliferation of churches
The beginning of the proliferation of Pentecostal churches in Nigeria could be traced to the period after Nigerian independence. The political independence of Nigeria seemed to have in turn encouraged religious independence in the country, giving rise to a situation whereby the strong tie of membership of the mainline churches was loosened.
The Anglican Church and her other sister Protestant churches were the major victims of this development because of their loose attitude to Bible reading as opposed to the Roman Catholic Church which restricted Bible reading to the priests.
Consequently, Christians in Protestant churches began to see themselves more as individual Christians than as part of the corporate body, the church. Following this development, there sprang up independent Christian groups with evangelical and Pentecostal persuasions. Most of them initially claimed to be non-denominational or inter-denominational. They later turned around and become Pentecostal churches later.
Early Pentecostal churches
In the early days, most Pentecostal churches that are still existing today took the center stage. Most of them are called African Independent churches which are scattered within the east and west of Nigeria. Some of these churches include
- Christ Apostolic Church,
- Holy Church of Christ,
- Christ Chosen Church,
- Christ Apostolic Faith,
- Christ Healing Church,
- Christ True Mission,
- Church of God Mission,
- Apostolic Faith Ministry (Abosso); to mention but a few.
Since the 1970s when the movement began, thousands of Pentecostal churches have sprung up in Nigeria. The Newswatch Magazine (December 3, 2001: 26 – 30) identified 1018 Pentecostal churches among others in Nigeria.
Classes of Pentecostal fellowships in Nigeria
The Pentecostal fellowships or churches can be classified into different groups based on their operations. Kalu (n.p: 4) made a typology of such Pentecostal grouping as follow:
- Interdenominational Fellowships
- Evangelistic Ministries, e.g. Deeper Life Bible Church,
- Deliverance Ministries, which specializes in exorcism, e.g. Mountain of Fire and Miracles Ministries,
- Prosperity or Faith Ministries e.g. Zoë Ministry, Idahosa’s Church of God Mission, Faith Chapel Int’l
- Intercessors for Africa;
- Missionary and Rural Evangelism, e.g. The Christian Evangelical Social Movement, Christian Movement Foundation. The Rural Evangelism Outreach (REO) Ministry belongs to this group);
- Bible Distribution Ministries, e.g. Gideon Bible International whose members must be born again and must be active in their churches;
- Classical Pentecostals such as the Assemblies of God Church, Four Square Gospel Mission, etc.
- Children and youth Evangelism Ministries whose branches have mushroomed nationwide from the late 1980s, e.g., Christ Embassy.
The demarcating lines between the Pentecostal groups are between fellowships and churches and between holiness and prosperity groups.
Spread of Pentecostal churches in Nigeria
The fast-proliferating independent churches, which are mostly of the new wave or firebrand Pentecostal type, began to gain ground across the country in 1986. It started with the founding of Benson Idahosa’s Church of God Mission. Their catchment areas appear to be the cities and urban areas where there is more concentration of the rich and upwardly mobile youths.
In such cities as Lagos, Abuja, Enugu, Port Harcourt, Aba, Onitsha, Owerri, Ibadan, Warri, Benin, etc. In these cities, churches are raised in shops, stores, disused buildings, and warehouses, on daily basis.
For ministers of such churches, Christians are not meant to suffer, and they should not be poor, hence “poverty is a curse”. No wonder their type of Christianity rarely exists in rural areas. Such churches have turned warehouses into delightful places of worship.
In Lagos and other big cities, it is only the big-time churches that afford to buy warehouses and convert them to places of worship. Mike Okonkwo’s Redeemed Evangelical Mission (TREM) at Obanikoro, Tunde Bakare’s Latter Rain Assembly at Akilo Road, Ogba. Also, Chris Okotie’s Household of God Church at Oregun, Chris Oyakhilome’s Christ Embassy at Oregun, and Joseph Agboli’s victorious Army at Acme Road, Ogba, are some of such big-time Pentecostal churches in Lagos (Ekenna: 2001: 20).
The smaller or upcoming churches make do with rented apartments and shops. It is not unusual to see a two-storey building of six flats that has four churches operating in it. In this way, most of the streets in our big towns have been turned into “church streets”.
Good examples of such streets are found at Agbani Road in Enugu. On the stretch of the road from the Nise bus stop to the Gariki motor part, a distance of about one and a half kilometers are over 30 churches operating in the different buildings along the road alone. Some of the buildings, mainly two or three storeys, have about four or five churches in them. A particular storey building with six flats at Ebony Paints bus stop has four of the flats rented and converted to places of worship by different churches.
Another good example is Omotoye Estate, Agege Lagos. There are about eight different churches on the Street in addition to the twin duplex occupied by two different churches. A Sunday morning along such streets only reveals a cacophony of sounds coming from drumming, singing, or preaching from the churches. The pastors shout on top of their voices even with their microphones and loudspeakers.
Pentecostal wave and the Nigerian society
The above presents a picture of a country over-crowded with churches; a myriad of Pentecostal and Independent churches jostling for position and space, yet crime and immorality rate is increasing daily. Commercial “prayer warriors” and ‘preachers” also abound.
Travelers on the Lagos-Abuja or Lagos-East routes are not unfamiliar with “prayer warriors” who pray for passengers for God’s protection against accidents, armed robbers, and other evil forces along the road. In the end, the passengers are required to donate some money in support of the ministries. The mobile preachers, as they are called only preach to and pray for travelers. Often, they give non-existing addresses and fake names of their churches so that those who may have cause to look for them will not be able to find them.
With this type of attitude, one becomes sure that much of the bus preaching and praying business is all about duping the passengers.
In Newswatch Magazine, Obiora (Dec. 2001: 25), a Reverend Father, gave a vivid narration of unconventional things that happen in the Pentecostal churches. He described some of the Overseers, Presidents, and Founders of Pentecostal churches as businessmen who inject the name of Jesus Christ into their trade to defraud the gullible and the ignorant. He says that members of such churches are cajoled into “paying tithes, making donations, presenting gifts and levies to their spiritual leaders. He concluded by saying that “New Wave Preachers are the new evidence of the changing face of Christianity in Nigeria.
Diara (2009), describes the situation as an aberration of Christian tradition. In the same vein, Alghalus (Dec. 2001: 20), President of God’s Kingdom Society in Newswatch Magazine believed that the proliferation of churches was the devil’s handiwork. He maintains that the proliferation of churches does not truly translate to the “expansion of the body of Christ”, but a machination of the devil to deplete the church of God. He described most Pentecostal pastors as “Charlatans’ whose main preoccupation is to deceive gullible individuals, especially the youths by advertising miracles and prosperity.
The issue of prosperity preaching and miracles for which the mainline churches are worried has indeed become the linchpin of the flourishing Pentecostal churches. Spiritually and doctrinally sound Pentecostal churches such as the Deeper Life Bible Ministries founded by William Kumuyi, which do not emphasize prosperity and miracles, but on “saving of souls” are no longer enjoying much popularity.
The churches that command great fellowships nowadays are those that dwell so much on prosperity and miracles. Chris Oyakhilome’s Christ’s Embassy, Ayo Oritsejafor’s Word of Life Bible Mission, Lawrence Osagie’s Power Line Chapel, David Oyedepo’s Winner’s Chapel, and Enoch Adeboye’s Redeemed Christian Church of God is at the forefront of prosperity preaching.
Others include Pastor Ezekiel’s Christian Pentecostal Mission, Agboli’s Victorious Army, and Christ Okotie’s Household of God Church, to mention but a few. Their watchword in their churches, crusades, radio, television, newspapers, and magazines, is “financial breakthrough”.
In many such churches, the poor are made to feel inferior during offerings and fundraising activities. It is emphasized that members should pay their tithes regularly to obtain financial breakthroughs. Steady payment of tithes is a prerequisite for achieving prosperity, and the tithes end up in the pockets of the “men of God”. A definite amount of money is fixed as the minimum for service offering and anyone who gives less is not qualified to occupy a seat in the church.
Oyakhilome, Adefarasin, and Okotie run what is popularly known as “Funky churches”. Their congregations largely consist of young men and women and professionals. Dressing in these churches is according to the disposition of the members. Nothing is barred or forbidden in matters of dressing. Young girls wear skimpy and short skirts and sleeveless tops that expose their nakedness more than they can cover. Women come to church in trousers and without head ties or scarves.
The Pentecostal Churches have a humble beginning in Nigeria. Many church leaders like Late Benson Idahosa, Wale Oke, Simeon Okah, Ayo Oritsejafor, David Oyedepo, Tunde Bakare, E.A. Adeboye, and others have played and are still playing prominent roles in the propagation of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
In most cases, the emphasis in the 21st century is the prosperity gospel. Many of these churches have contributed immensely to sustainable development in the religious, political, and socio-economic development of Nigeria. At least, they encourage their worshippers to serve God and live Holy lives despite the economic meltdown in the country in particular and the World at large.
In some cases, they have contributed to the establishment of schools and provide manpower for national development. It is also noted that the Churches have adequately challenged and influenced the Mainline Churches. For instance, the features of praying, clapping, revival for miracles, night vigils, etc., have been embraced. The Pentecostal Churches have also benefited from the administrative structure of the Mainline Churches.
Nevertheless, the interpretation being given to the gospel is food for thought. The issue of prosperity gospel should be re-examined. There is a need to emphasize holiness and righteousness well and above every other thing. For democracy to be sustained in Nigeria, the church must be revived, defended, and protected. It is then the expected good governance may be achieved in Nigeria. The church must complement the efforts of the government and give the right direction by preaching the gospel with courage and forthrightness.
Achunike, H.C. (2004) The Influence of Pentecostalism on Catholic Priests and Seminarians in Nigeria, Onitsha: Africana First Publishers Ltd.
Alghalus, O. (2001) “Proliferation of Churches in Nigeria” in Newswatch Magazine, Dec Issue.
Bolton, F.L. (1992) And We Beheld His Glory, Harlow: Christ King Pub. Co. Bonke, H. (2007) Holy Spirit Revelation & Revolution: Exploring Holy Spirit Dimensions, Orlando: E R Productions LLC.
Ekenna, G. (2001) “Has the Church in Nigeria Become a Lucrative Business Venture” in Newswatch Magazine, Dec. Issue.
Graham, B. (2008) The Holy Spirit (New Edition), Nashville: Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.
Kalu, O.U. (ed.), (1978) Christianity in West Africa: The Nigerian Story, Ibadan: Daystar Press. Obiora, F.K (Dec. 2001) “The Divine Deceit Business in Religion” in Newswatch Magazine. Dec. Issue.