History of Christianity in Nigeria: Chapter 9

Urhobo Historical Society
History of Christianity In Nigeria

© Samuel U. Erivwo, 1979
Reproduced in Urhobo Waado By Permission of Professor Samuel Erivwo

The Story of Christianity in Itsekiri, Urhobo and Isoko lands told in this book stops essentially in 1961, a year after attainment of Independence. That was the year Agori Iwe was consecrated bishop of the new Benin Anglican Diocese. Three years later, The Roman Catholics from Itsekiri, Urhobo, and Isoko areas who before 1964 belonged to Benin Diocese under Bishop Kelly were given their own Diocese, Warri Diocese, with Dr. Lucas Nwaezeapu as its first bishop.

Since 1961 till now, a period fifteen years has elapsed and much else has happened. There has been, for example, a high degree of indigenisation of Christianity, not only in the Anglican Church but even more so in the Roman Catholic Church which was given a new lease of life by the Second Vatican Council (1963-65).

In the past, unhealthy rivalry dominated the scene. Then missionaries like Aitken were very doubtful and scared of Roman Catholic Christianity. It was often said that Roman Catholicism encourage low morality, that their members could sin, confess to “fader” and be forgiven. Because of such prejudices the missionaries of the different denominations tried to do each other down. Earlier Roman Catholic Missionaries mad some members of the Anglican congregations believe that the Roman Catholic Church was the only truly Catholic Church. The Baptists, too, tried to win members to their fold from other denominations, especially through the dynamic leadership of Aganbi, through whose foresight and encouragement at large Baptist hospital was built in Eku.

The whole situation is now happily altered. For example, Roman Catholics who did not formerly employ the method of open air preaching to make converts in Urhobo and Isoko lands now work together with protestants in Adam’s Evangelistic group-a movement through which Christianity among the Itsekiri, Urhobo, and Isoko experienced a phenomenal revival. For there to be strength and meaningful growth, the way forward for the Churches in the area that we have studied needs to be characterised by common understanding, cooperation and concerted effort in the task of evangelisation.

Bible translation, education, indigenisation and contextualisation of Christianity. In this way the Church’s witness to her Lord and Master will become evident. As she speaks with one voice, clear and distinct, calling upon the Itsekiri,Urhobo and Isoko to embrace the faith once delivered to the saints, she would also in that endeavour, apart from demonstrating her unitas in Christo, be fostering unity amongst these peoples who, despite their long social intercourse, have often lived in distrust of one another.

In this regard it is gratifying to observe that apart from Adam’s evangelistic group which embraced members of different denominations and ethnic groups, these different denominations, notable Anglicans, Baptists, and African Church members, have cooperated to translate the whole Bible (with the exception of the apocrypha) into Itsekiri, Urhobo, and Isoko. The first issue of the Urhobo Bible and the Isoko Bible appeared during 1978. It is, however, a matter for regret that committees of the Bible. The cause of Christianity among the Itsekiri, Urhobo and Isoko will be greatly helped if future translation committees involve all the leading denominations in the area.

The Church’s attention should now more than ever before be directed to giving moral instruction to pupils and students in primary schools and colleges respectively. It should not be thought that the Church’s task of education is ended with State take-over of schools; and one hopes that Church leaders of the different denominations in the area under review will see the need to work together and seek for ways and means of continuing to inculcate in the youth moral values which, in the African context, cannot be understood apart from religion.

Christianity is coming to terms more and more with traditional culture. It is desirable for Christian youth in Itsekiri, Urhobo, and Isoko lands to study seriously the culture of their own people, like chieftaincy titles and Ovieship, and devise means by which these can be used in the service of Christ. Attitude to traditional festivals should now become more positive than before so that those elements in them which cannot be shown to be diametrically opposed to Christianity may be taken over and used as a medium of expressing the Christian faith in an African milieu.

The perennial problem of polygamy may be worth looking into. It the Church is unable to accept it as the standard because it is convinced that it is not according to the mind of Christ (although there is no real biblical warrant for this position) those who have fallen into polygamy need to be given due consideration in the Church, particularly if the Church is prepared, as she does, to accept their money. If the Church refuses to elect them to offices, she should at least not deny them the sacraments of baptism and of the Lord’s Supper which, if they are indeed means of grace, as they are said to be, should be administered to sinners for whose sake Jesus died.

Furthermore, the question of the liturgy needs drastic revision in the churches. Whereas the different denominations in Itsekiri, Urhobo, and Isoko lands may not be free to change their respective liturgies without reference to their counterparts in other parts of the country and the world, yet there is a degree to which adaptation of local songs, idioms, and music can be effected without betraying their respective Christian traditions. The Aladura churches particularly in Yoruba land and, as already indicated, the God’s Kingdom Society with its headquarters in Warri, have done this to great advantage. The other churches will do well to borrow a leaf from them.

Finally, while Christianity is being indigenised and contextualised, those high moral values for which the faith has always stood should not be lost sight of. It has been shown that when Christianity first came to Urhoboland, the Christians were renowned for truth and transparent honesty, and that only as the first generation of converts were dying out did the situation begin to alter for the worse. Those very high moral situation begin to alter for the worse. Those very high moral principles of love, faith, truth and honesty for which the Christian faith had been known from its infancy need to be highlighted in the ongoing process of contextualisation. For only so will its abiding relevance to the local people in the African milieu be demonstrated and appreciated.

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