|Urhobo Historical Society|
|THE LIFE AND WORK OF AGORI IWE|
FIRST BISHOP OF BENIN DIOCESE
Sam U. Erivwo, Ph.D.
|Originally Published in 1998 |
Reproduced in URHOBO WAADO by kind permission of Professor Sam U. Erivwo
CRISIS IN BENIN DIOCESE UNDER BISHOP AGORI IWE
As the work of evangelism encouraged by Bishop Agori Iwe grew in his Diocese, there were certain manifestations which could theologically be ascribed to the work of the devil. These manifestations came through the Scripture Union (SU), and the Adam Anglican Preaching Society (A.A.P.S.).
The S.U. and the A.A.P.S., which were themselves evangelistic wings of the Church, operated in a way that some of their members questioned the fundamental doctrines of the Church and her practices in various ways, and consequently also undermined the authority of the Church. But for the firm action subsequently taken by the Bishop more harm than actually happened could have been done to Anglican christianity under the Rt. Rev. Agori Iwe.
First, the Scripture Union (S.U.). The Scripture Union, properly understood, is a society of the evangelical wing of the Church of England, the mother Church of the Anglican Communion. Their members had done a lot of good work in the Church in Nigeria, especially by emphasising the reading of, and reliance upon the scriptures. But over the years some members, especially youths from secondary schools, questioned and condemned the sacraments of the Church, and in this way fell into disrepute in several Anglican Diocese.
In Benin Diocese under Agori Iwe, members of the S.U. were not only known to be showing manifest contempt and disregard for the sacraments of the Church like baptism and the Lord’s super, but a number of them actually questioned radically and denied the validity of infant baptism, undermined the authority of the Church by claiming and teaching that many of the Church leaders – priest and bishops – were not Christians because they were not born again. A Church leader seen taking beer or any alcoholic drink, even wine, or smoking cigarette, or a pipe was easily written off as a non Christian. The ordinance of confirmation and services like Harvest thanksgiving were adjudged by some of their members s unbiblical as way payment of Church dues.
In a letter written in March 1973, to all church workers in his Diocese, Agori asked for information about the activities of the S.U. members. The Bishop wanted to know if S.U. members in Parishes and Districts cooperated with Church workers, participated in Church activities like Harvests, and Choirs, and were regular in Church services and paid their Church dues; or whether they were a menace to the Church and evinced strange behaviours and practices. The Bishop wanted to know the substance of the teaching of S.U. members against the organisation of the Church.
The Bishop communicated the feed back he received to the Synod meeting of July, 1973. From the questionnaire returned to him the Bishop quoted the following as what his clergy and Church workers had to say about S.U. members (a) Their leaders are being sent to Secondary Schools to inculcate their dangerous teachings on students. Now they are claiming to be a movement within the Church, but I suspect that one day, they will break away entirely after gaining members.
(b) Their dangerous teachings are:
(i) The Anglican Church cannot teach you to be saved. There is no need to belong to a church since there is no church in heaven. Join the S.U. and believe in Jesus and you will be saved.
(ii) The pastor of the Church is not holy. He is a sinner and God cannot answer the prayers of such people. They drink beer, smoke cigarette and take snuffs. How can God answer the prayer of such people.
(iii) Our Baptism and confirmation are useless. They cannot save you, unless you join the S.U. and believe in Jesus.
(iv) The youths are taught to disregard their Baptism and confirmation as just mere formalities, which are not necessary for salvatio.
(v) Those who joined the S.U. claim to be holier than all other people.
After a brief comment on the above observations, the Bishop warned members of his Synod and Diocese against the leaven of the S.U. members. He however reminded Synod that there was the genuine S.U. and that those S. members espousing and disseminating the above mentions views should be differentiated from the genuine S.U., and designated S.U. sect.
Before long other bishops discovered similar problems in their Dioceses. Thus, the Rt. Rev. J.A. Adetiloye, then Bishop of Ekiti Diocese (but now Archbishop and primate of the Church of Nigeria), wrote to the then Archbishop of West Africa, His Grace, Most Rev. M.N.C.O. Scott in July 1973, saying inter alia:
|“I have this morning most reluctantly to ask a conference of S.U. holding at Christ’s School Ado-Ekiti to quit the premises within two hours of the receipt of my letter. …The reason for the expulsion…was the fact that on Thursday night (i.e. 19th July, 1973) they took High School students for re-baptism. I am writing to inform you of this action immediately because I have my fears that this has been going on for sometime in other parts. It is very sad that certain groups within the S.U. should form themselves to revive Ana-Baptist practices”.|
Upon receiving a copy f the letter of the Bishop of Ekiti, the Rt. Rev. T.O. Olufosoye (who later became the first Archbishop an Primate of the Church of Nigeria), reproduced it for the information of his clergy whom he instructed thus:
|“We therefore direct that no group of the so-called S.U., should be allowed to meet in any school room or Church hall within our Diocese. This ban should be announced and explained on Sunday in the Churches in your area”.|
An ordinard of Benin Diocese, Mr. S.O. Nwabuoku who was in training in Divinity Hall, Bishopscourt Ibadan, heard the news of the action taken by the Bishops of Ekiti and Ibadan, and wrote to his own Bishop, the Rt. Rev. Agori Iwe, who in some quarters had been regarded as unduly critical of the S.U. sect and their like, saying:
|“My father, glory be to God that all have come to see with you now, the truth has come out”.|
The effect of the teaching of the S.U. in Benin Diocese went beyond those in the Secondary Schools. Similar views were held and propagated by groups within the Diocese, notably the group known as Ole-Ezi. Indeed when Agori Iwe sent out his questionnaire of March 1973, in respect of these two groups some of the respondents stated that “S.U. and Ole-Ezi have the same tenets”.
The members of Ole-Ezi were initially members of Usi Woma the evangelistic group founded by Adam Igbudu, otherwise known then as Adams Preaching Society. Those who later became know as Ole-Ezi started by remaining behind to fast and pray for the support of the evangelistic work which Adam and his group of evangelists were undertaking. But later, those who waited behind who fasted and prayed, claimed that it was better to remain as a group, fast and pray for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit than to go out and evangelise. Consequently what started as a group intended to reinforce the proclamation of the gospel turned out to be a divisive factor, and so failed to further the cause of the proclamation of the gospel. Well did Agori Iwe, in one of his conciliatory moves to bring the two groups together say, “wherever a Cathedral of the Lord Jesus is built, Satan goes there to erect his chapel”. That move failed, and after several other such attempts, and two commissions of inquiry set up to investigate the reported activities of the Ole-Ezi members both in Isoko and at Benin, the Bishop excommunicated 21 members of the group from the Church of the Anglican Diocese of Benin on 18th June 1972.
This action had its own ripples later. The arch-deacon of Asaba, the Venerable C.A. Echenim, who later proved himself to be a sympathizer of the Ole-Ezi group and of the S.U. sect against which the Bishop had warned his Synod and Diocese, behaved in a way before his Bishop on the occasion of a service of confirmation held at Asaba on 1st December 1972 to suggest that he disapproved of Agori Iwe’ style of leadership, and his action against Ole-Ezi members and their like.
About fifty candidates, most of them students, were to be confirmed. The candidates were expected to have been well prepared and examined by the Archdeacon and found fit for confirmation. At the service the Bishop observed that the responses to the questions were very dull. On observing this he looked carefully and discovered that only about half of the candidates had the prayer book. They seemed not to have been well instructed and prepared for that service. When the Bishop turned to his Archdeacon, and inquired why the candidates did not answer, and have the prayer book, the Archdeacon according to one witness, was silent. After a while, the Bishop told the Archdeacon to pick out those who had no books. Then Ven. Echenim did not make any move. The Bishop repeated the instruction but there was still no response. Echenim then turned to the people seem holding the service book in his hand and said to the people ‘These people are baptized, they have faith, they cannot be prevented’. The Bishop then told the Archdeacon to go to the vestry until after the service since he was not prepared to obey his Bishop.
When Archdeacon Echenim and another Archdeacon, Venerable Ejodame of Ihan Archdeaconry were later arraigned before the Bishopscourt, it would appear that the Court did not find Echenim and Ejodame guilty. Instead the Court gave the impression that the Bishop who, even before the ecclesiastical Court was constituted, had demoted the two Archdeacons, was too high handed. The Bishop, unhappy with the outcome of his own ecclesiastical Court, summoned a meeting of his Diocesan Board where he was Chairman. There the ruling of the ecclesiastical Court was reviewed, and set aside; and Echenim and Ejodame were found guilty.
The demoted Archdeacons objected to this procedure, and sued the Bishop and the Diocesan Board to the secular Court seeking a declaration inter alia that “The findings and verdict of not guilty and acquittal of Echenim and Ejodame by a Consistory Court set up by His Lordship Rt. Rev. Agori Iwe on 10th April 1973,…are final…and these findings and verdict are still subsisting.
The purported finding and verdict of guilty and punishment of the plaintiff by the defendants on 12th April, 1974 which purported to set aside the findings and verdict of not guilty and acquittal of the plaintiff by the said tribunal are arbitrary, unconstitutional, ultra vires, null and void.”
Following this legal action in the secular Court, Echenim and his ally, wrote petitions to the Archbishop of the Province of West Africa and copied them to all the Bishops of the Province. The Archbishop and the Province waded into the matter and had it subsequently settled out of Court. The two Archdeacons wrote to apologise to their Bishop for their contributions to the misunderstanding.
It is not clear if it was this crisis which led the bishops of West Africa to act in a way which suggested that they lost confidence in Agori Iwe. For, when he was to retire, and Benin Diocese split into three, the persons of Agori Iwe’s choice did not have the initial support of the rest of the bishops, a thing which led to another crisis, the Warri Diocese crisis, after Agori’s retirement.
The crisis in Benin Diocese at the time of the Rt. Rev. Agori Iwe, has salient lessons for those interested in the growth of the Church and especially for those aspiring to position of those called to lead the Church in any age or place. When the Apostle Paul was faced by similar problems especially in the Corinthian Church, with its many parties, it led him to discuss the nature of the Church which he aptly called the Body of Christ, each member of the body having a vital role to fulfil. Paul made it abundantly clear that there were varieties of gifts “but the same spirit, and there were varieties of service, but the same Lord, and there are varieties of working, but it is the same God who inspires them all in every one” and “to each is given the manifestation of the spirit for the common good”. During the Benin Diocese crisis especially that relating to Ole-Ezi, and Usiwoma members, the warring parties did not see themselves as belonging to the same Body. The views they held of each other were so divergent, and the animosity so intense that it may be said that the Body of Christ in the Diocese at the time was dismembered. The reason was perhaps, whereas in the case of Paul, the warring parties looked upon Paul as an accepted leader whose authority they recognised, not all those involved in the Ole-Ezi, and Usiwoma dispute accepted the authority of the Bishop. As indicated earlier on, the leaven which spread initially from the S.U. group, had the effect of questioning, disregarding, and undermining the validity of the Sacraments and the authority of the Diocesan which he shared with and delegated to his priests and pastors. In the eyes of many members of these movements, the priests and pastors were not fit and proper vessels through which the Holy Spirit could operate. They were therefore not ready to be guided by members of the ordained ministry. Where a common authority was recognised and accepted as in the case of the dispute between Agori Iwe and two of his Archdeacons, reconciliation and settlement, through delayed, was finally effected by the Province of West Africa, whose over all authority both parties accepted and respected.