Who brought Christianity to Nigeria?
The question ‘Who brought Christianity to Nigeria?’ has been on the lips of many people. While there has been no comprehensive answer to the question, some have not bothered asking because they are only concerned about their relationship with the Lord.
For those who care to know, at the end of this piece, ReligionNigeria is confident that you will get a substantial answer by the time you’re done reading this article.
Is Christianity a religion?
Before we can provide an answer to this, let’s explain religion, and other religions practised in some parts of Nigeria before the advent of Christianity.
According to Merriam-Webster’s dictionary; religion is a cause, principle, or system of beliefs held to with ardour and faith.
Another school of thought believes that religion is the service and worship of God or the supernatural.
With regards to the topic we want to explore, let’s dwell on the definition that describes religion as “the belief in and worship of a superhuman power or powers, especially God or gods.
Based on these definitions, it is important we know some of the religions practised in some parts of Nigeria before the advent of Christianity.
The Yorubas of southwestern Nigeria are popular for practising three religious traditions: Islam, Christianity, and the indigenous oriṣa religion.
The Igbo religion was a mixture of human and spiritual beings. The Human category comprised priests, diviners, and ritual elders who conducted religious worship and sacrifices to their gods and goddesses. The divinities included ancestral spirits, spirits of national heroes, and other deities.
The Orthodox Sunni Islam of the Maliki madhhab was said to be the predominant and historically established religion of the Hausa people.
Reports revealed that Islam has been present in Hausaland as early as the 11th century — giving rise to famous native Sufi saints and scholars such as Wali Muhammad dan Masani.
These aforementioned religions were predominantly practised among several tribes in Nigeria before the Missionaries came to introduce Christianity, which some described as one of the most preached religions.
In essence, Christianity is a religion that focuses on belief in the life and teachings of Jesus Christ. Christians believe Jesus is the Son of God who was born in the Middle East in Bethlehem over 2000 years ago. The key religious texts are the Old Testament which contains 39 books and 27 in the New Testament, which together make up the 66 books in the Holy Bible.
Christianity was said to have come to Nigeria in the 15th century through Augustinian and Capuchin monks from Portugal. The first mission of the Church of England was, though, only established in 1842 in Badagry by Henry Townsend.
In 1864, a former slave in Yorubaland who also hailed from the Yoruba race, Samuel Ajayi Crowther, was elected Bishop of the Niger and the first black Bishop of the Anglican Communion.
Lagos became a diocese of its own in 1919, however, Leslie Gordon Vining became Bishop of Lagos in 1940, and in 1951 the first archbishop of the newly inaugurated Province of West Africa. Vining was the last Bishop of Lagos of European descent.
Reports revealed that on 24 February 1979, the sixteen dioceses of Nigeria were joined in the Church of Nigeria, a newly founded province of the Anglican Communion, with Timothy O. Olufosoye, then Bishop of Ibadan, becoming its first archbishop, primate and metropolitan.
In addition to this, eight dioceses were created between 1980 and 1988 while in 1986, he was succeeded by J. Abiodun Adetiloye who became the second primate and metropolitan of Nigeria, a position he was said to have held until 1999 just as Abuja Diocese was created in 1989 on the area of the new capital of Nigeria with Peter Akinola as first bishop.
The 1990s was regarded as the decade of evangelization for the Church of Nigeria, starting with the consecration of mission bishops for the mission dioceses of Minna, Kafanchan, Katsina, Sokoto, Makurdi, Yola, Maiduguri, Bauchi, Egbado, Ife, among others.
We cannot discuss who brought Christianity to Nigeria without also delving into Pentecostalism which has made an impressive impact in terms of evangelism.
Pentecostalism established itself in Nigeria during the early twentieth century as a renewal movement to the prominent mission churches in Africa. At first, the growth of Pentecostalism was due to the efforts to break free from Western missionary control.
The sect, which was formally established in 1941 originated from the Apostolic Church after a split, which the original Aladura organization, Faith Tabernacle, had invited to Nigeria. Its growth was led by Joseph Ayo Babalola, a road construction driver who became its first General Evangelist.
The evangelical student revivals expanded to new Pentecostal churches in the 1960s and 1970s. A leader of this expansion is Benson Idahosa, one of Africa’s most influential Pentecostal preachers. Idahosa established the Church of God Mission International in 1972.
Also, the Pentecostal umbrella organization of Grace of God Ministry is founded in eastern Nigeria in 1974. The Deeper Life Bible Church was founded in 1975 and became one of Nigeria’s largest Neo-Pentecostal Churches with an estimated 350,000 members by 1993.
The Redeem Christian Church of God was founded in 1952 by Rev. Josiah Olufemi Akindayomi who lived between 1909 and 1980.
Pastor Enoch Adejare Adeboye who is now the General Overseer of the RCCG, a church which arguably has the largest congregation in Nigeria, joined in 1973 and served as an interpreter before he was ordained a pastor in the church by Pa. Josiah Akindayomi in 1975. He became General Overseer of the church in 1981.
Living Faith Church Worldwide, popularly known as Winners Chapel is a megachurch and a Christian denomination founded by Bishop David Oyedepo in 1981. The church has also been making exploits in terms of soul-winning and impacting lives.
The Celestial Church of Christ is a Pentecostal Church founded in Africa by Samuel Bilehou Oshoffa on 29 September 1947 and also the Cherubim and Seraphim society, a unique section of the Aladura, founded by Moses Orimolade Tunolase, a Yoruba prophet, and Christiana Abiodun Akinsowon, an Anglican who had experienced visions and trances. In 1925–26 they formed the society, with doctrines of revelation and divine healing.
Today, the numbers of Pentecostal churches are too numerous to be mentioned as it is established ‘almost on a daily basis’ and they have one way or the other contributed to the growth and development of the society.