|The city of Abeokuta, Ogun State, Nigeria.|
This is where Pastor Philip Olowo is from.
A few months ago, Conrad Mbewe, a faithful, sound, gospel-preaching, Zambian pastor wrote a warning about Nigerian religious junk. Later D.A. Carson interviewed him about it at the Gospel Coalition. (Mbewe is actually very clear in both his article and the interview, however, that Nigeria isn't actually the country of origin for these problems, but rather the USA. He simply identifies Nigeria as the place where the 'prosperity gospel' became Africanised and then re-exported to other African countries.)
I understand what Mbewe was getting at, and even, to some extent, share his concern. After all, as Nigerian Christianity becomes more and more prominent in the UK, we're seeing exactly the type of 'ministries' of which Mbewe warns. But that is only one end of the spectrum of Nigerian Christianity and we shouldn't allow all Nigerian Christians to end up being accidentally tarred with the same feather.
Last night I saw the other end of the spectrum as I listened to Pastor Philip Olowo as he graciously took part in the discussions in our East Leeds Connect Group. In fact, every week when I go to Connect in East Leeds I see the same thing (even though Pastor Olowo isn't normally there - he's only in the UK on holiday), as I'm the only non-Nigerian in that group. About a quarter of all the families in our assembly are Nigerian and sometimes they can make up half the congregation on a Lord's Day morning.That's one of the great things about pastoring the Leeds assembly: it's a truly multi-cultural church, where the various cultures and nationalities have all been made one in Christ through His Cross. Sure, there are cultural differences and even misunderstandings at times, but Christ is what keeps us together. Jesus is much more important than a few cultural differences!
I don't have a TV, so the only reason that I know about some of the religious junk out there at the moment is because the Nigerians (and other Africans) in the flock which God has entrusted to my care have shown it to me in order to warn me about it. These Nigerians know the Gospel, and so they know a false and dangerous counterfeit when they see it.
I've never been to Nigeria itself, but I've heard a lot about it from those who have; from some who were born and grew up there, from some who spent large parts of their lives there as missionaries, and from some who've visited a few times. And what I've heard about it seems much closer to Pastor Olowo and the Nigerians in the Leeds assembly than it does to the reports of religious junk.
I suppose most Apostolics have heard stories about Nigeria. We've had so many missionaries who have served there. And the fruit of their service has been phenomenal with over 4.5 million members in the Apostolic Church in Nigeria. In fact, I'm sure that statistic is long out of date, for the Nigerian church is not only big, but also very fast growing.
Pastor Olowo's sister-in-law is a deaconess in the Leeds assembly. She tells me the story of how she and her late husband were involved in planting a new assembly. They evangelised and the newly-planted assembly planted out enough new assemblies to become a district. Last year when she went home to Nigeria for a holiday she saw that so many assemblies had now been planted out of that district that it had grown into an Area (and apparently they're much more strict about the criteria for districts and Areas in Nigeria; if I remember right she told me a district is 5-8 assemblies and an Area is 5-8 districts, so at the very least that one assembly they helped plant has now become 25 assemblies - fast growing indeed!). This is the sort of story I hear from Nigeria: stories about evangelism, about gospel-peaching and about church-planting. They're good stories of how God is working through His Word and Spirit. And then when I meet the sort of men who are pastoring these assemblies, what do they talk about? - the imputation of Christ's righteousness! No wonder the assemblies are growing and multiplying, for the Gospel is being preached in all its fullness.
Now, I have no illusions - I'm certain that Nigeria isn't heaven on earth. I'm sure that even the Apostolic assemblies have their problems. But I'm also certain that there's a lot more to the Nigerian Christian world than the 'Nigerian religious junk'. There's also a lot of Nigerian Gospel treasure, and for that I give thanks and glory to Christ who is building His Church in Nigeria as well.