among many other religious leaders, has
repeatedly maintained that the future of the Church is in Africa. Nigeria as an African country has the highest
number of religious sects. It then follows logically
that Nigeria and the Church in Nigeria should set the pace of good leadership
balanced with an adequate social well-being of the populace. A cursory look at
the streets of Nigeria affirms the fact that religious affluence
is at its peak. Many new generation Churches are springing up everyday, with
corresponding evangelists to minister to these hungry and thirsty people of
God; people who sometimes are driven to these Churches for want of material
satisfaction, the spiritual already presumed. They are not wrong any way! The
mission of the Church should not only be to preach the good news of Jesus
Christ but above all to attend to the needs of these followers of Christ as he
himself did. How is the Church in Nigeria, comprising of different denominations
balancing these imperatives? This is the important challenge that faces the
Church today and it must be faced with courage if the Church is to continue to
give powerful witness to Jesus Christ in the midst of the modern world.
The Man of God
Call him/her the priest, the prophet, the
evangelist, the pastor, the minister of the Lord, the man/woman of God, etc,
the religious leader of the people is one who is set apart to offer prayers and
sacrifices on behalf of the people, usually in some sacred places such as a
temple, shrine or Church. Most civilizations in the history and the
phenomenology of religion exhibit a definite tendency toward cultic
specialization, and it has, therefore, been suggested that the term
priest/evangelist/minister/man of God/pastor should be limited to the holder of
such special office. Specialization, in its turn, leads to social
differentiation and to the establishment of a “clergy”, that is, of a priestly
class, or caste. Obviously such specialization arises only in societies able to
exempt some individuals from the common toil for subsistence and to provide for
their needs in exchange for their ritual contribution to the general welfare.
Where such institutionalised division of labour does not exist, as in many
so-called primitive societies, suitably gifted or knowledgeable persons will
perform priestly duties in addition to their ordinary activities.
In the western usage of the term
priest/man of God, he is one who first of all performs a sacrificial ritual,
usually at a fixed location such as the altar. And secondly, he does so as a
specialist on behalf of a community or congregation.
For he is one who functions officially to establish or preserve contact between
the superhuman world and a human community.
In the Old Testament there exists a
distinction between a priest and a prophet. The duties of the priests were of
threefold nature. In the Holy place, they had to remove old leaves of proposition
and substitute them with fresh ones every Sabbath. They also put incense on the
altar of incense every morning and evening, and trim the lamps on the golden
lamp-stand (Heb. 9,1ff). In the court of the temple, they were to offer the
various sacrifices on the altar of holocausts, keep the fire burning day and
night, sprinkle blood on the sacrificial victims and bless the people after the
morning sacrifice (Num. 6, 23-26).
Outside the Tabernacle and the temple,
they were to distinguish between the sacred and the profane, the pure and the
impure. They inspect and judge cases of leprosy, purification of women either
after childbirth or haemorrhages, vows, divorce, jealousy etc.
Important to note here is the fact that priests, were occasionally appointed by
kings (2Sam. 8, 17), and some of them serve in the courts of the kings. Kings
on the contrary did not appoint the prophets. The prophets saw their authority
deriving from a call by God, being his messengers or servants (Josh 1,1-2;
2Kings 14, 25). From a sociological point of view, most of that authority
derived from society itself as the audience of the message.
One could say that the prophets would be the servants of the society. This
newer sociological approach highlights the importance of the recipients of the
message in recognising the messenger as a prophet, grounding his or her
identity upon that recognition. It often does not take into account any
concept, whether actual or self-delusional, of divine call, which from a
biblical perspective is more foundational than societal recognition for
establishing one as a prophet. Some of the prophets made mention of their
divine call, (1Sam. 3,2ff; Is. 6, 1ff; Jer. 1, 4-19). Some ascribed their
revelations immediately to God (Jer 28, 5; Ez 8, 1).
The Prophets in their teaching perform a
- They were
the religious and moral teachers of the Israelite nation and were
constantly reminding the people to fulfil their covenant obligation of the
guided the purity of the Hebrew religion, and because of this activity, Israel, in spite of its many defections,
- They were
also at times the political advisers to the kings and wrote down the royal
annals as are evident in Isaiah and Jeremiah. Their social task was to
defend the poor, the widows, the orphans, and the oppressed from the
greedy practices of the Rich (which our present day church leaders are
urgently called to do).
- They were
the heralds of the future messiah and the messianic period.
in the New Testament
During one of his visits to his home
village, Jesus joined them on the Sabbath for prayer in the synagogue. When he
was asked to read, he took the opportunity to explain his mission. He chose
Isaiah 61, 1-2 for this purpose.
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me.”
‘What I am doing, I do through
the Father’s power. He has called me as he called many prophets in the past.’
‘He has chosen me to bring good news to
‘The Father sent me to
ordinary people with a message that will make them happy.’
‘He commissions me to proclaim freedom for captives
and sight to the blind, to set the oppressed free and announce the Lord’s year
Through me the father
begins his messianic liberation promised by his prophets.
Nigeria is today considered by
many as a rich nation, courtesy of its rich oil reserves. The sad story however
is, that many families continue to wallow in poverty, illiteracy and
A critical look at the Nigerian society
paints a very obvious picture. There is poverty everywhere in the midst of the
so many human and natural resources. A lot of families have no resources to
sustain biological life. They lack the basic necessities of life like good
drinking water, medical and educational facilities, nutritious food, clothing
and housing. Where some of these facilities exist, the people lack the
necessary funds to pay for them. Electricity, a basic need in developed
countries, is generally considered a luxury in Nigeria.
Today, a lot of qualified Nigerian
graduates are unemployed, which has led a good number of them to taking to
rough life, a situation that has made learning a good-for-nothing enterprise. A
situation that leaves parents wasted and perpetually dying each passing day as
they think of how and from where to get the money to pay back for their
children’s education; money borrowed from individuals and associations with
very high interest rates, with the hope of paying back, as soon as the
Beneficiaries get employed after graduation. A terrible situation indeed! Many
a time, these unemployed graduates turn out to be “odd-job-people”: the truck
pushers, the load carriers, the cutters of grass, sweepers of floors, etc. Many
have left the rural areas in search for greener pastures in the cities.
For their livelihood, they depend on the chance of getting some casual job each
day. If they get a place to squat with a friend or relative in one of the
slums, they count themselves lucky. The unfortunate ones sleep in uncompleted
or dilapidated and abandoned buildings, or under the cities’ fly-overs. One
meal a day is a blessing for them and to go without meals for days is normal.
How should Nigerians function well in the midst of these problems?
From the social point of view, poverty has
to do with rights and relationships, about how people are treated and how they
regard themselves, about powerlessness, exclusion and loss of dignity. It has
to do with lack of participation in religious and civil matters; about the
subjugation of the weak by the strong, perpetual willingness to blindfold the
ignorant or to remain perpetually on the margin. Yet the lack of adequate
income is at its heart.
To keep out of poverty people must have income, civil and ecclesiastical
rights, which enable them to participate in the life of the community.
general the people at the bottom of the Nigerian society are being impoverished
by the way in which our economy and every other thing is structured. This impoverishment
is both material and spiritual. The poor are deprived of adequate food and
housing; they are not allowed to participate in decision making that affects
them; they are despised because of their language, or accent, or customs; they
are deprived of education and of the leisure and opportunity to cultivate the
things of the spirit. Nevertheless their humanity resists this multiple
oppression; and to a surprising degree many of the poor people succeed in
finding ways of being deeply human and Christian – in spite of all the
handicaps imposed on them.
In the Nigerian society, the direct
employer represents the government administration as well as other private
entrepreneurs. These have turned around to be the new colonial masters to their
fellow countrymen and women. Perhaps it would be better to categorize them as
internal colonisers and collaborators with the old English colonial mentors.
The irony of the above situation is that
every government (civilian or military) that comes into power makes fantastic
promises to correct these ills only to end up being worse than the one before
it. The government/employer or entrepreneur manipulates the poor employee. The
latter receives little or no incentives to motivate them in their work.
The big question now is: What can be done
to remedy this situation in the midst of so many Christian denominations and
church leaders operating in Nigeria?
Social Commitment of the Church
Every Christian denomination in the
Nigerian society should have programmes that care for the social life of the
Christians. Leaders of God’s people should be the mouthpiece of the poor and
Borrowing from the Catholic tradition,
Vatican II in Gaudium et Spes replaced the juridical, hierarchical
definition of Church with more biblical and symbolic images and clearly
articulated a sense of the Church as taking its form and function from its
relationship to the kingdom of God. A Second shift marked by the Second Vatican
Council resulted from the long agonising effort of Church leaders to come to
terms with liberal, democratic principles.
On the essential equality of the human race, the Council fathers teach that,
All men are endowed with a rational soul
and are created in God’s image; they have the same nature and origin and been
redeemed by Christ, they enjoy the same divine calling and destiny; there is
here a basic equality between all men and it must be given ever greater
Speaking in number 6 of the encyclical Populorum
Progressio, Paul VI writes,
Today we see men trying to secure a
sure food supply, cures for diseases, and steady employment. We see them trying
to eliminate every ill, to remove every obstacle, which offends man’s dignity.
They are continually striving to exercise greater personal responsibility to do
more, learn more and have more so that they might increase their personal
worth. And yet, at the same time, a large number of them live amid conditions,
which frustrate these, legitimate desires.
As a matter of urgency, Pope Paul VI emphatically
The present state of affairs must be
confronted boldly, and its concomitant injustices must be challenged and
overcome. Continuing development calls for bold innovations that will work
profound changes. The critical state of affairs must be corrected for better
without delay. Everybody must lend a ready hand to this task, particularly
those who can do most by reason of their education, their office or their
The 1971 Synod Fathers wrote thus:
Listening to the cry of those who
suffer violence and are oppressed by unjust systems and structures, and hearing
the appeal of a world that by its perversity contradicts the plan of its
Creator, we have shared our awareness of the Church’s vocation to be present in
the heart of the world by proclaiming the Good News to the poor, freedom to the
oppressed, and joy to the afflicted. The hopes and forces which are moving the
world in its very foundations are not foreign to the dynamism of the gospel,
which through the power of the Holy Spirit frees men from personal sin and from
its consequences in social life.
Paul VI writes in Evangelii Nuntiandi
that Evangelisation among other things is the transformation of humanity from
within and making it new through the influence of the Church. It is the
conversion of “both the personal and
collective consciences of people, the activities in which they engage, and the
lives and concrete milieu which are theirs”.
This is a point which the clergy in Nigeria has to reconsider in the evangelising
mission. There is no gainsaying the fact that since the advent of Christianity
in Nigeria, evangelisation has been more concerned with the
conversion of persons to be more spiritual and like St. Paul, emphasising always the eschatological
reality. Christians therefore live and die in this hope of enjoying heaven and
living less human on earth. We have first live good and healthy lives here on
earth before going to Heaven!
Speaking about the preferential love for
the poor, John Paul II in Sollicitudo Rei Socialis said:
This love of preference for the poor
(and here I mean poverty in all its ramifications), and the decisions which it
inspires in us, cannot but embrace the immense multitudes of the hungry, the
needy, the homeless, those without medical care and above all, those without
hope of a better future. It is impossible not to take into account of the
existence of these realities. To ignore them would mean becoming like the ‘rich
man’ who pretended not to know the beggar Lazarus lying at his gate (cf. Luke -37).
Lamenting on the situation of the poor, John Paul II in Centesimus
of them do not have the means, which will enable them to take their place in an
effective and humanly dignified way within a productive system in which work is
truly central. They have no possibility of acquiring the basic knowledge, which
will enable them to express their creativity and develop their potential. They
have no way of entering the network of knowledge and intercommunication, which
would enable them to see their qualities appreciated and utilized. Thus if not
actually exploited, they are to a great extent marginalized. Their dignity is
not acquired in a real way, and sometimes there are even attempts to eliminate
them from history through coercive forms of demographic control which are
contrary to human dignity.
In Search of a lee-way
of formation in Catholic seminaries (and indeed other seminaries of Christian
leadership) is to produce men (and women) who will be intellectually, socially
and spiritually equipped to be effective instruments of evangelisation after
their ordination. The seminary is expected to train capable priests (pastors),
who, in response to God’s grace, can collaborate with their bishops and
superiors in serving God’s people throughout the world.
celebration and indeed every sacramental action has a direct bearing on every
facet of human life in today’s world. It takes a hard look at the daily lives
of the people in their ups and downs especially in the suffering and starving.
In effect, the Eucharistic liturgy should neither begin nor end only within the
four walls of the Church. It should actually spill over into everyday life
addressing itself to the social, political, economic and cultural life of the
people and not only the spiritual aspect. This brings to mind the statement of
John Chrysostom, who said,
want to honour Christ’s body? Then do not scorn him in his nakedness nor honour
him here in the Church with silken garments while neglecting him outside where he
is cold and naked. For he who said, This is my body and made it so by his words
also said, You saw me hungry and did not feed me, and in as much as you did not
do it for one of these, the least of my brothers, you did not do it for me.
Leonaldo Boff adds
Eucharist cannot be celebrated in the spirit of Jesus when that celebration is
unaccompanied by a hunger and thirst for justice. We betray the Eucharist, the
memorial of the Lord, when we utilize it for the concealment of or even when we
merely ignore the presence of unjust relations in the community of the faithful
who celebrate and assist at that Eucharist.
Bishop Michael Eneja
Poverty in spirit, alone is not
enough in the present day Nigeria. Our poverty must be
manifest in act. We must think a second time about the acquisition of titles of
various sorts. Our clothes, food, house, vehicle, association, speech must like
Christ’s our model be poor.
I believe credit should be given to virtually every Nigerian
priest/minister of the Lord for his/her dedication to the spiritual nourishment
of the Nigeria populace. But the same amount of credit would not be given to most
of them for the social/economic welfare of our people. This is partly due to
what most of them conceive their mission to be, and partly due to selfishness
on a good number of them. Many a pastor in the Nigerian Church would prefer to
remain mute in the face of acute injustice and dehumanisation of the populace
to speaking out the truth because those concerned are the high-ups and the
‘determinants’ of society to which the pastors themselves belong.
do pastors confront the political system/government of the Nigerian society in
cases where and when there are clear signs of
injustice? Should homilies be enough in addressing issues? Can they do more
than preaching? Can they learn anything from the social encyclicals and
liberation theology or do our people not need liberation, at least now? Do they
forget the fact that they can really change a lot of things in the present day Nigeria, where their positions are respected
and influential? Can religious leaders of the Nigerian society challenge
themselves in the right direction? Our people have had enough spiritual food.
They need a supplement!