The Apostolic Church Nigeria : A New century on a thankful note
A few weeks ago, The Apostolic Church Nigeria held its yearly convention. It also celebrated the beginning of another century having successfully marked its first 100 years in Nigeria last year.
For those who are conversant with the evolution of the church in Nigeria, marking 100 years for an indigenous church is not only a remarkable feet but also an indication that there is hope for the church in the country.
The Apostolic Church Nigeria has however not had a smooth ride since its inception. It was born in crisis and grew in crisis. The good news however is that, despite its predicament, the church has remained unshaken, spreading all over the country and making appreciable impact.
The imposing 100,000-seater auditorium of the church along the Lagos-Ibadan expressway known as the LAWNA territory headquarters is the church’s clear signature that it has come a long way.
In the LAWNA premises are a wide range of structures including some business interests. It runs a water plant, a bakery, a media outfit and a host of other businesses. The expanse of land owned by the church is remarkable judging by the strategic position of the land. During their conventions and major programmes, the landmass accommodates thousands of worshipers. There is a generous parking space for vehicles which makes it less of a burden to motorists plying the express road. You probably won’t know any activity is going on in the church until you drive into the compound.
For observers, it is not a mean feat for the church to have weathered the storm in its first 100 years. The chairman of The LAWNA territory and Vice President of the Church, Dr. Emmanuel Awojide during a media interactive forum recently said it is a great delight to witness the beginning of another century in the history of the church describing the church as the “pioneer classical Pentecostal denomination in Nigeria as well as the mother, grandmother of the numerous apostolic denominations as well as many new generation churches we have in the country today.”
Indeed, the church began in July 1918 as a pure indigenous Pentecostal praying group under the name “Precious Stone Society”. The history of the society is tied to Saint Saviour’s Anglican Church, Ijebu Ode Ogun State. The society was said to have been formed by some members of the church while the resident priest of the church was said to have travelled out of the country.
The church had been shut following instructions from the Colonial masters. But the sexton of the church, one Daddy Alli got inspired by the Lord to start a praying group. This he did and some members of the church began to gather. One sister Sophia Odunlami also got a revelation about using rain water and prayers to heal the prevailing influenza of that time. She joined the group and before long the group began to record positive results which attracted a large crowd to it.
Their meeting place was in front of the closed Anglican Church. They prayed for the intervention of God to bring an end to the prevalent epidemic in the southwest of Nigeria and for God to revive His Church. One Mr. Sadare, the People’s warden of St. Saviour’s Church and a member of the Lagos Synod for Ijebu-Ode became its leader. The prayer group adopted the name Egbe Okuta Iyebiye which was interpreted as the Precious Stone or Diamond Society. It was during this period that David Ogunleye Odubanjo, a strong believer in divine healing overheard the activities and growing fame of the Society and decided to join them.
While in the group, Odubanjo introduced a magazine The Sword of the Spirit, published by the Faith Tabernacle in Philadelphia, U.S.A., to the group. The Precious Stone Society soon got affiliated with the American church does necessitating the change of name to Faith Tabernacle Nigeria. But then there was a rift with the Anglican Church. The group had condemned the church’s baptism of infant and had linked the death of many young people to the baptism. This criticism annoyed the then Anglican Bishop who condemned the group and asked it to be banished from the Anglican Church.
That was what formally gave birth to the Faith Tabernacle in Nigeria. But that was still not the end of the crisis. The indigenous movement by then had a number of enthusiastic Nigerians on board. There was sweeping revival that engulfed the whole of south west in 1930 under Evangelist Ayodele Babalola. But the American church did not feel comfortable with the move.
Awojide explained that the American church dissociated itself from the revival meetings. It also did not come to the aid of its church in Nigeria during the time of persecution. It was not its tradition to leave the US for other countries. They only circulated their literature. This prompted a search for another affiliation as the Faith Tabernacle Nigeria did not find it convenient to operate without some foreign backing.
On November 15 1931, their prayers was answered. The church entered a fresh agreement with The Apostolic Church Great Britain. From that time the numerous branches of the then Faith Tabernacle became known as The Apostolic Church Nigeria.
But then another crisis was to rock the boat of the church as some big names in the church pulled out again in 1940 exactly seven years after the fresh affiliation with the UK church.
Awojide says the Nigerians who pulled out to form the new church known as Christ Apostolic Church were pastor “Pastor (Oba) Isaac B Akinyele who turned out to be the first National President of the CAC. David Odubanjo was the first General Superintendent and Joseph Babalola was the first general evangelist.”
That marked the beginning of the split of the local church and it has led to the birth of several other churches till date.
The original church, The Apostolic Church Nigeria has however remained. It has continued to grow, making impact and spreading throughout the country. It has impacted the education sector, the health sector and has impacted the world of commerce.
Its relevance in Nigeria cannot be overstated. Being the first indigenous classical Pentecostal church, it was invited by the then military head of state in 1976 for its consent over government proposal to introduce the recitation of the national anthem in public schools and to append its signature to other matters that bother on the Christian faith.
In the last 100 years the church has about 7642 established assemblies throughout the country which are administratively divided into five territories. There is the Lagos Western and Northern Areas (LAWNA), Cross River, Igboland, Maritime and Akwa Ibom. There is also the Andoni Sub-territory.
But it is the LAWNA territory that is the oldest and strongest of all the territories. The church has also successfully spread to other parts of the world including Israel and Asia. Ironically, the church has served as a revival agent for its mother church in the UK.
Awojide affirms, “God is using us to reopen branches of the denomination in places where branches have already shut down due to growing secularization in Europe.” The church would intensify its evangelism drive in its second century.”
Indeed, The Apostolic Church in Nigeria seems set to build on the achievements in the first 100 years in the country. It is hoped that it will continue to make that impact and be a blessing to humanity.
Story by Gbenga Osinaike