Rt. Revd. Idorenyin Ekpe is one of the Senior Ministers of the Presbyterian Church of Nigeria and the Minister-in-Charge of the Elshadai Parish of the Church in Ibadan. The well-educated clergy who had his first and second degrees in Religious Studies and Philosophy aside his training in theology in this interview with Church Times’ Abraham Oladipupo spoke on the ties between the Anglican, Methodist and Presbyterian Church. He also spoke on why the Church in Nigeria cannot be one.
Tell us about your position in the Presbyterian church?
Apart from being the minister-in-charge of Presbyterian Church, Elshadai Parish, Ibadan I am also the moderator and the Bishop in charge of the Ibadan Presbytery. This presbytery is what other Churches call Dioceses but we call it Presbytery. What we call Ibadan Diocese or Presbytery covers up to Osun, Ondo and other Western states including Kwara State with the exception of Lagos State. Lagos state has its own jurisdiction.
What is the link between Presbyterian Church of Nigeria and the Church of Nigeria, Anglican Communion?
Originally there was only the Roman Catholic Church in the Western World. But the 17th century revolution of Martin Luther and other reformers gave birth to the Anglican Church, the Methodist Church, Lutheran Church and then the Presbyterian Church. That is the closest we are to the Anglican Church. So we are both products of the church revolution.
Is that why you have the same mode of worship?
These three churches belong to a group that we call the reformers. They are churches that came out of the reformed tradition. For this reason, our doctrines and mode of worship seem to be the same and this account for why people tend to mistake one for the other in most cases.
There is this Allegation against the Presbyterian Church of Nigeria that the Church is highly tribalized. What is your take on this and why do people see it so because even in the West of Nigeria, you have more people from the South south among your Congregations?
It was the Methodist that first to Nigeria came via the Badagry area, then came the Anglican and the third church that came is the Presbyterian Church. They had mutual understanding as per which area to evangelize. The Anglican was asked to concentrate on the Eastern areas the Methodist was asked to concentrate on the West while the Presbyterian, since the church came through Cross Rivers were asked to cover the south south area. This went on for quite a period of time until these other two sister churches (Methodist and Anglican) broke the agreement. The Anglican did not waste time to come into the West and the Methodist also reciprocates this by venturing into the East and started evangelising the Eastern areas. The Presbyterian Church kept to the initial agreement to remain in the south south.
Before we could make up our mind to leave the south south for other parts of the country other churches had spread everywhere. As we came in, what we resorted to was to engage in transplanting. Transplanting in the sense that, like in this congregation, 90% of the congregants are from Southern Part of the Country and because of this, it is usually difficult for you to convince a Yoruba, who is already used to his own traditional church. Even the name itself ‘Presbyterian’ sounds strange in the ears of an average Yoruba man. Many would ask if it’s Pentecostal or Anglican as you yourself had viewed before coming here. Because of this aforementioned, you find it hard to convince a Yoruba man to come and join. However, we are still making some progress. It is not as if we are discriminatory, we are not but it is based on the fact that we came out of that agreement late.
What Group do you belong among the Christian Bodies?
CAN is the umbrella body for all Christian Organisations. But there are five arms in CAN. We have the organisation of indigenous churches which is more or less the traditional or say white garment churches. We have the Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria (PFN), just as we have the ECWA/TEKAN, the Christian Council of Nigeria and the Catholic. So, the Christian Council of Nigeria is one of the blocs under the Christian Association of Nigeria. The Presbyterian Church of Nigeria belongs to the Christian Council of Nigeria. The Christian Council of Nigeria consist majorly of churches that came out of the Martin Luther revolution. They are known as Orthodox churches.
With all these fragmentation, do you think it is possible for Churches in Nigeria to be one?
I will say yes and no at the same time. Yes, in the sense that anything that the heart conceives is possible. Let me give you an instance, far back in the 50s: the period which is regarded as the early days of Christianity in Nigeria (even though Christianity came far back before then) for instance, the Presbyterian Church came into Nigeria in the year 1846. But in the early 50s, the Methodist, Anglican and the Presbyterian had an agreement to go into what they called the Unity Church. There was an agreement that these three churches should merge (because at that time, we don’t have much Pentecostal churches as we have now) even though we have other indigenous churches but they were few. I think it was after the Nigerian Civil war that we started having most of the Pentecostal Churches we have today. As stated, those three sister churches agreed to go into an agreement to be called and addressed as one church, the Unity Church. It was a very fantastic and wonderful arrangement and they started fellowshipping together. There is a clear example here in Ibadan and I can tell you that Ibadan was one of those places that the issue of Christian Unity started.
There is this Church in Jericho GRA called ‘All Saints Church’. All Saints Church is owned by these three sister churches and that was the nucleus of that agreement and has remained so since the early 50s. Up to this day, that church is still own by these three sister churches. I have preached there. Even though they have resident Ministers, the ministers are always from the Anglican, Methodist and the Presbyterian so they always have three and even the Congregants are members of these three churches. We also have a similar one in Port-Harcourt (The Christ Church). That was an experiment to see how these churches can come together and become one and it worked out very well then.
Why did the arrangement not go beyond the isolated cases you mentioned?
There were some disagreement vis-a vis human inclinations and tendencies and reservations as well as interest which later set in. As these things set in, each group with the consciousness of what may later happened tried to maintain their local church and as a result of that, there was the split again. However, despite the split, those experimental churches are still standing till date and the tradition is still being maintained. There are still people within those congregations that I have mentioned (one in Lagos, Ibadan, Calabar and Port-Harcourt) who still honour that agreement. Of course, the generation who started it in the 50s may have gone with a handful of them still available but the tradition remains. If you go to Jericho, you discover that the church is made up of retirees, Professors, Engineers etc. The who-is-who in Ibadan is in that church. For members of that Church, even though they have their backgrounds (Presbyterian, Methodist or Anglican), they still see that Unity Church as their Church and have continued to introduce the church to their children.
The church as a body on the other hand may not be able to achieve unity because there are people who will not see the reason or need to stay together as one. These reasons are selfish in nature, ego or personal benefits. This may be motivated by the desire to occupy one leadership position of the other, financial gains or otherwise. So, it may be difficult to put all the eggs in one basket because of selfish reasons.