It is safe to assert that the worship of God in Nigeria is similar to the age-old practice of Baal worship. A lot of what happens in our churches cannot be found in the New Testament from where church modelling is expected to originate.
Sermons from the pulpit are filled with condemnation including lists of dos and don’ts. Holiness is sold to us as a life without external adornments. Yet, amongst all religions, Christianity is about grace. Is it fair to suggest that God will lock out of heaven those of us who refuse to give up our trousers, anklets, bracelets and nose rings? Is this what Christianity has been reduced to?
These days, people leave church condemned while condemning others less fortunate than them. The message of love is lost and long forgotten. People are taught to judge those with different or alternate lifestyles. So, in Nigerian churches, teenagers, pregnant or with kids, single mums and widows are often ostracised. People leave church filled with the insatiable urge to acquire more. The consumerist messages from the pulpits have essentially killed the gospel of our Lord. Traditions have taken the place of genuine spirituality.
Prayer is a conversation with God. When we talk to God, in whatever way, it is prayer. We can talk to God (whatever our notions of Him be) in different ways. Some people are calm and collected, talking to God conversationally; some simply kneel and pray; many don’t even speak in tongues yet God moves mountains for them. Others talk to God like He is their boss at work: stiff and formal. That is their business.
What we find prevalent in churches is the call to shout loudly to God in prayer. In most Pentecostal churches, you are encouraged to open your mouth, stand up on your feet and cry loudly to God, telling Him what you need as if He does not know or He does not care. In some churches, they go as far as to inform you that you cannot sit and pray to God, you cannot whisper a prayer or two, you have to shout! So you find people running up and down the aisle, screaming, singing and doing all sorts of acrobatics just to get God’s attention in prayer.
Symptomatic of Baal worship, Christians in Nigerian churches often assume they are heard for their many words. Yet prayer is a relationship with your Father in heaven and any way you talk to Him is just fine. He does not need to be called seventy times; He does not need to be awoken by bells or the smattering of unknown tongues. He desires to have conversational relationships (bilateral) with his children as opposed to the one-way prayer channel we are encouraged to have. Next time you are asked to shout and pray, ask yourself, ‘is this really prayer or showmanship?’
Another problem with the African/Nigerian version of worship is the adulation of church leadership. These men/women of God have layers of bureaucracy surrounding them, making it virtually impossible to get near them. Apart from this, their handlers shroud them from even the people they are called to serve. It is common to find some pastors having security agents follow them around in churches and their fans gazing in adoration.
Church leaders are also placed steps above us when we call them endearingly: ‘Mama, Mummy, Mummy in the Lord, Bishop, Papa, Daddy, Overseer, Man of God, Prophet, etc. These titles over time acquire their own meaning but they generally put the pastor in question, heads and shoulders above the folks in his pastoral care. If only they knew that they are literally worshipped, perhaps they might ask simply to be called ‘bro’ and ‘sis’ rather than ‘Mummy/Daddy GO’ or ‘Bishop’.
We have venerated the words of these men and women who are just like you and me. Fortunately, anyone can achieve spiritualism or a state of enlightenment. Anyone fool who can read the Bible will hear God if he chooses to. The church has become lazy. No one wants to read his Bible anymore. The study of Biblical literature is often given to these men and women of God who relish in the ‘rhema’ of their own interpretations.
Sadly, you find folks who cannot do stuff without consulting their ‘papas’ and ‘mamas’, they cannot get married unless their pastor tells them it is ok; they cannot travel unless their Mummy GO or Daddy GO tells them God is with them, and so on. This aspect of our Christianity has its history in cultural history of Ifa/Baal/Sango worship. These Christians would deny ties with animism and Satan worship yet their practices bear similarities with the occult.
It is cultic when you need to consult a pastor before you travel, get married, take a promotion, and so on. Obviously, there is a time, and place for counselling and spiritual wisdom, but the way it is done in Nigeria is rather unsettling.
It has become very fashionable now in Nigeria for those who can afford it to have a man/woman of God at hand – and in their pockets – for life’s needs. Sadly, some pastors and priests live below the bread line. If from compassion, you want to give to them, fine. But, for a priest/pastor to ask for money in return for prayers is bizarre. Mental laziness on behalf of parishioners has perpetrated this practice. People must be taught to seek God for themselves and that there is no magic to prayer.
Another problem with the Nigerian Christian leadership is that some of these leaders actually believe themselves to be gods. They act as though they are actually some special breed. Calculatedly, their prayers evoke worse fears and leave spineless Christians in their captivity.
When Jesus was on earth, he never had the first seat, those were reserved for the Pharisees and the Sadducees. The only privilege he had was to ride on a donkey, that is if you call that a privilege. But, you find that the most successful of our religious leaders have jets, planes, fancy houses in cities across the world; own the best schools and universities in Nigeria.
Finally, with all the poverty in Nigeria, the Nigerian church would do well to embrace a gospel that encourages people to think for themselves. Liberation theology is what we need in Nigeria. How can these happen when our pastors themselves are stuck in the past? All they seem to want is bigger and better cars and houses! Most of them don’t read wide enough to be able to intelligently address Nigeria’s problems.
Yet, the time is now for Christian leadership to stand at the forefront against youth unemployment, corruption, child rape and the many evils in our society. The question to ask is, what would Jesus do if he visited any of the branded churches today? Would he join in their praise and worship, accepting all the vanity, or would he walk away saying, ‘Depart from me, you evil people; I don’t know you’?
Published in www.tellng.com.