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The Redeemed Christian Church of God Nigeria. Local Identities and global Processes in African Pentecostalism

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1.1 The Objective of the Study:

The motto of the Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG) is “Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and today, and forever”. This is a text derived from New Testament book of Hebrew (13:8). This text summarises the central rule of behaviour as well as organising principle of the church. However, the same “changelessness” which is attributed to Jesus Christ by the text of the church’s motto, cannot be said of the church itself. Established fifty-one years ago in a suburb of Lagos, Nigeria, the RCCG has gone almost gone full circle through the vicissitudes of “days of small things” to periods of intense evangelistic fervour and search for doctrinal anchor and purity, to the present explosion into socio-political power, economic privilege and spiritual aristocracy. This history of the RCCG bears out a central truth of the New Testament, which is summarised neatly thus: the world as we know it is changing (1 Cor. 7:31b). This study investigates and documents the changes that have taken place in the history of RCCG from inception to the present.

At the beginning of the present study in 2000, the basic facts about RCCG could be stated thus: The RCCG is a church in Nigeria established in 1952. It is a member of the Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria (PFN), the umbrella body of pentecostal churches in the country. RCCG’s founder and first leader was the Reverend Josiah Olufemi Akindayomi. He was converted into Christianity from Yoruba traditional religion, particularly Ogun worship by the Church Missionary Society (CMS) in Ondo town in the early 1920s. Some years later he joined the Eternal Sacred Order of Cherubim and Seraphim movement (C&S), one of the early Aladura movements in Yorubaland and rose to the rank of apostle and prophet. In 1952 he left the C&S authority and he established his own religious group which became known as the Redeemed Christian Church of God. When this founder died in 1980, the group had grown to have 39 branches in the southwest region of Nigeria.

Before Josiah died, he had appointed a successor, Dr Enoch Adeboye, who was then a lecturer at the University of Lagos, Nigeria. In 1981 the successor took over office as leader. It was during this period that the church rapidly expanded both in Nigeria and outside the country. By the middle of 2000, the RCCG had more than three thousand branches, with close to a hundred of these established outside the country. This church is the object of the present study. However, in order to understand the history of the RCC, it is necessary to describe briefly the social and political context in which it exists

Nigeria is a religiously plural society made up of people who practise a diversity of religions. This religious diversity is illustrated firstly by the existence of three main religious groups, namely: the adherents of traditional religions often called African Traditional Religions (ATR), Muslims and Christians. Secondly, each of these three traditions is internally diverse, particularly Christianity. Within Christianity alone, there exists a great amount of diversity in terms of smaller strands of traditions and churches and ministries. The first attempts to christianise Nigeria were in the fifteenth and eighteenth centuries when Portuguese commercial boats sailed to Warri with Roman Catholic missionaries. The missionaries were able to get to the kingdom of Benin, made some converts and built some churches, but these attempts did not last (Ojo 1998). The second attempts to bring Christianity to Nigeria was in 1842, this time, it came in its institutional variety. In 1842 and 1843 the Church Missionary Society (CMS) and the Wesleyan Methodist Missionary Society respectively sent missionaries to Badagry in Nigeria to assist former slaves from Freetown. From this period on, different mission churches such as the Baptists, the CMS and the Roman Catholic Church founded different missions in the country. The mission churches made their initial converts from members of the indigenous religions and sometimes from Islam in parts of the country with Muslim population such as the Yorubaland. In such places as Peel (2000) shows, it was Islam and Christian missions that competed for the souls of members of indigenous religions.

By March 1888 the first case of a break away from a mission church took place. This was the founding of the Native Baptist Church by some Yoruba laity who seceded from the American Baptist Mission as a result of their opposition to American missionary leadership (Ayegboyin and Ishola 1997: 14). This event marked the inauguration of an unprecedented phenomenon of indigenous forms of Christianity, as the United Native African Church was established in 1891. Soon after, there were schisms and secessions from the mission churches, a situation that further diversified the religious landscape. This early strand of indigenous Christianity is designated as Ethiopianism, a term first used by Bengt Sundkler (1961: 55) to describe incidences of this type among the Zulu of South Africa, and interpreted as the rebellion of local Christians against White missionary domination.By the 1920s, the second wave of independent churches, often seen as the local appropriation of Christianity, emerged through the Aladura movement in Yoruba land. The Aladura churches are part of the movement of indigenous churches in Africa which soon became very popular among Nigerians especially in the southwest. Some scholars have argued that this movement was motivated by the desire to make missionary Protestantism relevant to the practical needs of the Yoruba (Mitchell 1970c). The hallmark of the Aladura movement is the vibrant worship sessions, the appropriation of elements of the traditional worldview such as belief in spiritual powers, mystical forces and spiritual healing. As a consequence of this, some of these churches were soon described as blending occultic materials with Christianity (Kalu 1998), synthesising Yoruba worldview with Christianity (Ray 1993) or as a form of “syncretism” (Enang 2000: 31). The third wave of local appropriation of Christianity, according to Kalu (1998; 2000), occurred in the 1930s and 1940s when, through a dynamic process of increased understanding of Christianity as well as interaction with external forces (foreign pentecostal groups and their tracts, magazines, books) and cultural demands, an indigenous form of pentecostalism emerged. This new form of religious groups was different from both the mission churches and the AICs.

The groups showed more reliance on the Bible which was literarily interpreted; they also sought local relevance by insisting that they were capable of delivering this-worldly services such as healing and deliverance or protection from evil spirits and persons (witches, wizards, sorceries, etc.). These churches soon proliferated, further diversifying the religious landscape of the country.

There are three discernible strands even within this “third wave” of the emergence of local Christianity. The first strand represents what is usually regarded as “classical indigenous pentecostal churches” which were established in the 1940s, for example, Gospel Faith Mission and Salem Gospel Mission (Ojo 1998: 26). The second strand was the emergence of charismatic movements as distinct groups within the structures of some mission churches such as the Roman Catholic and the Anglican churches.

Historically, these movements started in the 1960s and 1970s as internal renewal movements pioneered by youth wings or fellowships from within these churches. Within the Catholic Church, this renewal started at the Dominican Community at Samanda in Ibadan in 1972 (Holt 1977). The third strand within the third wave was the proliferation of neo-pentecostal groups, ministries, parachurches and churches with distinctive theological and leadership structure (Marshall 1993). Each of these three strands led to further diversity in Christian groups and practices.

The Redeemed Christian Church of God Nigeria. Local Identities and global Processes in African Pentecostalism

Religious diversity in Nigeria is guaranteed by the 1999 Constitution of the country which prohibited the adoption of any religion as “state religion”, thus: “The government of the Federation or of a State shall not adopt any religion as State Religion” (Chapter 1, art. 10). This provision, regarded as the “non-establishment norm” is the legal framework for the exercise of individual right to religious freedom. This freedom is stipulated in the same constitution in this way:

Every person shall be entitled to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, including freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom (either alone or in community with others, and in public or in private) to manifest and propagate his religion or belief in worship, teaching, practice and observance (Chapter IV, art. 38.1). Although the 1999 Constitution does not use the word, Nigeria is politically a “secular” state considering the “non-establishment norm”. In practice, however, religion occupies an ambiguous situation as the state meddles in religious matters, for example, by subsidizing pilgrimages and religious festivals, appointing the leader of Muslims in the country (the Sultan of Sokoto) and funding the construction of places of worship such as mosques and Christian ecumenical centre in Abuja. Muslims and Christians benefit from overt and covert state patronage, but member of indigenous religions are marginalised. An obvious case may be the establishment of military chaplaincy for Christians and Muslims without any provision for members of indigenous religious. Religion is neither fully established nor totally disestablished and free from governmental interference.

The Nigerian Civil War (1967-1970) was a marker in the transformation of these local pentecostal churches. Campus Christianity which infiltrated tertiary institutions in the southwest of Nigeria from Britain and the United States of America soon introduced a new form of dynamism. This was seen in the American-style prosperity preaching, the use of market or business strategies in church organisation and evangelism. In the area of doctrine, there was much emphasis on being “Born Again”, paying tithes, speaking in tongues and post-conversion experiences. The pentecostal field proliferated during this period as the economy of the country came increasingly under stress and there was mass unemployment.

Religious diversity in Nigeria is guaranteed by the 1999 Constitution of the country which prohibited the adoption of any religion as “state religion”, thus: “The government of the Federation or of a State shall not adopt any religion as State Religion” (Chapter 1, art. 10). This provision, regarded as the “non-establishment norm” is the legal framework for the exercise of individual right to religious freedom. This freedom is stipulated in the same constitution in this way:

Every person shall be entitled to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, including freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom (either alone or in community with others, and in public or in private) to manifest and propagate his religion or belief in worship, teaching, practice and observance (Chapter IV, art. 38.1). Although the 1999 Constitution does not use the word, Nigeria is politically a “secular” state considering the “non-establishment norm”. In practice, however, religion occupies an ambiguous situation as the state meddles in religious matters, for example, by subsidizing pilgrimages and religious festivals, appointing the leader of Muslims in the country (the Sultan of Sokoto) and funding the construction of places of worship such as mosques and Christian ecumenical centre in Abuja. Muslims and Christians benefit from overt and covert state patronage, but member of indigenous religions are marginalised. An obvious case may be the establishment of military chaplaincy for Christians and Muslims without any provision for members of indigenous religious. Religion is neither fully established nor totally disestablished and free from governmental interference.

The Nigerian Civil War (1967-1970) was a marker in the transformation of these local pentecostal churches. Campus Christianity which infiltrated tertiary institutions in the southwest of Nigeria from Britain and the United States of America soon introduced a new form of dynamism. This was seen in the American-style prosperity preaching, the use of market or business strategies in church organisation and evangelism. In the area of doctrine, there was much emphasis on being “Born Again”, paying tithes, speaking in tongues and post-conversion experiences. The pentecostal field proliferated during this period as the economy of the country came increasingly under stress and there was mass unemployment.

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As politicians and military officers engaged in what Gore and Pratten (2003) call “politics of plunder”, Pentecostalism expanded, an observation Peel (2000: had made earlier when he wrote that the Pentecostal movement “expanded faster even as economic and political conditions worsened in the 1980s”. Prolonged military misrule resulted in economic mismanagement, and sanctions by the West precipitated an economic melt-down which exacerbated the socio-economic conditions of the masses. Expansion and proliferation brought about increased competition and rivalry for membership, worship space and other socio-economic resources. This introduced unprecedented changes in the countries religious situation. As David Martin (2002: 152) rightly observes, there was also a shift in the old pentecostal churches from a “humble egalitarian fellowship to a bureaucratic church under an authoritarian personality”, which applies to the RCCG.

The Nigerian religious situation, observes Rosalind Hackett (1987: xiv) “merits sensitive and ongoing analysis and a balanced consideration of both internal and external factors”. Although scholars generally acknowledge the influence of Pentecostalism as a political and economic force in Nigeria, there exist few analyses of its social and cultural influence. The present study responds to Hackett’s suggestion by investigating “both internal and external factors” in the history and transformation of the RCCG. This study documents the emergence of RCCG and relates this to contemporary trends of increased social interconnectivity, often conceptualized as globalization.

1.2 Objectives of the Study

From what is generally known about the church, several questions arise which form the objectives of our study. The church extended faster within the nineteen-year period (1981-2000) after the death of its founder than the previous twenty-eight year (1952-1980) period. This study intends to account for this phenomenal growth of the church during the post-founder period. What factors have facilitated the expansion of the RCCG in both Nigeria and outside the country? The late twentieth century, which was the period of rapid growth for the RCCG, is also generally recognised as the era of globalisation (Giddens 1990; 2000; Robertson 1992; Held et al. 1999). Pentecostalism is also regarded by some scholars as an aspect of “global culture” (Poewe 1994; Varga 1999; Berger 2000; Corten and Marshall-Fratani 2001; Jenkins 2002). As a member of the PFN which exercised influence in the entire country, in what ways can the expansion of RCCG be accounted as a form of religious globalisation?

Two aspects of globalisation have been highlighted in the literature: one, the assimilation of external ideas and influences, and two, the spreading outward of specific ideas and practices. If the first is the appropriation of global influences, the second is the exercise of global aspiration. Some scholars have argued that expansion of pentecostalism in Africa is because of incorporation of external influences and the cultivation of instruments of extraversion, especially with other pentecostal groups especially in Western Europe and the United States of America (Brouwer et al 1996; Gifford 1991: 9-19; 1998: 307-348). Is the expansion of the RCCG because of global influences from outside resulting from the cultivation of “overseas links” (Gifford 1998: 314) or because of its global aspirations based on its local rootedness? The present study intends to provide empirical material for an understanding of the interplay between the global and local forces.

The RCCG has its roots in the Aladura movement that started in Yorubaland in the 1920s. One persistent issue in the studies of this movement is its local cultural identity and continuity with Yoruba traditional religion. Some scholars maintain it is a syncretic movement. Robert Cameron Mitchell, for example, writes that some of the prophets of the Aladura movement “encourage a new form of syncretistic magic” (Mitchell 1963: 51). Avoiding the overt use of the concept of syncretism, Benjamin Ray (1993: 266) also writes that “the Aladura churches” constitute “a distinctive synthesis of Yoruba and Christian beliefs and practices”. More generally, Yoruba culture has been described as syncretistic in nature, that is, being able to absorb foreign influences. Ulli Beier (1988, 2001) has described this syncretic nature of the Yoruba culture as a demonstration of creativity and strength in the search for survival.

For him, the Yoruba have “an extraordinary capacity for synchretism” [sic] which accounts for the survival of their culture and identity (Beier 1988: 65). Beier argues that “the flexibility and adaptability of Yoruba culture” is a cultural strategy for continued relevance (Beier 2001: 49). Since the RCCG has its roots in Yoruba culture and the Aladura movement, the study intends to examine the role of cultural continuity and syncretic processes in the history of the RCCG. Also, it examines in what ways the church could be described as a local form of pentecostalism and its vitality be accounted for by its local rootedness.

In view of the development from a small prayer group to an institutional church, and in view of the transfer of leadership from Josiah the founder to Adeboye his successor, it may be asked to what extent Max Weber’s theory of charisma and routinisation applies in the history of RCCG. Can these concepts help to account for the emergence and the growth of the church especially after the death of its founder? In what ways can the founder, Josiah, be seen as the charismatic figure and his successor, Adeboye, as the routines? Our study examines the interplay of charismatic authority and the process of reutilization in the church.

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1.3     Research Methodology

For this study, two methods were used: the first is the empirical method, and the second, the historical method involving the use of records and secondary data. Field research involved the use of observation which was both participatory and non-participatory, interviews and informal discussion.

(i) Empirical Research:

Observation: Two periods of field work were conducted in Nigeria. The first phase spanned from early April to mid-July 2001, while the second phase lasted from end of July to early November 2002. During both phases, the author lived in the church’s Redemption Camp located at the outskirts of Lagos. This Camp also serves as the international headquarters of the church. The Camp is the principal ritual site of the church, thus, the author participated in a number of ritual activities such as the monthly Holy Ghost Service, the Divine Intervention, and Deliverance services. Also, the author participated in the church’s Ministers’ Conference held in June 2001 and the Annual Convention held from 5 – 11 August 2002.

During this period the author also observed the performance of the Service of Songs, baptism, pastors’ ordination ceremonies, normal Sunday service, Digging Deep, Faith Clinic and workers-in-training meetings. With the exception of the Holy Ghost Congress which holds every December, the author personally observed all the ritual events described in chapter 6 of this study. The brief description of marriage ceremony given in chapter 5 is not a direct observation but based on the church’s text for the conduct of such event and on an earlier description by Adekola (1989)

Moreover, the author on several occasions visited the national headquarters of the church at Ebute-Metta in Lagos where he observed other ritual activities of the church such as the mid-week Prayer Meetings for pregnant women and other women searching for the “fruits of the womb”. He also participated in the normal Sunday services at some of the parishes of the church in Ibadan and at the first model parish at Acme Road, Ikeja, as well as at House of Praise for all Nations (Unity Parish), Metro Cinema, Onipanu, Lagos.

Interviews: In-depth interview sessions were conducted with leaders and significant elders of RCCG. In all, thirty-two (32) people were interviewed; twenty-two (22) were male while ten (10) were female. Of this figure, twenty-one were members of the clergy of RCCG and one person was a clergy of C&S church while nine (9) were members of the laity of the RCCG and one person was a former member of the church. The selection of such key informants was purposively done; as the author inquires about specific aspect of the church’s activities, specific officials were identified as responsible for co-ordinating such activities. These officials were then located and interviewed. The patterns of interview sessions were both structured and unstructured; the sessions began with a history of the interviewee’s conversion and involvement with the church. From this departure point, further leads were followed as they appear during the discussion.

With the exception of two individuals, all members of the RCCG clergy interviewed were university or tertiary institution graduates. One of those interviewed was a retired professor of Agricultural Engineering from the University of Ibadan, and two were doctoral students in two Nigerian universities. Among the laity interviewed, only two persons were non-college graduates. These were females in charge of some of the church’s retail outlets. Among the clergy interviewed, the highest ranking person in the church’s administration was an Assistant-General Overseer (AGO) and the lowest was a deacon/deaconess. Also, among the non-RCCG members interviewed was the Baba Aladura (Father of Prayer) or Spiritual Head of the Mount Zion C&S church, Ebute-Metta, Lagos, from where the founder of RCCG seceded in 1952. The chronological ages of the interviewees ranged from 22 (who is a female member of RCCG) to about 85 (for the Baba Aladura)

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