Worthy is the Lamb! Hallelluyah. This is the year the Lord has made to celebrate Methodism, Nigeria premier church at 180 and autonomy at 60. Methodism to post-colonial people such as Nigerians have a long history as a living cell within the Universal Church. Celebrating Methodism, Nigeria Premier Church at 180 and autonomy at 60 beyond a local adaptation or ceremonial leadership or the spirit of the age that has taken over the church is about becoming a disciple movement who make disciples by precept and example in the world as our parish. Using the words of a pioneer in developing African Christian theology and the first Patriarch and the third native-born leader, Methodist Church Nigeria, His Pre-Eminence Professor Bolaji Idowu (1913-1995), Methodism in Nigeria is indigenised to decolonise, liberating the Bible and Christian tradition ‘from distorted usages,’ definitions, interpretations and languages.[1]

Language, for example is central to any culture, hence, its loss or distortions play critical roles in the erosion of indigenous culture, knowledge and renewal. Indigenised to decolonise not only revitalize language, it safeguards native languages, religion, worship, stories, songs, prayers, and culture for generation to come. Native languages generally “represent some of the greatest linguistic diversity in the world and embody the cultures, histories, and resiliency of the Native communities that speak them.” Indigenised to decolonise therefore matters, for deeply rooted reasons of worship, culture, human development, and ways of being. Indigenised to decolonize offers healing and empowerment. The use of language for example can disrupt the glue for colonial thinking, expressing and application which “has been fundamentally dehumanising to indigenous people,”

Indigenised to decolonise is about overcoming ‘divide and conquer’ mission and forced assimilation of colonisation bearing in mind ‘that in our worldview, spiritual, physical and mental health are intertwined. Indigenised to decolonise is about renewal and healing with native language as a powerful tool of mission and evangelism. Indigenised to decolonise is a renewing plea for self-awareness and rejection of a borrowed and forced consciousness. Idowu explained that, indigenization expresses the spirit of God’s unlimited grace in the world and the Western Church cannot hold this spirit hostage. Without becoming indigenous, the Church in Africa will die just as the first attempt in the fifteenth century to Christianise Africa failed and the same reason why the Church in North Africa failed to survive.[2]

By indigenization Idowu meant that, ‘The Church should bear the unmistakable stamp of the fact that she is the church of God in Nigeria. It should be no longer an out-reach or a colony of Rome, Canterbury, Westminster Central Hall in London, or the vested interest of some European or American Missionary Board. No longer should it be an institution acknowledging a human overlord elsewhere outside Nigeria; no longer a marionette with its strings in the hands of some foreign manipulators.’[3] For clarity purpose, Idowu’s concept of indigenisation is not about ‘Nigerialisation of the civil service,’ or elimination of staffing from partner churches because doing that, the church ‘cease to be a living cell within the whole body of Jesus; the Universal Church. The Church must stress the absolute Lordship of Jesus Christ. Total and undiluted allegiance must be paid to him no matter what the cost.’[4] According to Idowu ”An indigenous Church in Nigeria must know and live in the watchful consciousness that she is part of as well as the presence of the ‘One; Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church.”[5]

To Idowu, the ONLY authority pre-eminence over and govern the life of the church in Nigeria is Jesus Christ. Autonomy is not abandonment hence the need for a reciprocal interchange of workers everywhere. Idowu said, “May the day never come when the Church in Nigeria would say that she does not want pastors and teachers from other countries as co-worker’s with Nigerian colleagues: It should be the earnest longing of the church that the church of God throughout the world may so realize her one-ness that …there shall be a reciprocal interchange of workers everywhere.[6] Indigenised to decolonise is about the Church in Africa attaining selfhood for effective mission, ecclesiology, liturgy, and leadership through a first-hand knowledge and encounter with Jesus Christ. This encounter would enable clear accents expression of mission and leadership in Africa’s own original meditation and thinking in contrast to strange or partially understood western tongues.

Indigenised to decolonise, beyond Africanising Christianity, monopoly on the Christian faith, or any form of theological imperialism expresses missional theologies that can never be considered as syncretism.[7] Indigenised to decolonise points to a reform agenda, history, and practices for effective church and leadership meetings in order to overcome the great danger of inherited organisational structure of church maintenance mode and performance. Maintenance mode would only end in decline and death. Methodism, Nigeria premier church at 180 and autonomy at 60, a historical reflection as a way of doing Christian theology summons us to a prophetic ministry and missional leadership for effective repositioning of the first international denomination in Nigeria.

Methodism, the Evangelical Revival and a movement that shaped 18th century reawakening in Europe emerged as the first Christian denomination in Nigeria since 1842. John Wesley’s famous saying “I look upon all the world as my parish”[8] beyond ‘an announcement of a program for world evangelisation’ remains ‘a justification for preaching in other people’s parishes.’ The missional development of this ‘characteristically Methodist doctrine of mission … signals a breach in the concept of Christendom … foundational to the Western experience of Christianity.’[9] The idea of a world parish through the lens of Christendom transition from the church as an essentially Western institution ‘led to the reality of the world church, and how the sphere of Methodist activity shifted from English parishes to distant parts of the globe’ including Nigeria.

To study Nigerian Christianity, it is important to know something about Nigerian Methodism.  The description of Nigeria as a ‘Pentecostal Republic’[10] is not without the pioneering and distinct influence of Methodism’s scriptural revival of holiness. My grandmother, Alice Ogunhunmilola Okegbile nurtured and taught me Methodist Christianity as an historical faith shaped by its Wesleyan accent. This year, 2022, Methodist Church Nigeria (MCN), the Nigerian premier church is celebrating 180th birthday and 60th years of autonomy from the British Methodism. To celebrate this ‘two in one’ historical faith, this presentation on Methodism, Nigeria Premier Church at 180 and Autonomy at 60, Indigenised to Decolonised would be at least in seven series until September, 2022.

[1] Idowu, Bolaji. Towards An Indigenous Church (London: Oxford University Press, 1965), pp. 1-50. 

[2] Idowu, Towards an Indigenous Church, p. xi

[3] Idowu, Towards an Indigenous Church, p. 11

[4] Idowu, Towards an Indigenous Church, p. 14

[5] Idowu, Towards an Indigenous Church, p. 11

[6] Idowu, Towards an Indigenous Church, p. 10

[7] Idowu, Towards an Indigenous Church, pp.15-16 

[8] Selby, E.T. Historical Tablets, John Wesley’s Chapel in Broadmead, Bristol: Called by him The New Room in the Horsefair (London: THe Epworth Press, 1930), p. 27

[9] Walls, Andrew F, Crossing Cultural Frontiers: Studies in the History of World Christianity (Maryknoll, NY; Orbis Books, 2017), pp. 173-184

[10] Obadare, Ebenezer, Pentecostal Republic: Religion and the Struggle for State Power in Nigeria (London: Zed Books, 2018), pp. 9-72