The quest for dialogue in Nigeria and worldwide must never stop, said Primate of the Church of the Lord (Aladura) Rev. Dr Rufus Ositelu at the World Council of Churches on 29 January.
Ositelu was speaking on “Christianity and human rights in multi-faith Nigeria”, noting that the “way forward continues to be dialogue; multi-faith dialogue that includes African traditional religions”.
The Church of the Lord is an African initiated church founded by Josiah Olunowo Ositelu in 1925 and the WCC member church leader visited Geneva and the WCC from 29-30 January.
The primate comes from a country where Christianity and Muslim are the two dominant religions, but he said he also comes from where African traditional religions are also strong.
The Church of the Lord has been a member church of the WCC since 1975 and the visit of the delegation takes place as part of the celebration of the WCC’s 70 years as a living fellowship.
Ositleu, who is the son of the church founder, led a panel at the Ecumenical Centre on 29 January about Christianity in multi-faith Nigeria at which WCC deputy general secretary Prof. Dr Isabel Apawo Phiri spoke.
Beyond the boundaries of Africa
“Your church has gone beyond the boundaries of Africa; it is in Nigeria; it is at the AACC (All Africa Conference of Churches) and it is at the WCC…. It is no wonder then that your brand of Christianity is growing,” Phiri said.
Nigeria is Africa’s most populous nation where Muslims are believed to be numerically almost the same as Christians. The west African nation has come into world headlines due to radical extremist group Boko Haram in recent times with its acts of violence in the name of Islam.
Ositelu observed that many more Christians were killed in attacks in the early 1990s before Boko Haram existed.
The primate said that in Nigeria nobody really knows the true ratio of Christians to Muslims as Islamic leaders have not allowed the government to ask the question of religious affiliation in the national census since 1963 when Muslims slightly outnumbered Christians,
“Between 1963 and now a lot of Muslims and followers of African traditional religions converted to Christianity,” said the primate.
“In Nigeria the problem is not the religious leaders in the north. It is the grassroots there,” said Primate Ositelu noting that many of the young people in the north lack basic education elements.
He noted, “The problem we are talking about is not only common to Nigeria is also common to other African countries especially in Egypt.”
The primate said human rights are the basic rights that belong to every person on the world that are based on dignity, fairness and independence and that “no one can take away your rights”.
Multi-faith, he said involves people from several groups.
Speaking about Christian unity he said, “Unity is not uniformity; it is the diversity of the family; Growing up to maturity in Christ (Ephesians 4:1-16; 1. Corinthians 12:12-27).
“Our unity is based in the unity of all three Persons of the Godhead — Father, Son and Holy Spirit (Ephesians 4:1-6).”
Women in the clergy of Nigerian church
From the outset the Church of the Lord in Nigeria has included women in the clergy “including bishops and cardinal” said Ositelu,
WCC general secretary Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit said in his welcome to the delegation from Nigeria, “The purpose is to strengthen relations between the World Council of Churches and The Church of the Lord (Aladura), which has been a member since 1975.”
Tveit spoke about the International Centre for Inter-Faith Peace and Harmony in Kaduna, Nigeria that opened in August 2016 as part of a quest for harmony, especially between Christians and Mauslims.
Ositelu said the quest for dialogue must never stop and that he looked forward to Muslims taking up all the positions that are open to them at the centre.
Rev. Prof. Dr Dietrich Werner, senior adviser for theology for Bread for the World in Germany, said he “always admired the comprehensive and the integral nature” of the Church of the Lord’s “ecclesio self-understanding”.
“Your church understands itself as being biblical in pattern, ecumenical in outlook, evangelical in mission, Pentecostal in power, prophetic in ministry and social in responsibility,” said Werner.
He said it holds together the three ecumenical strands: the passion for unity, the passion for social justice and passion for mission.
“You don’t allow your church to be put into one box,” said Werner explaining it “hold things together within African culture and tradition”.
This sentiment was echoed by Rev. Dr Benjamin Simon, professor of Ecumenical Missiology at the Ecumenical Institute in Bossey.
He said the Church of the Lord (Aladura) is playing a very important role away from the home country for its members.
“In the African diaspora, these congregations give a home away from home; they offer a new shelter. Those churches become missionaries in that context.
“They are often dealing with a theology of exodus, giving those people hope. They give legal assistance. They establish new ecumenical relations and here a new way of ecumenism takes place,” said Simon.
Other distinguished members of the panel have been Prof. Dr.Christoph Stückelberger, Founder of Globethics.net Foundation and executive director of Geneva Agape Foundation, Jennifer Philpot-Nissen, WCC programme executive for human rights and Dr Ani Ghazaryan Drissi, WCC programme executive for the Commission on Faith and Order.
Ositelu concluded his visit to international Geneva by attending an orthodox service at the Orthodox Centre of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Chambesy, where he was received by Metropolitan Jeremie of Switzerland.