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Research Project: Aladura Christianity

The Meaning of Religious Conversion in the Christ Apostolic Church of Nigeria: Towards the Incarnation of Christianity in Yorubaland

This thesis examines the meaning of conversion in the Christ Apostolic Church (henceforth CAC).  The intention is to appraise the extent to which the theology of conversion held by this Church has influenced its efforts at the effective incarnation of Christianity into the culture among whom the group has had its indigenous roots since the early part of the 20th century.  In agreement with previous researches, this study notes how Aladura Churches of South-Western Nigeria particularly the CAC have made concerted efforts to inculturate the gospel among the Yoruba at various levels, albeit amidst much inherited doctrinal ambiguities.  What is new about this study is not so much the re-articulation of these attempts at inculturation but a reappraisal of the problems associated with the Church’s theology of conversion and its implication for the peaceful coexistence within the contemporary context of multi-faith Nigeria. 


Both the questionnaire and corroborative interviews employed in  this study reveals that while many respondents would not deny some of the positive elements found in the Yoruba culture, this recognition was merely because they resembled what the church takes as authentic Christian values.  Such elements like indigenous forms of worship, prayer, miracles and most especially healing more often than not merely form the centre of attraction to captivate a person sufficiently to demand a change in religious affiliation rather than a challenge to change or turn to God and the service of the kingdom. 


The implication of this traditional understanding, this study points out, is a negative conclusion with regard to several aspects of Yoruba culture.  Despite the fact that the spiritual and ethical resources of Christianity have positively structured the lives of many CAC members, it still remains somewhat negatively structured in a contemporary religiously pluralistic context due to its strong emphasis on discontinuity with significant aspects of Yoruba religio-cultural heritage.  The result is that important issues such as dialogue between Christians and bearers of other faiths or active engagement with Christians of other denominations or significant social realities remain a largely underdeveloped theme within the Church.  The exclusive religious claims as shown in the case of CAC have continued to endanger the fragile peaceful coexistence in a multi-faith context like Nigeria.  


It is in view of this that this study raised several critical questions.  Such as: whether the present approach to mission is actually designed to bring about the desired kind of conversion frequently expressed in the ministry of Jesus Christ who reveals God’s unconditional love, and demands on the part of humanity a response for transformation of life which brings about love for the other.   Two, whether the word ‘conversion’ truly has the same technical meaning in the scripture or better still whether the Bible needs to be more carefully read or re-read by ‘new eyes’.[1]   Such a re-reading and interpretation based on critical cultural hermeneutics[2] was proposed in this study because it provides a significant avenue to develop an appropriate and relevant perspective for a contemporary understanding of the term, not only among Yoruba or African Christians, but also among various faiths that co-exist in our religiously pluralistic societies. 


As a result, an attempt was made to re-examine the meaning and the essence of conversion from antiquity on the basis of a critical historical analysis of the Old Testament and in the context of first century Christianity in such a way that sought to eliminate religious prejudice or superfluous preconceptions. While one does not exclude the possibility of God reaching out to some individuals and groups in a special way and calling them to identify with particular groups, this study points out however, that to reduce the meaning of conversion to the sociological sphere of primarily changing allegiance between religious groups lacks sufficient theological evidence.  The scriptural call to conversion in the ministries of the Old Testament prophets, John the Baptist, Jesus and even early disciples indicates the need for people to turn to God in obedience and to share in the kingdom’s values by loving, sharing and doing justice in self-giving and service.


While this study appreciates the contributions of the CAC founding fathers towards a meaningful synthesis between Christianity and African culture, it argues that for the CAC to be truly incarnate within the Yoruba religio-cultural context, it has to be willing to advance the task of articulating effective incarnation of Christianity beyond the seemingly well-suited areas such as African dresses, music, songs and dance.  Much work still needs to be done in core areas of the inherited triumphalistic theology that claims monopoly of God’s revelation and salvation to the detriment of other faiths, particularly the Yoruba Religion.

[1]               Holter suggests non-western eyes as the most obvious example of ‘new eyes’ within western biblical scholarship.  See Knut Holter, Yahweh in Africa: Essays on Africa and the Old Testament, New York: Peter Lang, (2000), 80

[2]               Adamo defines such culturally informed hermeneutics in African biblical studies as a special approach to biblical interpretation that makes African social cultural context a subject of interpretation. This involves the rereading of the scripture from a premeditatedly Africentric perspective with the purpose of understanding the Bible and God in the African experience and culture and thus breaking the hermeneutical hegemony and ideological stranglehold that western biblical scholarship have long enjoyed to the detriment of others.  See David Tuesday Adamo, “Healing in the Old Testament and in African Context” S.O. Abogunrin (et al), Biblical Healing in African Context: Biblical Studies Series No. 3, Ibadan: The Nigerian Association for Biblical Studies (NABIS) (2004), 32-33.  See also the essay on Inculturation hermeneutics by Justin S. Ukpong, “Reading the Bible in a Global Village: Issues and Challenges from African Readings” (Justin S. Ukpong et al.), Reading the Bible in the Global Village: Cape Town, Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature (2000), 9-39; Also Fernando F. Segovia, “Biblical Criticism and Postcolonial Studies: Towards a Postcolonial Optic,” The Postcolonial Bible, R.S. Sugirtharajah (ed.), Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, (1998), 49-65.    

Contributed by:

Michaiah Olaniyi

Birmingham, UK
University of Birmingham
last modified 2006-06-27 00:39