Big time christianity in Africa
It's eight hours into the service, and the congregation is still dancing. Shout, they're told. Yell out to the Lord. Their cries melt into a muggy night with the odor of sweating bodies, jasmine and the tropical musk of the Nigerian bush land.It is ironic that African churches are sending out missionaries to the world that brought them Christianity. What is missing from this story is the interaction with the Muslims in northern Nigeria who are attempting to imposes a brutal Shari'a law and have killed many Christians in that area. It would be interesting to know whether that has inspired others to join the church. It would also be interesting to know if any of the membership growth comes from the Muslim community. Muslim bigotry could lead to an evetual confrontation.
"Hallelujah," rumbles the head pastor as the church band kicks into a new number. "Hal-le-luuuuuuu-jah."
Even from the heights of the pulpit, he can't see the far edges of the crowd. More than 300,000 people have come for the once-a-month, all-night, Pentecostal-style revival, led by a preacher most simply call "Daddy."
Given the standards of the Redeemed Christian Church of God, it's just an average turnout.
Think big. Think very big. Then think bigger.
This is the face of 21st-century Christianity: big, restless -- and African. There is no better symbol of it than the Redeemed Church and the insatiable ambitions of its guiding hand and pastor, the Rev. Enoch Adejare Adeboye. The savvy one-time mathematician leads the fastest-growing Christian movement from a continent that is rapidly putting its stamp on the faith around the world.
The Redeemed Church is a prime lesson in the shifting currents of Christianity. Centuries after the Gospel was brought to sub-Saharan Africa by colonizers and missionaries, the faith is coming back to the West. The forms are passionate and powerful. So potent, in fact, that clergy from Westminster Abbey to the Vatican are fretting about how to keep pace, and the Protestant-dominated World Council of Churches, always wary of Pentecostal and evangelical sects and denominations, is treating these new groups as if they were an invading army.
They are called by various names -- Pentecostal, afro-evangelical, charismatic, Christian renewal -- and are attached to a wider trend, as similar movements pressure so-called mainline denominations in Latin America, Asia, North America and parts of Europe.
But Africa -- by population, energy, youth and other measures -- is widely considered the key. Many theologians say the "African century" of Christianity is under way.
If so, then populous and English-speaking Nigeria is its spiritual homeland, and churches like Mr. Adeboye's are its vanguard. Its driven leadership, loose global oversight and staggering cash flow make up precisely the formula that so alarms many traditional denominations.
Africans are further exerting their influence inside established churches. The worldwide Anglican Communion is being torn by advocacy of homosexual bishops and clergy and blessing of same-sex "marriages," and conservatives, led by Nigerian Archbishop Peter Akinola, are resisting these dramatic changes in faith and practice. At the Vatican, there are nine Africans among the 120 cardinals younger than 80 -- the age limit for taking part in a papal election. The African figure has reached as high as 13 papal electors in the past decade.
"You want to see where Christianity is heading?" said Campbell Shittu Momoh, an author on Nigerian religious affairs. "Come look at Nigeria. It's already here."
The old religious mainstays in Nigeria -- the Roman Catholics and Anglicans -- are overshadowed nearly 2 to 1, and Pentecostals and other evangelicals widen the gap year after year.
Just a few minutes at an Adeboye service at his Redemption Camp campus in Lagos demonstrates why. Packed buses pour in all afternoon.
Eve Akindabe, a 35-year-old seamstress who was raised as an Anglican, does some hemming work as she waits to worship. She's been giving a monthly tithe -- worth about $10 -- for five years.
"Why did I join Daddy's church? Take a look around," she says, waving her hands at the crowds. "Daddy inspires. Daddy tell us Jesus is right here to help improve our lives. The Anglican church was all about, 'Don't do this, don't do that.' Daddy is all about possibilities and making breakthroughs. It deals with heaven, but also the here and now."