The origin of Christianity in the world can be traced to the Middle East. On the other hand, the history of Christianity in Nigeria dates back to the 15th century when the Portuguese brought the religion along with them.
However, their affiliations with slave trade made it difficult to plant the religion in the country as they were more interested in the lucrative slave business than being on the missionary field.
In the 17th century, the Roman Catholic missionaries found their way to Nigeria. They came into cities like Benin and Warri where they preached Christianity. But they were unable to convert the kings and traditional rulers as these leaders were only interested in the guns and mirrors the Europeans offered them.
Eventually, slave trade was abolished in the British Empire in 1833 and many of the slaves were freed. Many years later, some of these slaves returned to Nigeria with the religion they had learned from their Europeans masters.
The education provided by the missionaries was also instrumental in converting a good number of slaves to Christianity.
One of the slaves that was instrumental to the advent of Christianity in Nigeria was Samuel Ajayi Crowther who was captured by the age of 12 by Fulani slave raiders and sold to Portuguese slave traders.
Ajayi Crowther later regained his freedom and became the first African to be ordained bishop by the Christian Missionary Society (CMS). Additionally, Crowther was a pioneer of local Christian missionary work in the country and he was pivotal in the translation of the Bible into Yoruba language.
Over the years, Christianity has grown rapidly. In 1953, the percentage of the Christian population was 21.4% and that percentage has doubled to over 50% with over 75 million Christians in Nigeria.
Currently, the Southern part of the country is dominated by Christians while the Northern part is composed of predominantly Muslims. Recent estimates put the percentage of Nigeria’s population that practice Christianity between 40% – 49.3%. Of that percentage, about 74% are Protestants, 25% Roman Catholic, while the rest are split among other Christian denominations.
Christianity has influenced different spheres of the country. These include culture, education, politics and many others.
At the initial stage of Christianity, many of the traditional practices such as polyygamy, blood pacts, oath swearing, divination etc were declared as taboos.
These traditional practices were integral to culture and as a result Christianity faced some resistance.
One of the landmark achievements of Christianity in Nigeria was when Mary Slessor; a Scottish missionary who worked tirelessly for women and children’s rights, halted the practice of killing twins among the Efik people in southern Nigeria.
Over the years, Christianity has become an integral part of the country’s culture and many Christians in the country adopted Christian names in addition to their local names. Also, it isn’t uncommon to see official gatherings being commenced with prayer.
Christianity was the platform through which Western education was implemented. The school system introduced people in the country to new ideologies, which spanned across different areas of human existence.
Christianity brought western ideas with it and the modernization associated with the religion caused an increased preference for jobs among the people from agriculture to white collar jobs.
Also, the country began to embrace a culture of import over export. Additionally, many of the materials that portrayed Nigeria’s rich cultural traditions were either destroyed or carted away by foreign missionaries.
Christianity Today in Nigeria
When it comes to Christianity in recent times, the tides seems to have changed has the country has begun to export its Christianity to other parts of the world. This is has been partly due to a new type of churches called the mega churches. Mega churches seem to have arrived with the advent of Pentecostalism which can be traced to the early 20th century in America.
The mega church syndrome can be traced to 1910 when a local charismatic movement led by an Anglican deacon split from the Anglican church to become the Christ Army Church.
There was a revival in this new church and as a result, the church grew in size forming independent churches. These churches were characterized by fervent prayer styles, known by the Yoruba word Aladura (praying people). Some of the early Aladura churches include the Eternal Sacred Order of the Cherubim and Seraphim Society, founded in 1925, and the Church of the Lord (Aladura), founded in 1930.
One of the most popular preachers during this period was Joseph Babalola of Faith Tabernacle. The preacher led a revival in the 1930s that converted thousands of locals.
In 1932, his church was initially associated with the Pentecostal Apostolic Church of Great Britain but later broke away to form an independent church, the Christ Apostolic Church.
Over the next two decades, foreign Pentecostal churches began to plant branches in Nigeria. It was during this period the Welsh Apostolic Church was established in 1931 and Assemblies of God in 1939. Also, the Foursquare Gospel Church was also introduced in Nigeria at the same time.
Some local Pentecostal churches also sprung up, these include the Celestial Church of Christ which arrived in western Nigeria from Benin to become one of Africa’s largest Aladura churches.
In 1952, a former member of the Cherubim and Seraphim society, Pa Josiah Akindayomi, founded the Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG). He was succeeded by Enoch Adejare Adeboye. Under Adeboye, the church became increasingly Pentecostal in theology and practice; this was probably influenced by the Pentecostal wave in the 1960s and 1970s which was mainly experienced by students on college campuses.
One of the leaders behind these revivals during this period was Benson Idahosa. He was one of Africa’s most influential Pentecostal preachers of the 20th century and he was the founder of the Church of God Mission International which was established in 1972.
Other churches have since been established since then. These include the Deeper Life Bible Church founded by William Folorunsho Kumuyi in 1975. He was a mathematics professor at the University of Lagos before going on to found the Deeper Life Bible Church.
In 1986, David Oyedepo founded Living Faith Church which is popularly known as Winners Chapel. Nigeria.
Currently, the prominent churches in Nigeria include The Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG), Deeper Life Bible Church, Living Faith Church (Winners’ Chapel), Mountain of Fire and Miracles Ministries and Christ Embassy
There are also some new generation churches that are popular in Lagos and many other major cities in the country. These include Daystar Christian Centre, Covenant Christian Centre, House on the Rock and Commonwealth of Zion Assembly (COZA).