Is it good to register churches of Christ in Nigeria together?
The key to this question is the word “together.” If the government requires congregations to register, they should do so (Romans 13:1-2).
Thankfully, neither the government of Nigeria nor that of the United States has any such requirement. The question really involves the corporation known as “Church of Christ – Nigeria,” which seeks to control all churches of Christ and preachers associated with them throughout Nigeria. This has in effect set up a denomination in Nigeria known as “Church of Christ – Nigeria.” Although it is lengthy, I reproduce below an e-mail from Brother Sunday Ayandare of Ibadan, Nigeria, which he sent to Brother Paul Williams in South Africa in 2007, which explains “Church of Christ – Nigeria.”
“Church of Christ – Nigeria” was registered and Certificate of Incorporation was issued on 23rd July, 1955. The registration number was 387, with three Americans then residing in Nigeria as “registered trustees.” The names of the three Americans were:
1. Elvis Henry Huffard
2. Robert Eugene Peden
3. Howard Patrick Horton. (See Appendix 1)
The aims and objects of the church as listed in the document were:
“1. To teach Christianity
2. To train and develop leaders in religious and moral thought and work
3. To encourage and assist the advancement of education in Nigeria
4. Generally to carry out missionary and welfare work in Nigeria.” (See Appendix 2)
The existence of this document (with its Board of Trustees) was largely unknown to the generality of brethren across Nigeria until 1971 when the members of the Board started to exercise their powers over the churches. The specific event that blew this open in 1971 was the litigation at the instance of the Board seeking to “sack” brother John Obijuru (deceased), the preacher working with the church at Owerri then and take effective occupation of the church building. (At that time there was just only one congregation at Owerri).
Before this 1971 incident, the Board had in 1969 prevented brothers Leslie Diestelkamp (deceased) and Jim Sasser from entering the country by instigating the Immigration authorities to deny them entry visas. This fact was not known until much later in 1972/73. After it was known that the Board was behind the refusal of visas for brothers Diestelkamp and Sasser and the then Chairman, bro. Eno Otoyo was confronted at a meeting in Uyo in 1972, his reply was: “this was done for the interest of peace since he (i.e. bro. Leslie Diestelkamp – SA) did not agree with us on certain doctrinal issues.”
It is instructive to note that when the original members of the Board were leaving the country, they unilaterally handed over the affairs of the Board to bro. Eno Otoyo. When Eno Otoyo (a Nigerian of South-South extraction) left the country for America, he also in the same way handed over the mantle of leadership of the Board to bro. E. Young Owukiabo (deceased). When bro. Young Owukiabo died in 2006, bro. Peter Egure, one of the elders of the church in Kaddo, Abuja took over the Chairmanship of the Board.
Between 1972 and 1973, series of meetings were held by brethren in Uyo, Akwa Ibom State; Benin, Edo State; and Lagos seeking to nullify the composition of the Board with its “aims and objects.” These meetings culminated in the drawing up a letter of objection in the form of a Memorandum in Benin on the 8th April, 1973 and addressed to the Chief Immigration Officer in Lagos. (See Appendix 3).
The matter was largely left in abeyance until around 2001. In the intervening period (i.e. between 1973 and 2001) the church at Orodu Street, Ajegunle in Lagos arranged discussions between brothers Young Owukiabo and Ezekiel Akinyemi at one time; and between bro. Owukiabo and me (Sunday Ayandare) at another time. These discussions were aimed at fashioning out an acceptable, workable and above all, scriptural solution to the impasse.
Then around May, 2001, bro. Young Owukiabo, the then Chairman of the Board made overtures to me through bro. Emonena Josiah, one of the preachers working with the church at Orodu Street, Ajegunle in Lagos about the need to review the matter of our 1973 objections against the Board with its “aims and objects.” Undoubtedly, bro. Josiah was one of those who had the ears of bro. Owukiabo. This led to another round of meetings between preachers in Oyo, Ogun. Osun and Ekiti States (mainly the West). The result of these meetings was a letter written to all the members of the Board of Trustees, through its Chairman, bro. Young Owukiabo dated November 14, 2001 and signed by brothers Ezekiel Akinyemi, Isaac Ogunmoroti and Sunday Ayandare.
With the benefit of hindsight, it seemed the other members of the Board did not take kindly to the idea of bro. Owukiabo reaching out to us. Besides, other members of the Board who had had other grievances with the Chairman took advantage and did vent their anger and opposition. This was the underpinning of the “National General Meeting of Churches of Christ – Nigeria” scheduled for 6th December, 2003 at the instance of the Chairman of the Board in a circular letter dated 29th October, 2003. The meeting, according to bro. Owukiabo, “has become necessary due to the on going misunderstanding and misrepresentation arising from the two past meetings held at Uyo on Sept. 5th and October 11th, 2003.” (See Appendix 5).
The end product of all the efforts was the “AMENDED CONSTITUTION OF CHURCH OF CHRIST – NIGERIA” with bro. Young Owukiabo as the Chairman. (See Appendix 6). As indicated earlier, after the demise of bro. Owukiabo in 2006, bro. Peter Sunday Egure, one of the elders of the church in Kaddo, Abuja has been appointed as the Chairman of the Board.
It should be apparent that “Church of Christ – Nigeria” is a board determined to oversee all the churches of Christ and preachers of the gospel in the nation. There is no scriptural authority for anyone but the elders of the local church to oversee a congregation, and their oversight is limited to the congregation where they are members (1 Peter 5:1-2). Each local church must determine its own fellowship (1 Corinthians chapter 5). The constitution drawn up by these self-appointed leaders is a human creed in violation of the Scriptures (Revelation 22:18-19). “Church of Christ – Nigeria” is not the church Jesus built, of which He alone is the Head (Matthew 16:18; Ephesians 1:22-23) but is simply a human denomination. Have nothing to do with it but to oppose it (Matthew 15:13-14).