8th assembly/50th anniversary

Together on Holy Ground
50 Million Members and Growing

Leaders from several African Instituted Churches (AICs) gave a spirited defence of their churches in one of the Padare sessions, saying that critics who charge them with being "schismatic" are hypocrites.

Though no precise figures are available, AICs claim thousands of churches and more than 50 million members across the continent. All were founded by African Christians rather than by European or North American missionaries. Their leaders variously use the terms "African instituted", "indigenous" and "independent" to underscore this characteristic dimension of their churches.

Rufus Ositelu, archbishop of the Church of the Lord Aladura (a West African adjective loosely translated as "divine inspiration"), noted that "when you travel to the Netherlands or the United States, there are thousands of different kinds of Baptist churches and no one accuses them of schism, but then they ask all these questions of the AICs. They should evaluate our churches by the word of God, not by their own opinions about who is valid and who is not."

The attitudes towards AICs by Western churches and the "mainline" African churches which they founded have been sceptical, if not hostile, according to Archbishop Njera Wambugu of Ethiopia, general secretary of the Organization of African Instituted Churches, "because we had to break away from the missionary churches because of a lack of training of our people to be church leaders and because we resisted colonial restrictions".

Prophetess J.E. Ahme of the Eternal Sacred Order of Cherubim and Seraphim in Nigeria joined Archbishop Wambugu in leading the Padare session about AICs. She said these churches needed to be part of the ecumenical movement. "Now we are excluded, even though we are Trinitarian, believe the Bible is the word of God, and profess that salvation only comes through Jesus Christ."

In fact, a spokesperson for the World Council of Churches noted, seven AICs have been members of the WCC for some time, and three more were accepted as members at the eighth assembly.

Denying that the AICs are "syncretistic" -- another accusation frequently levelled at them -- Ndumiso Ngada of the Federal Council of Africa Indigenous Churches told those present at the Padare hearing: "We understand God from the point of view of being Africans. We have our cultures, customs and norms that are the base of our understanding."

Recalling the humiliation of having to register in missionary schools with his "Christian name and heathen name", Ngada added, "I see nothing wrong with Africans worshipping God as Africans."

Wambugu concluded that schism has been a problem among AICs, many of which were established by "divinely instructed" leaders and have thus tended to split into rival factions when the founder dies. "This is a problem," Wambugu said. "Leaders had not thought of succession when they received their call from God."

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