2000 Years On: Is Christianity Growing Or Shrinking?
‘Today’s Persecution Is Worse Than That Recorded In The Scriptures’
It has been over 2000 years, since Jesus Christ who came to point the road to mankind’s salvation. Because of the newness of the teachings He brought, which greatly opposed the existing religious teachings of His time, there was a lot of protest and persecution, which continued even after He departed the earth. His disciples were equally persecuted relentlessly for their firm belief in Him. But how is Christianity faring now? Are today’s Christians toeing the path of the early Christians or have they watered things down in favour of a more comfortable living? Is today’s Christian facing more persecution than experienced by the early Christians? CHRIS IREKAMBA reports.
‘Christianity Is Growing But Problem Is With The Adherents’
(The Rt. Rev. Dr. Peter Ogunmuyiwa, Bishop of the African Church, Diocese of the North and Abuja)
THAT question is very technical and complex in the sense that it is true that the Christian faith is actually dwindling. It appears that the so-called Christian today goes to church, but the virtue, the culture of Christianity is no longer found in the life of today’s Christian. When you read the Acts of Apostles, what actually gave the early adherents that name Christians was as a result of their conduct and lifestyle, which was fashioned after that of Jesus Christ’s. But today, though churches are growing in terms of spread and numbers, but the ideals of Christianity are completely wiped out in the church.
I was talking to a Christian fellow just recently and the person told me how Civil servants collect money from young graduates in search of employment and I wondered why this should be so. Surprisingly, the person added that many of the people doing this are Christians. But what is the sense in this? Someone is looking for job and you are asking him/her to bring N500, 000 and after paying this huge amount, you still compel the person to give you a particular percentage from his or her salary after the job might have been provided. And the person who provided this job is also an officer in the ministry. My question is: Are the people doing this not going to church? Oh yes, they do. Perhaps, they are even elders in the church, where they worship every Sunday. So, the virtue of Christianity is no longer found in the life of today’s so-called Christian.
Look at what is happening in the church today. We are materialistic. We preach the gospel of prosperity at the expense of good social and spiritual conduct of people. So, I think that morality is very low. Today’s so-called Christians are not exactly reflecting the principles of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Christian faith is growing but the adherents of Christian faith are not growing. Christianity is a way to eternity but ‘the Christians’ are the ones that have abandoned the principles of Christianity. Even the so-called pastors, who claim to have been called by God, sometimes you wonder whether their calling is genuine or not. It is not all about having big congregations. So, you have a big congregation, but are the members genuine Christians in the real sense of the word? Or are you just teaching them how to pay tithe? Worst still, they are even making the payment of tithe a law, and according to them, if you don’t pay your tithe you may not make heaven. But that is not what the Bible says. So some church leaders are emphasising materialism, rather than salvation. We are no longer conscious of heaven, as some church leaders are no longer preaching about heaven and Christian ethics.
From the above explanation, you will agree with me that Christian faith is dwindling rather than growing. You can see from the atmosphere in the world today that Christians are facing more persecution. Today’s persecution is worse than that recorded in the scriptures.
‘Christians Have Been Denied Appointments And Promotions Because Of Their Faith’
(Rev. Fr. Ojaje Idoko, Director of Pastoral Affairs, Catholic Secretariat of Nigeria, Abuja)
CHRISTIANITY is not diminishing but is rather growing. We live in the age of hyper media activities. We are in an age of media war and make-believe. The one who shouts loudest, thereby creating bigger impression, is considered greater and better. The age of reality is being put in abeyance. What am I saying? The number of people accepting Jesus and professing Christianity is increasing. This is even buoyed by the cruelty of the hostile Islamic fundamentalists. It was reported recently that a great number of those who escaped from the troubled spots in the Middle East, seeking asylum in Western Europe are daily accepting Christ and converting to Christianity. However, such will not make media headlines because it is not politically correct, but it is the reality.
Bringing it home, Christianity is growing and expanding intrinsically in Nigeria, but not on account of the high number of churches or church crusades. We know for a fact that the multiplication of churches does not signify growth, since most of the members of newly established churches are not converts from another religion but ‘decampees’ from other Christian denominations. And such people will not hesitate to move again to a more appealing church at the slightest chance.
The number of non-Christians accepting Christ, answering the altar call and receiving baptism should measure the growth of a new church. It is not growth for Christianity and the new church, when the church poaches on another existing church. Jesus would rather go to ‘other towns’ to preach for that is why He came. However, in general, the Christian faith is growing, reaching where it has not reached before, but not without a price. The life of a Christian is never trouble free. Christ the Saviour never promised us a trouble free journey, but only a safe arrival. He told His disciples, “In the world, you will have troubles, but be brave, for I have conquered the world” (John 16:33).
Many years ago during the persecution of the early Christians, when Christianity was considered an illegal religion and the followers of Christ were being slaughtered as criminals, Saint Irenaeus said, “The blood of Christians is the seed of Christianity”. This means that the more you kill Christians, the more they would multiply. He simply echoed what Christ said that, “Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single grain. But if it dies, it will germinate into a rich harvest”. The persecution of Christians has continued, even after 2000 years of Christianity. For instance, in many parts of northern Nigeria today, Christians cannot practise their faith freely. They cannot build churches, schools and other charity institutions freely. You cannot get land freely and at your place of choice to build your church. In many of the cities, Christians are crowded in a localised area and confined to such a place. Political appointments and promotions in offices and what posts one can hold take into cognisance one’s religious bias Christians have been denied appointments and promotions because of their faith. Some others are forced or coerced to change religion in order to get such appointments and promotions. These are some of the modern forms of persecution of Christians.
At this season of Christmas, we should remember that it is the birth of Christ that is being celebrated and not our own birthday. If it is Christ’s birthday that is being celebrated, then He should be the One that should receive the gifts and not us. And what shall we offer to the Lord to make Him happy? John the Baptist said that He stands among us unknown. He stands among us unacknowledged, not recognised and not valued. He is that beggar, the one who is always demanding and making emotional appeals to your conscience. He is among the internally displaced persons, in the IDP Camps all over northern Nigeria, a consequence of the modern persecution of Christians. Visit Him there this Christmas.
‘In Spite Of Persecution, We Should Celebrate Christ’s Birth In Peace’
(Rev. Dr. Felix Omobude, National President, Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria (PFN)
I CAN assure you that Christian faith is growing worldwide in leaps and bounds. The Bible is the most widely read book all over the world. The Christian faith is the most embraced all over the world, though we must admit that there is still a lot to be done and there are still many people that need to hear the gospel, which is the good news of Jesus Christ.
Challenges are part of life, as you don’t fight the dead but the living. Our gospel is very potent and dynamic and wherever the Christian faith is, you will see enlightenment, education and health. So, those who live on the other side, who love the darkness, will persecute the light.
We should celebrate the birth of Christ in peace and righteous living. We should celebrate the day and share the joy with others around us, irrespective of their faith, as well as extend the goodwill that came from heaven at the birth of Christ to all around us. So, in spite of what looks like persecution, we should continue to press on.
The Bible says all those who will live godly in Christ Jesus will face persecution. There are few places in the world that you cannot boldly practise your faith and there are places all around us where Christians cannot freely express themselves because of persecution. We thank God for the liberty that we have around here, because it is definitely not like this in other places. What I mean is that those of us around here can go to church, carry our Bibles and preach our gospel. I thank God for it, because it is not like that in everywhere.
We are enjoined to preach the gospel in and out of the season, whether we are received or challenged. We will not deny our faith, as what concerns our faith also concerns our life. While we admonish our people to dwell amicably with others, the issues of our faith are the issues of our lives. Therefore, we should handle such situation maturely and Christians should not engage in violence.
Constitutionally, we have the right to practise our faith in Nigeria. So, we should claim that right in an atmosphere of peace.
‘We Are To Bless More This Time Than To Curse’
(Most Rev. Dr. Emmanuel Olisa Chukwuma, Archbishop, Province of Enugu, Church of Nigeria, Anglican Communion)
CHRISTIANITY is what salvages mankind from eternal damnation and fights against evil forces of darkness. Hence, it’s expected to bring persecution daily and always. Christ Himself said that, ‘in the world you will receive tribulation, but be of good cheer, as I have overcome the world.’ The power to overcome tribulation and persecution is in the hand of Christ, Who came to conquer the world. This is why He said, ‘no weapon fashioned against us shall prosper’ and that ‘the gate of hell shall not prevail against His church.’ Because of the challenges and also the spirit of darkness that are combating with Light, persecution, therefore, must ensue. So, during Christmas, Christians are expected to stand firm in faith and also show love and concern to one another. They should also sustain this season, which is a celebration of God’s love to mankind. It is a celebration of God’s presence. God, Who was against us in the Garden of Eden, is now with us. In the Garden of Eden, it was God against us because He cursed us and said ‘we shall die.’ He said, “dust we are and from dust we shall return”. But now in Christmas, He says ‘Emmanuel— God with us.’ So, it is good news of reconciliation, of blessings and not curses.
So, Christians should bless more this time than they curse. This time, we should love more than we hate. Christians at this time should be humble and remember those in need because God remembers us in our state of despondence. It is a recognised fact that Christians must be persecuted because they are against the power of darkness, as well as opposing things of evil. So, evil forces will always rise against us, but the power of God is stronger than that of evil and that is why the church is still being sustained till today.
Christian faith is growing in bounds and in materials, but is shrinking in spirituality. There are so many churches with so many pastors, but the spiritual impact is not felt because of selfishness. Christianity is expanding in bounds, as far as materials things, physical structures and human resources are concerned. But it is shrinking in spirituality, because people are becoming so materialistic and worldly.
The evil in our society today, such as kidnapping, child trafficking, baby factories and corruption among others is rising. The same goes for immorality and promiscuity amongst married women, all because of money and material things. There is also the issue of political hatred and victimisation. Everybody is looking for personal gain, than thinking about the lots of everybody. This is serious and Christians must examine themselves, repent from their sins and allow practical Christianity to prevail in their lives by ensuring that they live a clean and righteous life.
Jesus Christ said, “Let your life so shine before men that they may see your good works.” We must debase materialism, aggrandisement, as well as hatred in the church.
‘Violence Is Totally Against God’s Will Even Where Differences Occur’
(Pastor (Dr.) Oyeleke Owolabi, President, Seventh-Day Adventist Church in Nigeria)
PERSECUTION is not something new or strange. It is also not something unexpected. Before Christ came, the Jews were persecuted and when Christ Himself was alive physically, He was persecuted. After His death, burial and resurrection, the disciples He left behind were persecuted and before He ascended into heaven, He made it clear to us that we would be persecuted for the sake of righteousness. So, as Christians, persecution should not take us unawares. One thing that is sure and which Christ promised is that at the end of the day, we shall triumph. So, our victory is sure in Christ Jesus. Therefore, when we are being persecuted as Christians, we should look beyond the persecution and see the glorious days ahead. The present persecution, suffering, pain and marginalisation that we may be experiencing now are in nowhere compared to the glory ahead of us.
We can never talk of testimonies without experiencing one test or the other. We cannot talk of triumph, if we don’t experience trial. How can we wear the crown of glory, when we have not put on the Cross of Christ? So, Christians should understand the details of their mission on earth, as people of God and believers. Jesus Christ’s birth into this world is one of the greatest good news for humanity. John 3:16 says, ‘for God so loved the world that He gave us His only begotten Son that whosoever believes in Him shall not die but have ever lasting life.’ Before Christ came, we were alienated from God, as we were separated by sin. We were living in darkness, but Christ came to save us and reconcile us back to God, which is why he emphasised in verse 17 that, ‘God did not send His son to the world to condemn the world; but that the world might be saved through Him.’ What good news for humanity, that through one man, sin came to this world and through another man, salvation came.
So, the celebration of the birth, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ must be celebrated by all Christians everyday of our lives and we are not to use violence to defend our faith in Christ. It was not done in the days of Jesus, it was not done in the days of the apostles and we must not do it as well. Violence is totally against the will of God, and even if there are differences in our understanding of the scriptures or there are disturbances in the communities, where we find ourselves, let us use dialogue, let us adopt peaceful means of living together as one people. When you are being persecuted, it is not enough reason to go into war. It is not part of our Christian experience.
In conclusion, I would say that all Christians should celebrate not on yearly basis but on daily basis the birth, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ with a real hope and great anticipation of His glorious appearance again.
The Christian faith all depends on the angle you are looking at it. We can say Christianity is increasing every day in terms of numbers. When Christianity came to Nigeria through the Missionaries in the 18th century, only few people were Christians then. The dominant religion then was the traditional religion and Islam, but right now in Nigeria, we are counting millions of people who are Christians. We can submit that Christianity is growing, but in the areas of moral development, societal harmony and peace, crime and vices, the more churches we have, the more crime grows. The more Christians, the more crises and when you look at the list of so-called armed robbers, kidnappers, 419ers, and so on, bearing Christian names such as Faith, David or Solomon, one begins to wonder whether today’s Christianity is not just on the lips and not in the heart. I want to pray that the Holy Spirit revive all of us.
‘One Lesson Of Christmas Is That When You Suffer For Christ, You’ll Recover All’
(Pastor Mike Onyeka, Senior Pastor, Victorious People Assembly Int’l Inc., House Praise, Aba, Abia State)
CONCERNING persecution or tribulations for Christians because of their faith, Jesus made a number of profound statements, which include: “These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation, but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” John 16:33. “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kind of evil against you falsely for my sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you” Mathew 5: 10-12.
Now hear this one: “You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, relatives and friends, and they will put some of you to death. And you will be hated by all for My Name’s sake. But not a hair of your head shall be lost. By your patience possess your souls” Luke 21:16-19. Persecution of Christians will get worse as the end draws near. It is one of the signs of the end times as given by Jesus. But the divine assurance is ‘Not one hair of your head shall be lost’. Halleluiah.
The Christian should protect himself legally and otherwise when necessary and possible. But he should not revenge. No reprisal actions. Vengeance is God’s. Every drop of blood of every Christian martyr shall be avenged by Jesus. He told Apostle John so in the Revelation: When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the testimony, which they held. And they cried with a loud voice, saying, How long, O Lord, holy and true, until You judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” Then a white robe was given to each of them, and it was said to them that they should rest a little while longer, until both the number of their fellow servants and their brethren, who are going to be killed, are completed”.
Jesus said nobody took His life from Him. He laid it down Himself, which is the reason He could take it up again. Every Christian that patiently and calmly suffers for Jesus will recover everything including his/her life. This is one of the many lessons of Christmas.
Global statistics show that the population of Christians is growing. It is true that in some areas churches are closing down for various reasons. But a revival is coming.
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