Anglocostalism in Nigeria

The Rev. Jesse Zink (Episcopalian) has written a paper about Anglicans in Nigeria, (here). His paper shows a fusion of Anglican and Pentecostal beliefs. For example:

Rather than persist in their opposition, some Anglican leaders began to embrace the new religious practices. Kailing noticed this in the early 1990s. A revival in the Niger Delta Diocese was held and ‘posters promoting the program, promising miracles of healing and deliverance, were indistinguishable from the innumerable pentecostal evangelical posters which dot the city throughout the year’. At the event, when the bishop began to speak ‘virtually everything he said could have come from a pentecostal evangelical primer’.The chancellor of the diocese, a respected judge, spoke and began by saying, ‘I was born an Anglican, but now I am an Anglican pentecostal!’ This single event is indicative of a broader trend of profound changes worth examining in detail. The factors associated with Pentecostalism – worship, a gospel of prosperity, an awareness of the supernatural world, a tendency to dismiss other Christians, and a unique weight given to the Bible – have all, to one degree or another, worked their way into the character of the Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion).

The archdeacon quoted at the beginning of this paper 1)‘If the Pentecostals are singing and dancing around, let us do that too. Let the pastor jump around. Let us change the liturgy.’ is a good example of the change in worship styles, in his willingness to set aside a liturgical heritage to embrace new charismatic practices. Indeed, worship services in the Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion) have become charismatic and free-flowing. At one service of evening prayer I attended, the open intercessions included two participants speaking in tongues. When that concluded, the congregation recited the Apostles’ Creed together. At a separate service, a bishop of a major eastern diocese told the congregation that ‘our services are lively. The spirit is in our liturgy and that gives us power.’ Few Anglican bishops of the 1970s or 1980s would have thought a ‘lively’ service a good thing. The liveliness is, in part, attributable to new music. Mainline congregations have begun to use music generated by the neo-Pentecostals. The use of drums and dancing has also gradually spread into churches. Although the Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion) has recently adopted a new prayer book, its text does not seem to be widely adhered to. In one service I attended, the invitation to confession – one sentence in the prayer book – took nearly ten minutes, as the worship leader reminded the congregation of God’s forgiveness and the importance of repentance, citing examples from Scripture and his own life. I asked an archdeacon in an eastern diocese if he used the set prayers in his church. ‘Not very much’, he responded. ‘Mostly we use extemporaneous prayers. But,’ he quickly added, ‘it is still within the ambit of Anglicanism’. (It is unclear whom or what he thought set the parameters of this ‘ambit’.) While the prayer book is still a part of the church, these examples show the way in which it can be submerged in contemporary worship practices.

Zink says that the Prosperity Gospel is deeply embedded in Nigerian Anglicanism. 

The prosperity gospel of neo-Pentecostals has – as the bishop quoted at the beginning of the paper noted – begun to exercise an increasing influence over Anglican preachers. In one eastern diocese, the same bishop who noted the ‘lively’ services preached an hour-long sermon, the first half of which was on the opening verses of the book of Joshua, in which God reaffirms the gift of the Promised Land. The bishop referenced the death of Moses, with which the passage begins:

Your past represents the Biblical Moses. This morning I see little Joshuas sitting in this congregation, thinking about the challenges they will face in the future. Is anyone here a Joshua? God knows there are challenges ahead of you. That is why he is making you a Joshua. Today, heaven is laying a hand on you to do wonders in your life and family. Someone will arise this morning. There is a family that has been living in crisis that will come out of that crisis this morning.

Citing problems like a lack of money and sickness, he continued, ‘Somebody is going to cross over this morning. You will go over that Jordan. Your future will be greater than your past. As from today, anywhere you put the sole of your feet, he will give it to youy. Jesus is calling you with more power than he called Joshua.’ The sermon was greeted with enthusiastic ‘amens’ and ‘hallelujahs’ from the congregation. (A later section of the sermon, on the importance of unity within church congregations, failed to generate any such response.) Nor was this the only such sermon. In a northern diocese, a priest preached on a portion of Lk. 6.38, ‘give and it will be given you’, with no mention of any of the context of the passage. His message was simple: ‘He has promised you as an individual that you will overflow.’ At another service, when it came time for the offering, the pastor announced ‘Offering time!’ and the people responded as one, ‘Blessing time!’

Given the continued ACNA ties to Nigeria via GAFCON and CANA, American Anglicans would do well to educate themselves on what their Church partners believe. The Church in Nigeria is a suffering Church, under assault from Islam, but how much do we know about it beyond that?

References   [ + ]

1. ‘If the Pentecostals are singing and dancing around, let us do that too. Let the pastor jump around. Let us change the liturgy.’

13 thoughts on “Anglocostalism in Nigeria”

  1. It isn’t just ‘Anglocostalism’. For Christianity in Nigeria, Pentecostalism is the assumed ground. Any church that self-consciously behaves contrary the mentioned tenets of that Pentecostalism is swimming against the tide in a big way. They dance more, they shake more, their prayers (almost exclusively) reflect the feverish enthusiasm of traditional African spirituality, and most importantly – their numbers are immense.

    I grew up in a church in the Nigerian Baptist Convention (which was planted by the SBC). We left the country before my teen years, and when I went back to visit as a 20-something, I was struck by (what I called) the ‘Bapticostalism’. Out with the hymns, the pastoral prayers, and in with the multiple ‘praise-n-worship’ get-down sessions, tithe-giving explained as ‘seeds of faith’ guaranteed to be honoured by God in granting you prosperity. Thankfully, I met some Christians unimpressed with the numbers and lack of substance in this.

    But back to the (your?) Anglican context, if Christians outside of Nigeria are going to be learning about our church beyond the news reports, please equip our leaders to discern again the central norms of our most holy faith. The Word, the Sacraments; God’s ordinary means of grace. Equip Nigeria’s leaders to lay hold of these fiercely, and vigilantly help them find a natively Nigerian expression. More false teaching is peddled in the name of orthodox Christianity than by Mormons, J-Ws, and other (uniquely Nigerian) sects. It’s sad times, but to quote our [ridiculous] First Lady, “there is God, o!!!”

    This has been a bit of a ramble. But here’s an attempt at a tl;dr: this isn’t solely an Anglican issue. Huge swathes of the Nigerian church (incl. RomanCatholics) have been seduced by the charismatic/pentecostal juggernaut. Aim at helping Anglican leaders, for sure. But encourage them against being parochial (in the bad sense), b/c a strong Anglican leadership can chasten Presbyterians & Lutherans. Even Babtists =]

  2. NOTE: My answer is colored in context to the author and his sea change in terms of Rwanda and US Anglicanism, so maybe very specific as the above first-hand Nigerian experience was general. I’d probably not answer another the same way, in fact I’d probably not answer at all but try to connect with one of several friends who have first-hand Nigerian and/or CON knowledge.


    First CON does not have a cozy relationship with the government and the government is much more federated, with my limited understanding, but in comparing Rwanda “people’s republic” style, Nigeria is very federated. Also, CANA will be very different from AMiA in several key aspects, based on what +Minns did not like in what +Murphy had done, which will probably put a different light on the relationship with CON verse PEAR (PEER). Thus there is money transfer from the USA to Nigeria, but not official 10/10/10 style and under central control, rather individual relationships and individual donations, mostly to the North and mostly for Christian education, for in the North the government schools will try to force Islam. The relationship between CANA and CON is more canonical, as that was one area that greatly upset +Minns with AMiA/PEER, however, since one basis of the Washington Statement, trying to turn a personality conflict into a theological Presbyterian-style heresy were the “Romanish cannons,” that were passed FOUR YEARS before anyone got their panties into a bunch — thus showing few bothered to read them (and that canons obviously are not that important to PEARUSA folks or maybe TheAM or PEAR). I could not comment how many in CANA, other than +Minns, that canonical structure would be important. I can say some of the same elements that split the AMiA are inside CANA, except that there no single strong willed personality type to be a lightning rod, +Dobbs has taken over for +Minns, also neither created the “high office” mentality, so dissenting voices were more blown off than crushed. Also the relationship is much looser between parish and CANA and CANA and CON. One other difference is CON is just plain HUGE at 25 million (about 1/3 of the Anglican Communion, so if you’re an “average Anglican,” chances are you’re female, under 35 years old and living in the Sub-Saharan and odds are in Nigeria), were PEAR is actually small and minority faith of the friends of power. So when a friend help Reformed Episcopal Seminary form a relationship with CON, this “outside” (though +Minns and +Dobbs both know this gentleman personally) connection is not viewed as a threat or interference as it might in a Rwandan/PEARUSA context.

    I think that last point deserves attention. I once attended a missionary plug with a couple that works with the Chinese registered churches, which is hard road in the US to collect money, for we like binary good/bad worldviews, however, the husband had an interesting line he kept returning to, “You have no idea how large and populated China is, so whatever you’ve heard about China, I’ll tell you somewhere it’s probably true.” With 25 million, there probably such a range of diverse opinions, that hard to give a specific description (at least not as narrow as one can give with PEAR).

    1. I’m sure the situations in Nigeria and Rwanda are totally different, and that CANA is a different animal from PEAR USA. I like Bishops Dobbs from my interactions (limited) with him. I think the continued existence of CANA is odd given the reality of ACNA, and I have a hunch that it continues as a hedge against a possible future implosion of ACNA.

      1. I’d concur that CANA’s continued existence is odd. CANA tends to be a spectrum oversight, in that there are Nigerian congregations who want to hold onto strong ties to CON and Virginia 11 (with Church of the Word no longer a part due to terms of settlement and Robin+ pointing to ACNA connection after the term is up) which have a weak link to CANA and a stronger link ADV of ACNA – they probably fall into insurance policy description. +Dobbs is interesting that he still holds his position in Barnabas Fund USA, though there was a bit of “purple fever” in the early days of CANA and with ACNA there’s not the same need, so a tad top heavy due to circumstances of the early days. Most of the CANA bishops will be retired and +Dobbs is mostly keeping the shop open for those in the spectrum of insurance policy to Nigerians who want the CON connection.

  3. It is heartening to see that this article is being read outside the academic context for which it was intended. Readers of this blog and comment thread may be interested to know that the ideas in that paper have since been developed into several chapters in my recent book, “Backpacking through the Anglican Communion: A Search for Unity”, more information on which can be found at all the usual book places online and at

    Best wishes,
    Jesse Zink

    1. Thanks Mr. Zink. I would love to read your book and hope to check it out soon. Does it cover Rwanda at all?

  4. One purpose of religion is to ground us in something greater than ourselves [a terrible paraphrase of Evelyn Underhill]. Another purpose is to give us hope. Jesus Christ came to give us the greatest hope of all, to be reconciled with the Father despite our profoundly fallen nature. As a former CANA-ite and with friends who do extensive mission work in Africa under very challenging conditions, I guess I would be wildly surprised if the Anglican Church [and other denominations] were NOT of a pentecostal flavor and if on occasion a cleric with a personal passion for the Gospel did not sound just a little Joel Osteen-ish. Nearly half the Anglican Communion resides in Africa and it is growing furiously because Christianity does provide hope. It is the message of true hope which endures when one strong-man leader over throws another one, or after Boko Haram pillages the village next to yours. And in the drudgery of everyday life, I would imagine the luxurious spirituality of Sunday is a welcomed relief.

    1. I dunno why that should surprise you. Are Pentecostalism and prosperity preaching closer to the essence of the faith than historic Protestant spirituality (defined as widely as possible)? I don’t see why they should be the assumed ground. I’m all for luxurious spirituality; I think that’s what results from the (evident) zeal of the Nigerian church poured into trusting the promises of God’s covenant love (in our colourful African flavour, lol). But not religion as performance art–which is I see most of these innovations as. I *love* our West African dancing and singing and drumming, but Christ should be the centre of our church services, not us and not those things.

      As a postscript, my Nigerian context is in the southwest (this is incidentally where Anglicanism is strongest). Most of my family is still there. I hope to return there. We are not in any immediate danger from Boko Haram. They’re still in the north. They’re simply an existential threat (b/c the gov’t seems weaker than them), and more importantly, the ongoing persecutors of our brethren in the north. All that to say: the Pentecostalism I describe is a comfortable one, by Nigerian standards.

      100% echo that last clause you write, though. The relief (and renewed hope) from confessing Christ with many believers is my favourite part of Sunday.

  5. You’d be hard-pressed to say that Nigerian Anglicans have bought into the prosperity gospel knowing the ones I know. I’m thinking of one missionary bishop who follows nomadic tribes – the Fulani – around on a camel. Archbishop Ben Kwashi has had his house burned down by Boko Haram three times. One of the impressions that is easy to get is that Nigerians are flashy about wealth, and they are. One friend puts it – they’re like the New Yorkers of Africa. Hasty generalizations aside – I think you’ve gotten this one wrong. The same accusation could be said about American Christians of all stripes, including Anglicans.

    1. Lee, this is based on a guy who spent time in the country and did research. I wouldn’t be so quick to dismiss it.

  6. I wrote my Th.M. Thesis at Duke on this topic. The spiritual influence of the prosperity gospel has serious political influence in negative ways. Additionally, CON is much more politically influential in Nigerian life than the above states.

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