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"Miracles" in Nigeria: An evaluation of unusual occurrences

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Archives / 2010 / April

 

 

"Miracles" in Nigeria: An evaluation of unusual occurrences

Adelowo Felix Adetunji
Adelowo Felix Adetunji, PhD, is senior lecturer in Comparative Religion and Mission, and chair, religious studies department, Babcock University, Ikeja, Lagos States, Nigeria.

 

 

Fulfilment of the gospel commission is a central reason for the existence of the church (Matt. 28:19, 20). As a backing, Jesus gave the surety of His presence everywhere the disciples went— hence, the rapid growth of the early church. Along with this church growth was the manifestation of God’s power in miracles and wonders, as it was in Christ’s ministry and those of the apostles. It is also listed as part of the spiritual gifts for believers.

While recognizing the blessings of miracles, the Bible also declares that Christendom will be beset by false workers performing miracles. These, among others, are presented as a sign of the end in Matthew 24:24, 25.

This article will look at some aspects of the religious scene in Nigeria and see what lessons we can learn for the church as a whole.

Miracles and church growth

Some scholars have argued that the effects of miracles, church growth, and planting cannot be overemphasized, and they cite numerous examples, such as the claim that groups “which claim to be able to stimulate and effect faith healing in people’s physical, financial and social health are most popular . . . [such] have a throng of followers who are hoping for ‘faith healing.’”

Two points can be derived from this account: the first supports the fact that miracles can attract an audience; second, instead of a means to an end, they become the end in themselves. Commenting on the latter, Ellen G. White states that the people “did not seek Him [Christ] from any worthy motive; but as they had been fed with the loaves, they hoped still to receive temporal benefit by attaching themselves to Him. . . . Seek not merely for material benefit. Let it not be the chief effort to provide for the life that now is, but seek for spiritual food.”1

S. O. Abogunrin makes a similar observation by stating that “people appear in their thousands in churches and crusade grounds (both Christians and non-Christians), not seriously seeking after Christ or spiritual food, but for miracles . . . healing miracles have actually become the ‘real thing’ or the most current issue in African Christianity today.”2

Signs and wonders?

In Nigeria, we have examples of church leaders who “claim similar abilities and soliciting for similar large followings”3 This approach has led to syncretism, which is “the fusion of different religious doctrines or a reconciliation of conflicting religious beliefs.”4 In this case, for example, there comes to play the mixture of magical power with Christian “faith and practices.” John Ogu asserts that many of the so-called miracles today “are fabrications intended to attract crowds and make money.”5 According to the Nigeria Broadcasting Commission (NBC), the majority of the so-called miracles are used as baits to “lure people to the various churches.”6

Bidemi Oyelade explains that the establishment of churches in Nigeria today is considered to be one of quickest ways to amass wealth. As a result of this, questionable churches and prophets are springing up. As “many of these prophets . . . want to make names, they want their voice to be heard, and they want to create awareness and recognition at all cost so they abandoned the real purpose of evangelization which is preaching to prophesy.”7

At some Christian gatherings, strange events have been witnessed. It is reported that self-proclaimed prophet T. B. Joshua wiggles his hand toward the congregation, and immediately a corresponding reaction follows. There are also instances of healing in which the healer touches the same part of his body to effect healing in the corresponding part of the sufferer. A source explains the incidence thus, “In one healing for a mouth severely damaged, he pounds and rubs over and over his own mouth pointing the other hand toward the afflicted woman’s mouth. Ectoplasm with blood comes from her mouth as she is supposedly healed. This is not Bible healing but sorcery.”8

Another relevant aspect of magical power is associated with the use of ritual symbols. Here, power is associated with individuals, objects, and postures that are represented by the rituals. To onlookers, such ritual symbols may appear ordinary but are essential parts of the recipes for effective magical results. If the ritual conditions are met, people believe that “power” would be released for the desired objectives.

Apart from magic, other forms, such as syncretism, are also evident in the Nigerian churches. For example, in T. B. Joshua’s church in Ikotun-Egbe, Lagos, there supposedly was a picture having an inscription in English and Arabic of the Islamic belief that “there is no God but Allah.” This declaration implies the denial of God having come in the flesh. The Bible expressly condemns such an assertion (1 John 2:22, 23; 4:1).

Biblical admonitions

The Scriptures are not silent on this matter. The Bible gives helpful insights.

• Leviticus 19:31; 20:6—reckoning with such powers set people against the living God.

• Deuteronomy 18:9–12—the Israelites warned not to practice these abominations, as did the people of the land they inherited.

• 1 Samuel 28—consultation with a similar power spelled Saul’s final doom.

• Isaiah 8:19—God’s people should seek their God instead of the power of the devil.

• Acts 13:4–12—Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, called Elymas the sorcerer (v. 8), a child of the devil, enemy of all righteousness, one who perverts the right ways of God (v. 10), and went blind by the power of God (v. 11).

God, in His foreknowledge, warned the church of individuals who would gain people’s attention through false miracles and wonders. Such Bible prophecies and their warning messages include • Matthew 7:15—such are wolves in sheep’s clothing.

• Matthew 24:24, 25; Mark 13:22, 23—Christ’s warnings against false christs and prophets who would work wonders so much that the elect would possibly be deceived.

• 2 Peter 2:1–3—false teachers that would attract many people with falsehood at the expense of the truth. Such would exploit the innocent ones through made-up stories.

• Revelation 16:13, 14—the unity of the dragon, beast, and false prophets working miracles through the spirits of devils.

• Revelation 19:20; 20:10—the final doom for both the beast and false prophets.

In connection with these prophecies, Ellen White says, “Satan and his angels will come down with power and signs and lying wonders to deceive those who dwell on the earth and, if possible the very elect. The crisis is right upon us.”9 This warning is clear and it carries a sense of urgency.

The possible roots

What is the source of these false manifestations? Among the evangelistic strategies employed by the missionaries in colonial Africa, healing and the eradication of the roots of suffering, diseases, and illnesses ranked most successful. In essence, missionaries and African evangelists who succeeded in offering healing and protection for the people won more converts.10 This is not unconnected with the physical, spiritual, economic, and psychological conditions of a typical African. For instance, the people believe that every misfortune comes from magical attack, witches, wizards, or other demonic powers in their environments.

This religio-cultural setting encourages the desire for miracles to cure diseases and resolve other distressing situations. The fear of these malevolent agents is, therefore, so deeply rooted that both modern education and religions cannot totally eradicate them. “In fact, it seems to be gaining further momentum in the society, with the recent emergence of secret cults in Nigerian Universities.”11 There is no doubt that any religion or individual that does not only claim, but also demonstrates, the power to deliver from those oppressive forces will not only win such person’s attention but also their affection. Today in Nigeria, there is hardly a well-known denomination or ministry that is not linked with the performance of miracles.12 Akosah-Sarpong, who monitored this trend in Nigeria, observes that West Africa has the highest concentration of spiritual churches focusing on miraculous manifestations on the continent. Here, according to him, people can spend a whole day in churches seeking for miracles and visions for their insurmountable problems. He puts it this way, “Most miracles can just be a street-side entertainment scene, drawing the unemployed, busybodies or the plain curious . . . [and] ignorant that are too weak to think and explain their daily problems in clear terms. As West Africa shows, the boom in spiritual churches and the juju-marabou mediums have seen the commercialization of miracles, making it unsacred and undermining its divine nature.”13

What can we learn from this?

We are in the midst of the great controversy between Christ and Satan. Genuine miracles come from God in response to the prayer of His people and for His own glory. Magic or sorcery, on the other hand, is satanic in origin and works by coercion through manipulation and tends to boost the ego of the magician. Some of these “miracles” tend to follow magical principles and rituals. However, since mystical powers, such as magic, are condemned in the Bible, it comes to the church in the garb of miracles and wonders. The waves of these “miracles” are reaching every nook and cranny of the country through the media.

However overtly manifested here in Nigeria, the world church must be careful about the issue of miracles, signs, and wonders. So-called miracles can be performed anywhere, for the great controversy wages everywhere. We have been warned about false teachings, false christs, false prophets, and false miracles. We must take those warnings seriously. Our safety centers in the Word of God: “To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them” (Isa. 8:20, KJV).

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1 Ellen G. White, The Desire of Ages (Boise, ID: Pacific Press,
1940), 384, 385.

2 S. O. Abogunrin, preface to Biblical Healing in African
Context, Bible Study Series, eds., S.O. Aboginorin et. al.,
(Ibadan, Nigeria: A Publication of the Nigerian Association
for Biblical Studies, 2004), ix.


3 Don. O. Akhilomeh, “Faith Healing and the Spirit of
Beelzebub: A Critical Appraisal of Pentecostal Practices in
Nigeria,” in S. O. Aboginorin et. al., eds., Biblical Healing in
African Context, 175.


4 Joseph Kenny, Paul Oye, and Segun Taiwo, “Church
Contextualization in Nigeria, 1970–1990.” Paper given at
AECAWA Seminar, Ikeja, Lagos, from www.diafrica.org.

5 Adeola Balogun, “Being a Traditional Ruler Does Not
Conflict With My Duties as a Clergyman—Rev. John Ogu,”
http://www.punchng.com/Articl.aspx?theartic=
Art200808300294423
(accessed Feb. 23, 2010).

6 Geoffrey Ekenna, “Miracle and Magic,” Newswatch, April
19, 2004, 15.

7 Bidemi Oyelade, “Failed Predictions ’08: These Men of God
Goofed,” Sunday Sun, January 18, 2009, 4, 8.

8 “Clueless in Nigeria?,” Let Us Reason Ministries, http://
www.letusreason.org/Poptea8.htm
(accessed Feb. 23,
2010).

9 Ellen G. White, Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary
(Washington, DC: Review and Herald, 1980), 7:982.

10 L. Lugwuanya, “Medicine, Spiritual Healing and African
Response: Concerns of Christianity in Africa in Twenty-First
Century,” African Theological Journal 23, no. 1, (2000): 30,
quoted in A. M. Okorie, “The Healing Miracles of Jesus in
the African Context,” Biblical Healing in African Context,
193.

11 Kenny, Oye, and Taiwo.

12 Ibid.

13 Akosah-Sarpong, “The Trouble with African Miracles,”
www.ghanaweb.com.

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