The Churches in Nigeria—Where Is the Moral Influence?
By “Awake!” correspondent in Nigeria
A NIGERIAN government official told religious leaders: “You have lost [your] grip on your members.” He was referring to the current wave of crimes and immoral behavior on the part of many church members.
The government official also stated: “A new God of materialism has been installed . . . a century and a quarter of Christianity has not confirmed us in faith.” A university student observed that the social climate in Nigeria was one of “blatant disregard for law and order.”
This social climate is reflected among youths. Religious leaders blame this on the absence of religious instruction in schools. However, the lack of discipline is more rampant among adults than among youths. Teachers are often accused of introducing immorality to their students. Parents are blamed for not training their children and for not setting a right example for them. Many of these adults were instructed in church schools.
The Sunday Chronicle observed: “Time was when religious instruction was taken seriously. . . . However, recent probe findings do not seem to show that those who emerged from the missionary schools subsequently really put into practice what they learnt.”
This decline in influence by the churches is a recent one. What is the reason for it?
The Climate in the Churches
Many people blame church leaders. A Sunday Statesman correspondent said that the clergy had “abandoned the traditional code of conduct of the Great Master” and seemed “to love the world more than the ministry.” “Although they preach God,” declared a college professor, “they have mostly forsaken Him in their pursuit of material things.” Retired Anglican Bishop Kale, too, admitted that “officers of the Church have not all been upholding the . . . principles of Christian standards and life.”
Then there is the involvement in politics. Government leaders have criticized the churches for “mixing religion with politics.” In 1979, the then head of state reminded religious leaders of the evil results when they “openly encouraged” the political excesses that caused the Nigerian Civil War of 1967-1969. With reference to the same war, a Sunday Chronicle editorial spoke of “the harm that political religion can do.”
This editorial showed another misuse of political influence by the churches. It referred to their various calls “for the banning of certain religious sects.” Thus, the churches use political influence against other religions, often in the context of nationalism. And an Evening Times report noted: “Of all the religious sects operating in Africa, the worst victims [of persecution] have been the Jehovah’s Witnesses.”
In addition, there is the disunity existing within each denomination. There are repeated cases of struggles between church factions. Some groups break away and set up their own churches. Others turn away to paganism or to atheistic philosophies.
Perhaps the real reason for all of this is the lack of Bible education. The Anglican archbishop of Nigeria admitted that university graduates were “poorly equipped in knowledge of the essentials of our religion.” Another clergyman noted that “many of the highly secularly educated believers . . . know very little or nothing about the Bible.”
It is true that various religious denominations operate schools. Yet religious instruction in such schools has not produced good results.
What about teaching Christian morals right in the churches? This is what church services lack most. Generally a Bible text is simply read as a prelude to a social or a political sermon. Obviously, if sermons are politics-oriented and services are ritualistic and uninstructive, the moral influence is bound to be hindered. Christian congregations should be centers not for political indoctrination or unbiblical doctrines but for moral training, education in Christian living and Bible study. Happily, there are congregations that do meet this standard.
What About Jehovah’s Witnesses?
Let us examine the impact of the Witnesses as a moral force. Do they conform to the Bible’s requirements?
MORALS: The Bible says that Christians must not be corrupt or immoral or undisciplined. (1 Cor. 6:9-11; Eph. 4:25-32; 5:3-12) Though subject to the pressures of these “last days,” Jehovah’s Witnesses strive to avoid wrong practices. (2 Tim. 3:1-5) Wrongdoers are helped to adjust so that they can conform to God’s laws. But those who persist in unchristian conduct are expelled from the congregation. (Gal. 6:1; 1 Cor. 5:11, 13) Sociologist Bryan Wilson observed that African Witnesses “have been uniquely successful in getting their following to keep high standards of moral rigour and self-discipline.”
Even criminals have noted this. When a group of prisoners at Warri invited Jehovah’s Witnesses to visit them, they said: “We belong to the churches but we have not been helped to develop a good character. We have seen that Jehovah’s Witnesses are different. There are none here in prison. We want you to give us some of that medicine that makes your people so good.” They were shown that it is the Bible, not some “medicine,” that produces the change. So a Bible study class was started in the prison.
Many who have been discharged from prison have associated with congregations in Warri. Others have asked for letters of introduction to congregations in their villages. They are now teaching others to be Christians. Prison officials appreciate the help given to these men that has produced their changed conduct.
POLITICS: The Bible says that the kingdom of Christ is “no part of this world.” Those who become friends of the world are called ‘enemies of God.’ (John 18:36; 15:19; Jas. 4:4) Yet many church leaders disagree with God’s Word.
One clergyman said that the refusal of Jehovah’s Witnesses to become involved in politics portrays them “as enemies of [the] nation.” But political leaders have condemned the clergy, not Jehovah’s Witnesses, for dabbling in politics.
Such statements by clergymen show that Jehovah’s Witnesses stand solidly in line with the Bible’s instruction. Furthermore, their neutrality on political and military issues has made them stable and trustworthy citizens wherever they may live.
SOCIAL AND RELIGIOUS ACTIVITIES: The Bible says that “pure, unspoilt religion” is this: “Coming to the help of orphans and widows when they need it, and keeping oneself uncontaminated by the world.”—Jas. 1:27, The Jerusalem Bible.
Jehovah’s Witnesses minister to people’s human needs without material profit to themselves. But greater attention is paid to people’s spiritual needs and to the evangelizing work that Jesus has assigned to Christians. They go out to “make disciples of people of all the nations, . . . teaching them to observe” all of Jesus’ commands. (Matt. 28:19, 20) This impresses people. Clergyman David J. Usen, while asserting that Jehovah’s Witnesses were not Christians, indicated that they were following the counsel of Christ. He called on church members to imitate them.
Usen said that the “majority of Christians and Christian churches are static in life and witness,” whereas any “honest person who has ever come in contact with the Witnesses would be impressed by their zeal” in going to people to teach “the Bible and its message.” He said that church members “should note the importance which the Witnesses place on study circles which have produced their highly instructed people.”
Jehovah’s Witnesses focus on Bible education in their meeting places and homes. This, and their public preaching, makes them an influence for good in their families, congregations and in the community. This is remarkable when we consider that people prefer “their own pleasure to God” and “keep up the outward appearance of religion but . . . have rejected the inner power of it.”—2 Tim. 3:4, 5, JB.
Witnesses in all walks of life acknowledge that it is the insistence on adherence to the Bible that prevents worldly ways from invading their congregations. Speaking of her high school years, a young Witness and geologist said: “Although I used to desire the social activities of worldly youths, the truth was in my heart. This prevented me from doing the things others were doing and that I thought I wanted to do. Given the opportunity to share in these things, I realized that I did not really desire them. I continued to receive reminders at our congregational meetings and this served as a protection for me.”
Jehovah’s Witnesses will be happy to assist all those who want to practice the Christianity of the Bible. We invite you to get in touch with them locally or by writing to the publishers of this magazine. It can result in your embracing a way of life that has real power for good.
[Blurb on page 14]
‘What church services lack most is the teaching of Christian morals’
[Blurb on page 15]
“Give us some of that medicine that makes your people so good”