There’s the usual church scenario – Preacher teaches about hell, the pain, the suffering, the torment, the heat, whilst the pianist plays the strings sound effect. Let me tell you about the strings sound effect. It’s a piano effect what the pianist plays that gives you the goosebumps that validate “God’s presence is here”. But, that’s not all. The choir comes up with the almighty hymn – I surrender all. And if it’s a more modern church, Oceans by Hillsong. For emphasis, the preacher ensures that he adds the usual ad-libs in between the song – “Do you really surrender all?” or the popular “If you die today will you make heaven”.
Depending on the kind of church, the scenario can be slightly different with either a film about heaven and hell or a “10 days in hell testimony” as an alternative to the message from the pastor. But the flow remains the same.
And there’s the response – tears, feelings of regret, silence in the church, and to wrap it all up into one perfect Sunday (or Wednesday service) – the altar call.
Then the cycle goes on and on and on. What I find amazing and sometimes mind boggling is how there is never an end to the call and response. Week in, week out. And many times, the measure of the success of the service is on how well people respond to the “call”.
If you are a Nigerian Christian, then the above scenario is relatable because there’s a very high chance that you’ve been under such at least once or twice in your lifetime (if you’re very fortunate). And I speak for the Nigerian Christianity as opposed to the broader picture of African Christianity as that generalisation might either sound very outrageous or inappropriate since the only African churches I’ve been to are in Nigeria.
No man has seen God
Not the prophets, pastors or even the critics. The spread of the Christian faith relies heavily on sharing one’s testimony of faith. Which of course means that it can be diluted by bias, personal prejudice or psychological state of the messenger. And because we are only as good as the one who teaches us, we grow with those biases not giving adequate time to question them but taking it all in – hook, line and bias. Some of them become pastors, influencers and the cycle continues on larger scales, which suggests that everything we learnt about God, about Faith and the Church, were learned (and can be unlearned).
Where did you learn to be Christian?
When we think of Christianity in Nigerian, we imagine the chaos, disorderliness and problems. We think of a construct that would take a while to unravel. And whilst it might be, the major work required to remodel is simple, albeit foundational. So, maybe the chaos is a product of a fundamental issue which is the process through which the person was introduced to the Christian faith. And maybe it is something that can be set right with one step, one move, one correction, one question. When actually, it can.
Were you taught about a God of Love, Joy, Forgiveness, Peace and of all, Grace?
Were you introduced to a destroying God – the consuming fire as aliased, the bearded being with arms ever ready to spank?
Or were you introduced to one that loves, that stays, that gives (even when you don’t) and one that is present even when you mess up?
Because you will constantly view the Christian faith through the lenses through which it was introduced to you. The needful is to help the person see God through rightly interpreted bible scripture and watch every other preconcieved bias fizzle out.
The next time you find a Nigerian Christian – one who holds firmly to the Nigerian Cultural biases and has allowed that determine his/her outlook on the Christian faith, we shouldn’t fail to ask the one question we ought to ask – Where did you learn to be Christian?
Sometimes, that alone solves the problem.
Bolu Akindele is a freelance writer and journalist whose work covers religion, human interest stories and development across Nigeria and increasingly, West Africa.