Academic journal article International Review of Mission

Ecumenical Tensions among Nigerian Christians: Lessons from Vatican II

Academic journal article International Review of Mission

Ecumenical Tensions among Nigerian Christians: Lessons from Vatican II

Article excerpt

Abstract

This article focuses on recent disturbing trends opposed to Christian unity in Nigeria that have both remote and immediate causes. Although the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) was formed to promote unity among the various Christian denominations in the country, it has not been able to achieve its goal. After describing this present situation and the historical factors that caused it, this paper looks to the resources of the Second Vatican Council which CAN should adopt to ease the tension in the country and promote greater dialogue. The article looks at the Roman Catholic-Lutheran Declaration that was signed in 1999, and officially resolved the disagreements that led to the split led by Martin Luther in 1517. Finally this paper looks at the style of Pope Francis as a living example of effective ecumenism and interfaith dialogue.

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Nigerian Christians are divided along a variety of denominations introduced through colonialism. Such denominations include the following churches: mainline Roman Catholic, Anglican Communion, Baptist, Evangelical and Reformed. In recent times, there has been an enormous proliferation of charismatic and Pentecostal denominations derived from the older denominations. The result is the presence of a multiplicity of indigenous missionary activities that are geared toward attacking each other. The situation tends to be worse when people tailor community events, like marriage, along denominational lines.

To minimize the tense situation, the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) was formed in 1976, budding on the already existing Northern Christian Association which "was formed in 1964 in response to the threat of Islamic expansionism and its political domination." (1) The membership of CAN falls under six church groups: Catholic Secretariat of Nigeria, Christian Council of Nigeria, Christian Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria/Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria, Organization of Africa Instituted Churches, and TEKAN [Tarrayar Ekklisiyjoyin Kristi A Nigeria (Fellowship of the Churches of Christ in Nigeria)] (2) and ECWA [Evangelical Church of West Africa] Fellowship. (3) Even though CAN was formed to bring all the denominations together, there is still considerable suspicion among the denominations as is evident in their attacks on one another in the media.

The focus of this paper is to propose forms of collaboration among the denominations which could contribute to the development of ecumenism according to the teachings of the Second Vatican Council (Vatican II). Ordinarily, worship services and mass media should not be used as indigenous missionary activities against other denominations. The current relationship among Nigerian Christians calls for much concern given the presence of suspicion and mutual distrust. Denominational factionalism is breeding corrupt elements within Christianity that are destroying Christian unity in Nigeria. Given the antagonistic relationship between Christians and Muslims, it is strongly desired that Christians work together to create a positive civil society and protect themselves against the incessant Muslim attacks in the country.

This article discusses the point of contention that leads to Christian misunderstanding and identifies other issues that are obstacles to Christian unity in Nigeria. It draws on the insights of Vatican II to foster ecumenism in Nigeria and appraises the Catholic-Lutheran Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification, signed in Augsburg, Germany, in 1999 (4) that attempted to realize the dreams of Vatican II. It concludes by examining the ecumenical works of Pope Francis which enflesh the teachings of Vatican II. With this synopsis the essay turns to consider the most serious "bone of contention" in ecumenical efforts in Nigeria.

Point of contention

Among other differences between Catholics and Protestants, the biggest challenge is their views on the sufficiency and authority of the Bible. …

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