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Background to the Study
Christian evangelization has spread through the face of the earth. This is made possible by the aid of relevant strategies that appealed to the converts. The methods adopted vary from era to era. But all aim at evangelization of the people.
Evangelization is the effort made by the Christians to preach the words of God to others for the purpose of converting them to Christian faith or to inspire other Christians to uphold and maintain their faith. Strategy is the method adopted to ensure successful evangelization.
Evangelization in Christianity can be traced to the time of Jesus Christ when he sent out the disciples instructing them on what to do and how to do it. On his resurrection from death Mt 28:18-20, Mk16; 15, Jesus gave the disciples the great commission – to preach the gospel to all the ends of the world. So from inception, Christianity has been made to spread and survive through evangelization. Wikipedia (2010) noted that:
Through history, Christians have used many different approaches to spread Christianity via practice of evangelism. Christianity began with only a few different evangelical approaches, but over the years many different forms of evangelical approaches have been employed by various groups to spread the faith (n.p).
This evangelization is not be haphazard but follows a laid down pattern and bears a target. This is why it undertakes the preaching of the gospel by using relevant strategies.
Born in to the era when writing technology has come into existence, the early Christians embarked on the use of writing to enhance and spread the gospel; hence St. Paul’s letters, St Peter’s letters, St. John’s letters, the apologists etc. Withstanding the face of persecution formed a very strong strategy in the era of persecution. To this Renwick (1977) stated that “in 180 AD, there appears on the page of history a strong vigorous church with its members suffering martyrdom fearlessly in the remote communities of Madura and Scilla. Tertullian Cyprian and Augustine, were all member of the church and left an indelible impression on the ages which came after them” (p.39). Those who valiantly lost their lives were declared martyrs; a title which inspired solid faithfulness to proclamation of membership to Christendom. Hence Tertullian declared that the blood of the martyr is the seed of Christianity (Ferguson, 1973:20).
The era of Christian revival saw another phase of evangelization. Radical evangelism which challenged the ritualistic worship of the Church, swept through Europe and America. Wikipedia (2011), stated that “many Christian revivals drew inspiration from the missionary work of the early Monks.” This
Christian revival era of 17th-18th centuries brought Christianity to the slaves and their work of evangelism challenged established authority in the Church. John
Wesley’s preaching inspired a great revival in the Church of England which emphasized individual conversion and justification by faith that led them to be called evangelicals (Keen, 2011:np). The evangelization of this era incited rancor and division between the old traditionalists who insisted on ritual and doctrine and the new revivalists. This evangelistic style breathed new life into Christianity and people became passionately involved in their religion. The traditionalists were regarded as “Old Lights”, while the revivalists ministers were known as “New Lights”. As time went on, there was increasing desire to take the Gospel to where it has not been heard.
The arrival of Christianity to West African adopted many strategies to achieve its purpose its purpose of establishing Christianity in West Africa. Such strategies include schools, catechism, medical services, mission community, churches, welfare services, etc. These strategies met the demands
of the time and yielded success especially in the era of 19th to 20th centuries. Though there seemed not to be a deep-rooted conversion, as many hankered over what they were to gain from the white man. They looked for such gains like freedom from oppression, welfare services, medical attention etc.
The response differed between individuals and communities as well. Achunike (2002) stated that “modes of reception however were varied from one community to another. One community could be enthusiastic in their reception of Christianity while others would be reluctant. But the important
fact is that the Igbo were Christianized” (p.5). The missionaries succeeded in planting Christianity in Igboland via the methods adopted.
As time went on, events of the time took shape to the realities of the moment and so did Christianity. The growing complexity of the society made new demands on the activities that surround man’s live. At independence, the indigenous nationalist who felt there was need for reformation from the suppression of the white man embarked on clarion call on all. The missionaries and colonialists were seen to be complimentary ally. Hence Omenka (2005) stated that:
a new beginning took form in the 19th century not only in the emancipation of slaves. A humanitarian gesture that was spearheaded by the evangelicals but also in the re-appraisal of the overall mission theories and methods to include the provision of a peaceful and stable environment on which the Christian message could grow. This in turn led to a mutually complimentary union between Christianity, commerce and colonialism (p.35-36).
The racism of the white men gave rise to the realization of the segregative and exploitative attitude of the white men. The desire for native church became apparent and mere preaching on revival of the cultural tenets encouraged people to join the independent churches among other spiritual reasons. The independent churches like the Aladura started operating in full force and their strategy of miracles and visions attracted many convents.
The Nigeria-Biafra war created a boom for the independent churches who claim to offer solution to the problems of the war-torn Igbo through miracles. Ojo (2010) enumerated the line of origin of the various churches in Nigeria, of
which the mainline churches were the earliest. The Aladura came up later while the Pentecostals and the charismatic movements are the most recent (p.3). These churches as they are found in Nigeria constitute the breeds of Christianity in Igboland.
The Nigeria-Biafra war just like any other war infested the nation and most especially Biafra with the usual ravaging characteristics of war torn area. The people were confronted with a lot of social, religious, psychological, political and economic problems which were yearning for attention or solution. Anything that seems to alleviate the hopeless situation was most warmly welcome. Should there be any side effect; it was not the consideration of the people in desperation.
The effect of Nigeria-Biafra war created avenue for many “ fraudulent and counterfeit” solution to issues and experiences such as fake prayer houses, visionaries etc, in the society and in the church. Madiebo (1980) expressed the hopeless situation when he wrote mentioning the opinion of the different meetings of different leaders who advised that the war should be stopped. Their suggestion was born out of the consideration of the level of humiliating agony the people were passing through (p.369). The people were saddled with the problem of rehabilitation, and especially in urgency. They paid no attention to values and standards for such solutions. The orthodox churches seemed not to provide the desired answer to the immediate problem which they felt must be given urgent attention. Hence the Aladura, prayer houses and the Pentecostals
traded their unique capacity to draw down the power of the divine which is an affiliation of the nature of Africans, so it thrived well. Ojo (2010), identified that “in the 1970’s Pentecostals directed their teaching to the transformation of the individual. The most noticeable of these changes is in the emphasis on healing” (p.41). Many people who equally needed the rehabilitation took to opening of prayer houses, not for sincere religious service to the people, but as a way of alleviating their problems too, as people will contribute to the prayer houses. The true situation and the later consequential instances were hidden under the platform of attending to the immediate confusion and problem created by the war. The war-torn people were unaware of the rearing head of the dangers thereof.
Fundamentalists’ type of Christian evangelism arose from among the Pentecostals to tackle the rather seeming liberal teaching of the Orthodox churches. The Orthodox were seen by the Pentecostals as weak to the realities of the moment and fundamental to the inability of Christians to harness their capabilities. Therefore, they arose to stop the acclaimed derailing of the church and to protect the Christian faith and the biblical teachings. Hence they engaged in radical evangelism to keep to the teaching of the Bible without compromise. They can be referred to as fanatical or conservative Christians. These were found among the Pentecostals. According to Synan (1988):
the name fundamentalist connotes conservatism or rigid
observance of religious doctrines. Evangelical fundamentalism arose as a reaction to the liberal
teachings of the 19th century higher critics and subsequent movement known as ‘modernism’. Fundamentalists saw themselves as defenders of Orthodox Christianity against other evangelicals who were attempting to accommodate faith to the realities of modern world (p.325).
Their radicalism in evangelism is portrayed in the use of evil and good in solving what happens on earth. Hence the evil must be attacked as it is from the devil, making their evangelism appear warlike. The insistence on purity of faith and conduct portrays the Nigeria Pentecostals as fundamentalism Okorocha (1987) stated that:
Pentecostals in a radical biblical literalism, combine the moral austerity of early Christian pietism with millennialism and exuberance of modern Pentecostals, but seek to anchor all these in a strict Biblicism which reminds us of the European pre-reformation humanist (p.274).
The situation of evangelization in recent time has grown out of the development from war effect. The mode and the strategy reflect and promote the prevalent issues of the society. Capitalizing on the economic, political, and social conditions of the people, it has been possible for the Christians of the moment to appeal to the conscience of the people through promises of miracles in order to address their problems. Hence the various tags of crusades and revivals such as miracle basket, prosperity and wealth crusades etc. Evangelization is seen and taken as a means to approach the people to bring them closer to God through Christ Jesus. Hence with the advancement in technology and social taste of the people, the evangelists and other brands of Christians engage various strategies not only to convert people to Christianity,
but to bring them over to their own church, as well as to ensure that they do not loose the faith engraved in the converts. These modem strategies include music, television, radio, the internet, telephone, open air crusades and revivals, preaching in the vehicles etc. It is deemed pertinent by the researcher to engage in an evaluation of these evangelization strategies used by the Christians in this modern era.
Statement of Problem
Evangelization as part and parcel of Christianity has yielded the spread of Christianity to the ends of the earth. The process in some cases is slow while in others sporadic. Murphy (2010) suggested that:
with long historical roots, church historians and scholars will agree that one of the reasons why Christianity grew fast and wide in Roman Empire was because of their charitable works. Emperor Justinian saw that the church was not only taking care of their own but also serving the needs of those outside their faith community. He recognizes that this was the reason so many were leaving paganism to join this new faith and demanded that his priests fallow suit (n. p).
The missionaries who brought Christianity to Igboland converted some people through evangelization.
Evangelization took a new turn with the civil war event. In answer to the hopeless situation of the war-torn people, many prophets, healers, visionaries came into existence. Evangelization took a sporadic turn. As a seeming solution to the problem of the time, the people trooped to crusade grounds, prayer houses, healing homes etc. These strategies for spreading the word of
God, spearheaded by the Pentecostals bears with it some strength and weaknesses. As stated by the Vladimir, (2010), “no single strategy is perfect. There are strengths and weaknesses in each strategy and each should be looked at equally”.
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