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Division among Christians in Akwukabi-Etche and the Need for Ecumenism

By 

Eche, Godwin Aturuchi (Ven.) Department of Religious and cultural Studies Ignatius Ajuru University of Education Rumuolumeni, Port Harcourt South-South, Nigeria. Email: godwineche1@gmail.com Mobile phone number: 08037744939 

Introduction 

No one Christian denomination can effectively fulfill the mandate given by the lord Jesus Christ in the Great commission “therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit…” without the involvement and co- operation of other Christian denominations. 

If this assertion is true, the need therefore for the joint partnership among the various Christian denominations in the land is inevitable. This partnership will no doubt hasten the realization and fulfillment of the injunction of the owner of the church in tackling injustice, discrimination, oppression, ungodliness and all other forms of vices in our world. 

The church militant is called into a holy warfare against all the spiritual forces of darkness in and outside the church. It is called upon to fight with all her might, the battle of her Lord both with offensive and defensive weapon at her disposal. This fight cannot be fought and won if the church is not united and fighting against itself. Jesus Christ himself warned that “if a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand” (mark 3:25, Luke 11:17). 

Kalu (1978) is of the view that the challenge of our world needs the response of a united church. For him, this unity of the church is not just a merger of institutions, but involves an understanding of the meaning of preaching the gospel which does not only involve having a common worship among the Christian churches of the world, but individual Christians as well. 

   Unity should be a process of establishing a community in order that human life may be developed. The goal is simply to confront alienation and injustice, not merely as issues to be resolved, but as part of the process leading to a renewed Christian expectation and calling. For the Roman Catholic Church, the unity has its real centre not found in the believers, but in the hierarchy with concentric circles. That is circles of same centre of the lower clergy, lesser functionaries, and small circle of bishops, narrower circle of Archbishops, and then the smallest circle of cardinals. The Pope is at the centre as the visible head of the entire organism. 

These views of the unity of the church by the Roman Catholic differ from that of the Protestants. The Protestants do not emphasize the unity of the church based on the external, but of the internal or spiritual consideration. It is the unity of the mystical body of Christ in which all believers are members. This body is controlled by one head-Jesus Christ, who is also the king and this body is animated by one spirit- the spirit of Christ. This unity means that the church share one faith cemented together by the common bond of love and possesses one same glorious hope upon the future. 

Church unity or ecumenism is the fundamental motive and ultimate purpose of the ecumenical movement, which in itself seeks to fill the gap created by divisions among those to whom Jesus Christ prayed for in John 17:21 “that all of them may be one” (NIV). 

Christianity in Akwukabi-Etche. 

Akwukabi is one of the autonomous communities in Etche Local Government Area of Rivers State. It belongs to the block known as Okehi Clan which is one of the largest kingdoms of Etche ethnic nationality. Akwukabi town is bounded in the north by Okehi, in the south by Ulakwo, in the east by Mba and in the west by Obibi towns. Akwukabi has nine villages Viz Umuode, Umuota, Ununwudu, Umuekwune, Umuarim, Umuokahia, Umuezibe, Umuechekutu and Ikem. These nine communities are classed into three viz Umuode, Umuota and Umunwudu are referred to as Omoaato; while Umuekwune, Umuarim, Umuokahia, Umuezibe and Umuechekutu are referred to as Onoma-ise. Ikem stand on its own. 

Before the coming of Christianity into Akwukabi, the people (like many traditional Etche communities) were religious. According to Amaele (2000): 

The worship of God in Etche right from origin has not been in doubt. It has not come as a result of western interference…. Hence “Chukwu” (big God) “Chikere Uwa” (the creator of the universe), Chineke (the spirit that creates), Onye Nwe Uwa (the owner of the universe) are among the different names and attributes of God in Etche land” (p:23). These views of Amaele are not disputable and so can be acceptable as being true of the typical Etche person, who attributes his successes and failures to the decision of the gods. For the Etche person (Akwukabi inclusive), he seeks to please the gods in his or her day to day activities in other to avert immanent punishment which may come to him as a result of his not doing what the gods expect. This view agrees with that of Idowu (1965) who described religion among Africans as “an unavoidable aspect of man’s life. And what is more, it has no adequate substitute. Those who have attempted it ended up enslaving themselves to cults of their own creation at the expense of worshipping the living God”. (p.5). 

Before the introduction of Christianity in Akwukabi, the people were worshippers of Amadioha, Ihieke and Ala deities. This has not stopped even with the coming of Christianity since there are still pockets of individuals who are devotees of these deities. However from inception, Akwukabi people have always believed in the Supreme Being who they refer to as Chineke (the god that creates). 

Akwukabi’s first contact with the Christian faith was in 1941 with the coming of the West African Episcopal Zion Church. “This church which came from Akwuochudele in 1941,… did not last long since the people were not satisfied with their pattern of worship and they were lacking in rendering of social services to the people” (Eche: 2005:71). 

Since according to Nkwoka (2000) “social concern and action is an inalienable part of the mission of church” (p.7). Akwukabi people rejected the West African Episcopal Zion Church, because this church lacked in this aspect. The result of this rejection was that in 1946, the converts of the erstwhile church sent a delegation to the superintendent pastor at St. Matthias Anglican Church, Okomoko/Egwi/Imuanyagu desiring to join the Anglican Church. Their request was granted and in January 1947, an Anglican church was started in Akwukabi. 

The Anglican Church started in Akwukabi was referred to as Onoma-ato NDP church because it was cited in Umuode-Akwukabi (this led to the other five villages who saw the Anglican as that of the Onoma- ato villages, to ask for the Seventh Day Adventist Church (SDA). The SDA church was planted in Akwukabi in about 1953 and was cited ar Umuezibe. The Apostolic Church was introduced in the 1960’s at Umuokahia. This church was an indigenous church started by an Etche man of Akwu Obour origin. 

According to Rev. Stanford Eche, the coming of the SDA church was occasioned by rivalry and community politics which have continued up till date. These two churches saw themselves as rivals and wanted to out do each other in terms of adding converts to their fold. Sometimes the rivalry climaxed to unhealthy competition which rather than helped the growth of Christianity, retarded it and plunged many whose faith was not strong to return back to paganism. 

No other church came to Akwukabi until the year 2000, when the Ark of God church came. This church was followed by the Assemblies of God Church, Cherubim and Seraphim Church, Deeper Life Bible Church, Redeemed Christian Church of God etc. As at 2016, there are over twenty (20) churches in Akwukabi. As the churches increased, so intra- denominational differences and rivalry increased hence the need for ecumenism. 

Christ meant that they may be one. It cannot be the will of Christ that there should be bitter rivalry and ill-will between branches of the church. Again looking at the life of any particular branch of the church in the past or present, it falls far short of being the body of Christ. 

Ecumenism 

The word Ecumenism comes from the Greek word “Oikoumene” meaning the whole inhabited earth (Kalu: 1999). In the Greek and Roman usage, it refers to a civilization that covered the whole world e.g. a world empire held together under common loyalty and standards. The word is used in terms with respect to the church under two considerations viz: (a) The church is called to evangelize the whole inhabited earth-that is a divine summons to world mission. According to Kraus (1980) “the primary task of the church is evangelism, that is the verbal proclamation of the word… as long as there were souls to be saved, the evangelistic task must have first priority”. (p. 20, 21). b) The church by its very nature is also summoned to recover its very nature is also summoned to recover its lost unity throughout the whole inhabited earth. In other words, mission and unity are considered together as the goals in the word ecumenism. Ecumenism in its simple sense is the means whereby each faith and religious group attempt to foster the desired unity among themselves through willingness, open-mindedness, co-operation, mutual understanding, tolerance, love, endurance, confidence, patience and with a heart to cherish and forgive one another, with a view to exhibiting the biblical concept of love (philia) which is what Christ desires. 

Causes of divisions and results 

No matter how one looks at it, there are no doubt schemishes and divisions among the Christian denominations in Akwukabi. Such divisions occur when one denomination seek to look down on another either by preaching against their doctrines or making them look inferior to their own denomination. This often is done in a bid to win over more persons to other fold. The result of this is often unhealthy rivalry which has not portrayed the Christian church in a good light. 

One church, be it the Anglican may see the SDA as enemy, vise- versa, forgetting that the real enemy is not the fellow christen, but Satan. This type of division has not helped in the total evangelization of the community. Rather than fighting against the common enemy Satan, the church denominations are fighting against one another hence they attack one another by word of mouth and sometimes by litigation in the court of law. 

This trend if not checked is bound to bring the Christian church to ridicule. Rather than preach to convert unbelievers some denominations have made it a point of duty to criticize the doctrines and practices of other denominations. They prefer converting people of other Christian denominations to their own, rather than converting unbelievers and traditional worshipper. Unfortunately some members of such denominations see people of sister denominations as enemies. 

The result of these divisions is that the churches in Akwukabi are breading Christians who are not one contrary to the prayer of Jesus Christ in John 17:21. The picture these divided people of God are painting has made unbelievers of the Christian Faith not take them serious hence slowing down the Great Commission. The Christian Church generally loses where there is division since they are not taken serious. 

If Christians could speak in one voice, accompanied by good works, some of the vices seen and experienced today in the community will be reduced to its barest minimum. If the churches could come together as a people of God, it could touch the community positively through social responsibilities rather than thinking it could do it alone along denominational bias. 

Conclusion 

The churches in Akwukabi must understand the mission of the church in the world. The church is in the world to continue the incarnation and redemptive ministry of its Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. IT must further take into cognizance the fact that it has the Great Commission of making disciples of all nations and teaching them to observe the ethics of Jesus as its primary charge. 

The greatest problem of the church is new pluralism occasioned by secularization. Denominationalism has in many areas proved to be a cog in the wheel of Christian progress. Christian efforts in social concern and action are in bits and pieces here and there according to denominations. The churches in Akwukabi should borrow a leaf from the Christian Council of Nigeria, and Christian Association of Nigeria and their collaboration efforts in bringing the churches in Nigeria together. 

The churches could collaborate to build schools, provide social amenities such as pipe borne water, health facilities, electric transformers etc to improve on the life of the people. Church members (Christians) of all denominations who are experts in certain areas of social development are to be involved in advising and directing the churches on such social issues. Together local congregations will be made to understand that “charity begins at home” by encouraging them in health care promotion by digging wells, public toilets, proper drains to wash off flood, agricultural ventures in fruit-tree planting, food production and storage, small scale industries like food processing, printing, bakeries and others. 

The missionaries who brought the gospel to Nigeria, came with the famous slagon “the Bible and the Plough” and were involved in the social development of the people of Nigeria as a whole. This feat is still achievable in the present time through genuine ecumenism and unity. This paper therefore advocates and calls on all Christian denominations in Akwukabi, to be one even as Jesus Christ prayed “that they may be one”. 

REFERENCES 

Amaele, P.E. (2000). The socio-political history of Etche. Port Harcourt: Ossai. Eche, G.A. (2005). The origin, growth and impact of Anglican church denomination in Okehi Clan of Etche, Rivers State: 1919-2004. M.A. Thesis, University of Port Harcourt: Unpublished. Idowu, B.E. (1965). African traditional religion: A definition. London: SCM. Kalu, A. (1991). Ecumenism. Lecture note; Trinity Theological College, 

Umuahia: Unpublished. Kalu, O. (1978). Christianity in West Africa: The Nigerian Story. Ibadan: 

Daystar. Kraus, C.N. (1980) “Introduction” in Kraus, C.N. (Ed), Missions, evangelism 

and church growth. Kitchener, Ontaria: Herald. Nkwoka, A.O. (2000) “Social concern and action of the church” in Nkwoka, A.O., Omeiye, N.E., Imo, C.E., (Eds). The Church’s mandate and 21st century mission. Kaduna, Nigeria: Rabboni. 

Published inNumber 1Volume 4