Summary of Discussions
The discussions following the various presentations were very lively. Pointed questions were asked and the participants did not hesitate to engage with each other on controversial issues. The underlying theme of much of the debate was the African culture. In the African tradition culture and religion cannot be separated from one another. Both the African instituted churches and the foreign mission-founded churches are daily living with this reality in their worship, witness and community life. Some of the main issues that came up were:
The use of symbols
AICs have no inhibition whatsoever to use things like water, oil, palmfronds etc. Often they justify this by pointing to the similarity of meaning of these elements in the African culture and in the Bible. This means for them that the cultural value is affirmed by the christian value, which confers a spiritual dimension to the symbol. The mission-founded churches are much more apprehensive of the danger of confusion with witchcraft and occultism.
With some exceptions, notably the Kimbanguist Church which does not admit polygamy, the AICs tend to be more tolerant than the mission-founded churches. While AICs teach the biblical model of monogamous marriage they accept the presence of polygamists in their midst. Some were saying that this could be a weakness because AICs were being misused by politicians who were advocating polygamy for their own interests.
Interestingly this was much more an issue between "progressive" and more "traditional" people who were found on both sides (men and women), than between the two church families. Churches which did not (yet) admit women in leadership and ordained ministry were challenged. On the whole the AICs are more advanced in this respect than the other churches. But the AICs were sharply criticized for their practice of prohibiting women to fulfil certain functions or approach the altar during their period of menstruation. For them this was a matter of obedience to the biblical (OT) prescriptions. A woman pastor spoke passionately of blood as the symbol of life and God's good creation, and the liberating power of the gospel. The response -also from a woman -was that it was simply a question of age and that most young women in the AICs accepted the rules without any problem.
One mission-founded church which had listed in its presentation all the great moments of its 150-years history was asked why it had taken such a long time to ordain its first Nigerian pastor.... In the same vein, members of AICs put their finger on references to foreign, confessional statements of faith. But members of the mission-founded churches claimed that the AICs had no longer the monopoly of being the only indigenous churches. While they admitted that the AICs were closer to the African culture and way of living they insisted that their churches were now also autonomous and fully African.
AICs and mission-founded churches share common histories. In many cases AICs came about as the result of some conlict between an African evangelist or lay preacher and the missionaries. This past was very much alive in the discussions. Methodists and Anglicans quarrelled over the number of AICs they had given birth to .... and could therefore consider to be their children! It was acknowledged that most AICs had begun as some kind of prayer movement within the mission churches which were mistrusted, rejected and expelled. From both sides it was repeatedly said that this "cold war" should be over and that the time had come to meet and talk to each other.
It was striking to discover from the presentations that many AICs were founded in the period 1920 - 1930. There are probably common elements in the colonial and missionary situation of that time which could explain this phenomenon.
Prayer and healing
AICs believe in the power of prayer and in healing. There was no question that this was one of their strengths. A pastor from a mission-founded church said: "Of course I pray for the sick, but when you pray for a lame person, do you really believe he will stand up and walk?" The answer was a resounding YES, HALLELUJAH by all the Aladura people present!
Use of the Bible
One of the criticisms voiced against the AICs was their lack of discernment in using biblical references as foundation for their practices. They refuted this saying that the Bible had always been and was the supreme authority for them just as it was for other christian churches, and that their doctrine was sound. But they recognized the need for more theological training among their pastors.
Church and politics
Members of AICs and mission-founded churches fully agreed that the churches had a role to play in the nation and should not hesitate to speak out. However, the strong emphasis on cleanliness and "separation from evil" of some AICs could be a hindrance for their witness in the society.
Some AIC members said with pride that their churches were much better in evangelizing Muslims than the others. But they also recognized the grave problems in Nigeria. The participants from Ghana shared stories about the good cooperation between Christians and Muslims in their country and how the Christian Council of Ghana had been able to involve some AICs. It was felt that this could be an example for Nigeria.
AICs and Councils of Churches
AICs complained that for them membership of councils of churches, national, regional and global, was much more difficult than for mission-founded churches. In order to become a member it was necessary to be recommended, and many member churches of councils were reluctant to recommend an AIC. The OAIC could play a role in this regard.