By Aanu Oluyide

Last month, a novice monk visited Nigerian churches to take a look at church operations and different church doctrines. He didn’t like what he saw. The churches had no idea the Augustinian monk was taking notes of all the things they were involved in, they had no idea he would take it upon himself later to challenge the churches about many things that would be termed ungraceful, they had no idea that a turnaround was coming, that there would be reformation in the church since church leaders were absolutely powerful and well connected in the political system. Who dares bring checks and balances on them?

Well, a German Martin Luther, holder of both a Baccalaureate (in 1503) and a Masters degree (1505) in Liberal arts from the University of Erfurt, who entered a Monastery looking for his salvation, did more than checks and balances on the Church. Why? because instead of getting saved while training to be a monk looking for salvation out of truthfulness and curiosity, he had lost both the small salvation of his soul he took there and the health of his body. In other words, the things he met and saw while training took away all the goodness he had thought he had.

Paint this picture of a Nigerian named Francis. Francis had a farm in Igangan (a town in Oyo state) which has now been destroyed by Fulani herdsmen. Before this invasion, he was a peasant farmer with 7 children and a wife. They all attend a Roman Catholic church and they take all the teachings seriously. Especially Francis, who wants to be saved indeed and make heaven. Since Salvation and its rewards can only come through the church, he attends church every Sunday, takes the eucharist, and gives to the poor in addition to following all the doctrines of the church. He makes sure he baptizes his children (since baptism is one of the seven sacraments of the church). He also goes to confess his sins at least once a month to a priest who grants him forgiveness and absolution of his sins, you know how it is right?

Well, death came calling on Francis’s mother one day and on her sickbed, Francis called on a priest to give the “anointing of the sick” and with a final eucharist absolving her of all sins, Francis’s mother will make heaven according to the church. Well, it’s simple – The Roman Catholic Church ruled the world since the beginning of Christianity itself, until the 16th century when reformation began. The church was almost unquestionable. There was an established system and structure that was also acceptable by the State, because in those days the Church was also part of the State, like an Ecclesia.

Ecclesia itself originally refers to a political assembly of citizens in ancient Greece, but in the sociology of religion, it means a religious group or religious denomination that is widely recognized, holding a religious monopoly that is allied with a State and secular powers. It means the majority of the society or country also identifies with such religion. 

A few years later, Martin Luther had posted his 95 Theses documents, a challenge against church doctrine at the time. Amongst many others, Luther had problems especially with the sale of Indulgences especially. SALE OF INDULGENCE was being abused so much at the time; poor people were exploited to the bones as it became commercialized. The church had taught them that their sins would be saved from damnation and hell simply by giving and doing charity works.

Meanwhile, this money was not given back to poor people.“If you do not want to go to hell, if you don’t want your soul to be damned, if you want to reduce greatly the amount of punishment you deserve for your sins, you should give some money quantified by your sins and atrocities to the church (you are surprised, yeah? Yes, they quantified sins). They sold Salvation and Eternal Life to people, crazy, right? That wasn’t all. The pope at the time (Pope Leo X) also introduced buying indulgences for the dead. For a certain amount, you can get your deceased out of purgatory, like you can buy heaven for a dead person. You can even buy forgiveness for your future sins. Interesting, right? There was almost nothing you can’t buy, the church looked for all means to exploit people.

Luther, although not without resistance, stood up to the church claiming you can neither be saved by good works or charity. In other words, you cannot buy salvation. The rest of the story is long… It went on and on until the sale of indulgences was abolished in 1567. Meanwhile, Pope John Paul stamped it back in 2000, so Luther fought for almost nothing.

Truth be told, if Martin Luther only created continuous scenes and arguments because a church is selling salvation, I think he would have smacked on a burger if he came to Nigeria. In Nigeria, we are not only selling salvation, Nigerian pastors today sell healing, prosperity, American visa, prayers, anointing oil, husband, babies, holy water, and even the breath of life. They even sell spiritual planes that can take you to London once you hold on to their flyers.

In Nigeria, we have achieved what the Roman Catholic Church couldn’t even achieve. Our pastors already reached all heights. The most interesting part of this is that unlike the time of Luther when it was only a church committing these atrocities, Luther will need the help of other 50 Lutherans to help him challenge the status quo in Nigeria. Why? Name one Nigerian Church that isn’t exploiting poor people, or telling them ridiculous things to take the little they have from their pockets. Name any of the big denominations that are not manipulating people with biblical verses to take money from them.

From stories to subtle threats to manipulations to curses, the methods employed by Nigerians go on and on. Any Luther in Nigeria will have a lot of work to do. How will you explain a Nigerian Church Pastor, sending his books abroad as gifts by writing “for free” on them, but when it gets to the abroad it is sold for money? OR explain how the payments or non-payments of tithes should lead to hell threats and financial curses? I was just ruminating that if Martin Luther were to visit Nigeria, which church would he start from?

This should open your eyes to one thing when you juxtapose the church then and now, that it has always been about money, about business, about some set of people disguising as something higher than others and using that avenue to exploit gullible followers. In Nigeria, anybody can wake up tomorrow and claim that a God called them, that automatically transforms to having the right to take people’s money from them, and if people aren’t willing to part with their belongings, the spiritually called human uses heaven, hell, and salvation to bait them.

Nothing has changed about churches since Luther, nothing will most likely change – at least not in Nigerian Churches.

(c) Aanu Oluyide 2021