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Church historian explains rise of pentecostalism

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By Sam Eyoboka & Olayinka Latona
 co-editor of The Changing Faces of African Pentecostalism, Dr. Benson Ohihon Igboin, at the event, took time to explain the history of the Pentecost, saying: “you probably are aware of the ascension of Jesus Christ and the commandment that the apostles should wait at Jerusalem after which the 40 days after is ascension, the descend of the Holy Ghost upon the 120 apostles who were in the Upper Room praying.

Cross sections of RCCG Mass choir singing

“Interestingly, you will find out that they spoke in new tongues and every other nation that was present in Jerusalem at that time understood that the apostles were speaking their own language; so that passed a message to them that there’s a new thing happening. As they also went back, that new thing that they caught at that Pentecost, they went with them.

“If you come back to Genesis 11, for instance, you have heard of the Babel experience where the language of man was confused so they also went back with different languages. So at Pentecost, they understood that God speaking the same thing to man in different languages so that was how the early church began their missionary work outside Jerusalem with the persecution, and so they went into the world.

“You also will find out that at the dark ages of the church, all of these manifestations of the gifts of the Holy Spirit ceased, so to speak, and the Roman Catholic Church was essentially involved in administration and political authorities. The Church that was persecuted became the church that took over the political space of Europe until the 16th Century Reformation championed majorly by Martin Luther and the rest,” he explained.

Continuing, the Church History expert, maintained: “If you look at this long stretch of history of developments, you will see that when the protestant theology that was different from the Catholic theology came forth, the manifestation of some of these gifts of the spirit again came forth into Christianity but at that point, Christianity had begun to have different denominations, different theologies, different practices.

“And today, the Roman Catholics still more or less get stocked to their theology and liturgy. With the charismatic movement within Catholic Church influenced by Pentecostal movement, the reengineering of the Pentecostal spirit, Pentecostal gifts in the 20th century, there was a push within the mainland churches that first and foremost if Christianity must meet the social, existential and human needs, then these gifts must come back to the church.

“And the Roman Catholic had to respond because the charismatic was persecuted at first but they saw the light. There were bishops who prayed and people got healed. Even the Pope was surprised. This is what these people are doing. So when we talk about Pentecostalism today, we cannot draw a neat boundary between it and the mainland churches.

“For instance, in Ikare, close to where I work, there is an Anglican Church; the name of the Anglican Church is St. John’s Charismatic Pentecostal Youth Anglican Communion. You can see how it encapsulates what we are talking: we are still Anglican, we are charismatic, we are Pentecostal, we devote our time to youth. All of these must also be understood within the complexes of what we call the changing phases.

The Aladura pattern

“When Pentecostal churches started, it was this Aladura pattern. Today, Anglican, Baptist follow all of these.

“You see that they do camping now. It’s real bible study, real prayer, real manifestation of the gifts and bishops who have these gifts are not allowed to minister. They minister healing and all sorts. So that is why we cannot say Pentecostalism, that this is the boundary from Catholic or this is the boundary from the mission churches.

“All of these historical developments, sociological developments and the factors that led to all of these changes within, Are encapsulated in the book which talks about globalisation; that is the combination of the local context and the global context.”

If, for instance, you are travelling out of this country today, you are already injected with the spirit of Pentecostalism that when you get there you will hardly find it comfortable being in a dull mainland orthodox space.

“So you look out for where you too can manifest these congenial theology that you have. That’s again why you step out and you see that Africans who are Pentecostals have gone out and have continued to manifest these spirits even right there.

“And as for the political dimension, you are going tothese in the book, for instance, the Pentecostal pastors will today tell you that you need to get your PVC, you need to participate because whatever happens in the political secular space affects the Church.

“For instance I was in LASU where I have a number of pastors in my class. During the recession, they were grumbling that they have to go and visit so the class should end on time so that their members will come. I said but you can pray about this thing, they smiled because if there’s mismanagement in the political space, it affects the Church.

“So these are how the complexes, how the interaction and intercessions take place within the Pentecostal fold. First and foremost, with the mission, churches, with the after space and outside this prayer hall for Africa.

Will you say that Africans are playing a lead role in bridging the gap between what happened at Pentecost and the present Pentecostalism, Dr. Igboin was asked and his response was: “If you go back to the Pentecost in Acts, different nations were there and they thought these men were drunk, so there was a period of silence. People who tend to say that Pentecostalism started from U.S is an aspect, we have different centers. They have all of these across the world.

“But how does this respond to the existential issues within certain cultural contexts is what makes each Pentecostalism peculiar and unique. For example, what makes the ministry of Reinhard Bonkke? He has said it often and often that without Africa; he wouldn’t be who he is in terms of evangelism. He once said, ’I go to somewhere in Germany to preach and they were talking foolishness because to them you have a way of dealing with the enemy with your guns but here you don’t need that.‘

“For African Pentecostalism, if you look at it, in 88/89, you saw that we were almost back to the war experience, so Pentecostalism came. He has done so many works in that area. People started leaving the country, as they were leaving; they went away with this spirit. Even in the academy, the brain drain that we experienced and have not recovered from till today started from all of these.

“So there are peculiar things about African Pentecostalism because they address the African way of life and give hope to the African in his context, he sees life differently from what the society gives to him,” Dr. Igboin further explained.

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