Reflection on Missionary Activities in Nigeria

by Victoria Ayankemi Adeyinka

The missionary activities in Nigeria has brought about a number of positive achievements, especially their educational programs helped to whip-up the consciousness of a shared identity and helped to train many people that championed the course of nationalism and constituted a virile leadership for the young nation at independence. They also help in arriving at a more organized and solemn worship atmosphere. The presence of the earlier missionaries helped to know how to engage in referential worship with the introduction of organized lyrical forms of worship songs (Hymns, SATB, and spiritual songs).

However, the coming of Christianity through the missionaries to Nigeria had great effects on our culture, especially loss of cultural identity. The language we speak, the way we worship and how we make music is not left out in this struggle. Music and worship styles became influenced by western styles of music and Christian themes. This made the church to reject the African traditional way of singing our local musical genres and the use of local instruments in worship but accepted the imported musical instruments. It is just of recent that an interest in using African instruments such as drums in the church became acceptable. In the past, such African instruments were seen to be demonic because of its affiliation with some local deity.

Culturally, music, singing and dancing reach deep into the innermost parts of African people. Westerners do not understand the beauty and organization of African music and often mislabel the music as “primitive” or rhythmic dissonance. As Africans, we are fond of singing and God is often worshiped through songs. This type of singing most time may be spontaneous or organized. African knowledge of God is verbalized in songs because the great music in any culture is that which satisfies emotionally, intellectually, and aesthetically according to Vida Chenoweth in his book “Melodic Perception and Analysis.” The failure of the earlier missionaries to Nigeria to understand this cultural value we placed on our heritage made a lot of people to reject the gospel and that effect is still on our local churches till today to some extent. If church leaders can contextualize worship, people will come to church and lives will be saved and transformed. It is very important to know that, there is positive relationship between music preference and worship style preference in that, music preference strongly predicts worship style preference.

Contextualization attempts to communicate the Gospel in word and deed and to establish the church in ways that make sense to people within their local cultural context, presenting Christianity in such a way that it meets people’s deepest needs and penetrates their worldview, thus allowing them to follow Christ and remain within their own culture.

 Thinking about this function of contextualization in expanding the universal church’s understanding of God, I am reminded of the picture we are given in Revelation 7:9 of people from every ethnolinguistic group surrounding the throne of God, not worshiping God in English, or even English as a second language, but in their own language shaped by their own worldview and culture. We can count on hearing about 6,280 languages. The view we get of the kingdom is a multicultural view, not one of ethnic uniformity. One of the things we admire most about the Gospel is its ability to speak within the worldview of every culture. Just as Jesus emptied himself and dwelt among us, every missionary and Christian-alike must be willing to do likewise as we enter another culture with the Gospel. The incarnation is our model for contextualization, as J. D. Gordon once said, Jesus is God spelled out in language human beings can understand would add, in every culture, in every context.