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A call to Christian unity in Nigeria

The Second Vatican Council issued the Decree on Ecumenism on November 21, 1964). That made the decision of some Church Leaders of the Christian Council…

The Second Vatican Council issued the Decree on Ecumenism on November 21, 1964). That made the decision of some Church Leaders of the Christian Council of Nigeria (CCN) and the Catholic Church to form an organization to work together on common concern a welcomed and pleasant idea. The Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) founded in 1976 was like an expanded form of the CCN. The Catholic Church understands ecumenism to mean the coming together of people to promote unity among Christian churches. The focus of the Decree on Ecumenism was more on the Eastern and Protestant Churches who had shared a common tradition with the Catholic Church before the separation. It was expected that even if full communion could not be reached, the strong hope of unity in diversity was expressed.
Although the Document did not specifically mention the Pentecostals, African Group of Churches and the Evangelical fellowships that later emerged as independent Churches in the Ecumenical movement, the Catholic Church in Nigeria could apply the decree by the Council fathers, namely: “The Council acknowledges the fact that many Christians in different ways, long for the one visible Church of God, a Church truly universal and set forth into the world that the world may be converted to the Gospel and so be saved, to the glory of God. The Sacred Council was moved by a desire for the restoration of unity among all the followers of Christ and set before all Catholics the ways and means by which they can respond to this grace and to this divine call” (Decree on Ecumenism 2, November 21, 1964)..
The Church was not unaware of the challenges in Christian unity especially when new Church founders made the Catholic Church their “mission territory” by condemning the core values and doctrines of the Catholic Church with the aggressive efforts to convert Catholics to their miracle centres and gospel of prosperity as signs and symbols of being “born again”. Consequently, it became very common to hear a Pentecostal confessing, “I was a Catholic, now I am born again.” This lack of respect for the Catholic Church as the mother Church is still being expressed today in the Christian Association of Nigeria with statements such as: “We are all equal” as if the association is a competition arena. The  attitude of the Catholic Church is different because the Council recommends that every effort should be made to avoid expressions, judgments and actions which do not represent the condition of our separated brethren with truth and fairness and so make mutual relations with them more difficult (Decree on Ecumenism 4, November 21, 1964).
Moreover, the Catholic Church is not oblivious of the fact that to have differences is part of life. Even in the beginnings of this one and only Church of God there arose certain rifts, (1 Cor. 11:18-19; Gal.1:6-9; 1 Jn. 2:18-19) which the Apostle strongly condemned (1 Cor. 1:11). In subsequent centuries much more serious dissensions made their appearance and quite large communities came to be separated from full communion with the Catholic Church for which, often enough, men of both sides were to be blamed (Decree on Ecumenism 3, November 21, 1964). This is why the Council insists on the love of God among us and the redemption of Jesus Christ that gives new life to the entire human race and unify it (1 Jn 4: 9; Col1:18-20; Jn11). Christ prayed for all who believe in Him: “that they all may be one” (Jn17:21; Decree on Ecumenism 2, November 21, 1964).
Different Churches understand the concept of Ecumenism in different ways. This has remained a very serious challenge till date in the Christian Association of Nigeria. The founding fathers of the Christian Association of Nigeria must have taken this into consideration hence they put in place different directorates to clarify varied concepts. For instance, the directorate of Dialogue and Ecumenism has the capacity to direct ecumenical and inter-faith dialogue through conferences and dialogue of life. The directorate of social issues has the capacity to create cordial relationship between Christians and governments at all levels. The directorate of research has the capacity to expose the Christians to current intellectual issues. Unfortunately, these directorates stopped functioning at a point. This has become a challenge to Christian unity in Nigeria.
The Scriptures recognises the different and unique gift of individuals and institutions (cf. 1 Corinthians 1 and 2). In an association, it is not out of place for a person or institution to indicate the areas that he can assist in making the association work better. This explains why the Catholic Church keeps insisting that,“the restoration of unity among all Christians is one of the principal concerns of the Second Vatican Council. Christ the Lord founded one Church and one Church only. However, many Christian communions present themselves to men as the true inheritors of Jesus Christ; all indeed profess to be followers of the Lord but differ in mind and go their different ways, as if Christ Himself were divided (1Cor1:13). Such division openly contradicts the will of Christ, scandalizes the world, and damages the holy cause of preaching the Gospel to every creature” (Decree on Ecumenism 1, November 21, 1964)
Ecumenism is the movement, fostered by the grace of the Holy Spirit, for the restoration of unity among all Christians. The Catholic Church cannot operate in a Christian Association that opposes and contradicts the principles of Christian unity. While it is true that many Christians understand the moral teaching of the Gospel differently and do not accept the same solutions to the more difficult problems of modern society, they should obey the command of the Apostle: “Whatever you do, in word or in work, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, giving thanks to God the Father through Him” (Col. 3, 17). For that reason an ecumenical dialogue might start with discussion of the application of the Gospel to moral conduct (Decree on Ecumenism 9, November 21, 1964).
It is difficult to accept that Satan is polarising the Church in Nigeria. Jesus has promised that no gate of hell shall prevail against the Church (Matt 18:16). The problem is not in our stars but in the selfish motives of some Christians who see the Christian Association only in terms of financial value. Not willing to accept the gospel truth and selfish interest is the “Satan” that is polarising the Church. By the time a historian assumes the leadership of a medical association and dictates how surgeons should go about their work, you may guess the disastrous effects. In the same way, if a civil lawyer claims leadership of a liturgical group, one wonders the kind of results that could come out of public worship.
I believe that there is hope and a way out of the present challenges. “When Christ freed us, he meant us to remain free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery. My brethren, you were called, as you know, to liberty; but be careful, or this liberty will provide an opening for self-indulgence. Serve one another, rather, in works of love, since the whole of the Law is summarised in a single command: Love your neighbour as yourself. If you go on snapping at each other and tearing each other to pieces, you had better watch or you will destroy the whole community” (Gal 5:1,13-15). Let the Christian Association empower all the structures, organs and directorates to promote true Christian unity with a sincere change of attitude. This is not the time for the Christians to be divided. This is the time for Christians to come together and work for peace with people of other faiths.
Fr. Cornelius Omonokhua is the Director of Mission and Dialogue of the Catholic Secretariat of Nigeria ([email protected])

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