faith tabernacle church (Religious Movement)

Faith Tabernacle Church was a major indigenous African church that promised succour for adherents during the immediate post-World War One era which witnessed a major outbreak of the deadly influenza epidemic and its concomitant economic recession. Western medicine and mission founded churches proved quite incapable of handling the crisis. Most African Christians were convinced that the crisis had an important spiritual dimension. As a result, a number of prayer fellowships were formed in homes to pray for divine intervention. One Daddy Ali, who claimed to have had a religious experience during which God charged him to consecrate himself to be used as a vessel to heal the sick, organized one of such prayer fellowships at Ijebu-Ode (in the Southern part of Nigeria). Miss Sophia Odunlami, a member of the group, claimed she was directed to prescribe rain water and prayer for the purposes of faith healing. Testimonies of people who claimed that they received healing as a result of following her prescription drew large crowds to join the group. The group later assumed the name, Egbe Okuta Iyebiye, which is a Nigerian term, interpreted as the ‘Precious Stone’ or ‘Diamond Society’.

The Diamond Society subscribed to The Sword of the Spirit magazine published by the Faith Tabernacle in Philadelphia, USA, because it realized that their beliefs resonated. Consequently, in 1921 the Diamond Society affiliated with the Faith Tabernacle, USA and changed its name to The Faith Tabernacle (FT) Nigeria. The FT Nigeria which initially operated as a renewal group within the Anglican Church clashed with the Church over the issue of infant baptism, having attributed the mysterious high mortality of children of the Anglican Church in that locality to infant baptism. The Anglican Bishop banned the group and the members of the group eventually became ‘The Faith Tabernacle Church’ (FTC), which held its first service as a church in 1922 at Ibadan. Subsequently, the FTC spread to many towns and cities in Nigeria.

The American FT adopted the Nigerian FTC and formally appointed some Nigerians as pastors to oversee all the FTCs in Nigeria. Relations between the Nigerian and the USA FT churches turned sour for three main reasons. First, after more than four years of fraternal relations, none of the American leaders had ever paid a pastoral visit to the young Nigerian church. Second, there were doctrinal differences. For instance, while the FTC stressed glossolalia, the American FT denounced it and taught that it was a Satanic delusion. Third, in 1925 there was a major leadership crisis in the FT headquarters, Philadelphia which further caused the American FT to lose control over the Nigerian FTC. A combination of the above factors led the Nigerian FTC to pull out of the relationship with the American FT around 1926.

The FTC witnessed a remarkable growth, with the emergence of the young Yoruba prophet Joseph Ayo Babalola, born in 1904, who appeared on the Nigerian religious scene in the late 1920s. Babalola claimed he experienced a spectacular divine call to the office of a prophet and evangelist. Consequent to that, he became an itinerant preacher, carrying a Bible and a bell. Initially, he operated in his local Anglican church by holding prayer and healing meetings. However, he was expelled by the Anglican Church due to his charismatic disposition, particularly, his healing practices which appeared strange to the Church.

In 1929, Babalola, joined the FTC in Ilesa, Nigeria. He played a leading role in a major revival that broke out in 1930 which brought the FTC into the limelight. It was alleged that Babalola raised to life a child who was being taken to the cemetery for burial. In his ministry, it is claimed that many were healed and he stressed the need for his hearers to renounce all evil practices and witchcraft.

The distinctive emphases of the FTC are: intense prayer and fasting as means of solving problems, ‘believers’ baptism’ or baptism of adults who openly confess their faith in Jesus Christ and all the gifts of the Holy Spirit particularly divine (faith) healing and the outward manifestation of the baptism of the Holy Spirit. In their healing practices they resort to the use of aids such as water and oil and forbid adherents to use African traditional and Western orthodox medicine and healing practices. They insist on monogamous marriages which must be blessed by the church and disallow re-marriage of divorced people. The FTC demonstrated that African Christianity has the resources to deal with peculiar African problems and has the capacity to fulfil their aspirations.

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