Aladura is a Yoruba word which means “owners of prayer.” [Isichei p. 279] The first Aladura churches began in the early 1920s as prayer groups within established churches, initially in response to the world-wide influenza pandemic, a smallpox epidemic and general crisis. Nigeria suffered a severe famine, with many people dying on the streets.
The Aladura are praying people. They pray more than the other Christians around them, and do so more visibly, establishing networks of prayer, and praying more deliberately and more publicly than most Christians. The key belief in the Aladura Churches is that fervent prayer attains specific goals, particularly with regard to health and children. Faith in prayer leads some Aladura Christians to reject all medicines, both traditional charms and western medical care in favor of faith healing and the power of prayer to heal. Along with prayer, Aladura Christians practice fasting, and believe that some blessings can only be won by fasting and prayer. They believe that God speaks to the faithful in dreams and visions, often in the context of prayer and fasting.
Aladura Christians also retain a strong belief in witchcraft. They believe that the witches and witch doctors who practice traditional medicine are real and have real spiritual powers, but they believe those powers are evil and are derived from satanic and demonic forces. As such they are to be sought out and cast out by the power of Jesus and the Holy Spirit.
Power, Life and Victory sum up the key elements of Aladura Christianity. It is probably rather important to the success of the Aladura churches that they do not reject modernization or westernization in general, though their religious share many of the underlying presuppositions of traditional African religions (while sharply opposed to them).
The Precious Stone Society & Christ Apostolic Church
In 1920 Joseph Sadare a goldsmith and Sophia Odunlami, a schoolteacher started The Precious Stone Society, an Anglican prayer group. Two years later they left the CMS church having rejected infant baptism and all forms of medicine, whether western or traditional. David Odubanjo, another Ijebu, founded a branch of the Precious Stone Society in Lagos, joining first Faith Tabernacle, an American sect which practiced faith healing, then the British Apostolic Church, a Pentacotal church, finally becoming an independent church in 1941, taking the name Christ Apostolic Church.
One of the first Ijebu converts was Isaac Akinyele, who became a wealthy cocoa planter and ultimately the Olubadan or ruler of Ibadan, Nigeria. His brother Alexander became Nigeria’s first Anglican bishop. Isaac funded a number of churches anonymously, and made it his practice to give in coins of small denomination, so that the recipients would not realize that he was the donor.
The Christ Apostolic Church places a heavy emphasis on Bible study, which appealed to the literate members of Nigerian society; clerks and young men working away from home. This emphasis eventually translated into a strong commitment to education on the part of the CAC, which founded elementary schools, secondary schools and a Teacher Training College
The Christ Apostolic Church is, among the Aladura churches, most like the older mission founded denominations. Many of its members describe themselves as a Pentecostal, rather than Aladura. They are less concerned about witchcraft than their fellow Aladura Christians, and reject polygamy entirely.
The Cherubim and Seraphim Society
Moses Orimolade, who was later called Baba Aladura, or Praying Father and Christiana Abiodun Akinsowan, called Captain Abiodun founded the Cherubim and Seraphim society in 1925, also as a prayer group within the Anglican Church. Christiana Abiodun fell into a trance from which Moses Orimolade, who was already an itinerant evangelist and teacher, was the only one who could awaken her. By 1928 they had left the Anglican church to become independent. Their most distinctive ministry was to openly ferret out and challenge witches on their long evangelistic journeys through the countryside. These long trips were typical of Seraphim (as they are most commonly called) evangelists and missionaries.
The Seraphim were also prone to divisions and splits, with some 52 branches being founded by the 1960s, though 49 of these have re-united into a single federation of Seraphim churches. The Seraphim are known by their distinctive white robes, modeled after Roman Catholic priestly vestments, but worn by all the adherents of the Seraphim.
The Church of the Lord (Aladura)
Joseph Ositelu, also an Ijebu, joined in as part of a great revival which swept Yorubaland in the 1930s. A road-grader driver, Joseph Babalola, received a series of visions which led him, reluctantly, to lead the revival in which thousands of Yoruba joined the Aladura Churches and burned their traditional religious images and charms.
Ositelu was an Anglican teacher and catechist who claimed to have received over 10,000 visions in the course of nine years. The content of his visions led to his being dismissed by the CMS mission which had hired him. He believed he was haunted by witches, but managed to overcome them by prayer and fasting. One of his visions instructed him and his followers not to eat pork or any other unclean thing. Ositelu also kept a journal in a secret script that God had revealed to him in a vision, and used a large number of Holy Names and Seals which he also claimed had been revealed to him by God. [This use of Holy Names and Seals may well reflect the influence of such occult texts as the Sixth and Seventh Books of Moses. [fn Isichechie] Each of these Holy Names began with his personal revealed name Arrabablalhhubab.
Ositelu and the Church of the Lord (Aladura) marks a significant progression in the Aladura churches and their belief in prophecy and prophetic revelation. While the other Aladura churches honored the charismatic gift of prophecy, it was by and large used to clarify the Bible and apply the teachings of the Bible to specific contexts. In the Church of the Lord (Aladura) prophecy came to supplement and even supplant the teachings of the Bible, receiving equal authority with the Bible. Dreams and visionss brought them new and esoteric knowledge of holy things.
Celestial Church of Christ
The Celestial Church of Christ (usually known as Cele) was founded in 1947 by a humble carpenter in Porto Novo, Samuel Oschoffa. It is the most popular, most attractive and most influential of the Aladura churches today, in part because of the winsome personality of Papa Oschoffa.
This page was based on the following sources, which you can consult for more detailed information:
Adrian Hastings, The Church in Africa: 1450-1950. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1994, 513-8
Elizabeth Isichei, A History of Christianity in Africa from Antiquity to the Present. London: SPCK, 1995. 279-84
Lamin Sanneh, West African Christianity: The Religious Impact. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1983, pp 184-205.
J. Akinyele Omoyajowo, Cherubim and Seraphim: The History of an African Independent Church. New York & Lagos: Nok Publishing, 1982.
H.W. Turner, The History of an African Independent Church (Church of the Lord (Aladura)). Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1967.