Aniekan Ekpo: When a Reformed Apostle Visits Ibadan
By: Deji Yesufu
A few days into the new year, I received a call from Pastor Ani: “Deji, I will be in Ibadan for the 11th of February… Is the time okay for you and your family…” I did not need to check my schedule; I simply responded that it was fine and we shall be prepared to receive him that day. When a spiritual father tells you he is visiting you, you don’t respond with options – you obey and receive him. On Saturday, 11th February, 2023, Pastor Ani arrived Ibadan at about 6pm. I picked him up at the Iwo Road garage and he was in our home, where he will be spending the next two nights. While I tried to settle him in, Pastor Ani shifted his attention to my two children – he spent the next two hours teaching them children’s songs and the catechism. He also brought a copy of the picturized Pilgrim Progress for the two of them (Pastor brought loads of books for the church plant too). Pastor had just endured a ten-hour trip from Portharcourt to Ibadan, but he will spend the next four hours talking to the children. And when they went to bed, he spent the remaining time with me before going to sleep.
Aniekan Ekpo is the first reformed Baptist Pastor in Nigeria. He was trained at the London Reformed Baptist Seminary, which is under the Metropolitan Tabernacle (the church that C. H. Spurgeon pastored), pastored by Dr. Peter Masters since 1970. Pastor Ani, like we love to call him, was originally with the Qua Iboe group of churches (now called United Evangelical Church) but following his training at the Tabernacle, he became convinced that he needed to start a separate ministry. Interestingly, and by his own words, Qua Iboe is originally Calvininstic in doctrine. But over the years, and as it is common with denominations, their strict Calvinism had begun to give way to Arminianism and Charismatic influences. After his training in London, the natural thing was to return to Qua Iboe and influence a revival but his teachers at the Tabernacle had told him that it would be near impossible. True to it, and while he was welcome back, it was not long before hostility was brought against his re-affirmation of biblical Calvinism. He was removed from the pastorate; his family was thrown out of the pastorium; and he had to build a ministry from scratch.
Today, Pastor Ani is the pastor of Christ’s Reformed Baptist Church, Rumuodara, Portharcourt, Rivers State. Under the church, there is a thriving seminary that has trained many men in the ministry – opening up much of South-south and South-east Nigeria to the Christian gospel and the reformed faith. Pastor Ani, Pastor Lounge, Pastor Tony Okoroh and Pastor Joe Jackowitz pioneered the Lagos Bible Conference – which held in 2002. Since that year, both Lagos and Portharcourt have held Bible conferences every year.
On Sunday, 12th February, a day following Pastor Ani’s arrival at Ibadan, he was with the church plant we have been laboring at here in the city of Ibadan since 2021. Pastor Ani had instructed me that he would like to observe how our Sunday service went – so rather than preaching, even as our guest minister, he insisted he wanted to hear me preach. I spoke on “The City of God”, as I helped my listeners to appreciate to the work of Christ in the community of God’s people especially in tumultuous times. I took my text from Luke 24:13-53, where I emphasized three lessons: that in the City of God, Christ walks with ordinary men; in the City of God, Christ opens the scriptures to God’s people and guides us to understand the scriptures; and in the city of God, Christ gives his people a message for the world. Pastor Ani came forward after the service and spoke to the congregation. He explained that while the sermon was okay, he pointed out a few things we ought to do better as a congregation. He will later speak with me privately also, explaining more things we ought to do to have God-glorifying Christian meetings and ministry. We concluded the service with a sumptuous meal that some of our dear sisters and my wife helped us to cook. Pastor Ani returned to Portharcourt first thing on Monday morning, the 13th. Thankfully we found a vehicle that left Ibadan as early as 7am and Pastor arrived safely in Portharcourt by 5pm.
I understand that quite a number of people have criticized Pastor Ani because some people in his community refer to him as a Bishop. Thankfully, without the insignia of titles and hierarchies that such titles have become today, a Bishop is simply a pastor in biblical parlance. I dare, however, to add that Pastor Ani is not just a Bishop but an apostle of the Christian faith and of the reformed message. His friends abroad have also called him the “C. H. Spurgeon of Africa”. Reformed Theology took up life in 16th century following the writings of men like Martin Luther and John Calvin. Reformed theology divided western Christendom and created Protestant Christianity from Roman Catholicism. Today, we emphasize our distinctive reformed views in solidarity with what our reformed fathers did years ago and to remind ourselves that the tradition of scriptures alone, faith alone, and grace alone cannot be replaced; that Christ alone must be preached in the churches – all to the glory of God alone. As Paul said when he emphasized that he was not ashamed of the gospel, Pastor Ani is not ashamed of reformed theology. He wears the doctrine on his sleeves and reminds his listeners of the rich Christian heritage that our fathers have passed to us. The danger in not following Aniekan Ekpo’s example is that the churches we pastor could easily be infiltrated with strange doctrines when reformed distinctives are not taught and practiced.
It was a blessing having Pastor Ani in Ibadan. He brought the weight of his 39 years of pastoral ministry to ward off many pastoral concerns that I brought to his feet this past weekend. He told me of the dangers of people killing a bruised reed and also quenching a smoking flax (Matthew 12:20). He explained that this is not what Christ would have done. Rather, Jesus will build life back into the reed and he will light up the fire on the flax. Every church plant, anywhere in the world, will begin with one issue or the other – it is charity in the hearts of men that compels them to help church planters realize the vision; rather, than use the excuse of a few challenges to kill off the work. This weekend, Aniekan Epko brought life and hope to the Ibadan work. When men told us to shut down, Pastor Ani told us to carry on – he will be praying for us. Pastor Ani is an apostle of the reformed faith in the sense of a small letter “a” apostle. He has built many to be gospel proclaimers in this country and I am so very happy to have the opportunity to team up with him as we pursue a Christian work in Ibadan, Nigeria.
(Thumbnail photo, L-R: David Lawal, Aniekan Ekpo, Deji Yesufu. Lawal is a brother with ministry to University of Ibadan students)