Bringing Calvinism to Ibadan

By: Deji Yesufu

In 2016 I found myself in a meeting with Pastors Tony Okoroh and Femi Sonuga-Oye – both men were then co-pastors of Sovereign Grace Bible Church (SGBC), situated in Omole Phase 1, Lagos. I had been leading a reformed fellowship in Ibadan and the two men wanted to know how they could help me with the work. I will never forget how Pastor Tony handed me the 1689 London Baptist Confessions of Faith. Pastor Tony Okoroh will tower at no less than six feet, three inches and might have been taller in his younger years. Save for the gospel heart the good man has, his mien can appear intimidating. So, when he gave me the confessions and added “…this is what we believe…”, I knew instinctively what he meant. He was saying essentially that these confessions, after the Bible, are at the core of reformed Baptist churches all around the world.

I like to tell people who care to hear that it was Crown Reformed Assembly, Lagos, led by Pastor Taiye Arimoro, who sent me to Ibadan to do ministry in 2013. In 2016, Pastor Tony gave me the 1689 confessions. Between 2016 and 2021, I was trained at the Institute of Pastoral and Theological Training, Egbe, Kogi State, on these confessions. Pastor Aniekan Ekpo of Christ’s Reformed Baptist Church, Rumuoadara, Portharcourt, ordained me into ministry in 2023. I can claim with Muhammadu Buhari that I am for everybody in the Nigerian reformed community, and at the same time I am for nobody – save for the Lord Jesus Christ. 

At the heart of anything genuinely reformed is Calvinism. Unfortunately, because Calvinism is inextricably linked with John Calvin, too many people are put off by the label. They forget however that Calvin was the first to repudiate any idea of linking his name to a movement. Like Martin Luther, the man dreaded the idea of his name stuck to a denomination. Second: Calvinism predates Calvin. Men like Apostle Paul, Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, Martin Luther and Ulrich Zwingli, had been teaching Calvinism long before the term was invented. Lastly, it is God that honors a man. If God has put Calvin’s name on a movement, and it has survived 500 years, I await the mortal that will remove it.

So, as Calvinism arrived in Ibadan, it became obvious I must train a few people, members of Providence Reformed Baptist Church Ibadan, in biblical theology as we prepare individuals for greater responsibilities in the local church. Our training manual is a study guide prepared around the London Confession of Faith 1689. We had covered the first and second chapters with relative ease – the doctrines of scripture and the doctrine of God did not ruffle much feathers. It was as we entered the sphere of God’s decrees and creation, the third and fourth chapters, that we began to have problems.

I must appreciate these people for their teachableness. I had envisioned that we would have trouble from the get-go, but thankfully it has not been so. Chapter four, paragraph 2, under “Creation”, reads: “After God had made all other creatures, he created man, male and female, with reasonable and immortal souls, rendering them fit unto that life to God for which they are created; being made after the image of God, in knowledge, righteousness, and true holiness; having the law of God written in their hearts, and power to fulfil it, and yet under a possibility of transgressing, being left to the liberty of their own will, which was subject to change.” All these were still not a problem until we came to the questions offered by the study guide: “Were Adam and Eve created with the capacity to sin? If so, why? If not, how were they able to sin?” The first part of the question is answered “yes”, as the paragraph quoted above said that God had put his laws in the minds of the man he created, giving him the ability to obey, and at the same time giving him a liberty of will. It is the “liberty of will”, which Arminians call “Free Will”, that leads men to choose to sin or not to sin. It was while discussing this that the lady among us raised some points of concern. She said in effect:

If God had decreed all things from eternity past, then we must look closely at this matter of human responsibility – in spite of what the confessions are saying here. Take the example of God hardening Pharaoh’s heart. While the judgement behind God’s actions is obvious, can we sincerely conclude here that Pharaoh had some liberty of will in the matter? I replied by welcoming our dear sister to Calvinism and the natural questions that these doctrines should elicit. I explained that these biblical theories were all developed as God’s servant’s thoughts through the question of how men are saved through the person of Jesus Christ. While Luther gave us justification by faith, Calvin bolstered that doctrine with predestination.

All of this lead back to the question of God’s sovereignty in men’s salvation. I explained that there is no Calvinist alive who can explain the sovereignty of God in salvation exhaustively – the day we succeed, we would very likely have been in glory by then. It is sufficient to know that certain things are revealed to us, and other things are hidden with God. It is also sufficient to know that God created all men with his laws in their hearts, and then gave men the ability to obey these laws; while leaving in them the liberty to obey or not – if not men will be robots. I then concluded that the choice of doing good, when faced with a decision not to, is worship to God. And this is what Christianity is essentially. I am not convinced that this lady understood everything I said. I am however convinced that if she remains prayerful and teachable, the Holy Spirit will guide her into all truth. Salvation is the central theme of the Bible. Jesus Christ lived, died and rose again to save sinners from their sins. The effectual work of the Holy Spirit in making redemption real in the lives of men brings us to the question of what the role of God the Father is in salvation. Ephesians 1:4-5 states: “…Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord… according as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love: having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the pleasure of his will…”

What you take away from a discussion like this is this: Calvinism can be elitist. There is no way women in Bodija market will comprehend these truths without some basic education. It leads me to the reality that ministry in Ibadan must come with some commitment to educate and enlighten the ordinary citizens of this city in basic reading and writing. Which is a ministry effort that is still in the works. Nonetheless, we must help the ordinary Nigerian appreciate the length, breadth, and height of this great salvation which Jesus Christ has wrought for us. If we fail at this, we leave the door open to hucksters who peddle the gospel of Christ for money – and Ibadan has more than enough of those on her streets.

Deji Yesufu is the Pastor of Providence Reformed Baptist Church Ibadan, situated at the University of Ibadan. He is also the author of HUMANITY.

Posted by Deji Yesufu

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