African Initiated Churches (AIC): The History of the Cherubim and Seraphim Church Movement

The history of the cherubim and Seraphim church starts with the remarkable story of its founder, Mose Orimolade Tunolase. The pregnancy, birth and growth of Mose Orimolade is all shrouded in African mythology and cosmology that will sound like fairytale and made up stories to the educated minds. For example, it is recorded on one occasion that while his mother Odijoroto was pregnant with him, he spoke from the womb in order to assist his mother with some domestic chores. Another story goes that the day he was born he decided to walk and was cursed by his embarrassed father Tunolase who was an Ifa priest. These stories and many more have circulated among the C&S faithfuls since the period of Orimolade until now, this is because these stories were traditions handed down from one generation to another. This reflects one of the processes of African historiography, whereby history is in the form of oral tradition. Whether one subscribes to these stories as my Mother does, one thing is clear from the conception and birth of Orimolade in south-western Nigeria in 1879 (a date supposedly ascribed as his birth date as there were no birth registers in those days) and that is that he was sent for a special purpose. His father as explained before, was an Ifa Priest, and had consulted the Ifa Oracle in order to understand the destiny of his son and have been told twice that his son was very special and was sent to serve God.

Calling into Independent Ministry

Orimolade as a result of his father’s curse grew up as a cripple therefore this hindered his formal education considerably. Orimolade had contacts with the only local Anglican Church in his home town of Ikare and was even involved in leading the church choir as he had a lovely voice. Through this involvement with the Anglican Church he began memorising Bible passages and started having various encounters with God. It seems Orimolade must have become a Christian around this period or earlier in his life as this is regarded as his first contact with the Church.

He later felt called by God into the ministry but the Christians in Ikare were not willing to work with him instead they ridiculed him because of his disability. Orimolade frustrated by his physical limitations and ridicule sought the face of God in the place of prayer. One night as he was praying, an Angel appeared to him in a dream and gave him three objects: a rod, a royal insignia and a crown. The rod symbolising victory, the insignia power of prayer and speaking and the crown respect. He woke up confirmed that he was called to preach the Gospel. This dream formally marked his commissioning into ministry as he started preaching the Gospel. An incident occurred in which he helped plead the case of the Christians in Ikare against Police persecution and imprisonment this made the Christians in Ikare to respect him and willing to work with him. Orimolade started preaching the Gospel from street to street as an itinerant preacher. One thing that really impresses his audience was his ability to quote lots of scriptural passages despite his lack of education. Shortly after this burst of ministry it appears that Orimolade was taken ill for about seven years and was in confinement for those periods. A different tradition has it that it was ten years of solitary confinement due to Orimolade seeking God and experiencing the miraculous as angels appeared to him.

The illness was so severe that his people abandoned him to die, but he was assured in a dream that he would recover from the illness if only he would take water from a nearby stream. He obeyed and began to recover steadily, though he remained lame for the rest of his life needing a staff for support. This tradition is more popular than the latter one and it seemed probable in the light of incidences at his birth that Orimolade actually suffered from an illness for a long period of his life. In addition, it must have been during this long illness that he was prepared for his evangelistic ministry through prayers, fasting and visions and dreams. Three important practices emerged from this experience which has come to define the Cherubim and Seraphim church. They are: prayer and fasting, use of holy water from the stream and emphasis on dreams and visions.

Now that Orimolade was well prepared for ministry he started travelling around the country and went as far as the north.  From around 1916 to 1924, when Orimolade settled in Lagos, he travelled about preaching the Gospel everywhere he went. He went to a town called Irun, noted for his witchcraft activities here Orimolade confronted witchcraft practices and pulled down the image of their local divinity. From this town he journeyed to neighbouring villages such as Akungba, Oka, Akoko-Edo, Ikiran and Ibillo Townships.

He went to Benin where he condemned the practice of human sacrifice arguing that human beings were created in God’s image. This sermon led to many Traditionalists submitting their idols, charms and emblems for burning. Orimolade earned the name Alhaji Yisa (Yisa is the Islamic rendition of Jesus while Alhaji is for someone who has done the hajj or pilgrimage to Mecca) during his travels

History of the Cherubim and Seraphim Church Nigeria

 

Throughout his missionary journeys and itinerant ministry, Orimolade worked with CMS and other church denominations. His intentions initially was not to start a church but to continue his missionary work, however, while he settled in Lagos in 1924 lodging at one of the CMS churches and later with one of the African Churches (United Native African Church), an incident occurred that led to the formation of the Cherubim and Seraphim church.

 

In June1925, after a year of itinerant ministry in Lagos, an incident that would change the direction of Orimolade’s freelance ministry occurred. On 18th of June 1925, a teenage girl by the name Christianah Aboidun Akinsowon went with some of her friends to the Campus Square to witness that year’s Catholic Corpus Christi procession. While they were witnessing the event, Aboidun claimed to have seen a strange spectacle: an angel of the Lord was under the canopy of Corpus Christi. As a result of this vision, she became feverish and was rushed home. She fell into a trance which lasted many days. Rev. T.A.J. Ogunbiyi, vicar of St Paul’s Breadfruit in Lagos (CMS church) and Abiodun’s minister was called upon to pray for Abiodun’s recovery but nothing happened He explained to them that she was hallucinating. Abiodun came back to herself after seven days of trance. When she came around, she recounted her mysterious experience of how an angel gave her a guided tour of the Celestial city. By this time there was a steady gathering of people at Abiodun’s home.  While she was in trance her guardian on the recommendations of people sent for Orimolade who refused to come as a result of heavy downpour of rain. He was sent for the third time and this time around he honoured their invitation. Orimolade prayed and read the Scriptures to Abiodun after which the whole gathering sang some hymns. As more people gathered to listen to Abiodun’s vision the more the house was getting crowded, therefore, Abiodun’s guardians suggested that Orimolade should take Abiodun to his new residence in Ago-Isofin in Lagos. Many more people kept gathering each day for healing, testimonies and prayers. This eventually led to a regular prayer meeting at Orimolade’s residence. As the prayer group was progressing, Orimolade declared three days of prayer and fasting so that God would reveal the name which the prayer group would be called. On the 9th of September after the three days of prayer and fasting a woman who was a member of the group declared that she saw two letters, SE, written in fire up in the sky. One of the African Church members who now follow Orimolade explained that the two letters were the beginning of the word Serafu (Seraph). The group agreed with what Rev. Barber said and adopted the name Egbe Serafu (The Seraphim Society). Later another  woman mentioned that it has been revealed to her that it is wrong to separate the twin angels: Kerubu and Serafu (Cherubim and Seraphim); therefore Kerubu was added to the name and the church became Cherubim and Seraphim Society (C&S hereafter).

Few weeks later the Society in following with Jewish customs in the Old Testament and African Traditional Religion, decided to covenant the relationship between their Society and the celestial figures by electing Archangel Michael as its Patron and Angel Gabriel as its Deputy-Patron. This election stemmed from an understanding that the Society which had always existed in heaven before it was inaugurated in Lagos was a gift from God through the Holy Spirit. Another basic practice of the church around this period was the wearing of white gowns commanded by Orimolade who believed that Angels were robed in white garments. The Society’s belief that they were a unique gift from God motivated them to engage in evangelistic activities so that by 1928, C&S churches were established in Lagos, Ogun, Ondo and Ibadan towns. They spread rapidly like a wildfire in the south-western part of the country.

In less than four years after its inception, the church started to experience conflicts which led to different schisms of the C&S church movement. The first of such splits occurred between Orimolade and Abiodun in 1929. To make matters worse a youth group of the church called valiant twelve sided with Abiodun, encouraging her that she was more popular than Orimolade. All attempts to reconcile the two groups were futile and this led to the two groups adopting different names. Orimolade’s group adopted the name The Eternal Sacred Order of the Cherubim and Seraphim Society while Abiodun’s group were designated as The Cherubim and Seraphim Society. As Orimolade was recovering from this schism another one occurred in 1930 between him and the praying band of his church. The praying band led by Ezekiel Davies rejected the leadership of Orimolade and decided to constitute themselves separately from Orimolade. Orimolade took the case to court but it was to no avail. The praying band became The Praying Band of the C&S church. As these developments were happening, the leaders of the C&S churches in the western part of the country pleaded with the different groups to end the divisions. Nobody took notice of their appeal and this led to them registering as a separate organisation called, The Western Conference of the C&S Nigeria under the leadership of Christianah Olatunrinle who became the first General Superintendent of this church. It was this prophetess who influenced the movement in a Classic Pentecostal direction as she was influenced by members of The Apostolic Church.

In 1932, Major A.B. Lawrence, one of the leaders of the Praying Band Church declared that he has received a vision in which he was instructed to start his own church. This led to the Holy Flock of Christ Church. In 1933 while all these schisms and many more where happening Orimolade died on 19th of October 1933 in Ojokoro Lagos. He died a celibate having decided not to marry devoting his time to prayer and seeking God. His death was not based on any sickness or illness it was a natural death. His death without any children however led to the question of who will succeed the Baba Aladura? A week before his death Orimolade had blessed and named one Abraham Onanuga an elderly and knowledgeable man but late convert as his successor. However, majority of the elders felt Peter Omojola, Orimolade’s senior brother was a more likely candidate. This yet led to another schism as a party who felt Onanuga was not qualified to be the leader encouraged Omojola to start his own church. He did and this led to the inauguration of Eternal Sacred Order of the C&S on Hotonu Street, while Onanuga led the Eternal Sacred Order of the Cherubim and Seraphim Society, Mount Zion Ibadan Street. C&S Church movement continues today in Nigeria, other African countries, Europe and the United States, but the schisms that weakened the church in its formative years has continued down the years till today. One commentator has noted that there is probably no sect in Christendom that has suffered so much splintering as this movement.

Attempts have been made to unite the different factions of the movement. Abiodun made an unsuccessful attempt in 1935 after Orimolade’s death. Another attempt was made in 1965 to unite all the C&S groups; this effort was successful to some extent as the C&S churches were united under the umbrella of National Council of Cherubim and Seraphim. Dr G.I.M. Otubu (Dr Otubu became the representative of Organisation of African Instituted Churches (OAIC) Nigeria on the OAIC International executive committee in 1993. He later became the international chairman of OAIC in 1997), the leader of the movement in 1996 managed to rally together fifty two of the fifty six C&S groups, but divisions have resurfaced again, however the church continues to be influential in Nigeria and outside Nigeria today. Cherubim and Seraphim church was one of the earliest AICs to be planted in Europe. The first Cherubim and Seraphim church in Europe was planted in London in 1965.

 

To read more about the history of the Cherubim and Seraphim Church Movement  please see my book 20 Pentecostal Pioneers in Nigeria.

Advertisements

About israelolofinjana

Rev Israel Oluwole Olofinjana is an ordained and accredited Baptist minister and has pastored Crofton Park Baptist Church (2007-2011) and Catford Community Church (2011-2013). He is currently the pastor of Woolwich Central Baptist Church, a multicultural church in south east London. He is Nigerian coming from a Pentecostal background. He holds a BA (Hons) in Religious Studies from the University of Ibadan, Nigeria and MTh from Carolina University of Theology (CUT). Israel is the editor of “Turning the Tables on Mission: Stories of Christians from the Global South in the UK” and author of “Reverse in Ministry and Missions: Africans in the Dark Continent of Europe” and “20 Pentecostal Pioneers in Nigeria” He has spoken in a number of conferences regarding reverse mission and Black Majority Churches (BMCs) and has also contributed to academic journals and Christian magazines on the subject of Black Majority Churches (BMC) in Britain. He is currently co-opted as a member of the Baptist Union Council. Israel is also one of the Directors of Centre for Missionaries from the Majority World an initiative design to train and equip pastors and missionaries from the South. He is a member of the Global Connections council. When he is not preaching or writing he is playing with Lego! He is happily married to Lucy who works as an administrator and research co-ordinator for the Evangelical Alliance. She is a graduate of the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), earning a BA in Social Anthropology and International Development. Lucy loves baking and watching movies!
This entry was posted in African Church History and Theology, Black Majority Churches (BMCs), History and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s