Historical Survey of The First Baptist Church Lagos
The origins of the First Baptist Church Lagos are to be traced to the Rev. Joseph M. Harden (an African American) who arrived in Lagos in 1851 as a business agent of the American Baptist Mission to facilitate supplies for missionaries going into the hinterland. He established the foundation of the Baptist Congregation in 1855, signified by the erection of a chapel of bamboo wood dedicated on 3rd February 1857 at the Faji Market area. The bamboo chapel was however destroyed either by storm or fire in 1859; and so services had to be held, first at the pastors quarters (site of the present address of the church) and then at the school room when one was built in 1860.
Following the commencement of the American Civil War in 1861, other missionaries returned to America leaving behind Rev. Harden, a Negro, to prosecute the work but without any resources. To support the work and his family, Rev. Harden resorted to brick making trade at Iddo. He was ably assisted by his wife, Sarah, who was an expert at needlework. Due to the strain on his body, Rev Harden died in May 1864 and Sarah assumed the role of church leader. She was later joined by Mr. (later Reverend) Moses Ladejo Stone, an apprentice Carpenter in keeping the young church going.
Connection with the American Baptist Mission, (the Southern Baptist Convention) was resumed for a brief spell between October 1867 and April 1869 following the arrivals of Revd. A. D. Phillips and R. H. Stone from Abeokuta. During this period a new church building was erected (at the church’s present address). It was a mixed structure thatched with Badagry (beach) palm. It was constructed under the supervision of Rev. A. D. Phillips and was dedicated on 19th April 1868.
On the departure of the missionaries in 1869, the management of the church again fell on Sarah Harden; Wesleyan (Methodist) missionaries were, however occasionally around to lend a helping hand, especially with regard to the conduct of church services and a form of baptismal services.
The arrival in June 1875 of Revs. W. J. David and W. W. Colley (an African-American)marked full reconnection of the church with the American Baptist Mission. It led to the formal inauguration of the church on 1st January 1876 with 27 persons (thirteen males and fourteen females) as its full-fledged members. The number rose to 52 before the end of the month.
The next significant development was the construction of a new church building. The mud structure was demolished and a new one built of imported burnt-bricks took its place. A great deal of the effort was initiated by Rev. W. J. David who raised a substantial sum for the project, and brought the materials from the USA. At the dedication service held on Saturday, 1 January 1887, Reverend David and his local assistant pastor, the Rev. Moses Oladejo Stone. Ladejo Stone, it should be pointed out, had arrived from Abeokuta with Revs. A. D. Phillips and R. H. Stone in 1869. He had been immensely helpful in building the nascent congregation with Sarah Harden in the intervening period between the departure of the missionaries in April 1869 and the arrivals of Revs. David and Colley in 1875.
In view of his commitment to Christian evangelism, he was made a licensed preacher in February 1878; and two years later, on 22nd February 1880, he was ordained a full-fledged pastor. His problem with Revd. David occurred in February 1888. Revd. Ladejo Stone had attempted to engage in some trading in order to augment his meager monthly salary of Twenty-five Shillings but Revd. David David objected on the grounds that Revd. Stone was a full time employee on the Board, and as such should dedicate his activities solely to his pastoral duty. When, however, Stone applied for salary increment, David rejected it. Stone then tendered his letter of resignation, which David accepted. The congregation, however, felt that Reverend David ought to have consulted it before accepting the resignation of Reverend Stone. Revd. David rebuffed the congregation with the contention that Stone was an employee of the Board, and not the congregation; and that as his superior officer, it was within his power to regulate his (Stone’s) status in the Mission. Irked by this uncompromising retort, a great majority of the members of the congregation (183 out of 204) severed their connection with the church, establishing themselves as the Native Baptist Church (later called Ebenezer Baptist Church)
Their church building was completed and dedicated in November (1888) on Campbell Street. Among those who pulled out from the mother church was Sarah Harden, the widow of Rev. Joseph M. Harden, the pioneer-founder of the church. Reverend Stone, however, retained his connection with the mother church.
1888 – 1946
Early in 1892, Rev C. C. Newton (who succeeded Reverend David in November 1888) attempted to reunite the two congregations; but the response from the new church was ‘That the Native Baptist Church of Lagos entertain towards their brethren and sisters of the Baptist Church, their Pastor and Officers no feelings other than those of cordial friendship and brotherly love; but that is not their desire, neither do they see their way clear to an effectual union of the two organisations’
Rev. C. C. Newton died on 11 July 1894 and was succeeded by Rev, Ladejo Stone. Revd. Ladejo Stone’s tenure marked a significant epoch in the history of the church, for it was during his time that Missionaries W. T. Lumbley and S. G. Pinnock encouraged and assisted the members to become self-governing by undertaking the full payment of their pastor’s salary. With the support of Rev. S. G. Pinnock, the church members applied to the Board to sell the church building to them and the Board approved the request because of the recommendation of Rev. Pinnock. With regard to the Pastor’s salary, the payment was hitherto shared equally between the church and the Foreign Missions Board. But from 1897, the Board’s share was annually reduced by half until 1901 when the church took sole responsibility. On the church building, It was the Board’s property and it was transferred to the church by purchase. For this, the church paid annual instalments from 1899 to 1911 when full payment was made. Other highlights of Pastor Stone’s tenure were:
- Publication of the Baptist Yoruba Hymnal Book
- Purchase of the pipe organ
- Installation of electric light
- Addition of vestry to the church building
Rev. Ladejo Stone was a spiritually gifted priest who truly upheld the Baptist doctrine in his ministry. His sermons always attracted a large crowd. He opened up many stations, and his spiritual influence was felt throughout the Baptist circle in Nigeria.
However, while Reverend Stone’s spiritual gifts and versatility were widely acknowledged, his lack of higher education was considered, in some circles in the church as an inadequacy. Indeed, the church was for this reason derogatorily referred to as ‘sosi ara oke’ meaning ‘the church of the yokel’ And so, at his death in April 1913, the view was canvassed that qualification for appointment or succession to the pastoral office of the church should among other relevant criteria, include high educational attainment.
Reverend Stone was succeeded in March 1915 by Rev J. R. Williams who had his pastoral calling under the Anglican Mission. He had been made a licensed preacher by Reverend Stone in 1910, and was more or less the acting pastor after Reverend Stone’s death till his substantive appointment in 1915. His Anglican pastoral training was however, made to bear on the nature of his leadership of the church in a number of ways such as:
- Reading of two lessons
- Singing of chants
- Wearing of clerical collar
- Erection of memorial plaques
- Celebration of harvest year
- First written constitution by Rev. S. G. Pinnock was adopted by the church.
Indeed in the first harvest thanksgiving service, Rev T. A. J. Ogunbiyi of the Anglican Mission delivered the harvest sermon. The death of Rev. J. R. Williams in November 1930 was accompanied by an acrimonious succession crisis with regard to the educational qualification of a successor. The church became split into two major factions – ‘Campbellites’ and ‘Non-Campbellites’ Dr. S. B. A. Campbell was an Episcopalian Methodist Minister from Sierra Leone. The’ Campbellites’ wanted him because of his scholastic achievements even though he was not a Baptist. The other faction objected having a Methodist to pastor a Baptist Church.
However, as the factions were inexorable in their respective stand points, an amicable resolution of differences proved difficult to achieve. Indeed, the issue culminated into embarrassing scenes of hot arguments at church meetings, assault on the church premises, and disruption of services. The high point was reached on 13, August 1933 when the church building was locked up following police intervention in a clash between the factions. In the end, the ‘Non-Campbellites’ carried the day as they has their choice appointed in the person of Rev. J. A. Idowu who was invited from Ijero Baptist Church, Ebute Metta. Some of the leaders of the ‘Campbellites’ were expelled from the church. In response, they and their supporters established a new congregation, the Union Baptist Church at Iga Idunganran Street, Lagos.
During this period, for about a year after the death of Rev Williams i.e. November 30, 1930 – November 1931, the Leadership of the church was in the hands of the Church Elders. But in November 1931, Deacon John F. Oshodi was appointed the leader and he did his best until 25th March 1934 when Rev. J. A. Idowu was called to the pastorate of the church. Deacon Oshodi was a great preacher with an appealing voice, whose sermons always attracted large attendance.
Rev. J. A. Idowu assumed office in March 1934. He exhibited a laudable spirit, and performed his ministerial duties creditably. He paid frequent visits to all classes of his flock and church organisations and Christian denominations. The highlights of his tenure were:
- Publication of the second church constitution in August 1934
- Registration of the church land under the Land Perpetual Succession Ordinance, 1924, No 66 of 17th August 1934
- Purchase of a pastorium (vicarage) at No 13 Igbosere Road, Lagos
- Founding of Ade-Oshodi Memorial Baptist School at No 15, Tapa Street, Lagos in 1939
His achievements and affability notwithstanding, there were latent stirrings on the need for the church to have a pastor of higher educational attainments. In the circumstances, Reverend Idowu resigned his appointment with the church in February 1946.
Deacon J. A. George held the fort in the church from February 1946 till the appointment of Rev (later Dr.) J. T. Ayorinde in February 1948. Deacon George introduced the practice of Tithing, which was embraced and instituted by Reverend Ayorinde. The tenure of Reverend Ayorinde witnessed the full adoption of the Baptist doctrine in all its ramifications. He abolished all Anglican and Catholic practices from the liturgy e.g. the singing of chants and canticles, and the reading of two lessons (Old/New Testament). While however retaining the practice of Harvest Thanksgiving Service, he discouraged the ostentation and fanfare that characterised the celebration of the harvest. During his ministry, a modern pastorium was built within the premises of the church which included a hall (The Jubilee Hall), office rooms, a library, and a garage. The third church constitution was adopted by the church in 1948.
Revd. J. T. Ayorinde adequately satisfied the expectations of the congregation of the ideal pastor for their church, to wit, highly educated and spiritually gifted. His style of administration and spiritual disposition won for him acclaim both within and outside the Baptist circles. He this succeeded in restoring dignity and pride to the church, effacing such oblique remarks to the church as ‘sosi ara oke’ Reverend Ayorinde left the church in 1962 to take up appointment as Associate General Secretary of the Nigerian Baptist Convention.
Between, the departure of Dr. Ayorinde and the arrival of Revd. Dr. E. A. Dahunsi, Deacon (later) Rev J. A. Adegbite was the Leader of the church from February to September 1962. Deacon Adegbite was a man of great accomplishments, a trustee of the church, founder and pastor, Sheperdhill Baptist Church, Ikorodu Road, Lagos and Principal of Baptist Academy for over two decades. Rev. Dr. E. A. Dahunsi who succeeded Revd Ayorinde assumed office in September 1962. Like his predecessor, Revd Dahunsi maintained strict adherence to Baptist principles and practice. He introduced the weekly bulletins both to save time during worship service and for record purposes. A new (the fourth) constitution was adopted by the church under his guidance in 1968. He was to the construction of an annex building for meetings and services. Indeed, he aroused interest for the building of the new church structure. He could however do little to actualize his vision, for in September 1969, he had to leave the services of the church in response to an invitation from the Bible Society of Nigeria to translate the New Testament from the original Greek into modern Yoruba language.
During the period of October 1969 to February 1972 when Revd Abegunde started his ministry with us, Deacon (Chief) J. A. George filled the gap superbly like before. Revd (later Dr) S. O. Abegunde who succeeded Rev Dahunsi in February 1970, was with the church till August 1976. He also left the church to honour an invitation to translate the old testament of the bible from the original Hebrew into modern Yoruba language. The main feature of his tenure included:
- Publication of the church magazine, ‘Tower Light’
- Renovation of the old pastorium of at Igbosere Road to modern standards
- Continued expansion of through expansion of the church through the establishment of new outstations.
- Not only were plans initiated for the building of a new church structure (as envisioned by his predecessor), the church building was given a facelift and equipped with modern amenities e.g. terrazzo flooring, and the purchase of a digital computer organ adjudged at the time to be the first in Africa.
Rev. Abegunde’s successor, Rev (Dr.) J. O. Adeyemo was appointed 3 years later in June 1979. The church was in the intervening period under the leadership of Dn. D. O. Akinrogunde. Revd. Adeyemo met a financially strong church and he improved on this as the church’s annual income increased to about One Million Naira annually. Alongside this financial success, he ensured also the spiritual development of the church. In this regard, two revival services were held annually for the spiritual upliftment of members of the congregation. Powerfully inspired clergymen were invited for these services. The era also witnessed the establishment of a number of societies such as Egbe Olomo, Medical Services Society, Baptist Brotherhood, Baptist Student Fellowship, Young Women Christian Fellowship, Young Men Christian Fellowship, and Mens Consultative Group,. During his ministry, the church adopted another constitution (the fifth) in September 1991.
Reverend Adeyemo disengaged from the services of the church in June 1993 having attained the prescribed retirement age of 65 years.
Rev. Dr. J. O. Ojemola, Revd. Adeyemo’s successor started his ministry on 1st of July 1994. The pastor came with a lot of dynamism and forthrightness which he brought to bear on his pastoral duty. Within a period of 5 years of his appointment, he had made an indelible imprint on the spiritual and material disposition of the church. The following are some of the strides recorded by the pastor:
- Ordination of a new set of deacons and deaconesses in 1997 after 21 years of such divine election.
- Inauguration of women choir
- Introduction of English worship service in addition to the Yoruba Worship Service
- Dedication of two societies namely Ladies Christian Friendly Society and Couples Fellowship
- Inauguration of Junior Church
- Introduction of mid-year thanksgiving
- Introduction of everybody’s thanksgiving
- Introduction of Children’s thanksgiving
- Construction of children’s church, multipurpose hall and
- A new church constitution (the sixth) which was adopted in June 1996.
Arguably, the most singular distinction of the pastorate of Reverend Ojemola was the commencement and successful completion of the fifty million Naira ultramodern church building. Dedicated on 3rd August 2002, the new edifice represents the actualization of a dream begun in the 1960s under the pastorate of Rev E. A. Dahunsi. Rev (Dr) J. O. Ojemola left the church after a befitting farewell service and party in December 2003.
Deacon Emmanuel Ajibade Ojo, chairman of the Diaconate Board; became the Church Leader in January 2004